Hiker on Champlain Mountain looking down on Bar Harbor Photo by Carey Kish
Hiking through the Quartier Petit Champlain Photo by Carey Kish
Samuel de Champlain statue in Quebec Photo by Carey Kish
View of Jackson Lab and Bar Harbor from Champlain Mountain Photo by Carey Kish
Carey Kish at the Citadelle hiking to Chateau Frontenac Photo by Carey Kish
Champlain monument Photo by Carey Kish
Champlain Mountain Photo by Carey Kish
Devil's Head, Saint Croix Island Photo by Carey Kish
On a cold morning early last November, rucksack packed for a day of adventuring on foot, I spiritedly marched down Rue Saint-Louis inside the old walled city of Quebec.
At Lord Dufferin’s grand terrace high on the bluff overlooking the mighty St. Lawrence River, beneath the spires of the historic Chateau Frontenac, I was pleased as ever to find the larger than life bronze statue of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec City in 1608, gracing the beautiful scene.
This was the third time in as many months that I had encountered Champlain, an important figure in the early European colonization of the New World – from what would become New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine, to Quebec, much of the rest of New England, New York and well beyond. Champlain (1567-1635) was a French navigator, explorer, cartographer, geographer, soldier, diplomat and writer, among his many talents. Champlain is thought to have made well over 20 trips across the Atlantic Ocean in the effort to map New France and help establish the settlements for King Henry IV and later King Louis XIII.
Most Mainers probably know Champlain best as the man who gave Mt. Desert Island its name. Sailing southward along the coast in 1604, Champlain observed the sparsely vegetated pink granite mountaintops of the island and noted the navigational landmark on his chart as “ile des Monts Desert,” the “island of bare mountains.” These magnificent peaks today, of course, are part of our beloved Acadia National Park, as is Isle au Haut, the “high island,” also named by Champlain.
Champlain was in the region at the time under the command of merchant venturer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, whose expedition explored the Bay of Fundy before establishing an outpost on St. Croix Island in the middle of the St. Croix River, today’s boundary between Maine and New Brunswick. This marked the first European settlement in northern North America (the first was the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565). The harsh winter that followed was a disaster; close to half of the men died of scurvy and starvation. Come spring, the island was abandoned.
On Mt. Desert Island, hikers can connect, so to speak, with Samuel de Champlain across four centuries of time with a hike on Champlain Mountain on the east side of Acadia National Park.
For a great five-mile loop, start from Schooner Head Road, just south of Bar Harbor. Follow Orange & Black Path across Park Loop Road and up to Champlain North Ridge Trail. Combine this path and Champlain South Ridge Trail for a fabulous walk over the open summit and down to the Bowl.
Descend past the Beehive to the Sand Beach parking entrance, then follow Satterlee Trail to Schooner Head. Pick up Schooner Head Path and return to your car.
There’s a stone monument to Champlain at the start of Day Mountain Trail on Route 3 a couple miles south of Blackwoods Campground. Just into the woods, a side trail leads right about 150 feet to the monument, erected in 1904 by the Seal Harbor Village Improvement Society. Follow the main trail over Day Mountain before returning either east or west on a portion of the park’s incredible carriage road system.
At Saint Croix Island National Historic Site in Calais, browse the visitor center exhibits, then check out the short interpretive trail that leads out to a view of the island. Panels and statues en route explain some of the rich French and Passamaquoddy history and culture of the area.
Nearby, visit Devil’s Head Conservation Area, which preserves the namesake dramatic granite headland as well as cobble beaches and upland forests on the U.S. side of the St. Croix River. Devil’s Head Trail makes a two-mile loop over this escarpment, offering several good views across into New Brunswick. Devil’s Head is a variant of “D’Orville’s Head;” Sieur d’Orville was among the settlers on St. Croix Island in 1604.
In the spectacular old Europe setting of Quebec City, park your car as I did at a nice B&B (Chez Hubert on Rue Sainte-Ursule is lovely) and leave it for a few days. Then walk to your heart’s content within the walls of Vieux Quebec, below in the lower town district of Petit Champlain, and on the trails and byways around the Citadelle and the Plains of Abraham.