Prince Edward Island, or PEI, off Canada’s eastern seaboard, is home to some of the country’s most enchanting pastoral scenery. You’ll find fields of potatoes and strawberries, beaches that stretch for miles, storybook villages (the 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables was set here), red-and-white wooden lighthouses, and docks anchoring fishing boats. The Island Walk, a new 435-mile walking and cycling route circumnavigating “the Island,” as locals call it, gives travelers a unique opportunity to experience it up close.
My husband and I cycled 180 miles of the route in June 2022, starting in the compact capital city, Charlottetown, and spending six days working our way across a section in the central region of the province. From Charlottetown, we pedaled 35 miles along crushed-gravel trails, wide red-dirt roads lined with trees, and country lanes—all relatively flat. After checking into the Orient Hotel, a historic B&B in the tiny village of Victoria-by-the-Sea, we browsed in shops, talked with local anglers bringing in the day’s catch, and walked barefoot along an expansive beach with rose-colored sand at the edge of the village. The tide came in while I ate possibly the best lobster roll I’ve ever tasted—a buttery toasted roll loaded with chunks of tender fresh-caught crustacean and house-made mayo—at the Lobster Barn restaurant.
Over the following week, we cycled past the sand dunes of Prince Edward Island National Park and old wooden churches that date to the 1800s. We discovered national historic sites marking rarities, such as the iceboat mail service that ran in the Northumberland Strait from 1827 to 1917, and random attractions, including the “world’s largest handheld egg beater” outside an antique store in the small town of Borden-Carleton. We pulled over whenever something caught our eye, which meant we stopped often.
Long-distance trekking has been a unique tourism niche worldwide for thousands of years. Since medieval times, pilgrims in Europe have traveled hundreds of miles to religious sites to pay homage to saints and penance for sins. El Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of Saint James, is one of the most beloved pilgrimage routes in the world—and it inspired the creation of this Canadian (and more secular) trek.
Bryson Guptill, a longtime trail volunteer who lives in Charlottetown, conceived the idea of the Island Walk after he and his partner walked almost 500 miles along the Camino in 2016 and, three years later, about 150 miles of the lesser-known Rota Vicentina in Portugal. “My partner, Sue, and I had a wonderful time walking the Camino,” Guptill said. “I kept thinking that we could have something like this in Prince Edward Island if we set our minds to it. The idea really gelled on the Portugal walk.”
Guptill worked with other members of Island Trails, a nonprofit organization run by volunteers, to research, design, and map out the long-distance trekking route that is now the Island Walk using existing trails and secondary roads within the 2,195-square-mile province.
Once the route was laid out, Guptill and three friends hiked the entire 435-mile Island Walk over 32 days in autumn 2019. The Camino de la Isla, as some call it, opened in August 2021, but it’s only now starting to come into its own after pandemic restrictions, with new signage and tour companies to support walkers and cyclists.
It was “wonderful and empowering” for Laura MacGregor of Waterloo, Ontario, who spent 31 days walking the route beginning in late May 2022. “It was an opportunity to take a time-out and step away from my life,” she said. “My 21-year-old disabled son died two weeks into the pandemic, and I am still trying to move forward.” MacGregor had always wanted to hike the Camino in Spain but never could, due to the demands of caring for her son. The Island Walk provided time to reflect and “come to terms with all the changes” in her life.
Whether or not travelers follow the trail, they could spend days immersed in the magical places that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables—walking down Lovers’ Lane, wandering the Haunted Wood, and visiting Green Gables Heritage Place and Avonlea Village. Plus, as Anne said, there’s nothing more delectable than ice cream, and the Island is famous for it. A visit to PEI must include a trip to a great shop such as Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour in Summerside or the Cows chain, which started here and now has shops all across Canada.
Prince Edward Island is charming at every turn, but there’s something particularly special about exploring it on bicycle or on foot. My experience on the Island Walk may not have been as profound as MacGregor’s, but it was exactly what I needed. It was a chance to experience a remarkable destination in a special way and to gain a fresh perspective for coping with my own life’s challenges. I came back feeling refreshed, more physically fit, and more in tune with the natural world and the beings I share it with. For me, that was transformative.
Tips for planning your trip
- How to get there: Charlottetown Airport (YYG) is the main airport on Prince Edward Island. International flights may route through Montreal or Toronto. From the airport, you can catch a cab into the city, pick up a bike rental, and begin walking or cycling the trail.
- Best time of year to visit: May to October. Accommodations sell out quickly in July and August, so you should book well in advance if you’re traveling then.
- The reservation to make: Take in a play or live performance at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown or Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside.