Best Tips for Biking the PEI Confederation Trail with your Family
Our family has wanted to bike the Confederation Trail in PEI for years.
Correction. I have wanted our family to bike the Confederation Trail in PEI for years! Actually, I put it on our bucket list 4 years ago.
At that time, Thomas was 6, Daniel 7, and we weren’t sure if they would be able to do it, so we started a few practice runs. I actually kept a biking journal to record our progress.
Here’s what I wrote in Sept 2014:
Thomas has finally decided to get on his bike and practice riding it. Then, he decided that he would finally take off his training wheels. You can’t force this. He has to decide for himself! Well, now he has decided that he wants to bike across PEI next summer.
We had a big family discussion about this. Is this something we want to commit to doing? We would have to do a lot of practice bike rides together. We need to train. We need to be able to bike to Berwick and back (40km) if we are going to do this.
We have gone on several family bike rides. Thomas is finding it really tough, especially on the night that he had to bike into the wind. Should we get a connector piece to hook onto the back of David’s bike for Thomas? Will he be able to make it?
So far, the maximum we’ve biked is 5km. 35 more to go!
Needless to say, we decided to wait until the kids were a bit older, legs were stronger, their bikes had more gears, and they had more stamina.
Here’s what we learned and what we recommend
When Prince Edward Island’s railway was abandoned in 1989 Islanders were quick to notice a unique opportunity. The idea of a tip-to-tip shared use walking and cycling trail in the summer and a snowmobile trail in the winter was born. With beautiful rolling hill scenery, quaint villages and broad bay seascapes, the Confederation Trail is Prince Edward Island’s portion of the Trans Canada Trail.
The Main Trail starts in Tignish at kilometre 0 and ends in Elmira at kilometre 273. Branch trails extend into the heart of Charlottetown and to the waterside communities of Souris, Georgetown, Montague, Wood Islands, Murray River and Murray Harbour, plus the link to the Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton.
Having heard that the eastern end of the trail was so pretty and went alongside the water, we decided to do the trail in reverse from Elmira to the Charlottetown area.
We knew we wouldn’t be able to bike the entire route, so settled on 4 days and biked half of the 273km trail.
Day 1: Nova Scotia to PEI via the ferry. We stayed in St. Peter’s Bay, so in the afternoon, we biked from St. Peter’s to Morell (15km)
Day 2: We returned to the beginning and biked from Elmira to St. Peter’s Bay (40km)
Day 3: Morell to Brackley (42km). The boys biked 22 km and were picked up early.
Day 4: Brackley to Breadalbane. (40km) The boys biked 10km and were picked up.
TOTAL: Boys 87km; Adults 137km
Before you Go
- Get a bike tune up. This was a big take-away for David. He always thought he could tune up his own bike, until he had a proper one at Valley Stove & Cycle in Kentville before we went. He is a total convert now, and highly recommends it! Make sure your bike is in good working order!
- Get maps. The Confederation Trail website has a great map you can download. I like paper maps. I ordered away for a kit from PEI tourism and they sent me brochures, maps and guides, that I found very helpful. However, they are all online, too. This will help you plot your distances, and be able to get the answers to the questions…”How much further??”
- Practice biking. We had great intentions of doing this, and did a few short bike rides together. The kids bike to school all the time, so we thought we would be ok. We really were, but Daniel said it would have been even easier if we had done a practice route at home so he would know how long he’d have to bike, and we would be able to see if they could make it. I hadn’t been on a bike in over 3 weeks, and I still survived! But, know your kids and your body.
- Make sure your kids are the right age. This is a personal decision for each family. Our youngest was 10, and I think he would have done better with one more year under his belt. He reached “the wall” at about 10km. Our almost-12-year-old could do 25km but more if we really pushed him.
In November 2014, I wrote:
We hadn’t been biking in months, so thought we had better go while the weather was still nice! However, we got about 1km and the kids were complaining that their backs were sore and their legs were tired. Maybe because they hadn’t been biking for awhile. Thomas needs a new bike – one with gears as his little legs have to work so hard to keep up with the rest of us.
Get the Proper Equipment
- Bring a bike repair kit. David bought inner tubes for all our tires and a small tool box. We didn’t need the inner tube, but he had to stop to tighten his seat, so it’s good to have everything to be prepared just in case!
2. First aid kit. I carried a mini first aid kit in my pouch. Also had some cash, a map, a notebook, and my phone.
Because fanny packs are really no longer in style, I still had my carrying case for my discman (yes, I am old school) so I used that. It was SO helpful!
3. Water! We each had a water bottle on the bike, but David also carried a few extra bottles. We were also biking in a heat wave, so we needed it!
4. Sunblock and bug spray. Sunblock is obvious, but not the bug spray. The second we stopped moving we were eaten alive by mosquitoes, black flies and horse flies. We are covered with bug battle wounds.
5. Dashboard console. Next time we go, I am going to get a bag to clip on to my handlebars that has a see-through protective window in it. This way, I can have the map right there, and my phone, without having to stop and dig every time I wanted to see where we were. My friend said she got hers at Walmart. My next stop!
Spring 2015: We got Thomas a bigger sized bike, and it has made all the difference in the world. However, it is still a bit too big for him, and he’s still a bit too young, so we have decided to wait until Summer 2016 to make our biking voyage across PEI.
June 2015: Went on one family bike ride. Went for 5km and the kids complained non stop. How will we make it across PEI?
