Spain’s Camino De Santiago is a 500-mile odyssey that starts in France and takes the pilgrim (as hikers are often called) through four of Spain’s 15 regions before concluding at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. It’s the kind of journey that goes beyond being a challenging hike and it worms its way into your psyche, transforming from epic adventure to spiritual sojourn. And now, for those searching for a physical or emotional voyage, there’s a similarly spectacular journey in Canada, at Prince Edward Island’s 435 mile Island Walk.
In many ways, the two routes couldn’t be more different. From technical challenges in the terrain to styles of trekking, the Camino and the Island Walk have few similarities. People who’ve done both actually say that the Island Walk reminded them more of hiking in Portugal than anywhere else! But it’s no coincidence that the Island Walk’s website proclaims its motto to be “Come Back Different.” This is a transformative trek! PEI is no copycat of the Camino but there’s no denying that the Island Walk is poised to take its place alongside the world’s great pilgrimages.
I got a small taste of this adventure myself. While on a press trip in the summer of 2021, I experienced several sections of the Island Walk firsthand. Though my individual hikes were short, their lasting impression has been huge — and I may just be planning a return trip to tackle the Island Walk in earnest (and perhaps dragging a friend along the way for company!)
Whether you’re planning the transformative trek of a lifetime, or you’re just curious about seeing a different side of PEI on an afternoon stroll, this is what you should know about the Island Walk.
Practical Tips: How To Get To PEI
Prince Edward Island is one of Canada’s easternmost provinces and has the distinction of being the country’s smallest province as well. However, getting there is relatively easy. You can fly in, usually to the capital city of Charlottetown, and many flights connect via nearby Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can also drive over via the Confederation Bridge, which connects PEI to New Brunswick or sail the ferry which connects PEI to Nova Scotia. Visitors from the United States often cross over from Maine and spend some time in New Brunswick before carrying on to PEI via the bridge.
When To Hike The Island Walk
While I think PEI is a picture-perfect destination year round, winter isn’t the most hiker-friendly time to visit and many seasonal businesses like bed and breakfasts will be closed. However, many of the trails are groomed for snowshoeing so it’s not impossible! As with most rural destinations, keep insect repellent by your side in spring, summer, and fall. It’s worth noting that July and August are peak tourism months and that booking accommodations in advance is highly recommended. You want to know you have a comfy bed (perhaps an air-conditioned room!) at the end of the day!
1. The Rules Are Meant To Be Broken
Rebel hikers, this is the place for you and there are no rules to cramp your style. Well, I suppose there are, technically, some rules. Don’t engage in criminal activity on your walk! But aside from obeying the law of the land and good hiking practices, you can start the Island Walk anywhere you want. Waypoint number 1 is just outside of Charlottetown and the final stop, number 32, is within the city itself but there’s nothing stopping you from starting at any point of your choosing. You can take rest days and you don’t have to complete the walk in a certain amount of time nor clock in any kind of minimum mileage. You don’t need to register in any way nor check in with authorities. Flexibility is the name of the game. If you did the suggested 12 to 16 miles a day, you would complete the entire route in about 30 days (give or take a few depending on your speed, the weather, and other factors, of course).
2. Your Walk, Your Way
Far be it for me to discourage anyone who is envisioning taking on the entire trail but if you really just want to do a few sections here and there, you can do so. Unlike Spain’s Camino de Santiago, PEI’s Island Walk is really set up so you can easily dip in and try a few segments of the route without having to commit to a large hike. So you can walk as little as 30 minutes and still say that, yes, you spent some time on the Island Walk. However, I think once you hit the trail you’ll be tempted to stay much longer.
If you’re not entirely sure where to begin or what section is best for you, there are online itineraries to help you choose your route. As an Anne of Green Gables fan, the Montgomery section between Kensington and Charlottetown intrigues me but I have to say that the “Tuna, Oysters, Harbours, and Brews” route from Souris to Murray River sounds incredible!
It’s worth noting that all of the Island Walk is bike-friendly. Personally, I think that adding in some biking days would be hugely rewarding. You’d work different muscles and you’d also have the pick-me-up of covering quite a few miles in a day or two, which can be very motivating amidst the slower pace of walking.
3. A Gentle Walk On The “Gentle Island”
PEI is sometimes nicknamed Canada’s “Gentle Island” and it’s a moniker that I always felt was very appropriate. That gentleness extends to the Island Walk itself. There are very few spots that pose technical challenges. The Island Walk is flat, generally very well-groomed, and grades are no more than 2 percent. However, it’s worth noting that some areas might be covered in loose gravel (my personal nemesis). However, you can expect a relatively easy walk. Well, maybe “easy” isn’t the right word when there are more than 400 miles to consider! Let’s go with user-friendly.
4. You Won’t Be In The Countryside The Whole Time
While one of the main attractions of the Island Walk is that much of the route is in rural areas, along country roads and even beaches, there are plenty of town-based and even urban components of the walk. One of the best features of the Island Walk, in my opinion, is that it goes through and near so many beautiful small communities. One of my favorite sections goes through the municipality of St. Peters Bay. This little town boasts a community theater, pretty bed and breakfasts, and delightful shops and eateries (including my beloved Black & White Cafe, home to killer lattes, breakfast burritos, and baked goods). If you want to pick up some local art or maybe some homemade chocolate during a walk break, the shops at St. Peters Landing are the spot to do it.
If you’re looking for larger communities, the Island Walk goes through the cities of Summerside and Charlottetown, which are also perfect stops for resting for a few days (and by “resting” I may mean visiting bookstores, theaters, restaurants, and spas!).
5. You’ll Get A Ton Of “Passport” Stamps
Unless you’re an out-of-country visitor, you don’t need to bring your actual passport with you, but there’s a different kind of passport you’ll want to use on the Island Walk. As you plan your journey, you can request a passport and it will be mailed to you. It contains 32 boxes, which you can use to gain signatures or stamps of your hosts at each of the Walk’s 32 sections. However, you could also use it to chronicle your adventures in your own way. However, if you do tackle all 32 segments, you can take a photo of your passport and submit it electronically to receive a personalized Island Walk certificate of completion.
Starting in 2022, there’s a $10 shipping and handling fee to receive the blank passports in the mail. An Island Walk backpack patch is included with each mailing.
If you started reading about the Island Walk in mid-2021, you might have noticed that the list of accommodation partners and some related services was a bit on the short side. Know that this was a reflection of many businesses being closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, not an indication of how many services and amenities are available to guests in a regular year. The Island Walk website has a growing list of accommodation partners that very helpfully list those that can provide packed lunches and offer kitchen access. As well, they also list which accommodation providers can help with transportation (from providing rides to arranging taxis) to help guests get to and from the trailhead.
More Prince Edward Island adventures to consider: