A visit to Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site just got more interesting, especially for the mountain biking, hiking, and trail running crowd with the opening of the multi-use Ukme’k Trail. In Mi’kmaq Ukme’k means twisted – and that’s exactly what the new trail does. It winds through the forest, following the bends of the Mersey River for 6.3 kilometres. What it also does is provide a missing link – connecting to other area trails so cyclists and hikers can enjoy up to a 28-kilometre return outing, depending on their starting point.
Mark Schmidt, the Acting Visitor Experience Manager at Kejimkujik – and one of the trail designers says, “that from the start, the goal was to design an amazing experience that people will remember.” According to Mark – and I would agree based on my thousands of kilometres of biking experience, “people don’t like straight, boring trails. Nothing in nature is straight, and on the Ukme’k Trail you’ll find plenty of curves and features that will entice you to keep moving.”
Ukme’k Trail stats
Distance: 6.3 km one way but it hooks up with other trails
Elevation changes: 24 metres
Time needed: A serious mountain biker can probably knock it off in 20 minutes; for the rest of you allow an hour for the Ukme’k only portion. Note this doesn’t include any time on any connector trails!
Type of terrain: Easy flat ground to gently rolling sections along with a few short but steep segments. At intersections there are options to choose a level of difficulty that suits your cycling ability. Look for rock crossings – bumpy sections where rocks form the trail bed. You’ll also find berms, rollers and natural features like rock jumps.
Significant feature: You can’t miss the rainbow-coloured crosswalk linking the Mersey River Trail with the Ukme’k Trail. The 11 colours of the crosswalk demonstrate support for every member of the Two-spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and beyond (2SLGBTQIA+) communities.
My experience on the Ukme’k Trail
I had signed up to go kayaking on my visit to Kejimkujik – mostly because this park is known for its paddling – but then I heard about the Ukme’k Trail, and at the last minute a mountain bike was found for me.
I biked from Jake’s Landing (where you can rent bikes, canoes, and kayaks at Whynot Adventure, the Keji Outfitter ) to the Visitor Centre via the Slapfoot, Mersey River, and Ukme’k Trails, for a total of 11 km. It was a whole lot of fun mixed in with a few challenges – though there could have been more if I had opted for the black and double black features. Instead, Krista – my new-found cycling partner and a Promotions Officer for Parks Canada in Nova Scotia, and I chose the green or easy option where it was available.
It was a beautiful fall day when we did this bike ride, with deciduous trees decked out in fall colours. It was warm too – short-sleeve weather so what a treat it was to be out on an empty trail.
The initial biking was mellow and beautiful on the Slapfoot and Mersey River sections of trail. The challenges came once we hit the Ukme’k Trail – though it’s not difficult in the traditional sense. There is not a lot of climbing to do and obstacles can be avoided. But it’s designed to keep you thinking and wondering about what’s around the next corner. You’re always anticipating and going with your gut reaction – good goals as they leave you with an emotional connection and a feeling of satisfaction after the fact.
Our gang of three, Mark, Krista and I were in no rush on the bike ride. There were places where I asked Mark to show us how to maneuver over, through or on top of large boulders. It was fun to watch how graceful he was. I love the fact the Ukme’k Trail caters to all levels so those that are expert riders can still have a blast.
There are many short sections where rocks are used for the trail bed. They are incorporated to allow drainage to occur in a naturally sustainable way. However, they can be intimidating. The first time Krista and I came to one of these sections, we got off our bikes and walked – partially because they looked slippery. But after that we went for it – focusing on the trail ahead and not what was underneath our tires. I concentrated on a tip that I’ve found to be simple but useful – lead with your eyes and your bike will follow.
There were banked curves or berms to ride. I’m always a chicken thinking I’m going to fall over when I should be putting the advice of professional mountain biker, Julie Furtado’s to work. She says “the secret to mountain biking is pretty simple. The slower you go, the more likely it is you’ll crash.” I think I just need more practice without an audience.
We finished with big smiles on our face at the Visitor Centre as the temperature started to drop. Mark’s plan was to return to his car at Jake’s Landing by bike – something he probably did in 30 minutes, judging by the way he could ride. Our plan was simple – clean up and eat delicious food at our oTENTik campsite. What a great afternoon it turned out to be.
Krista told me after our bike ride that she and her husband went out to bike it again on a fall weekend. If you follow her route, you can bike 27.4 km. Start at the Visitor Centre along Ukme’k, connect to the Mersey River Trail and then to Slapfoot Trail. Continue all the way to Meadow Beach in Jeremy’s Bay Campground and then return. She says it was “a ride a lot of riders would enjoy.”
Useful information about the Ukme’k Trail
There are four trailheads where you can access the bike trail – Mill Falls (the primary trailhead with ample parking, washroom facility, pit privy for off season and a picnic shelter), the Visitor Centre parking lot, the Mersey River Trail (#12) parking lots and the Flowing Waters Trail (#4) parking lot.
You can mountain bike or hike the trail in either direction.
From the Ukme’k Trail, connect to the Mersey River Trail, the new Mill Falls Trail and Beech Grove Trail.
There is the option to do the whole trail or just sections of the trail. In fact, you can continue to Jake’s Landing and Merrymakedge via the Mersey River Trail.
You don’t have to worry about getting lost on the network of trails. There is good signage at the start and end of trails and at any notable intersections.
Final thoughts on the Ukme’k Trail
Mark Schmidt’s analogy sums up the Ukme’k Trail experience. “If you’re after a bike ride where there’s never a dull moment – one that is akin to reading a good book where you can’t wait to turn the page and get to the next chapter, then you’ll love this new multi-use trail.”
I concur and hope any of you who read this blog can give it a go one day soon.
Location map of Kejumkujik National Park
Where to stay in Kejimkujik National Park
Interested in overnighting in Kejimkujik? There are numerous options that include both front-country and backcountry campsites. In addition, there are four roofed accommodation options that include oTENTiks, Ôasis, rustic cabins, and yurts. Be sure to reserve for summer visits starting on February 17, 2022 at 8 AM EST.