What You Need To Know to Hike The Dobson Trail

If you’re like me, you’re looking for something to pass the time during this global pandemic. Fancy yourself a seasoned wanderer? Or just a new hiker looking for a challenge? Why not give the Dobson Trail a go?

Initially developed in 1959 by Dr. Art Dobson, this trail has attracted many trekkers ranging from young to old and from novice to experienced looking to complete the 58km footpath leading from Riverview, New Brunswick all the way to the Fundy National Park.

Something that may interest you? If so, be sure to give my tips and tricks a quick read to ensure your comfort and success along the way! 


The Dobson Trail 

Distance : 58km

Difficulty : Moderate to strenuous

Duration : 3 days

Markers : Blue Blazers

Trail Condition : Good with some rocky and boggy areas

Cellphone Coverage : Partial


1. PARKING

People seem to favour starting in Riverview and finishing in the Fundy National Park (near Alma). Whichever you choose, there is parking available at either end of the trail.

Riverview’s parking has lots of space, good foot traffic, and is easy to find. There is no cost for parking here.

The parking lot in Fundy can be a bit more trickier to find because it’s located a little further from the official “end” of the Dobson Trail. If you park here, factor in an additional 2.5km onto your 58km hike. From what I’m told, there is no cost for parking here since it’s located outside of the park limits. 


2. TREKKING

Allow yourself a comfortable three days to complete this trek. Distance is easy to calculate since every kilometers is marked along the entire trail (starting from Riverview).

You can manage this hike in hiking boots or shoes, depending on your personal preference and how much weight you plan on carrying. The terrain varies from gravel roads, forest, to bogs so have a backup plan for wet feet.


3. CAMPING

Camping is permitted throughout the entire length of the trail; however, there are some designated areas that are specifically cleared for tenting and have a fire pit with seating available. These sites are indicated with a tent icon on the trail map that’s included in the guidebook.

Our two favourite camping sites were Hayward Pinnacle (approx. 38km) and Blackwood Lake (approx. 48.4km).

Hayward Pinnacle is a cleared area with a small, wooden shelter located next to a spring. There are multiple tenting sites, along with a fit pit, benches, and chopped wood. Our favourite part – it’s situated within close proximity to one of the many wind turbines so we were able to fall asleep to its constant and soothing drone. 

Blackwood Lake is quite stunning. There are multiple tenting sites along the edge of the lake, along with a picnic table and two firepits. This site is 10km from the finish so it allows for a nice, short hike on your final day. Perhaps leave your speedo behind though because I’ve been told the lake has leeches!  


4. WATER

Most camping sites are situated near a water source; however, there are some options along the way as well (depending on the time of year). 

I used a Katadyn Water Filtration System and would highly recommend it. It’s light-weight and allows versatility to drink from any water source.


5. NAVIGATING

Get the guidebook!! You NEED the guidebook!!!! This trail frequently jumps off larger trails onto smaller foot paths so it’s VERY easy to lose the trail without the guidebook (actually, it’s even easy to lose it with the book if you are not paying close attention).

The trail is marked with ‘blue blazers’, which are blue lines painted vertically on trees. If you lose sight of these markers … you are likely no longer on the trail. 

Note the blue blazer on the right tree.

Horizontal green lines indicate the kilometer markers. There are indicators for nearly every kilometer along the way, starting from Riverview.

Note the horizontal green markers indicating the kilometers.

NOTE : The trail eventually connects with a paved road (Osborne Corner Road), which you will follow until you meet a dirt road called Levy Road. Follow your guidebook very carefully here because there is a random trail with blue Blazers on the left which, for reasons unknown, circles you back to Osborne Corner. You need to walk PAST this section, all the way to where Levy Road has a sharp bend in the road. Here, you will enter the woods on the left at a sign marked Dobson Trail (see the picture below). These directions are detailed in the guidebook.

6. HIGHLIGHTS

  1. The trail passes close to the windmills, which are very impressive.
  2. The camping sites are clean and well maintained with adequate clearing for tents and fire pits.
  3. The trail meets up with roads accessible by car if you need someone to bring you items (like insoles … or pizza).
  4. This is one of the few multi-day hikes available in NB.
  5. Bragging rights.

