It’s called Castle Rock for good reason. The ancient granite bulge in the Earth’s crust–crumbling at the edges, smooth and rounded at the top–towers over the surrounding forest like the ruins of some great fortress. From the top, the views down over the coastal lowlands reach beyond the Nova Scotia town of Chester to the islands of Big and Little Tancook.
All year is hiking season, but spring is my favourite time to get out in the wilderness. The Castle Rock Trail is particularly enjoyable this time of the year. Wildflowers such as trillium, bluets and bunch berry bloom along the trail and along the East River and it’s tributaries. The purple blossoms of rhodora shrubs set against the greens of the bogs and the forest light up the trails. And the streams and rivers are full of water. Ducks are already teaching their ducklings to feed in the shallows.
The Castle Rock Trail on the South Shore of Nova Scotia near Chester is a small 8.2 km loop off the much longer 119 km Rum Runners Trail. It begins in a parking lot next to an unpleasant industrial site that processes millions of logs harvested from Nova Scotia’s declining forests, a reminder of why trails and wilderness reserves are so important. But the trail quickly crosses a road and leads into the woods along a water system. Rivers, streams, ponds and small lakes along the “rails-to-trails” system built on a former railway bed, including over an old railway bridge, are part of the attraction. However, ATVs and dirt bikes, as well as hikers and cyclists are permitted on the multi-use trail, so be prepared for occasional noise.
Leaving the flat, straight former railway, the Castle Rock trailhead offers two choices. Take one route on the way up and one on the way back for two very different hiking experiences. To the left, red and blue marked trails make for an easy walk on what amounts to a road for most of the way. To the right, the yellow marked trail is narrow and steep, climbing through the forest over roots and rocks. I much preferred this option, especially as it was a warm day with no cloud cover.
Either way, the last section is a scramble up the side of Castle Rock. But wow, what a surprising view once I reached the top. We brought a lunch to enjoy and frankly as an excuse to stay awhile at the top. Several other couples and groups joined us, but there’s lots of room for a dozen people at a time. The wind sweeps up the slopes and over the rock, so biting insects aren’t much of a problem.
On the way back, we soaked our hot, tired feet in the trail-side stream. Because it’s spring, the water is still cool, so the soaking was especially relieving. Once back at the parking lot, it was an easy decision to head into Chester for a craft beer at Tanner and Co, then some solid pub grub at the historic Fo’c’sle Tavern, reputedly Nova Scotia’s oldest pub.
Hiking is one of the best and most universal travel deals. Hiking is nearly always free and can be enjoyed around the world by most people. It’s spring, time to find your local trail and put it to good use.