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fall getaway to mount carleton provincial park

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Only a month and a half into a new semester at university, I felt the need to escape the city and be disconnected from my laptop for at least a day. With the threat of our long winter fast approaching, October was my last chance to camp before the snow flew.

Mount Carleton Provincial Park was one of only two provincial parks still open for service in mid-October, so I began my planning. I had two goals in mind when planning this trip: to do a hike, and to try out some of my new camping gear purchased during end-of-summer sales.

In addition to information you'll want for planning your trip to Mount Carleton Provincial Park, this post is all about the Mount Sagamook hike, finding comfort in cold and wet fall camping conditions, and persevering through my Travel Curse.

A woman in a patterned sweater walks along boulders on a mountain peak overlooking trees
At the summit

planning the trip

I had camped at Mount Carleton two summers prior, so I felt confident this park could give me what I sought. The panorama views from the top of Mount Carleton, the tallest peak in the maritime provinces, would be even more spectacular at the height of fall colours, and the lack of cellular service anywhere in the park would allow me to pretend I wasn't overwhelmed by responsibilities at home.

Having already climbed Mount Carleton, I consulted Hiking Trails of New Brunswick (4th ed) by Marianne and H. A. Eiselt for another suitable trail. This guide book has an entire section dedicated to the Park and its 11 trails which vary from 20 mins to over 6 hours in length, and vary in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

I set my sights on the Mount Sagamook Trail, a summit loop with a total distance of 7.4 km and a rating of strenuous with some light scrambling required near the top. Mount Sagamook, while it is slightly shorter than Mount Carleton, is generally considered to be a more challenging climb (Carleton has a distance of 9.5km and ascent of 390 metres, while Sagamook has a distance of 7.4 km with an ascent of 580 metres).

A girl wearing a bandana is pictured from behind looking down on a wide expanse of rolling hills covered in trees
From the summit of Mount Carleton when I climbed it in the Summer of 2021

The Mount Sagamook trail appealed to me because I craved the challenge. I had just spent the last month and a half staring at my laptop screen and resisting the urge to run away and live in the woods. See, I have been a perfectly exemplary student for 3 years, but my patience has worn through. Sitting through lectures and trying to focus long enough to complete an assignment had become tenfold more unbearable as I crawl my way toward that diploma.

The idea of having nothing in front of me but the trail; nothing to focus on but the task at hand seemed therapeutic. So, the more challenging trail it is.

camping at Mount Carleton Provincial Park

Luckily for those of us who enjoy sleeping on the ground, there are several great options for tenting at Mount Carleton.

Armstrong Campground

This is where I stayed when I visited in 2021. Armstrong is the largest campground at the park, with 88 sites that suit drive-in tenting and RVs. There was water, picnic tables and fire pits at each site, outhouses, and a beautiful rock beach with picnic tables right through the tree line. I stayed here in the height of the summer, and there were lots of families with children around, creating a very social and enjoyable environment. The beach was a fantastic location for picnics within a 5 minute walk of our campsite.

Williams and Franklin Campgrounds

These are two walk-in campgrounds with a total of 17 sites spread on either side of the scenic Nictau lake. For this trip, I stayed at the Franklin campground. Each site has a wood tent platform, fire pit, picnic table, and walk down directly to the lake shore. There are outhouses and garbage service but no water pumps.

I was a little skeptical of the walk-in rather than drive-in aspect of the site, as I was unable to find out where the parking lot was and how far I would have to lug the gear, but it turned out to be about a 30 second walk, with the site being visible from the parking spot. This was glorified drive-in camping.

If you're not car camping, I would highly recommend staying at the Williams or Franklin campgrounds! These sites are more secluded than Armstrong, and the private walk down to the beach shore is unbeatable. Plus, the wooden tent platform made things much warmer for autumn camping.

Heritage Cabins

Mount Carleton has two cabin sites which range in capacity from 4-9 people. I've never stayed in one of these, but after driving by and seeing how adorable they are, it's definitely on my list!

Headwaters Backcountry Camping

This site is located in the backcountry to be used by those hiking the trails of Mount Carleton on a multi-day excursion. They include toilets and tree storage for food (because you're in bear country!)

In the natural progression of my Mount Carleton camping adventures, Headwaters is next on my list! As is detailed in Hiking Trails of New Brunswick, the main trails of the Park are all connected and can be explored over multiple days.

Booking Your Stay

All campground reservations at New Brunswick provincial parks are handled through an online booking tool.

trip preparation

After booking the campsite, I organized my people. Being the middle of October in the North, I knew not many would be particularly eager to come with me. It was also right in the middle of a semester, making it difficult for students (90% of my friends) to leave for a weekend.

I ended up with one companion, my friend Taylor. Taylor is my bestie for life, but (with so much love), she doesn't have any gear or outdoors expertise or even a drivers license to bring to the table. I chose to take this as a blessing; one that would challenge me to plan execute a camping trip for myself and someone else and get us home in one piece.

I gathered mine and Taylor's gear, packed sandwiches and beer, and my mother graciously allowed me to use her car to make the 3 hour journey. The weather was looking wet and cold, so as many waterproof layers as possible were packed.

We left the city at 6am to get a head start. Taylor barely spoke to me for the first 2 hours until we stopped at the Perth Andover Tim Horton's for the biggest coffees possible. If you've ever read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Taylor was giving Katz. An amicable companion eager to jump in on the adventure, but also just wants to lay down.

As we entered the Appalachian region of the province, the fall colours were simply breathtaking. The rolling hills and mountains occasionally gave way to sparkling rivers, and my perfectly curated granola anthems playlist scored our journey into rural NB.

As Taylor gradually came to life in the passenger seat, we sang along to the songs and eventually lost cell service (becomes extremely relevant later).

We arrived in the Park and checked in at the visitor's centre. The parking lot was unsurprisingly completely empty. The kind Parks worker told us all about the trails and sent us on our way.

We then went to find the trail head for Mount Sagamook. See, this shouldn't be difficult because it's a provincial park and there's signage everywhere and the Parks worker had described it's location to me not 5 minutes earlier while circling it in neon ink on the map I now held in my hands. But you should never doubt me. Of course I missed the marker.

Unfortunately, the main road in the Park is a one-way loop around Lake Nictau. So when I realized I must have missed it, we had to drive allllll the way around the loop and back. Luckily the 20 min extra drive was beautiful.

hiking the Mount Sagamook trail

After eventually finding the trail head, we set off. The trail begins with a junction about 200 metres in, and the loop begins. The Parks worker at the information centre recommended we turn right here, taking the short way up and the long way down. Much of the hike was under the cover of trees, but as we got higher, the occasional breaks in the trees provided gorgeous views of the surrounding peaks covered mosaics of green, orange, and yellow.

The hike was quiet steep and strenuous. Particularly as the ground was covered in a layer of wet leaves, we took careful steps. We also took frequent breaks as the steepness took our breath away and we weren't in any rush.

Near the top, the tree line breaks and gives way to spectacular views of the lakes below. The vista spans as far as the eye can see. We got lucky with a few clear hours in the middle of a rainy weekend, and the visibility was high. There was light scrambling toward the summit, but nothing that required too much skill to navigate. As it was a very quiet day at the park, we only encountered our first fellow hikers at the summit.

A girl in a patterned sweater overlooks a view of hills with Fall coloured leaves and lakes below
The view of lake Nictau, including the heart-shaped island, almost at the summit of Mount Sagamook

We lingered for a while at the summit, eating a snack and enjoying a summit beer. For mine, I enjoyed Picaroon's Rec'd pale ale, which features an image of Mount Carleton next door!

A girl smiles holding an orange beer can
The perfect summit beer!

Eventually, the chill at the exposed summit set in, and we made our way back down. The return route started very easy, but quickly became steep. This was extremely hard on the knees, but still significantly less strenuous than on the way up.

A girl in a patterned sweater walks on a rocky trail through evergreen trees
A glimpse of the challenging terrain on the way up. Rocks and roots coated in wet leaves!

Around the middle of the descent, we encountered two hikers who were stuck injured on the mountain. They had already sent for help and there wasn't anything we could do to help them, so we guiltily went on our way after talking for a few minutes. They didn't need anything as they waited for help to arrive, but it still felt wrong to just leave them there.

10 minutes later, we passed the Parks worker on their way to get them. These workers do not get enough recognition for the amazing feats they perform - hustling up this steep ass mountain is no small task. We wished him luck and thanked our stars we weren't the ones injured or the ones working.

