PEI – Travels on the Confederation Trail
Prince Edward Island snowmobilers enjoy exclusive winter access
By: Heather Laura Clarke
Photo: Donnie O’Keefe
Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Trail is known worldwide for its beauty. During the summer, it’s the perfect place for a bike ride or a stroll. But in the winter, it’s off limits to anyone who isn’t on a snowmobile and it turns into a winter wonderland perfect for sledding
“There’s an agreement with the provincial government that means, in the wintertime, snowmobilers have exclusive access to the Confederation Trail from tip to tip,” says PEI Snowmobile Association (PEISA) president Dale Hickox.
“It’s very, very unique to us and it’s one of the top reasons people come to P.E.I. to go snowmobiling.”
After Prince Edward Island abandoned its railway in 1989, it was turned into the 435-kilometre trail with gentle gradients and branches that extend into Charlottetown, Souris, Georgetown, Montague, Wood Islands, Murray River and Murray Harbour.
The Confederation Trail is Prince Edward Island’s portion of the Trans Canada Trail and PEISA leases the trail every Dec. 1 through March 31.
Hickox says having exclusive rights to the trail brought snowmobilers from all over North America to Prince Edward Island to celebrate Canada 150 with an epic four-day ride.
Islanders can also snowmobile on nearly 600 kilometres of unplowed seasonal roads and private landowners’ property, which Hickox says gives them a trail system that “pretty much encompasses the whole island.”
“You can ride right along the coast or through a potato field or past the West Point windmills. It’s a very unique place to ride,” says Hickox. “We definitely have some trails through the woods, but we also have open fields so you’re not just looking at trees.”
Hickox says Prince Edward Island offers a unique snowmobiling experience because the scenery, even in the wintertime, is “breathtaking.” The island has around 900 kilometres of meticulously groomed trails and it takes time to explore all of them.
“Just because P.E.I.’s small doesn’t mean you can see it all in a couple of hours, like people sometimes think,” laughs Hickox. “Plan on staying three or four days so you can really enjoy the whole island and everything it has to offer.”
There are three places to stay that are conveniently located right on snowmobiling routes: Brackley Beach North Winds Inn and Suites in Charlottetown, the Super 8 in Charlottetown and Ocean Acres Cottages in Murray Harbour.
Hickox says PEISA partners with businesses that have a groomed snowmobile trail to the door, so it’s easy to know where you can grab a hot meal without going out of the way.
There’s the Family & Friends Restaurant & Pub in Kensington, O’Shea’s Pub & Eatery in Kinkora, Tracy’s Place and Richmond Bakin Express Coffee in Wellington, Boxcar Pub & Grill in Emerald, Shirley’s Café in Tignish, Vinny’s Restaurant & Take Out in O’Leary, Outriders Cookhouse in Charlottetown and Peakes Tee in Cardigan.
“The thing about snowmobiling today is that most people are looking for a chance to go out and meet with friends and family and have a destination to go to,” says Hickox. “They want to get together. It’s pretty important.”
He says the quality of the trails is extremely important on the island, which is reflected in the cost of a full-season trail permit. It’s $300 normally or $200 if it’s purchased on or before Dec. 31. About 26 per cent of the cost of each permit goes toward grooming the 900 kilometres of provincial trails and another 16 per cent goes toward payments on the tractors that do the work. PEISA members also get to access real-time GPS information for locating those groomers.
Of course, you can’t groom without snow. He admits the last couple of years have been a little light on the fluffy white stuff, especially compared to New Brunswick, but hopes the weather will improve this winter.
“Snowmobilers are forever optimistic,” says Hickox. “They say it’s going to be a snowy winter, so we’ll take that and run with it.”
Interested in learning more about snowmobiling on Prince Edward Island? Want to buy a permit, find a trail or join a snowmobiling club? Visit peisa.ca.