7. LOWLIGHTS 

  1. The trail is not overly scenic.
  2. The terrain can be quite boggy so you have to be very mindful of your footing since logs and rocks are quite slippery.
  3. This trail is very difficult to hike without the guidebook, which you can purchase for approximatley $25 in some stores (Ocean Trails, Jean Coutu Riverview, etc) or online (https://www.hikingnb.ca/Trails/FundyEast/Dobson.html).
  4. The trail frequently jumps off larger trails onto smaller foot paths so it’s quite easy to lose the trail.
  5. Large sections of this trail consists of walking along dirt roads.

CONCLUSION

There are a lot of mixed reviews of the Dobson Trail. In order to not be overly disappointed with your experience, hikers should invest in the guidebook, have realistic expectations, be properly prepared, and be mindful that this trail is maintained solely by volunteers. 

Happy Trails! 

Take a Hike : Dobson Trail

As I sit along the bank of Blackwood Lake, a mere 10km away from the end of the Dobson Trail, I watch as three ducklings follow closely behind their mother. The calm water ripples as they paddle away from the shore. I smile as I realize that this is the perfect conclusion to my trek.

Did the Dobson Trail live up to my expectations? No, not really. Do I regret it though? Absolutely not. Although this adventure started off as unfinished business, a missing notch in my belt if you will, it coincidentally became an incredible bonding experience with my son.

I initially decided that I was going to embark upon this trek a few months ago. As I began planning, I quickly realized that the only thing missing was a hiking partner! I knew my husband wasn’t an option since he’s spent years vocalizing his complete lack of interest in this hike. On a whim, I decided to casually throw the idea out to Hunter, my thirteen year old son with little-to-no hiking experience. I was flabbergasted when he unenthusiastically shrugged in agreement. Part of me felt bad knowing that he had no idea what he was getting himself into; however, the other part of me didn’t really care because I needed a hiking partner and was determined to finally complete this trail. 

In anticipation, I scheduled an extra day so that we could complete this 58km hike from Riverview to Fundy National Park in four days instead of the average three. I also stuffed my bag excessively full with dehydrated camping food and goodies serving as morale boosters. My husband, who is normally our meticulous planner and ultralight advocate, shuddered as he watched me weigh my bag down with Sour Patch Kids and Nibs. It was like watching a child pack their own bag : “Nope, no need for a compass but do you think I have enough candy?”

Hunter and I set foot from Riverview on a Thursday morning … right in the middle of a rain storm. After a month of sweltering summer heat resulting in a fire ban, we ended up with an unforecasted rainy day. Argh. Regardless, we donned our ponchos and away we went…

I proudly watched as my son tapped into this deep determination that I’ve never seen before. He was given many opportunities to quit as we zigzagged through the back countries of my hometown; however, he put his head down and persevered forward. I’m telling you, the best way to get to know someone is by taking away their internet and forcing them into isolation with you for four straight days! Stepping away from the chaos of our daily lives, we were able to engaged into real conversations. We spoke about friends, family, and life. He listened as I shared stories of my past and I listened as he shared aspirations of his future. 

When I used to think of the Dobson Trail, I would think about my two previously failed attempts. But now, I’ll think about the time when Hunter and I were stranded in a tent as we faced a freak hail storm in the middle of July. I’ll think about our kilometer countdowns, failed camping foods, and Crazy 8 card games. I’ll think about all of our stories and laughs, misery and boredom, and blisters and bug bites that we shared.

“Mom, tell me another story…” As I bask in the silence of the great outdoors and watch as these three little ducklings trail off behind their mother, I get a lump in my throat as I think about how fortunate I am to have my thirteen year old duckling still following so closely behind me on this unforgettable journey. 

 

Conquering Kilimanjaro (Day 4: Karanga Camp)

Distance: 6 km
Altitude: 3,995 m
Date: Jan. 31, 2018

The sounds of the rain dances on the top of our tent while the angry skies yell from above. I look over at Sieu, who is completely defeated by this weather. After trying to line the bottom of our tent with garbage bags, in an effort to keep our sleeping mats dry, he has now given up and is lying in his sleeping bag with a blank stare. I have worked hard, these past few days, to keep his morale up about the rain but today, there is nothing left. A river of water runs under our tent, with no sign of it letting up. The only thing that we can do now is to try our best to keep our gear dry so that we will not be summiting with damp gear tomorrow night. As we lie quietly in our tent, waiting for this day to end, I decide to pass the time by writing today’s adventures in my Midori travel notebook …

