En Route to Kouchibouguac National Park

If you decide to head directly to Kouchibouguac from Moncton, Bouctouche Dune makes for a good stop along the way. To reach the dune, take Route 15 east out of Moncton, then turn north on Route 11 at its intersection with Shediac. The drive takes about an hour, however.

This striking white sand dune stretches an impressive 13km (8 miles) across Bouctouche Bay; it's home to the endangered piping plover, a unique butterfly species, and some rare plants. The sensitive dune area itself can be viewed from a wheelchair-accessible, 2km (mile-plus) boardwalk that snakes along its length. On a sunny day, the sandy beach is a lovely spot to while away a couple hours, or even take a dip in the (relatively) warm seawater. The visitor center is fairly straightforward in its explanations of the flora and fauna indigenous to the dune; kids will probably be amused. There are also regular ranger programs here. Admission is free; the boardwalk is open year-round (in good weather) and the visitor center is open daily from 10am to 8pm (until 5pm in the off season). Contact the dune's visitor center (administered by the Irving Oil folks) at tel. 888/640-3300 or 506/743-2600.

If you're interested in spending the night in the area or grabbing a bite to eat, check out the Dune View Inn at 589 Rte. 875 (tel. 877/743-9893 or 506/743-9893; www.aubergevuedeladune.com). It's open year-round, where the owners (one a trained chef who previously cooked in Montréal) serve up French-inflected local seafood. The six units here feature TVs, telephones, and private bathrooms (one with a Jacuzzi); they're pretty and light, if somewhat cramped. A double with breakfast costs from C$90 to C$135. The inn can also arrange local golf and kayaking packages, or even a romance package, with advance notice.

Kouchibouguac National Park

Much is made of the fact that big Kouchibouguac National Park (local slang: "the Kooch") has all sorts of ecosystems worth studying, from sandy barrier islands to ancient peat bogs. But that's like saying Disney has nice lakes: It misses the point. In fact, this artfully designed park is a wonderful destination for cycling, hiking, and beach-going, too -- yes, it has beaches. If you're an outdoorsy type, plan to spend a few days here doing nothing but exercising. The varied natural wonders (which are spectacular) will just be an added bonus -- a big one.

The tongue-tangling name is a Mi'kmaq Indian word meaning "river of the long tides." It's pronounced "Koosh-uh-boog-oo-whack," or something like that. The place is great for cyclists, because the park is laced with well-groomed bike trails made of finely crushed cinders that traverse forest and field or meander alongside rivers and lagoons. In those areas where bikes aren't permitted (such as on boardwalks and beaches), there are usually bike racks handy for locking up while you keep going on foot. In fact, if you camp here and bring a bike, there's no need to even use a car.

The only group this park might disappoint is gung-ho hikers. There isn't any hard-core hiking or climbing, just gentle walking and strolling. The pathways are wide and flat. Most trails are short -- on the order of a half-mile to a mile -- and seem more like detours than destinations.

Although the park is ideal for campers, day-trippers also find it a worthwhile destination. Plan to stay until sunset. The trails tend to empty out in the afternoon, and the dunes, bogs, and boreal forest take on a rich, almost iridescent hue as the sun sinks over the spruce.

Be aware that this is a fair-weather destination only -- if it's blustery or rainy or snowy, there's little to do save a damp stroll on the beach. So it's best to save a visit for sunny days; check the weather before visiting, if possible.

Getting There -- Kouchibouguac National Park is located about 112km (70 miles) north of Moncton; figure less than 90 minutes' driving time. The exit for the park, off Route 11, is well marked.

Visitor Information -- The park is open daily from April through November, while a Visitor Reception Centre (tel. 506/876-2443) opens daily from mid-May until mid-October. The visitor center is just off Route 134, a short drive past the park entrance. (It's open from 8am to 8pm from June through August, 9am to 5pm in the shoulder seasons.) There's a slide show here to introduce you to the park's attractions, plus some field guides.

Fees -- A daily pass costs C$7.80 adults, C$6.80 seniors, C$3.90 children 6 to 16, and C$20 families. (Rates are discounted 50 to 60% from April through June and from October through November.) Seasonal passes are also available, but are only worth the dough if you're planning to visit for more than 3 days. Though there are no formal checkpoints here, occasional roadblocks during the summer check for pass-holding compliance. Note that, for a small extra charge, you can also get a helpful map of the park at the information center.

Camping -- Kouchibouguac is at heart a camper's park, best enjoyed by those who plan to spend at least a night.

