Saint John, New Brunswick, is a small city on Canada’s east coast and located where the St John River enters the Bay of Fundy. In summer, it’s one of North America’s premier locations for all types of water sports, but in winter, it is a snowshoeing getaway. As great as it is to be on the river in my boat, snowshoeing on New Brunswick’s St. John River and its equally impressive tributary, the Kennebecasis River is, to me, a much more intimate experience.
About St. John River
The St. John River has its headwaters in the province of Quebec. It flows the entire length of the province of New Brunswick, a distance of almost 420 miles (676 km), and in parts forms the border with Maine.
Its nickname is the Rhine of North America, but I prefer the local aboriginal name. The Maliseet people call the St. John River the Woolastoq, which means Good and Beautiful River. From experience, the river is undoubtedly both of these.
Snowshoeing & History Along The St. John River
As you can imagine, with a river system this large, there is an almost infinite number of snowshoe outings available. For the history and science buff, maybe the best one is a short hike of about 4 miles (6.4 km).
First, work your way through the ice fishing shacks near the popular summer swimming beach at Dominion Park on St. John’s west side. Then, head up the river and around Green Head Island.
After about 1 mile (1.6 km), there are some very obvious fossils of stromatolites on the rocks. These are some of the oldest fossils in the world, and they’re the first stromatolites recorded in a scientific journal.
A little farther around Green Head Island brings you to Greenhead Cove, the site of an old abandoned limestone quarry. It was from here that the lime for the brick mortar was quarried to rebuild the city after it was almost destroyed by fire in 1877.
Another half-mile (0.8 km) or so brings you to the turnaround at Swiftpoint Lighthouse. This lighthouse is one of a series of lighthouses that dot the St. John River. These lighthouses date from the late 1800s. They were used for navigation by the riverboats that used to ply the river in that era.
Snowshoe Day Trip To Long Island
For a great day trip in New Brunswick, go snowshoeing on the many islands along the river that are accessible only by boat for most of the year. I like exploring Long Island, a 2,190-acre island straight out from the town of Rothesay, one of Saint John’s eastern suburbs. It’s now uninhabited except for a few summer camps. However, Loyalists fleeing New England for Canada to stay loyal to the British Crown permanently settled the island in 1785.
As you approach the island’s prominent cliff face called Minister’s Face, don’t be surprised to come across a group of ice climbers. Walk onto the island on the paths to the right or the left of the cliff face, Minister’s Face. Then, work your way to the old road that bisects the island. Follow this road to the top of Minister’s Face for a panoramic view. You can see for miles up and down the river, as well as across the river to Rothesay. You can also still see where the farms and orchards used to be.
Trace The Steps Of The 104th Regiment
For those adventurers with a lot of time on their hands and looking for a much more extreme adventure, you might try retracing the route of the 104th Regiment of Foot during the War of 1812. In the winter of 1813, the 104th Regiment was based upriver in Fredericton, New Brunswick. They were ordered to Kingston, Ontario, to help defend against the expected attack by the Americans.
With the rivers frozen at this time of year, the only route for the Regiment was overland. Leaving Fredericton on February 16th, the 554 men began the march up the St. John River. They trudged overland to the St. Lawrence River and along to Kingston, arriving on April 12 after marching over 730 miles (1175 km).
Their longest single-day march was an astounding 55 miles (88.5 km)! Furthermore, they did this wearing heavy wool uniforms, carrying their rifles, and pulling loaded toboggans. All of their trekking was accomplished while wearing wooden snowshoes and suffering through temperatures of -25F. This feat is genuinely an impressive march!
Experience Beauty & History Along The St. John River
Winter in Saint John, New Brunswick, is a great time to go snowshoeing! Explore all the coves, coastline, and islands of this impressive river and its many tributaries. It is an almost magical feeling to be alone, in the middle of this great river and be able to see for miles upstream.
Have you ever snowshoed along the St. John River? What’s your favorite trail?