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New Hiking Guide: Castle Rock Trail
Difficulty: Easy-Difficult (Distance).
Setting: Woodlands, wetlands & sections of old-growth forest.
Facilities: Parking, benches.
Up to 10kms (3-4hrs), with options as short as 1.3km.
Easy to navigate, with excellent marking and trail construction
Remote wilderness with unreliable cell phone signals.
1 /11 /1
Nine Mile River Trail
With 10km of trails to tackle, you can do anything from a one to 4-hour trip. The longest route is 10km (3-4hrs) and the shortest being the 1.3km Pitcher Plant Trail loop. To do the entire trail system you should expect a significant hike in length. With a short loop at the beginning, a longer spine trail in the middle and a longer loop at the end, you have a few different options to choose from. The great part about this trail system is the ability to safely and easily go as far as you’re physically capable. With no exceptionally challenging or hilly terrain to speak of, most of its challenges lie with distance. A great place for outdoor exercise, whether its a hike, run, bike ride or snowshoe.
Well Marked & Maintained Trails
When it comes to #long-distance, #backcountry hikes, safety is always a concern. One of the best aspects of this trail is that it’s exceptionally well marked and mapped. This well-designed trail construction makes it easy to stay on track. Besides being well marked, the trails are also exceptionally well maintained, especially considering their length. Despite low lying muddy topography, conditions are good for the majority of the trails.
For the first few km’s you’ll have nicely compacted crusher dust singletrack trail, with boardwalks and footbridges. The condition of the trail gradually degrades with distance. The Nine Mile River Trails Association is working hard to improve the entire system, so you can expect constant improvements (support their work!). (As of Oct. 2019) You can expect regularly occurring small patches of mud, a narrower path, no crusher dust base and natural terrain the further you go.
Proper hiking footwear is a must. The farthest trail loop, the Hemlock Cathedral trail has all of the previously mentioned challenges, plus old broken boardwalks and fewer trail markings. You will be unmistakenly warned by signage that this trail is unmaintained before you enter it.
Despite its namesake, the 9 Mile River trails do not intersect with the 9 Mile River. You can access it, off-trail, where its nearest a bend in the river (see map). There are future plans to create new trails that will run alongside the river. A large map at the trailhead shows two additional loops to be added asap. For now, the trail’s main attraction is its quiet, enchanted forest atmosphere.
Heaven for tree-huggers, this trail is home to many sections with sizeable #old-growth trees. The biodiversity is noticeably more prolific than many of the province’s forests. To someone like myself who spent many gruelling days planting trees in clearcut hellscapes throughout Nova Scotia, places like this are like the Garden of Eden. Be sure to stretch your neck, you’ll often be gazing upward.
A Quiet Symphony
Underneath its towering canopy, you’ll encounter areas of pure silence and others with an orchestra of birds, squirrels, frogs and insects interrupted only occasionally by air and highway traffic. The latter reminding you that you haven’t left civilization entirely. At times, you’ll be struck by the absolute silence and stillness. Don’t be surprised to be zoned out at some point only to be startled back to reality by an alarmed grouse darting through the undergrowth. Its deep bass noises can be another source of brief anxiety, as it can sound akin to a large animal bounding towards you.
When in a wilderness like this, its good to be aware of your surroundings. If alone, you should make noise to alert nearby wildlife and avoid an accidental run-in (an uncommon occurrence in NS). During hunting season (Oct.-Dec.), be safe with high visibility blaze orange clothing & gear.
Pitcher Plant Loop (1.3km)
The 1.3km Pitcher Plant Loop trail is a well maintained, compacted crusher dust base singletrack trail ideal for people of any ability. Scenic boardwalks wind through the area’s diverse plant life such as its namesake pitcher plant. A great loop to do on its own, or as a way to add some new scenery on your return trip.
Comeau Lake Trail (3km)
At just over 2km from the start, along the Comeau Lake Trail the first notable view is a bench overlooking a large clearing in low lying wetlands. The bench is a peaceful pit-stop to do some #bird watching while surveying the diverse, camera-friendly #wetland habitat.
After crossing some well-built boardwalks and bridges, you’ll come to another similar bench just past the 3km mark. Situated above an elevated ravine in an especially magnificent section of forest, I highly recommend taking a seat if only for a minute or two. Hit your pause button, take some deep breaths of serenity and silently appreciate the ambience.
Next, you’ll reach a trail fork where the Comeau Lake Trail intersects the Hemlock Cathedral Trail. I chose to continue to Comeau Lake but you can use this point to assess your situation. I walked another 650M (~10min) to Comeau Lake, before continuing a counter-clockwise hike of the Hemlock Cathedral Trail loop.
At roughly 4.5km from the start, Comeau Lake is calm, tranquil and wild. Alive with soaring birds, croaking frogs and emphatic squirrels, this area gives you an appreciation for your remote surroundings. An ideal spot to take your halfway point break, or to rest up before continuing onto the more challenging Hemlock Cathedral Trail.
Hemlock Cathedral Trail (2.5km)
The unmaintained 2.5km Hemlock Cathedral Trail is more remote, narrow, rugged and challenging than the other trails. The aptly named trail has many sections where you’ll proceed amongst awe-inspiring pillars in this cathedral of nature.
The Nine Mile River Trails Association is in the process of addressing many repairs on the trail. As of Oct. 2019 there were still some boardwalks in various states of disrepair, and hazards that require stepping carefully. Though there are consistent trail markings, it is possible to get off track if you’re not paying attention.
‘The Gym’ For Nature Lovers
Like nature’s treadmill, the 9 Mile River Trails are a perfect place to gauge your distance limits. You don’t have to do the entire length of the trails to have an enjoyable outing. You can travel as far as you like without worrying about getting lost or encountering any especially challenging terrain. A perfect place to practice hike before taking on more difficult #long-distance hikes.
The trails are also good for trail running and #mountain biking if you don’t mind getting a little muddy. Make sure to have a bicycle bell, as these trails have regular foot traffic. Off-road capable strollers and wheelchairs can navigate the Pitcher Plant Trail, save for sporadic mud patches that are rapidly disappearing as the Nine Mile River Trails Association volunteers continually work to address them.
The remoteness of the trail system means spotty-to-no cellular phone coverage, so you should plan accordingly. Read my blog post Hiking Preparation 101 for tips on how to properly prepare.
I recommend keeping dogs on leash as coyotes, porcupines and other wildlife encounters can lead to your dog taking off, getting lost and other trouble. Also, don’t be one of the loathsome people who leave poop bags laying around. I’ve listed some dog hiking gear on my shop that can help you avoid that.
If you’re doing the trails during bug season (Spring-Late Summer) you’ll definitely want to arm yourself with some decent bug defences and take precautions to avoid ticks whenever temperatures are consistently above zero.