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Rain, rain, go away …

The morning begins as usual. We receive our wake-up call at 6:30am, enjoy our morning coffee, and then slowly get our stuff ready for the day. Once everything is neatly organized in my 95 L duffel bag, I crawl out of the tent and am struck with awe. I can’t believe my eyes! Mother Nature has removed her cloak of thick, grey fog to finally reveal her masterpiece. I look around and try to take it all in. We are surrounded by these colossal mountains that had seemed so far away just a few days ago. The bottoms of the mountains are speckled with green tuffs of grass, along with these peculiar trees that we had seen yesterday. My eyes slowly make their way up the charcoal trunks of the mountains to their snow-covered tops. The snow drizzles down from the peaks like melted white chocolate poured on top of a chef’s stunning creation.

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Leaving Baranco Camp

I enjoy the crisp and refreshing morning air as we begin our hike. Since the sun has not  summited the 360 degrees of mountains that we are surrounded by, the temperature is still cool. I embrace this and take a deep breath in, excited about today’s hike. Today is not only a hike, but a climb too, as we will be conquering the Baranco Wall.

As we near the edge of this stone wall, I look up at its magnificent rock face. I can’t help but wonder how the porters are going to carry our gear up and over this vertical obstacle. Assessing the landscape, there appears to be no other way than up. While I stand there trying to figure this out, Albert instructs us to pack away our hiking poles as we will be needing both our hands AND our feet for this scramble. Yes! Let’s do this!!

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Porters carrying 20 kg of gear up the vertical surface of the Baranco Wall

Welcoming the challenge, I begin to look for foot placements and rocks to grasp onto with my hands, in order to pull myself on top of some of the boulders that line the trail. While doing so, San and I begin to plan a climbing vacation for all of us to go on next. He is an avid climber so I knew he would be onboard for this kind of adventure!

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Like ants marching in a line, we continue to ascend the winding, narrow path up the Baranco Wall. Looking ahead and then looking behind me, I notice how the wall is speckled with tourists and porters from various groups. I also notice how our porters, who were packing up our campsite when we left, have now caught up and are veering off of the semi-groomed trail to pass us. Their strength and agility continues to amaze me.

 

 

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“The Kissing Wall” of Baranco Wall

Nearly half way up, we come to a sudden stop. I look ahead and see that we have finally reached the famous “Kissing Rock” of the Machame Trail. I had read about this and am excited to see what all of the hype is about. How narrow could this pathway possibly be? Well, I finally got my answer. It’s pretty darn narrow! Our guide, Paul, stands split-legged and is balancing carefully between us and the unforgiving drop off the ledge. One-by-one, we hug this cold stonewall and shimmy along its narrow edge. Sieu is in front of me. I watch as he hugs the wall, gives it a little kiss for a photo op, and then continues to carefully slide to the other side. Planning my first step, I look down at the worn rock ledge, that has been stepped on by so many climbers before me. I am not scared of heights but I can understand how some may become paralyzed with fear from this restrictive pathway.

7cc66dd0-9415-4ff6-ac33-998bc8222af9As we near the top, the illusion of sun escapes us as the clouds crawl in. This makes for an eerie arrival at the peak of the Baranco wall. While taking a quick break, I notice an older gentleman sitting with two guides near our group. He is Caucasian with bright blue eyes and is the oldest man that I have seen on the trail yet. I am curious about his story so I gradually approach him. “Hi, how ya doing?” I ask. “Good, thanks!” he replies. Ah ha! He speaks English! Throughout the hike, I have noticed the vast amount of diversity along the trail and often overhear so many different languages being spoken daily. He tells me that he is from the United States and that he is climbing Kilimanjaro with his girlfriend, who is much younger than he is. As I am talking with him, my husband comes over to join in on the conversation – he has a way of asking those questions that we are all too shy to ask. “Excuse me, sir, if you don’t mind me asking, how old you are?” “I don’t mind at all”, he replies, “I am 78 years old”. Wow. I am speechless. I shake his hand and wish him the best of luck.

