The Atlantic Provinces: Nova Scotia and Newfoundland

I know people who drove across the country only to end in Nova Scotia and not make the trip to Newfoundland. They regret it. Granted, Newfoundland is not the easiest and cheapest place to get to. In the summer there are two ferry options: One (on the west side) is around 6 hours long, the other (on the east side) around 16 hours. We took both to avoid having to drive 1000kms backward. Make your reservations in advance.

Mainland Nova Scotia

A major highlight for us was tidal bore rafting on the Shubenacadie River in Maitland. It’s a strange phenomenon: When the tide in the Bay of Fundy rises it forces sea water upriver and over the top of the freshwater current flowing toward the ocean. This action combined with the formation of the river bottom causes sections of rapids to pop up all over the river, and they can last tens of minutes. The extremity of the rapids depends on how big the tide is (as the moon gets bigger/closer the tides are more extreme). There are many outfitters along the river that take guests out onto the rapids in motor-powered zodiacs. We went with River Runners after reading reviews; they did not disappoint.

Tidal bore rafting on the Shubenacadie River. Photo courtesy of River Runners.

Tidal bore rafting on the Shubenacadie River. Photo courtesy of River Runners.

Lunenburg and Mahone Bay are both very picturesque towns. I recommend visiting the Lunenburg Heritage Society Museum to walk around an 18th century house and learn about the area’s long history.

Dusk overcoming Lunenburg. Photo by author.

Dusk overcoming Lunenburg. Photo by author.

Peggy’s Cove is an obvious choice; its lighthouse may be the most photographed in the world. But there’s much more to it than the lighthouse. You can walk all around big shelves of rock (stay off the black rock though — rogue waves have pulled people into the ocean to their deaths) and meander around admiring the quaint houses and shops.

Peggy's Cove. Photo by author.

Peggy’s Cove. Photo by author.

Halifax is a neat city, but on the big side for us. There are lovely parks and lots of live music and the boardwalk is a really great place to people watch and just hang out. When we were there though it seemed like the whole city was under construction, so be aware of that, and if you can avoid driving downtown, do that.

Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton Island was high on our list so that’s where we went next. The Cabot Trail is an amazing stretch of road that circles the island and cuts in and out of Cape Breton Island National Park. There are numerous options for hiking, swimming (ocean and lakes), and getting clifftop views. These are just a few of the many highlights.

Skyline trail

Baddeck, Canada

It’s probably the most popular hike in Cape Breton Highlands National Park but for good reason. The whole thing is a 2-3 hour loop but most only do the easy and shorter half there and back. Make sure you do the full loop as the longer half is much more interesting and wild and it’s more likely you’ll see wildlife, like this moose 🙂

Ingonish Beach

Ingonish Beach, Canada

This was our favourite ocean #beach on our trip. Beautiful sand, consistent and fun little rollers to play in, and not super freezing waters! A cool thing about it is there’s a fresh water lake about 50 feet away from the beach so you can get the best of both worlds. They have change rooms and an outdoor shower, lots of park and #picnic spots, and a #campground adjacent to it. #swimming

Meat Cove Campground & Oceanside Chowder Hut

Pleasant Bay, Canada

A big YES to this spot! Utterly stunning scenery. The #campground – which you can see as the tiny dots on the patch of grass – is at the end of a dirt road that takes you to the northern most point of Nova Scotia. The camp sites are situated beautifully on the cliffs for unbelievable views (when it’s not foggy). There is also #hiking around including a relatively easy 25 min one that puts you into a headland. A public rocky #beach is just below the campground as well. The chowder hut has good food and drink including a #lobster dinner.

HISTORY ALERT: The Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck is outstanding and extremely interesting. I had no idea he did so much more than invent the telephone. If you’re a music and/or culture buff, the Celtic Music Interpretive Center in Judique is interactive: You can play a bit of fiddle, learn some steps, and watch regular live ceilidhs in the restaurant. There are also many exhibits discussing the history and importance of music on Cape Breton Island.

The ferry to Newfoundland leaves from North Sydney. Before you check out of Nova Scotia, check out these spots in Sydney for some good eating and good reading.

Flavor Downtown

Sydney, Canada

This place was amazing… One of the tastiest meals we’ve had in our cross Canada road trip. They were doing a special 4 sandwich faceoff for charity so these ones aren’t on the normal menu but the quality of the food was phenomenal, I’m sure everything is great. The desserts looked fantastic too but I was too full to go for one.

Ed’s Books & More

Sydney, Canada

Awesome used book store… Really friendly and pettable cat named Mittens… And a great and helpful owner. After he added up our 4 books he knocked off a few books then threw another in for free that he thought we might like. We’re now well stocked with books from the Maritimes! #usedbooks

Newfoundland

[Note: Technically the province is Newfoundland and Labradour, Labradour being part of the mainland and adjacent to Quebec. It’s remote country and not easy traveling. This describes only the island of Newfoundland.]

