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Ferns and trees, Gully Lake Wilderness Trail

Gully Lake Wilderness Trail

I don’t know what happened this summer, but I didn’t get out hiking as much as I wanted to. The weather was perfect this year, so the opportunities were there. I think it was poor planning on my part and not prioritizing properly.

Before I knew it the Labour Day long weekend was upon me and I wasn’t about to let it go by without getting out for a good long hike. I was in the mood for a hike well-removed from the city and would provide a challenge in both terrain and distance. Tucked into the back cover of my Hiking Trails of Nova Scotia book was a brochure for the Cobequid Eco-Trails I picked up during the winter. These are a series of trails inside the Gully Lake Wilderness Area, north of Kemptown, NS. Many of the trails are shorter in distance and more easily accessible. The trail I chose was the longest of the trails at almost 12 kilometres.

The Gully Lake trail can be accessed either by parking in the small lot on Kemptown Road and hiking in along the fire road, or driving through the parking lot and taking the fire road to the end at Gully Lake and starting there. Having a capable vehicle meant my hiking partner and I decided to drive to the end of the fire road, but I wouldn’t recommend it for vehicles that aren’t well equipped with decent tires and ground clearance. The road got quite rough in spots, so beware of the risks before driving up there.

Bill's Falls, Gully Lake Wilderness Trail
Bill's Falls, Gully Lake Wilderness Trail

Once at the trailhead, we started the hike with a climb. The beginning of the trail makes its way to a loop where you can decide which direction to hike in. We decided to go clockwise and it turned out well. I’m not sure either direction is better or easier, but starting the day off with a climb was nice to get the legs stretched and the lungs full. It also means you end the hike off at a waterfall. More on that in a moment.

The hike itself is great. There are small climbs throughout, nothing too strenuous. The trail is very well marked along its entire length thanks to the volunteer trail maintainers. Great job! This is a real backcountry trail, so a good pair of boots is required. I would have very quickly twisted my ankles if I hadn’t had my big boots on. The trail moves from rocky to muddy and back again over the course of the trail. We crossed over quite a few streams along the way. While it’s been a dry summer, during a wet year these streams would be running much higher. Another good reason to wear a good pair of boots.

Lush growth, Gully Lake Wilderness Trail
Lush growth, Gully Lake Wilderness Trail

We also came across some wildlife along the way. In addition to the birds we could hear chirping — and the grouse we almost hit with the car on the drive up — we saw a snake, toads and frogs, and a couple of deer. The deer seemed to be enjoying the trail as much as we were as their tracks were fresh and as we approached the Salmon River lookout, we got to see them cross the stream in front of us. It always adds a little excitement to a hike when you can see some wildlife.

We made our way around the loop, stopping here and there for a drink of juice and to take some photos. The forest floor was lush and green. There were so many ferns in places it was like an endless carpet of these beautiful and ancient plants. The map marked some historical places but we couldn’t quite pick them out. It looks like nature has reclaimed much of the clearings made in the past. We were hoping to come across some old buildings, but there was nothing to be found. Good thing there was so much natural beauty all around us to enjoy.

Salmon River along Gully Lake Wilderness Trail
Salmon River along Gully Lake Wilderness Trail

There were a few small waterfalls along the trail as well, not a surprise when you think about the slope of the land. This is a perfect hike if you like streams and waterfalls. Pretty much the entire trail runs next to a stream, either Juniper Brook, Salmon River or Gully Lake Brook. Bill’s Falls is the first waterfall at about 3km from the start. On a hot summer’s day you could easily go for a dip in the pool at the bottom of the falls. About a kilometre or so from the end you get to what I think is called Willard’s Falls. This is the nicest of the falls in my opinion. If you’re willing to get down the hill off the trail you can get right up to it. Again, on a hot summer’s day you could easily take a dip in the small fall’s pool.

We made it back to the car feeling good after a decent day’s hike. In total, it’s about 11.6km in length including the short side trips to the lookouts and waterfalls. The hike is a wonderful gem of the eastern Cobequid hills. It’s become one of my favourite and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging hike less than two hours drive from downtown Halifax. I’d also like to send a huge thanks to the volunteers who help maintain these trails. These mostly unknown groups keep hiking alive in a province that seems to be indifferent to it. We have to keep these beautiful trails alive!

Walking through the ferns, Gully Lake Wilderness Trail
Walking through the ferns, Gully Lake Wilderness Trail

If you’re interested, here’s a map of the trail I recorded with my GPS during the hike.

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