Photo by Joseph Brody

As we all make efforts to minimize our carbon footprint, the Traveler’s Notebook presents the first of our series on the greenest road trips in North America: Nova Scotia. These trips offer maximum activity options with a minimum amount of driving. And as opposed to interstates, which usually avoid local communities (and thus deprive them of the economic support they’d otherwise receive from travelers), the roads you’ll travel here traverse some of the best towns and terrain you’ll find anywhere.

Nova Scotia is “Canada’s ocean playground” – a land of salty old towns, friendly locals, and heartbreaking coastal scenery. This short loop begins and ends in Halifax.

Heading west out of Halifax, avoid the divided Highway103, and opt instead for the winding coastal Highway 3.

Your first stop has got to be the wave-lashed, glacier-scarred, lobster fishing village of Peggy’s Cove. Nova Scotians love to complain about how touristy this tiny community has become, but the reality is that development in the area has been strictly controlled. The only amenity for tourists is a restaurant/gift shop combo specializing in seafood chowder and bright yellow, plastic Sou’Westers. Sunny summer afternoons will see some tour buses coming and going, but on a foggy morning or evening you’ll have the place to yourself.

Just west of the village you’ll find the haunting, somber memorial to Swissair Flight 111, which crashed into the bay in 1998 killing everyone on board.

Stop in Mahone Bay for herb and cheese bread (or any other baked goodie that catches your eye) at the Lahave Bakery, which also doubles as a hostel in peak season.

Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home port of the legendary fishing schooner Bluenose (as seen on the Canadian 10-cent coin), and a small town packed with postcard views and local history. It also attracts more than its fair share of artsy types and old hippies: look for folk art galleries and veggie-friendly cafes scattered between the seafood restaurants and tiny B&Bs.

From Lunenburg, cut inland via Bridgewater to Kejimkujik National Park. Keji is a canoeist’s paradise in the heart of Nova Scotia’s largely uninhabited interior, and offers a mixture of drive-in and backcountry sites, accessible by foot, canoe (rentals available), cross-country ski, or snowshoe.

Follow Highway 8 north from Keji until you emerge at Annapolis Royal, founded by the French in 1605 and one of the oldest European settlements in North America. There are some beautiful heritage buildings, gardens, crafty shops, and the usual Victorian B&Bs, but the area’s economic troubles, and its relative isolation from the tourist beaten path, mean that none of it feels trite or overdone – this really is a sleepy old colonial town, not just a modern re-enactment.

Detour west along the Annapolis Basin to Bear River, a village known for its eclectic community of artists, and for its riverside houses built on stilts to withstand the famous Fundy tides, the highest in the world. Browse the studios, galleries and craft shops, wander the riverside paths, and check out the Bear River First Nations Community Heritage and Cultural Centre, an interpretive centre showcasing the traditional Mi’kmaq way of life.

Heading east again, stick to Highway 1 as it shadows less-interesting Highway 101. In Kingston, get off the highway entirely and ask a local for directions to the village of Morden, also known as French Cross, on the Bay of Fundy. Here you’ll find a powerfully bleak stretch of coastline and a lonely monument to the Acadians who were forcibly expelled from the region by the British in 1755 – eventually becoming the Cajuns of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

Back on the 1, head east to Kentville and then north to Cape Split for a classic day hike. After you’ve had your fill of the view, Highway 1 will take you back east and south to Halifax.

Practical Notes:

Public transport options are few and far between. Salty Bear Adventure Travel offers a variety of hop-on/hop-off options, and Acadian Lines serves the major centers. Hitching is still relatively common in rural Nova Scotia, and biking is a great option as well if you don’t mind a lot of hills.

Camping Nova Scotia lists camping options around the province.

This loop could be extended by following Highway 3 west from Lunenburg all the way to Yarmouth, on the western tip of the peninsula, where it connects to Highway 1. Tourism Nova Scotia offers further detail about both routes – check out The Lighthouse Route (south shore) and The Evangeline Trail (Fundy shore).

For more on Halifax, see my Matador Guide.

And finally, keep your eyes peeled for any village, historical site, or quirky roadside attraction that catches your eye as you go. There is far, far more to see than I have been able to cover here.

Ciad mille failte!


Eva Holland is a historical researcher and freelance writer living in Ottawa, Canada. She blogs about travel for World Hum and Vagablogging, and her writing has appeared in The Ottawa Citizen, The Edmonton Journal, and Matador Travel.


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