Backcountry Camping in Kouchibouguac National Park

Two women laugh around a campfire.

It’s a warm autumn morning when my friend, Danielle, and I head out for a 3-day backcountry trip in Kouchibouguac National Park. Driving to the park, we fawn over the autumn colours. Bright reds, oranges, and yellows line the roadway.

Kouchibouguac National Park is located on the east coast of New Brunswick. “Kouchibouguac” is Mi’kmaq for “river of long tides.” Archaeological evidence shows that the Mi’kmaq have a 4000 year-old relationship with this land.

The park has many wooded trails and several kilometres of sandy coastlines. If you are ever lucky enough to visit, it’s an excellent place to experience both the forest and the sea. Additionally, the park is a dark sky preserve, making it ideal for observing the starry skies on clear evenings.

Hitting the Trail

Always the over-packers, we hit the trail with heavy bags. Lucky for us, the hike to Sipu is a short 20 minute walk from the bike bridge parking lot.

Not even across the bridge yet, we notice the first sign of bear – berry-filled scat. It’s a sign we see a dozen or more times on this short trip. “We shouldn’t need the bear spray,” I had said in a desperate attempt to remove some weight. Now that we were here, I was glad to have it.

We turn off the bike path and onto Kouchibouguac River Trail. The trail is covered in fallen leaves and smells of fall. We catch glimpses of the river through the dense tree cover and hear the birds diving for fish.

The Sites

We arrive at Sipu around noon. No one else is around. I count 4 possible sites. We drop our bags on the nearest picnic table and discuss which site we should call home for the next few days.

The sites at Sipu are first come first serve. All of them have a fire pit, picnic table, and spot to place a tent. The only source of water is a well and it’s under a boil advisory. If you visit, I suggest bringing a water purifier because boiling water can be time consuming.

We settle on the site furthest down the trail. It’s flat, is a short walk to the outhouse, and is located nearest to the well. The site also has a trail that goes down to the water’s edge where those canoeing and kayaking can access the sites. We enjoy our stay here, but if you are camping during the busy season, expect people to be frequenting that area to gather water and walk down to the shoreline.

Kouchibouguac River Trail – Western Section

We make camp, grab a snack, and begin to walk the western section of Kouchibouguac River Trail. It’s a 3.3 kilometre walk in one direction, 6.6 km total. Some sections of the trail are overgrown, but it’s easy to follow.

Woman walks through Kouchibouguac River Trail.

It feels good to be out in the wilderness and to smell the fresh air. The trail is a beautiful mix of deciduous and evergreen trees. We see balsam fir, maple (red, sugar, and striped), birch (yellow, grey, paper), spruce (white, black, red), white cedar, tamarack, aspen, and jack pine. There’s also dying raspberry bushes which makes sense given all the bear scat we see in the area.

The only wildlife we encounter are American red-squirrels and a ruffed grouse. We can also hear the chickadees singing high up in the trees.

Night-Time

We get back to camp and Danielle makes a fire. We cook steak, sausage, potatoes, corn, and asparagus. Dessert is dark chocolate s’mores. Food is more delicious in the backcountry and we’ve outdone ourselves this trip. You can check out our trip menu here.

After supper, we sit under the tent sipping mint tea and playing skip-bo. The rain falls gently and rolls off the tarp. It’s not enough rain to hinder the fire which crackles behind us and helps keep us warm.

It hasn’t been a strenuous day, but we are exhausted. We head to bed early. As we snuggle up in our sleeping bags, I regret not bringing a pillow. I turn on a podcast, close my eyes, and wrestle with sleep.

Day 2

It’s early morning and I decide to walk down to the river and catch the sunrise. The fish are jumping and Danielle spots an eagle perched high in an evergreen. The autumn colours come alive as the sun hits the tops of the trees. The view is stunning.

Breakfast is eggs, salami, toast, and tea. The food helps warm my body. We make plans to hike the eastern portion of the Kouchibouguac River Trail. It’s 6.2 kilometres one way. We pack water, chocolate, a map, and bear spray.

Kouchibouguac River Trail – Eastern Section

We both agree, the eastern section of Kouchibouguac River Trail is the most interesting. The landscape is more diverse and wooden bridges take us over wetlands.

The forest floor is covered in mushrooms! We can’t identify them, but take to naming some ourselves. We name a giant burgundy-coloured mushroom “grand-mère’s couch,” after the leather sofas from our childhood. Later we learn, it’s reishi.

We see ducks, blue heron, American red squirrel, Canadian geese, and a cute maritime garter snake. There’s also evidence of beaver activity throughout the area and we watch our steps for bear and coyote scat. You can find a list of the park’s mammals, amphibians, birds, fish, and reptiles on the Kouchibouguac National Park website.

At the end of the trail, we find a look-off with Adirondack chairs. We rest and share some chocolate. Our legs are tired and we take the bike path back to camp. It’s less scenic, but a little shorter. We are surprised to see so many bikers, as we’ve seen no one since we arrived.

Back at camp and exhausted from all the hiking, we indulge in pizza and apple crisp. Again, we play games under the tarp and sip tea. When we see the sky is changing colours, we go to the water and watch the sunset. Shortly after dark, we head to bed.

Day 3 – Kelly’s Beach

It’s our last day at Kouchibouguac National Park. We are both yearning for a shower and I’ve been talking about getting Chinese take-out to celebrate our trip. Despite this, I’m sad to be leaving.

We have one last stop – Kelly’s Beach. To get to Kelly’s beach you must cross a 1-kilometre boardwalk. The boardwalk takes you over lagoons where you can see shorebirds and marine life. I stop and read each of the interpretive signs along the way. They talk about they fragility of dune environments, shorebirds, salt marshes, and the surrounding forest.

The beach stretches for miles. We stare out at the Northumberland Straight. The wind is blowing, the air smells and tastes like salt, and the waves are crashing against the beach. We walk along the shore, leaving footprints in the sand. The cold October weather makes for few visitors. We take note to visit again on a warm summer’s day so we can enjoy the water.

It’s a great way to end our trip.

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