My favourite province (outside of BC, that is) is loaded with dramatic views, wildlife, and some of the friendliest and most down-to-earth people I’ve met. It’s an inspiring place, and I can see why there is such a rich history of art here. Indigenous people first arrived around 5500 years ago, evidence of Vikings exist from 1000AD, and Europeans had been visiting since the 16th century for fishing, before settling the island in the 1700s.

The shorter ferry (6hr) from North Sydney, NS lands at Port Aux-Basques on the southwestern shore, perfect for exploring the wilder westcoast including Gros Morne National Park. We opted to bypass the northern peninsula and slowly make our way toward St. John’s taking many stops on peninsulas and capes for gorgeous panoramic views and charming villages.

During our travels we were given advice to go to the Bay of Islands before going into Gros Morne. We took that advice and were extremely happy we did as it was one of our favourite areas in Newfoundland. Awesome hiking and relatively few people made for a remote experience.

Blow Me Down Provincial Park

Lark Harbour, Canada

Gorgeous spot in the very picturesque Bay of Islands on the west side of Newfoundland. This #view is from the top of a short walk up a bunch of stairs from the beach.

Copper Mine Hiking Trail

Frenchmans Cove Boi, Canada

Most people when they land at Port Aux Basques, #newfoundland head straight to Gros Morne National Park. Don’t bypass the Bay of Islands area! It’s stunning. This hike into the Blow Me Down Mountains brings you to the tip of a headland that has awesome views of the surrounding area. It’s a strenuous 2 hours up with some pretty steep sections. I’d budget 4-6 hours depending if you want to hang out at the top and also hit all the view points along the path. Highly recommended! #hiking #views

The Gros Morne National Park area is full of interesting and unique land formations and features, but it’s also home to a few small villages with varying services. If you like to tackle summits climb Gros Morne Mountain (the second highest peak in Newfoundland). We weren’t quite up to that but we explored the Tablelands, Green Gardens, the majestic fjords at Western Brook Pond (do the boat tour), and beyond.

Western Brook Pond

Norris Point, Canada

If you’re in Gros Morne National Park do not miss the boat tour of the Western Brook Pond fjords! Unless you’re hiking in the backcountry of the Long Range you won’t get up close views of the impressive gorge. These cliffs are 2300 feet high and a billion years old. You have to hike 30-40 mins on an easy trail to get to the boat. #hiking

Tablelands

Birchy Head, Canada

A prominent feature in Gros Morne National Park, the Tablelands is the earth’s exposed mantle. The walk in is flat and easy but you can go off and explore off the path so it’s as difficult and long as you want to make it (like if you wanted to scramble up to the top of one of them). I recommend downloading the Park’s app to get a guided tour with your phone. #grosmorne #nationalpark #hiking #geology

Green Gardens Trail

Trout River, Canada

This is a long hike in Gros Morne National Park through scrub and forest that leads down onto a cliff edge along the ocean. You can also go down to the #beach. It’s all downhill on the way there so you know what that means coming back, right? #hiking #views #grosmorne #nationalpark

CAFE TIP: The Old Store Cafe in Norris Point was my favourite spot for free wifi and great coffee and paninis.

There are many beautiful stops along the highway going east, which you’ll naturally come across and decide for yourself if you want to stop or not. Our destinations included Twillingate, Bonavista, Trinity, and Elliston. Depending on the time of year you can see icebergs, whales, and puffins in this part of the island. In August we were late for icebergs, but we watched countless humpback whales off the coast at Bonavista and Trinity East (Skerwink Trail) and fell in love with the cute and quirky puffins at Elliston.

RESTAURANT REC: Go to Neil’s Yard in Bonavista for some high quality homemade food and desserts, and coffee. The owners are very friendly as well.

Elliston Point

Elliston, Canada

THE place in the summer months to visit a puffin colony in Newfoundland. If you’re lucky they’ll fly over to the point from the offshore islands so you can have a closer look at them. They’re only around till about mid-August. They’re so adorable! #wildlife

Trinity

Port Rexton, Canada

The town here is Trinity but this app can’t find it for some reason. This photo was taken at the top of Rider’s Hill, a not too long #hike to the top of the highest hill in town. There are awesome 360 views of the area. Don’t miss it if you go.

Skerwink Trail

Port Rexton, Canada

This is a must do #hike in Newfoundland. It’s moderate but goes along the cliffs edge. When we were there in August there were countless humpback #whales off shore. It was awesome. #whalewatching #hiking #wildlife

St. John’s is a fairly big city, and you’ll have no trouble finding anything you might want to do, particularly if it involves live music and drinking. We actually spent more time in our campsite resting from the trip than in the city. The last thing we did before leaving for our ferry back to Nova Scotia was visit Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America. The perfect way to cap off our cross Canada adventure.

PRO TIP: If you do take the 16hr ferry from Argentia to North Sydney, get a cabin. It’s a couple hundred bucks extra but if it’s in the budget it’s money well spent, especially when all you want to do is sleep after such a big journey.

Cape Spear

St. John’s, Canada

This is the eastern most point of North America. The #lighthouse was built in 1836 and is the oldest surviving in Newfoundland. The cape was also used as a defence battery during WWII and you can view the old bunkers. #history #historic