So what goes up, must come down. As we continue our hike, we descend down the other side of the Baranco wall; however, it is much more gradual and forgiving than the ascent. The fog remains thick and the air remains cold. Although it is not raining, the air is damp so we put on our rain gear to keep dry and for added warmth. Once we reach the bottom, a thin worn trail scurries off into the distance with no apparent ending. There is nothing in this new landscape. No birds. No plants. No porters. Not even any other hikers. Just us navigating through this uninhabited, grey landscape through the thick, white fog.

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As we quietly continue forward, the vegetation begins to re-emerge from the gravel flooring and the scenery, once again, looks less grim and desolate. Upon reaching the edge of a canyon, with nowhere else to go but down, we stop for a break. Albert tells us that our campsite is on the other side of this deep abyss. He continues to tell us that we will have limited water supply at this campsite since the only water source is in the belly of this canyon, as he points down.

We carefully walk down the winding path of this final steep descent. Once we reach the bottom, we cross a small stream and then begin our final ascent. Tired, we all drag our feet as we continue to zig to the left and then zag to the right all the way to the top. Our guides chat the entire time, without any signs of fatigue or shortness of breath. This is like a Sunday afternoon walk in the park for them.

As we finally reach the top, we are greeted by the warmth of our G-Fighters. Every day when we arrive at our new campsite, Willie greets me with a kind handshake from his rough, worked hands. Every day I look forward to this as he looks so proud to see me summiting this mountain, one campsite at a time. During this time, we are also greeted by a gust of wind that blows the tent for our port-a-potty off the top of this mountain . We laugh as two G-Fighters chase after it and joke about how funny it would have been if someone was using the potty at the time!

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Arriving at Karanga Camp

As we settle into our campsite, we enjoy a late lunch followed by a quiet and relaxing afternoon. During this time, the other G-Adventures group, which we’ve been leap-frogging with over these past 4 days, is continuing past our campsite and straight to the basecamp. Since we opted for the 7-day hike, as oppose to the 6-day, it gives us more time to rest up before our summiting night. Tomorrow is our turn to hike to the basecamp, nap in the afternoon, and then awake at 11pm to summit.

After lunch, the mess tent alarmingly shakes from a thunderous boom and then the rain begins. And when it rains, it really pours! The skies open up and are dumping buckets of water on us, which is pounding violently on the canvas of our mess tent. We all decide to wait in the mess tent for the rain to let up before going back to our tents. In the meantime, San pulls out a deck of cards and one of the G-Fighters teaches us a Tanzanian card game. We speak loudly to be heard over the hammering sounds of the rain. With all of this rain accumulating from the persistent rainfall, a small stream begins to flow straight through out mess tent. Since I am wearing Crocs, I leave them on the ground and fold my legs up on my chair. After a while, Sieu decides to brave the rain and go check on our tent. I bring down my legs to put on my Crocs and join him but one of them is missing! The stream carried one of my shoes away to the other side of the tent!

We bolt for our tent to see what kind of damage has been done. Similar to the mess tent, there is a stream of water passing under our tent as well. The bottom of our sleeping mats are damp as our tent can only sustain so much from this cruel environment. We line the floor of our tent with garbage bags and then secure the remainder of our gear. We sit together in silence, listening to the rhythmic drumming of the rain on our tent.

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Looking out from our tent

The rain finally stops in the evening. Perhaps Mother Nature’s way of telling us to rest up before the journey ahead? Regardless of the reason, we had a quiet afternoon of hiding from the rain. After supper, we have our nightly debriefing. Everyone is feeling well today, with no complaints of the altitude. Even my saturation has drastically improved from last night and is now 94%! It is very reassuring to see everyone happy, motivated, and rested, ready to conquer the summit tomorrow night. People are even beginning to entertain the idea of doing Everest Base Camp next year. We are not sold of this idea just yet but we will see …

As we turn in for the night, I fill my water bottle with hot water and head back to our tent. The humidity from the rain has made the night air comfortable. I admire how clear the night sky is, since all of the clouds are resting below us for the night. The lights from Moshi, a nearby city, sparkle similarly to the stars in the sky. The moon is full tonight and illuminates our surroundings; we planned our trip around this so that we would have good visibility for summiting night. There is no way of fully capturing this moment but I do feel slightly immortal, like a Greek God sitting upon Mount Olympus and looking down on the mortals below.

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Karanga Camp overlooking Moshi, a nearby city

 

To Be Continued in…
Conquering Kilimanjaro (Day 5: Barafu Camp – Base Camp)