South Kouchibouguac, the main campground, is centrally located and very nicely laid out with 300-plus sites, most rather large and private. The 50 or so sites with electricity are nearer the river and somewhat more open, while the newest sites (nos. 1-35) lack grassy areas for pitching a tent -- campers there must pitch their tents on gravel pads. Bring a thick sleeping pad or ask for another site. Sites here cost C$27 to C$45 per night, depending on time of year and the level of comfort you require. Reservations are accepted for about half of the sites; call tel. 506/876-2443 starting in late April. The remaining sites are doled out first-come, first-served.

Other camping options within the park include the more remote, semiprimitive Côte-à-Fabien, across the river on Kouchibouguac Lagoon. It lacks showers and some sites require a short walk, but it's more appealing for tenters. The cost is C$16 per night.

The park also maintains three backcountry sites. Sipu is on the Kouchibouguac River and is accessible by canoe or foot only, Petit Large by foot or bike, and Pointe-à-Maxime by canoe or kayak only (no fresh water available at this campground). These sites cost a flat C$9.90 per night.

New to most Parks Canada campgrounds, Kouchibouguac offers 15 oTENTiks, a cross between a yurt and a cabin. One night costs C$80-C$90, depending on the season. These are popular, so book well ahead of arrival. If you arrive unprepared to stay the night, ask about Equipped Camping, which provides tent, sleeping bag and other essentials.

Beaches -- The park features about 16km (10 miles) of sandy beaches, mostly along barrier islands of sandy dunes, delicate grasses and flowers, and nesting plovers and sandpipers. Kellys is the principal beach, one of the best-designed and best-executed recreation areas in eastern Canada. At a forest's edge, a short walk from the main parking area, you can find showers, changing rooms, a snack bar, and some interpretive exhibits. From here, you walk about 480m (1/3-mile) across a winding boardwalk that's plenty fascinating as it crosses a salt marsh, lagoons, and some of the best-preserved dunes in the province.

The long, sandy beach here features water that's comfortably warm, with waves that are usually mellow -- they lap rather than roar, unless a storm's passing offshore. Lifeguards oversee a roped-off section about 91m (300 ft.) long; elsewhere, though, you're on your own. For kids, there's supervised swimming on a sandy stretch of the quiet lagoon.

Boating & Biking -- Ryans (tel. 506/876-8918) -- a cluster of buildings between the campgrounds and Kellys Beach -- is the recreational center where you can rent bikes, kayaks, paddleboats, and canoes seasonally. All rent relatively cheaply, even the double kayaks. Canoes can be rented for longer excursions. And since Ryans is located on a lagoon, you can explore around the dunes or upstream on the winding river.

The park sometimes offers a "Voyageur Canoe Marine Adventure" during summer, with a crew paddling a sizable canoe from the mainland out to offshore sandbars and a naturalist-guide helps identify the wildlife. First Nations craft from the mainland out to offshore sandbars, and a naturalist-guide helps identify the wildlife and interpret the natural and human history of the area. You could see literally thousands of terns and seals on one excursion. Inquire at the park’s information center when you enter. You need to reserve by calling tel. 506/876-2443. The fee is C$29.40 per person upon reservation.

Hiking -- The hiking and biking trails are as short and undemanding as they are appealing. The one hiking trail that requires slightly more fortitude is the Kouchibouguac River Trail, which runs for some 13km (8 miles) along the banks of the river.

The Bog Trail runs just 2km (a mile and a quarter) in each direction, but it opens the door to a wonderfully alien world: The 4,500-year-old bog here is a classic domed bog, made of peat created by decaying shrubs and other plants. At the bog's edge you'll find a wooden tower ascended by a spiral staircase that affords a panoramic view of the eerie habitat.

The boardwalk crosses to the thickest, middle part of the bog. Where the boardwalk stops, you can feel the bouncy surface of the bog -- you're actually standing on a mat of thick vegetation that's floating on top of water. Look for the pitcher plant, a carnivorous little devil that lures flies into its bell-shaped leaves and then digests them with acid, allowing the plant to thrive in an otherwise hostile environment.

Callanders Beach and Cedar Trail are both located at the end of a short dirt road. There's an open field with picnic tables here, a small protected beach on the lagoon (with fine views of dunes across the way), and an 800m (about a half mile or so) hiking trail along a boardwalk that passes through a cedar forest, past a salt marsh, and through a mixed forest. This is a good alternative for those who prefer to avoid the crowds (again, relatively speaking) at Kellys Beach.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.