Get a Roadie
One of the things that stressed me out the most about this trip was how we were going to go point to point. What do we do with our stuff? Do we take two cars? How do we know how far we can go each day? Do we park the car half way and David doubles back to get it? Do we hire a company to take our gear? Do I find a friend with a teenager there to drive us?
These questions really did prevent us from finalizing our trip plans!
There are companies out there who do give guided bike tours along the trail, and who will drive your equipment for you. Just google them. There are lots of options.
However, our problem was solved with one quick phone call to my father: “How would you like a free trip to PEI? You just have to drive us around in the morning and you can have the day to yourself to do what you want!”
We could NOT have done this trip without my amazing father!
And, a special shout-out to my mom who was at home and took one of our dogs!
Dad dropped us off in the morning. We texted him when we were a few communities away from our end goal, and he waited there to pick us up.
On the last two days, the boys were really tired, so Dad picked them up halfway through and hung out with them until David and I were finished.
It also helps that Dad used to live in PEI so knows the Island really well, and that he used to be a taxi driver in Boston, so is used to shuffling people around!
We rewarded him with a PEI tourism
- Gravel is hard to bike on. We had been warned before, but there are sections of the trail that are covered in loose gravel. This makes it really hard to bike on. You could not do this with a road bike and thin tires. Not all the trail is covered in this. We found the “worst section” for gravel was from Morrell to Brackley on Day 3.
- Town Amenities. I had visions of us going through towns, passing playgrounds and shops, and water fountains. There were very few on the actual route. At several of the intersections with roads, there was a sign saying amenities Xkm to the left/right. But, for the most part, you are completely in the wilderness!
- Trail Amenities. Along the trail there were constant benches, shelters with picnic tables, and the odd bathroom! These are all marked on the paper map (maybe the electronic one, too). It was very useful! There are also so many information boards along the route. You could really take your time and read them all. It is so well done, well maintained, and easy to use!
- There are hills. Who knew an old train line had hills? The website says “gentle gradients which never exceed 2% (up or down).” These gradients did not feel gentle in the section around Hunter River. It was a LONG gradient up, which made this section by far the toughest of the bike ride. Luckily, the boys had stopped just before this part! The trail from Wellington to Brackley is listed as Moderate-Hard. I saw this afterwards.
- The habitats! We went through so many habitats from old-growth forests to bogs, lakes, rivers, fields and more! We had 2 osprey fly right above our heads, and we could see them in their nests. We saw a ton of hares, and a few chipmunks nearly lost their tails from running in front of us!
- Do your research and get the proper equipment. See above.
- Bike early in the morning. We started biking before 9am and finished at 12pm so we could avoid the heat.
- Reward yourselves. We spent the afternoon at the beaches, and the evening for supper, and also took in the Anne of Green Gables show in Charlottetown! We had as much Cows ice cream as we could possibly get!
- 40km is sufficient. Many of the self-guided tours suggest doing the entire 273km trail in 5 days, averaging about 50km a day. However, we found that 40km was sufficient. This way, we could bike for the morning, and enjoy the rest of our day with other activities. Know your limits. For the kids, 16-20km was sufficient. They may be able to do more next year.
- Don’t push yourself to do the whole trail. Pick a section to do (like from St. Peter’s to Morell). We have friends who go and do point-to-point, exploring the many off-shoot trails.
- Find what motivates your kids. To help urge them along, we tried to find something to motivate them. One thought was a treat, like candy, every 5km. However, for Daniel, it was singing a funny song each time we got to a KM sign (they are posted every 1km). For Thomas, it was the map and the math. He wanted to know how many KM until the next stop. Because David’s bike is electric with a motor (which he didn’t use!) we could use the computer to calculate his speed, and know at what time he would get to where by when. Thomas also found he could count to 125 between KM markers. This helped to pace him, too.
- Check your equipment every day! We got into a bind one day when David left the brackets to the bike rack on the roof of the car when we went to the beach (without bikes). Did you know, they don’t just sell the brackets? We had to go to Charlottetown to buy a whole new bike rack!
David asked me to post this, so others can learn from our (his) mistakes. I am not posting the conversation that happened when I found out what happened to the brackets….
David asked me to video and post this! Always check your equipment!
Posted by Laura Churchill Duke on Friday, July 6, 2018
How We Ranked the Sections
St. Peter’s to Morell – was the prettiest. It goes along the water, with so many bridges and great views.
Elmira to St. Peter’s was the easiest.
Brackley to Hunter River was the toughest for hills.
Morell to Brackley had the worst trail for gravel that was tough to bike in.
Be Prepared for Anything
You never know what you are going to find or what is going to happen! On our final day, right after dropping the boys off, we heard a clap of thunder! I had checked the radar before we left, and it had said rain at 1pm. However, it came early!
David and I biked the last 15 km in the pouring rain. The rain was coming down so hard, it felt like ice pellets.
At least Dad and the boys were waiting with a warm car and dry towels!
We really did luck out having perfect weather up until literally the final hour!
Overall, this was a really great experience for our family.
I loved the side-by-side conversations that happened along the trail and away from screens. We challenged ourselves, and we accomplished what we set out to do!
When we asked the boys how they thought they did, they were much tougher on themselves. But, we were so proud of them, and what they did and how they pushed themselves!
Another family triumph!
Already, we are talking about going next summer and biking from Tignish to Breadalbane (the western half of the trail). So, stay tuned for those stories.