The Trous de saumons (Salmon Pools) Trail begins at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park Visitors’ Center outside Chéticamp and follows the Chéticamp River, sometimes well inland from the river, for 6.5 km (4 mi), passing by several salmon pools as it flows through the steep canyon it has carved through the Cape Breton Highlands.
My first time on this trail was 2007 June 22; that morning started with dubious weather, but had some hints of sun by noon, so I decided to explore this trail. There were still many clouds, some obscuring the summit of la Montagne Noire (Black Mountain) and my late start didn’t leave enough time to complete the entire trail in time to make an evening concert, but I did get past the First Pool on this hike and got enough of a taste to know that I definitely wanted to do the entire hike on a more photogenic day.
That opportunity came 2007 July 27, when I returned on a beautiful day with a mostly clear blue sky. From the trail head, the trail immediately climbs a moderately steep hill for about three minutes; this is the steepest climb on the trail, the remainder of which is generally flat until one passes the Second Pool. From this hill’s summit, the trail then descends, with the Chéticamp River flowing below on the right. Two minutes later, one arrives at a brook where the trail enters the forest, leaving the main river and following the brook; a minute later, one passes a miniature water fall on the left. Six minutes later, the trail rejoins the river. At this point, the scene is framed by the mountains with the fast-flowing river the focal point; boulders line its banks and are strewn along and in the middle of its course. La Montagne Noire is visible across and up the river. The trail closely follows the river for another five minutes or so before arriving at the Fence Pool. Beyond the Fence Pool, the trail reënters the forest for the next twenty minutes, following for some distance a very quiet brook. On this day, a lovely breeze was blowing through the sun-dappled woods.
When the trail rejoins the river, one is already well upriver of la Montagne Noire. It may have been an optical illusion, but to my eyes it appeared as if one could see the noisy river running downhill on a distinctly slanted river bed. The mountains are very close on both sides. As I sat soaking in the views at this beautiful spot, I noticed several orangish brown butterflies with black and light blue spots, one of which landed on my left arm and allowed me to photograph it with my right hand.
In about six minutes more, after having traversed a small knoll and passed over two foot bridges, one arrives at the First Pool. At the First Pool, the river is quite narrow and the canyon walls form its banks; its water is both deep and very dark. Just below this constriction, the canyon opens up and the river becomes much shallower and wider. Salmon rest in pools such as the First Pool to recover from their exertions in climbing the rapids to reach this point and to gain strength for their forthcoming leaps to get up and over the water falls. This makes them easy prey for the anglers who are often seen here and at the other pools (I saw several during the June hike but only one during the July hike); however, any salmon caught have to be released unharmed back to the waters as this is a sport fishery only and not a food fishery.
At pools such as the First Pool, one notices on the surface the presence of a foam that “occurs naturally in the Park’s streams, especially after heavy rains. Detergent-like compounds are released in the streams by the decay of organic materials such as fallen leaves, or from organic soil material carried into the streams by surface runoff. The released compounds rise to the stream surface where they interact with the water molecules and reduce its surface tension. This allows air to mix more easily with the water. Bubbles form in turbulent rapids and waterfalls as air mixes with the interacting water and foaming agents. The lightweight bubbles congregate as foam and trace interesting swirls and patterns as they are carried along on the river’s currents and eddies.” [Clarence Barrett in Cape Breton Highlands National Park: A Park Lover’s Companion, p. 75] I enjoyed watching the foam and listening to the river as I ate my lunch.
About four minutes above the First Pool, after traversing another small knoll on which the park wardens’ cabin sits, one arrives at a side trail which descends to the rocks, offering fine views of the canyon in both directions; there is a pool here and a small but vigorous falls above it. Three minutes upriver from this site, one descends along handrails to reach a narrow chute, where the cement abutments of a former bridge (probably a foot bridge) can be seen on either side of the very narrow river as it spills forcefully through the cleft in the bedrock and into a pool below. In this part of the river, boulders are still visible along the sides of the river where its force has cast them, but the river’s path itself is clearly over exposed bedrock, which, this day, shimmered in the summer sun. (Bilingual signage on the trail indicates the locations of all of the salmon pools, with the exception of Chance Pool, for which I saw no signs. I believe one or the other of these two sites is the location of Chance Pool, though I have no way of telling which.)
Beyond the former bridge site, the trail first passes over very rocky terrain and then reverts to dirt/gravel but more rocky sections follow further on. It is still possible to bicycle this part of the trail—bicycling is forbidden only past the Second Pool, where it is no longer practical and downright dangerous. Seven minutes after leaving the former bridge site, the trail crosses a foot bridge and, six minutes after that, becomes a red rocky scree path from which there are fine views of the river gorge with the mountains rising above. Another three minutes further, one passes by a shack, just beyond which is the sign for the Second Pool.
The river becomes very narrow here as it courses through and falls over a jumbled mass of boulders and bedrock, at a guess, some 5-6 m (15-20 ft) above the Second Pool, which lies directly below; the effect again is more of a chute than of a classical water falls. Below the pool, the river flows through a mass of boulders and bedrock sticking high above the water, on one of which an angler was perched while I was there. He managed to snag a salmon on his line, but it fell back into the water with a slap as it was pulled out of the river. Unfortunately, I was not looking in that direction so I don’t know how big it was, but the angler said it was a good-sized one.
Beyond the Second Pool, the trail climbs briskly above the Second Pool for five minutes and continues more moderately uphill for another nine minutes where it crosses a dry creek bed on the side of a hill; seven minutes later, one reaches the Third Pool, where the trail ends. The trail between the Second Pool and the Third Pool is very rocky and crosses uneven terrain.
The falls above the Third Pool appear to be very narrow and about half as high as those at the Second Pool; one doesn’t have as good a view of the course of the river above the Third Pool because the river bends at the bottom of the falls: getting to a better vantage point requires somewhat dangerous acrobatics that I eschewed. There are no huge boulders sticking up out of the water below the Third Pool as there are at the Second Pool; instead, a great pile of cobblestones lies along the opposite shore. One can only imagine what this scene must be like during the spring run-off!
I regret that it took me seven years to discover this wonderful trail along the wild and beautiful Chéticamp River as it flows through the gorgeous gorge it has gouged. As the summary box notes, it took me about an hour and a half to hike from the trail head to Third Pool, but three hours and a quarter of clock time. This was not at all due to the difficulty of the trail, but rather to its beauty: I took one hundred forty-eight photos along the way (and another twelve on the way back) and spent a considerable amount of time perched on my three-legged stool just basking in the beautiful day and the gorgeous scenery. This will surely not be the last time I hike this great trail!