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Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult (Distance/Terrain).
Setting: Forest, Lakes, Granite Barrens.
Facilities: Parking, bike rack and garbage cans at the trailhead.
Signage: Info kiosk at trailhead, periodic maps, and markings throughout.
Challenging, remote #backcountry trails for experienced hikers.
4 stacked loops, around 4 hours each.
Access from the BLT Trail.
Access to the Bluff Wilderness Trail begins in a large, but easy to miss parking area adjacent to Bay Self Storage in Timberlea. Often verging on full during peak times, its best to come early to assure yourself a spot. From the top of the parking lot you’ll enter directly onto the BLT Trail where you’ll head to the right for 500m until it meets Cranberry Lake. The Bluff trailhead is well marked with a large map, info signage and a bike rack.
Marked, Maintained & Monitored
Everything along the trail is well marked, maintained and mapped. With corresponding colour coded trail markers throughout, you shouldn’t venture off course if you’re paying attention. Maps are posted sparingly at the trailhead and at the far end of the Pot Lake Loop.
Venturing onto these trails you should carry a printed map, compass, and plan your route well in advance. Your first major decision will be which of the 4 stacked loops you would like to tackle. This decision should be based on how much time/daylight you have, as well as your experience and physical conditioning levels.
Rugged Wilderness Trails
The most popular route is, of course, the Pot Lake Loop as it’s the shortest, but by no means a simple stroll. All of the trails are in parts extremely rugged, steep, muddy, uneven, slippery, dense and rocky hence the “Wilderness” part of the Bluff Wilderness Trail. These varying aspects are exactly why it’s so appealing to experienced hikers. Come prepared for an authentically rugged wilderness hike on any of its 4 loops.
1) Pot Lake Loop
The shortest is the 9km return trip Pot Lake Loop which takes about 3-4 hours. With great views of Cranberry Lake and Pot Lake which also connect via a small paddling portage. The piece de resistance of the trail is the elevated lookoff at the far end of the loop, so plan on spending extra time there to take in the view.
2) Mi’kmaq Hill Loop
Next is the Mi’kmaq Hill Loop which is a 17.4km return trip. Starting from the previously mentioned far end of the Pot Lake Loop, descending downhill towards a small pond, referred to as “the puddle“. The trail continues through dense rocky terrain until reaching an open, elevated area with your first views of Frederick Lake in the distance.
As you near the lake you’ll come upon 2 “leave no trace” approved campsites. The first is known as “Coyote/U’lukwej” and the site closer to the lake is known as “Crow/Ka’qaquj” (read further below for camping restrictions and regulations). This loop is also accessible via paddling on Frederick Lake (see map).
From this point on I can’t offer any great insights as you’ll be venturing into the unknown (to me), and to me, venturing (preparedly) into the unknown is the most fun part of any trip.
3) The Bluff Loop
The Bluff Loop is a 23.4km return trip into remote wilderness. Another leave no trace camping site known as “Squirrel/Atutuwej” lies at the mid-point of the trail. Venturing into these further back loops require considerable preparation and conditioning, so make sure to take all safety precautions. A satellite communicator should be something you own if you’re into these kinds of adventures.
4) Hay Marsh Loop
The Hay Marsh Loop is the longest route with a 29km return trip. Choosing to do this route involves a full 2-day hike from the parking lot. This farthest back loop can also be accessed by a series of natural portages from nearby lakes (see map). Along the portage trail from Upper Five Bridge Lake is the final Leave No Trace Campsite known as “Moose/Tia’m”.
Leave No Trace Camping Sites
Camping is discouraged, but legal. Refer to the map for the 4 approved leave no trace campsites. Campfires are not allowed, so bring a camp stove. If you’re looking for somewhere more geared towards traditional camping check out these suggestions instead.
The trails are a top-notch #backcountry hiking destination due to its thoughtful design and maintenance by volunteers with the Woodens River Watershed Environmental Association. This group of volunteers maintain, monitor and educate. All of the things that make this trail as popular as it is are because of these volunteers. Becoming a member and/or donating any amount goes a long way to show your appreciation.
Not only is it a popular hiking destination, but also a place for #paddling and #swimming with multiple access points. In winter, Cranberry Lake is a great place for a skate, or to walk along as a shortcut with unique perspectives. The diverse array of landscapes from rocky bluffs to un-spoiled green marshland make it a great place to explore by any means.
During Hunting season (End of October-beginning of December) you should make yourself visible by wearing hunters orange. It’s always wise to be aware of your surroundings as bears, coyotes and even moose have been known to make an occasional appearance. You can gain extra peace of mind by carrying a bear bell or pepper spray when venturing into any remote area in Nova Scotia.
Wilderness Trails Done Right
The Bluff Wilderness Trail is perhaps the best example of a trail system done right. With multiple trails and hike lengths to choose from, and its location so close to the city, The Bluff Trail is a must for novice and experienced hikers alike. Choose your loop distance wisely and you’ll have a great wilderness experience and a workout that no gym can offer.
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