The region along the United States-Canada boundary in northwestern Maine and northeastern New Hampshire is a remote area of jumbled mountain peaks, vast tracts of forestland and a lot more moose than people.
The Sentiers Frontaliers meanders through this wild country of the Eastern Townships of Quebec, generally following the sinuous route of the border swath.
The main path starts at Woburn (just north of Coburn Gore, Maine) and ends at Lac Megantic National Park. Just shy of Mont d’Urban, a new spur trail continues to the customs station at Chartierville, north of Pittsburg, N.H., where it connects with the Cohos Trail.
Either way you choose, it’s about a 55-mile trek from end-to-end; a challenging and highly rewarding hike that crosses over a series of 3,000-foot peaks, including Mont Gosford, Mont Saddle, Mont Marble, Mont d’Urban and Mont Megantic.
“It’s tough, rugged and challenging,” said Jean Paul Gendron, longtime devoted member of Sentiers Frontaliers, the organization that oversees the trail project. “It’s a return to the basics, good for the body and soul. It helps give meaning to life.”
The trail traces an interesting, if somewhat unlikely route, where at various points you could be standing in Quebec, New Hampshire or Maine. You are, or course, supposed to remain north of the boundary markers in Canadian territory, but the actual footpath does wander slightly here and there.
Five three-sided wooden shelters and seven tent sites are found along the route, each with a privy and water source. Additional overnight possibilities can be accessed via side trails.
Outside of the popular Mont Gosford Management Area, expect foot traffic to be light. The trail is blazed and signed, but the path is not always well defined. Come prepared with good map-reading and route-finding skills. You’ll want to plan on five to six days to comfortably make the trip.
The Sentiers Frontaliers was initially completed and opened for public use in 1996. But its roots date back to the youthful wanderings of Andre Blais, the trail’s founder.
“It all started in the early 1970s when my father took the family to Mount Katahdin to hike the ‘greatest mountain,’ ” said Blais. I was myself a teenager, and so thrilled that I started dreaming of a network of trails in my own township up north.”
And so the Sentiers Frontaliers was born with Blais’ bold vision and the help of many dedicated volunteers who worked to make the trail a reality on the ground. It’s a spirited story in the tradition of other great trails and their founders, like the Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye, the Long Trail and James P. Taylor, and the Cohos Trail and Kim Nielsen.
The new 17-mile link to the Cohos Trail, opened in 2009, marks the second international trail connection in New England, along with the International Appalachian Trail, which extends from Baxter State Park to the northern tip of Newfoundland.
Currently, ambitious backpackers can hike the Sentiers Frontaliers and Cohos Trail for more than 200 miles to meet up with the Appalachian Trail atop Mount Eisenhower in the White Mountains. From there things could get interesting for hikers in the future.
“In the long run, I foresee an international loop connecting Sentiers Frontaliers, the Cohos Trail and the Appalachian Trail from Mount Washington to Stratton, Maine, and back to the Sentiers Frontaliers,” Gendron said.
The missing link is the stretch from the Bigelows to Canada, where no official trail exists. Blais is optimistic, however, and envisions a route that roughly follows the Arnold Trail. And with assistance from key groups like the Arnold Expedition Historical Society, the concept is a real possibility.
For now, hikers can and should make a plan to visit our neighbors north of the border to experience all that the Sentiers Frontaliers has to offer in the way of scenic beauty, real solitude, abundant wildlife and friendly people.
I had the pleasure of hiking the Sentiers Frontaliers last summer in the fun company of 30 Canadians during the Expedition des Braves Randonneurs (Brave Hikers Expedition), an annual trek on the entire trail.
My spoken French left much to be desired, but no matter, because after nearly a week’s time together, hiking and laughing and sharing meals and cups of wine, we became as close as family.
Such is the true magic of trail life, regardless of language or location. Come on along and see for yourself.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer and avid hiker. Send comments and hike suggestions to: