Way out on Canada’s Atlantic coast, Nova Scotia is made for adventurers. With its vast national parks, over 13,000km of coastline and the highest tides on planet Earth, wild-and-rugged Nova Scotia is an explorer’s paradise. All you need to do is decide whether to hike, bike, drive or paddle…
Nova Scotia has trails for all ages and abilities: short strolls, day hikes, coastal rambles and backcountry epics. Cape Breton Highlands National Park offers 26 maintained routes, including the Skyline Trail, a famous 8.2km ridge loop that offers widescreen views over the Gulf of St Lawrence. Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site (or Keji to locals) is another hiking heartland and also gives visitors a chance to learn of the First Nations people who called this area home. It’s a notable area to learn about indigenous Mi’kmaq culture, with storytelling sessions, craft displays and tours of sacred petroglyph sites.
A hike (or a horseback ride) into the Cliffs of Fundy UNESCO Global Geopark is another must. Every day, Nova Scotia’s western coastline experiences the world’s greatest tidal range – up to an astonishing 16m. As the tides recede, it’s possible to walk out onto the ocean floor, and visit crumbling cliffs studded with some of Canada’s most ancient fossils, some of which are more than 200 million years old.
If there’s one thing Atlantic Canada isn’t short on, it’s water. Whether it’s kayaking in Keji, exploring the waterways and beaches around coastal Prospect and Tangier, paddling past the cliffs of Cape Chignecto or taking a whale-watching trip out into the Bay of Fundy, getting out on the water is a great way to experience the province’s wild side. Be sure to head for the Shubenacadie River, where you can experience tidal bore rafting – a rollercoaster ride over a maelstrom of waves and white-water rapids, caused twice a day when the river currents collide with the massive incoming tides of the Bay of Fundy. You’ll get drenched – but that’s part of the fun.
With few big towns and minimal light pollution, Nova Scotia’s night skies are among the clearest in eastern Canada. It’s no surprise, then, to find that the province is home to the Acadian Skies and Mi’kmaq Lands, the first designated Starlight Tourism Destination and Reserve in North America to be certified by the UNESCO-backed Starlight Foundation. The Deep Sky Eye Observatory near Yarmouth is the perfect place to learn how to navigate the night sky: guided star-spotting sessions are offered by the inhouse astronomers, along with the chance to explore the constellations through live telescope feeds.
For even darker skies, head into the wilds. Trout Point Lodge sits in the heart of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area, the largest protected area in the Maritimes at 1,200 sq km. The lodge offers guided moonlight walks and private stargazing decks. Nearby, at Jeremy’s Bay Campground in Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site, the futuristic ôasis pods offer the chance to star-spot from the comfort of your sleeping bag: each of the pods features a loft area that’s open to the elements, complete with hammocks.
Touring Nova Scotia on two wheels allows you to discover parts of the province many visitors never reach. Cycle Nova Scotia has established 11 long-distance bike routes, with free downloadable GPS maps and comprehensive route guides available for each. Ranging in length from around 28km to 300km, they’re
split into day sections, meaning it’s easy to
jump on for a day or two if you don’t feel like tackling the whole thing.
A popular route is the 119km Rum Runners Trail, which follows a disused railway along the lighthouse-lined South Shore, and runs through some of the province’s most historic coastal towns, including Chester, Mahone Bay and the UNESCO-listed harbour of Lunenburg. Other options include a culture-rich tour through the Acadian country, a spin along the Bay of Fundy between Grand Pré and Burntcoat Head, and a gentle pedal through the friendly coastal communities between Hubbards and LaHave.
Nova Scotia looks as though it has been custom-made for road trips. Chief among them is the Cabot Trail, a 298km loop around the rocky shores and misty mountains of Cape Breton. The official route starts and ends in Baddeck, taking in coastal towns including Chéticamp, Pleasant Bay and Ingonish along the way, as well as the craggy scenery of Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Alternatively, take a spin through the wine country around the Annapolis Valley, follow a round-the-peninsula tour of rugged Cape George, or explore the little-visited bays, beaches and islands along the Eastern Shore. However you decide to travel, remember to allow plenty of time for detours to soak up as much of diverse Nova Scotia as possible.
For more information and travel inspiration head over to the official Nova Scotia website.