The trail is designed to be hiked in sections and at no point are you more than a day from an access point. Right now nobody can tell you exactly how long a true thru-hike will take because in 2000 you’ll be among the first to do it, and the organizers will be coming to you for feedback.
Getting there: The IAT currently begins at Mars Hill, Maine, which is roughly 150 miles north of Bangor via route I-95 north to Houlton, then north on Route 1 to the village of Mars Hill. Fork right onto 1A, cross the bridge over the Presque Isle Stream, take the third road on the right 5 miles to Big Rock Ski Area. The trail will end at Parc Forillon, perched at the tip of the Gaspß Peninsula off Route 132.
When to go: July through early September is prime time. Check with the Maine IAT about conditions at Mars Hill, and with rangers at Mt. Carleton Provincial Park about snowpack at higher elevations. April 21 to June 25 is bear-hunting season in New Brunswick, which will be a factor as new sections of trail open. Check with Mel Fitton (New Brunswick IAT) or the Fish and Wildlife branch of the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy on those areas and times when you should wear blaze orange.
In Quebec, mud season ends late June to early July, and snow is likely in late September or early October. Exact dates of hunting seasons vary, but bear hunting generally runs May 1 to July 4, small game Sept. 15 to mid-December, and moose through October. Call David Leblanc or Andrew Wake, both with the Quebec IAT, for up-to-date information on trail conditions and when to wear orange. Or you can call the Quebec Ministry of Environment and Fauna regional office at Rimouski. Contact Parc de la Gaspßsie and Parc Forillon directly for trail conditions in their segments.
Permits: Camping reservations are necessary for Mt. Carleton Provincial Park, Parc de la Gaspßsie, and Parc Forillon. Backcountry campsites generally cost around C$5 per tent per night, main campgrounds C$10 to $17.50 per tent per night. Hikers on the Parc de la Gaspßsie Grand Traversße must stay in shelters along the trail, which are reserved in advance. Rates are C$15 per person per night.
Safety: If you’re determined to be among the first to blaze the trail, go with the attitude that you’ll be a pioneer. Hike in July and August, when weather and water shouldn’t be a problem. The new section of trail I hiked north of Matapßdia was littered with fresh bear and moose scat; people are definitely a minority.
Maps: No detailed maps will be printed until the IAT is complete, so current trail information will consist of written guides available from the IAT offices or the parks. Write or call the contacts listed here, specifying that you need maps or guides to the IAT/SIA in their area of coverage. Contacts followed by a can provide trail information and/or maps. Allow 4 to 6 weeks when writing the Maine IAT office, and include a stamped, self-addressed envelope big enough to hold a dozen photocopied sheets. Note: Many map providers take credit or bank debit cards, which avoids the hassle of calculating the dollar exchange rate.
Cultural tips: As of this writing the exchange rate was about C$1.45 to U.S.$1.00, which you can use as a general guideline. The Gaspß is within the French part of Quebec and there are few English signs. That doesn’t mean you’ll be in an alien culture. Almost everybody in the hospitality industry speaks some English. If you’re a male hiker you’re a randonneur and if you’re a female hiker you’re a randonneuse. Learn the phrase, “Je suis un randonneur/randonneuse Americain,” which means, “I am an American hiker.” At least they’ll know you’re trying. -P. Mann