About a half hour later, we encountered another Parks worker carrying crutches up the mountain. We looked at the crutches and we looked at the terrain. Very not suitable. We wished her luck about 10 times.

After about 5 hours total, we completed the trail. This included lots of time at the summit and many breaks throughout. I fulfilled my greatest wish for the weekend: a challenging hike which allowed me time to clear my head as I put one foot in front of the other.

Williams Falls trail

After completing our hike, we had to drive alllll the way around the loop again to reach our campsite. Along the way was the trailhead for Williams Falls, an easy 20 minute return trail to a beautiful waterfall. This trail was highly recommended to us by the Parks worker at the Visitors Centre, and as it was only 20 minutes, we figured we may as well check it out.

This trail is very suitable for all ages and abilities, being part boardwalk, part well-maintained path. Definitely worth the time it takes to walk in!

A figure stands on a bridge over a rushing waterfall, surrounded by trees on either side
On the boardwalk overlooking Williams Falls

the highs and lows of fall camping

We completed the loop of the lake and found our site at Franklin Campground. The site was beautiful, with a canopy of vibrantly coloured trees surrounding us, and the lake only steps away. Everything in sight was wet, and we were cold, so we aimed to get set up as fast as possible.

The door to a yellow tent is unzipped and a blundstone shoe sits outside the door on an orange tarp

Along with the hike, my other goal of the trip was to try out some of my new gear. This included a new tent, a new camping stove, and a new sleeping mat. I was particularly excited about the stove, as I had never owned one before. The Woods O'Hara stove I ended up purchasing is a dupe for the shiny Jetboil I always see crunchy people using on Instagram. My review: 10/10 definitely buy this instead of the Jetboil. Cheaper for, as far as I can tell, the same thing. Plus the little sleeve with images of mountains is adorable.

After we got set up, we enjoyed a dinner of my delicious homemade chili reheated on the stove. It soon started pouring rain, and though we did not know it yet, it would not be stopping until we got back to town.

We hunkered down in the tent in the early evening, as it was pretty miserable sitting out in the rain. We planned on drinking and playing cards (as one does while camping), but Taylor forgot to grab the cards until she was already snuggled up in her sleeping bag. Rather than subjecting her to another trip out to the car, we decided we should play games "with our minds".

The madness and drinks had begun to set in.

She asked me if I knew any riddles, which reminded me of Bilbo and Gollum negotiating for the Ring of Power through a riddle contest in the Hobbit. I giggled and asked Taylor if she knew the reference. She said no. I wracked my brain trying to remember a single one of the fantastic riddles Gollum or Bilbo uses, but couldn't come up with anything.

Instead, we decided that I would describe the plot of the Hobbit to her. So, over the next hour, I tried my absolute hardest to remember the details of the plot. Unfortunately, I have a pretty dreadful memory for these things. I think I probably "reinvented" half of the plot lines. But hey, it's not like Taylor knew the difference. And where I have a terrible memory, I'm a great storyteller. The Hobbit (Kate's Version) was a hit.

staying warm when you don't have the most high tech gear

The part I was most worried about for this trip was staying warm at night. When I went Fall camping the previous year to see Greta Van Fleet in Maine, I had shivered the whole night through and woken with my lips frozen together. That's a whole other story.

Neither Taylor nor I have high quality winter gear, so we had to make do. We doubled up on my summer weight sleeping bags (summer + summer = winter, right?), and slept in our layers of long underwear, wool socks, and fleece lined hats. The biggest help I noticed was balling up my down jacket and shoving it to my feet at the bottom of my sleeping bag. Thank you to the crunchy girl on Instagram I saw do this.

I'm happy to report that even without the newest gortex whatever, we were plenty warm. Bringing two sleeping bags is only realistic when you have a car, but it suited our needs.

Two people in hats and sweaters take a selfie in a tent
You can really see in Taylor's eyes here that she's wondering why the hell she agreed to come with me

the Kate Travel Curse strikes again

Something about me is I'm cursed to always have something extremely unfortunate happen to me on the last day of any trip I go on. For example, on my last night in Scotland, I stayed in the World's Worst Hostel in Glasgow where an aggressive Scotsman took full volume phone calls, played music out loud, and incited fights with bunkmates at 3am. Or, trying to get home from Arizona, I spent 24 hours the Newark airport, boarded and deboarded 2 different planes, and then had my flight cancelled and had to take a train and bus to get home.

