Prince Edward Island’s new Island Walk, inspired by the Camino de Santiago, allows visitors to explore the province entirely on foot
“How far have you gone today, girls?” Asks Val Flannery, owner of the North Lake Boathouse Eatery, who served us breakfast, packed us a packed lunch and is about to serve us dinner on the first day of our attempt to tour the area. ‘Prince Edward Island on foot.
â18 and a half kilometers on a forest trail – and it rained on the last six of them,â I reply with a grimace.
âOh, my God,â Flannery said, setting a steaming plate of lobster and three cheese dip in front of us. “It’s more than I could have walked.”
We are in North Lake, at the eastern tip of Prince Edward Island, to be part of the Island Walk, a new system of marked trails inspired by the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain that guides travelers on a 32-day, 700-kilometer walk around the complex. of the province. The idea is that you walk 21 (ish) kilometers a day – before making the trip, my friend Viola and I thought it was quite doable; fun, even.
I shouldn’t say it wasn’t fun. It was – especially the next day when we started walking the singing sands of Basin Head Provincial Park, then strolled past fields of sunflowers and tender snow peas, grabbing sour apples from the trees in roadside, laughing and joking. Without distractions and doing nothing but putting one foot in front of the other, Viola and I connected in a way we haven’t been able to do since before the pandemic. We only did 12.5 kilometers on this second stage, but it was a beautiful fall day and we celebrated what we had been able to accomplish.
The Island Walk is divided into 32 sections and can be started at any time. Accommodation must be booked in advance and partner hotels along or near the route that offer transfers are listed on the Island Walk website. The marked trails are user friendly and not very difficult except for a few hills here and there. The route mainly follows the coastline and passes through towns and villages on the island while venturing onto parts of the existing Confederation Trail that crosses Prince Edward Island and has long been popular with cyclists.
Part of the appeal of a walk like this, says Island Walk creator Bryson Guptil, is that it brings travelers back at a rate we no longer function – which gets very addicting. âIt’s about walking and thinking and the people you meet and talking to them,â says Guptil. âAnd part of what’s so special about Prince Edward Island is the people you meet here.
Guptil was inspired to create the Island Walk after trekking the Camino de Santiago – a network of pilgrimages leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain that annually attracts thousands of travelers from around the world. – and wrote a guide about it. Both hikes are about the same distance and should take about the same time to complete – around 32 days – with the main difference being that Prince Edward Island is mostly flat and therefore not particularly difficult. You don’t need to be particularly fit to take on the road – you just need the stamina to walk five or six hours a day and to be fitted with comfortable shoes. (Guptil recommends runners, not hiking shoes, and several pairs of cool socks per day to avoid blisters.) Guptil also wrote a guide to the Island Walk, which is available for purchase through Etsy (etsy.com/ca/shop/IslandStuffStore) and details each step of the trail.
As well as being easy for travelers to undertake, the Island Walk also takes visitors to parts of Prince Edward Island that they probably would never have found otherwise. I ended up in North Lake, which in the 1970s was the tuna capital of the world. Singer Johnny Cash even fished there. Vera Chaisson, who held the title of Queen of the Tuna in 1971, took us on a tour of the Basinhead Fisheries Museum. The largest tuna ever caught was brought back by local fisherman Ken Fraser in 1979. But by the 1980s tuna was all but extinct – and so were most businesses in the area. The tuna is making a comeback, however, as are the fishermen – although the fishery is now fully relaxed – and savvy businesswomen are breathing new life into the small community.
Friends Liz Hubert and Sandy Baker decided to buy the old North Lake Motel last year and turned it into the adorable Siren’s Beach Motel. They’ve partnered up with Island Walk to provide transfers for visitors who use the place as a base for walking around the eastern tip of the island. For a small fee included in each walker’s reservation, Hubert or Baker will drop you off at the start of each part of the trail, then pick you up at the end (or as far as you manage to go). Then you can relax by the motel’s nighttime beach fire, just steps from the rooms.
As of this writing, over 600 beds have been booked by visitors to the Island Walk – impressive, considering organizers were still putting up the signage just a few weeks ago. Ideally, you would be able to walk from hotel to hotel, as with other backpacking destinations. âUnfortunately, in Prince Edward Island there aren’t enough hotels – and they aren’t in the right places,â Guptil says. The transfers work well and do not diminish the experience in any way. In addition to drop-off and pick-up on the trail, hotels that have partnered with Island Walk will also transfer you to the next participating hotel once you have completed all sections of the trail nearby. All your personal belongings remain in hotels, so you can travel light while walking.
After trying the Island Walk experience, I know I can’t walk every 13 miles a day – but I was able to manage 10, even 15. I want to go back and do other parts of the Island Walk – and maybe finish it all eventually, get the chance to see even more of Prince Edward Island along the way.
For more information on the island promenade, visit theislandwalk.ca.
The writer was a guest of Tourism Prince Edward Island. The organization did not review or approve the story before it was published.
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