Hiking Canada's Camino: Lessons from the trail

June 15, 2023

A new Canadian trail is claiming its place in the world’s great walks. The Island Walk is a 700-kilometre route circumnavigating Prince Edward Island—the Canadian province often nicknamed “the gentle island.”

This trek is indeed easy, gentle, and relatively flat but as I learned during my experience exploring it, even gentle hikes sometimes force you to slow down.

I was filled with ambition when I first heard about the Island Walk. The trail has 32 segments, averaging 20 to 25 kilometres each, so if you hike one a day, it would take you just over a month to complete it. Piece of cake, right? In 2021, I checked out several segments walking a small portion of each. I loved what I saw enough to return in 2022, this time with a plan to dig deeper and really go for it.

But I have to say: the expectations of my ambitious self didn’t quite match the reality. (Classic outcome, right?) I had barely passed the ten-kilometre mark during a practice hike at home when I realized that I was unlikely to set any land speed records in P.E.I.

It turns out that even “easy” hiking can be tough! How could my legs possibly ache so much after just a few hours? Why was sitting down and standing up after the hike suddenly so hard? This didn’t bode well for my plan to take P.E.I. by storm. I soon realized that if I wanted to enjoy my experience, I’d have to pare down my ambitions to just a few segments of the trail. That was the reality… but I wasn’t pleased.

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This is a route that has been likened to Spain’s legendary Camino de Santiago. “Canada’s Camino,” is what some local hikers call it. And like that iconic trek, P.E.I.’s Island Walk is a journey where soul searching is in order. But I didn’t want to search my soul. At most, I wanted to search my backpack for extra snacks as I clipped down the road at a blazing fast pace that would leave others behind in the dust. It was humbling to realize I would not emerge as the island’s greatest walker—not even close. The Island Walk’s motto promises that you’ll “Come Back Different,” and it looked like that was going to happen whether I wanted to or not. I’d have to edit my original goals and choose more realistic expectations. I decided to slow down my pace, actually observe my surroundings, stay in the present moment, and allow the trail’s natural beauty to instill a sense of inner peace.

I didn’t want to search my soul. At most, I wanted to search my backpack for extra snacks as I clipped down the road at a blazing fast pace that would leave others behind in the dust.

For me, slowing my pace meant opening up time to celebrate the life of acclaimed author Lucy Maud Montgomery—one of P.E.I.’s cherished icons. She was the voice behind the Anne of Green Gables book series (a beloved childhood favourite of mine) and her writing has always moved me. Part of the Island Walk is named in her honour. The “Inspired by Montgomery” section takes adventurers through some of the most significant landmarks of Montgomery’s life. Trekking across the bouncy wooden boardwalk through the community of Cavendish (a.k.a. “The Land Of Anne”), stopping for coffee and treats in the “Avonlea village,” and seeing the rusty red roads and lush green hills that inspired Montgomery really did put a spring in my step. Sadly, it also put a few blisters on my feet.

Thankfully, hearty slices of homemade blueberry pie and a glass or crisp, chilled wine from a sympathetic waitress at the end of my day’s effort made my aching feet sting a little less. Still, they were sore enough that I was convinced to take the next day off—an approach favoured by trekkers who know how important it is to go at your own pace.

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Between bites of this locally-made pie, I thought about my friend Carolyn who, in preparing for hiking the Camino de Santiago (yep, she’s pretty amazing!), covered large sections of the Island Walk. It was at this moment that some of her words of advice came back to me. 1) Don’t compare it to the real Camino. Instead, just enjoy it for what it is: safe, friendly, and with a welcoming island spirit. 2) Go at your own pace. Make the experience your own and one you’ll remember.

I actually did stop and smell the roses—wild ones growing along the island’s north shore. I made my peace with being a humdrum hiker.

She was right and I was lucky to have these pearls of wisdom as I walked kilometre after kilometre in this beautiful corner of Canada’s east coast. As someone who loves checklists, deciding to take things slow and not walk every step as originally planned was a disagreeable one—at first. (What do you mean I’m going to slow down even more? Heck no!)

It took some time for me to realize that the Island Walk did exactly as it had promised. It said that I’d come back different and I did. I slowed down. I actually did stop and smell the roses—wild ones growing along the island’s north shore. I made my peace with being a humdrum hiker. I feasted on pie, said hello to locals, and nursed my tender toes. Whether your Island Walk is short or long, you can be confident that you’ll have an incredible journey on the trail and within yourself.

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Looking to hike the Island Walk? Canada’s Camino is a rewarding and tranquil experience for outdoorsy travellers who love relaxing island vibes and stunning Canadian nature. Come stay with us! HI Canada has a property on Canada’s “gentle island,” the home of this stunning trek. HI Charlottetown Backpackers Inn offers homey vibes and that famous east coast hospitality. Hope to see you!

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