At this point it's something I expect but can't anticipate. Anyone considering traveling with me should genuinely take the factor into account that you might die on the last day.

a lovely morning takes a nosedive

We awoke early, ate oatmeal, and broke camp; miserably folding things as quickly as possible to try and not have everything completely soaked. Once the car was loaded up, I decided to have a quick swim in the lake.

The morning was quiet and misty. The lake was completely still, with only slivers of the surrounding mountains visible through the fog. I knew the water would be absolutely frigid. As I contemplated whether or not to go in, I imagined myself in the depths of a February in New Brunswick; wishing more than anything that I'd taken every chance to immerse myself in my environment when everything wasn't snow and ice. I knew I would regret not taking advantage.

The water was in fact frigid and I, upsettingly, went in wearing my socks. Definitely work the cold reset.

After pulling on some warm clothes, I got into the car with Taylor to leave. When I went to start the car, all of the lights turned on, but the engine didn't even try to start.

After a few more unsuccessful tries to start it, and trying not to panic, I pulled the manual out. I would not call myself knowledgable about cars, and Taylor doesn't even have a license.

As I tried to figure out the issue, the car almost seemed possessed. The radio was turning on and off by itself, and the light for the heated seats flickered. Eventually, the engine started spookily clicking and the speedometer flicked up and down.

Thoroughly freaked out and frustrated that the manual offered no help after a half hour of trying, I decided we were stranded and should get out and walk. I would have loved to call my dad ask what to do (as all girls do with any car problems).

There was no service, so walking an hour or more to the lodge seemed the only option. I ate a Clif bar so I wouldn't lose my edge.

About 15 seconds into walking, a Parks Service truck came bouncing down the road. I waved my hands. Save me!!! The lovely workers sent someone to give us a boost. Luckily the car started. We praised the Parks workers for the second time that weekend, and went on our way.

The car display didn't turn on, but I wasn't risking turning the car off to reset it. So, no granola girl music for us. As we set in for the drive back - wet, cold, and music-free - we wanted some entertainment.

"Want to hear the plot to the Lord of the Rings?"

Two women stand smiling, overlooking a mountain view
Taylor and I at the summit of Mt. Sagamook


lessons in patience from the mountains

From the start, planning a trip for two while working and going to school was a challenge. There were times before and during the trip when I thought it would have been better to just stay home. This was certainly the case when I had to fold up a mountain of wet gear, only to set it all back up in my garage at home to dry out, and then fold it BACK UP.

Of course, as is always the outcome, I was happy I went. I'm a big time believer in the idea that it's possible to find joy anywhere, under and circumstances. It's not like I was being tortured out there when I was cold or wet or the car didn't start or my knees threatened to snap. I got to spend time with my best friend, laughed a lot, and we made it home in one piece.

I believe that you have to see miracles for there to be miracles. I could focus on the fact that the car didn't start so I made it home an hour later than planned, or I could focus on the serendipity in the fact that a Parks NB truck with nice workers in it drove past the minute we gave up and started walking.

A woman in a blue hat and patterned sweater is seen from the back looking at a rushing waterfall surrounded by rock and trees
Side view of Williams Falls

Patience and perspective make happy memories - not good luck or "perfect" trips. I was determined to enjoy a weekend in the mountains ahead of the snow and that's what I did. I could have stayed home and probably had an awesome time watching the actual Hobbit movies. But I'm glad that I made the push to explore the province as the weather turns.

When it's February and my adventures can't involve outdoor swimming, I'll be glad of it.

2 comentarios

17 dic 2023

Awesome first post Kate! Even though at times throughout our journey, I wanted nothing more than to be back snug in my bed, I am glad to have gone and had a new experience in nature with you! I am grateful to have a bestie who will take on providing almost everything for me to adventure with you (just to have me forget the cards in the car and ask you to explain the plot of a multi-movie franchise for fun while I look like I am going to cry from being cold, wet and tired). I look forward to our next adventure!

p.s I asked for a backpack like yours for Christmas so maybe next time I will be…

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Kate Francoeur
Kate Francoeur
18 dic 2023
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Hahahahha love ya Taylor. Best adventure buddy and blog supporter. Manifesting that you get the backpack🤞

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