Exploration of Canada’s Maritimes (East Coast)
10 days driving from Belleville Ontario, through New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton to PEI and back home.
The east coast of Canada is known well for its beautiful coastline and its beautiful people. Canada has a reputation of being the friendliest country in the world. Within this beautiful country, the Maritimes is known for having the friendliest people in the country. I have traveled west more than once and loved everything I had seen from Ontario to BC. I have always had a longing to see what everyone has been talking about when it comes to the East. So I called up Jeff and asked if he wanted to go on a road trip.
We packed up all of our camping gear and intended to sleep indoors only when we reached Halifax, as we wanted to spend an evening in the iconic city. There were only a few spots that we knew we had to stop based on recommendations from friends who had been or lived there. The rest of the trip was going to be spontaneous. This lack of planning can be either a great way to explore a new place or a complete disaster. Thanks to the Internet and its immediate access of information while on the road, this worked out well for us. I plotted our route on google maps and we headed out.
We did not book any campsites ahead so we planned to drive until we couldn’t drive any more and find the closest campsite to our location. This was fine for the first half of our trip, in the more populated areas, but once we reached the Cabot Trail, this became a problem that had us worried a couple times that we would have to camp illegally or sleep in the car.
Our first night was spent at a roadside campground in Quebec not far from the New Brunswick border. We drove till dark and googled campsites near me. The place we found was easy access to the highway and had a neat atmosphere. The place was packed with RV’s and even had a few cabins. We set up our tents and discussed tomorrows plan over a few beers by the bonfire before calling it a night in order to get an early start the next day.
Jeff had a recommendation from a friend who said Hopewell Rocks was a must stop on any road trip West of Quebec. I had no other reason to visit New Brunswick, so this was as good an excuse as any. Jeff and I were so glad that we went. It was an absolutely fantastic place to see, and heading to Hopewell Rocks then led us to the best Lobster I have ever eaten in my life!
Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick
Hopewell Rocks did not disappoint. I would not recommend anyone visiting Canada’s east coast to skip this incredible natural wonder.
Our next destination was Halifax. A short 3 hour drive from Hopewell Rocks, we knew we had some time to get there, so we decided to take the long way and head down the coastal 915 Hwy and back up through the Fundy National Park. At the end of the coastal Hwy we came across a small lobster fishing town with cute little restaurants and shops as well as an awesome lobster market. The Fish and Chips have a great reputation here so we had to indulge. My largest priority for the food on our trip was focused on finding Lobster. Expecting the prices to be cheaper and the lobster to taste better than anything I had in the past. I was right about the size and flavour of the lobster. The best I’ve ever had! However, it still wasn’t cheap.
After checking out the biggest lobsters I’ve ever seen in the biggest lobster fish tank I’ve ever seen, I purchased one pre cooked large guy for myself and we took off to head towards Halifax. We wanted to spend the night in Halifax proper so camping didn’t make much sense. As we all know, I love the Hostel environment so of course I booked us into the Hi Hostel in Halifax, The Heritage House. As always we had a great time at the hostel. It helps that both Jeff and I are outgoing people that love to make new friends. So we went out, got some beers, parked ourselves in the back garden and offered beers to the people in the area. We made a few friends and all went out on the town together. Halifax is a great city, and I have learned since, that I need to return for a longer visit as I didn’t experience nearly enough. After our night on the town, Jeff and I wanted to get right back into the exploration and I was on a hunt for a good hike. Peggy’s Cove is an iconic fishing town in the area, making it one of the more touristy spots in Nova Scotia. I have no problem being a tourist, so I had put it on our itinerary, but I was looking for more. I asked the guy sitting behind the desk at the hostel as we were checking out, and he asked if we were planning to go to Duncan’s Cove? No, but tell me about it. After a brief explanation, I was sold. I ran out to the car and told Jeff about our new plan. He is up for anything, so Duncan’s Cove became our next stop.
The Duncans Cove hike is a simple coastal hike that people of all hiking abilities can handle. There is little elevation change and once you have reached the shoreline, the route can be taken in many different ways. The trail narrows in a few spots at the start of the trail but if everyone watches their footing as they step, it is fairly easy. There is a clearly worn path that runs along side the shoreline rocks and has been worn smooth by the foot traffic. Jeff and I mostly followed this on our way out. On our return however, we felt a bit playful so we followed the shoreline back by traversing the boulders most of the way. We had a lot of fun doing so. This is not a stroller friendly trail so everyone should be on foot but the kids can easily handle this one as well.
Once we completed our Duncans Cove hike, we were hungry so we drove in the direction of Peggy’s Cove assuming that was where we would end up. It didn’t work out that way though. We found a cute little fishing town with a population of probably 250 and a single fish and chip shop. We sat and ate and enjoyed the scenery and headed to our next Camp Site. To be honest we were pretty tired and just wanted to get our tents set up early so we could enjoy some beers.
Note that Peggy’s Cove is an iconic spot on the Halifax coast. It is a location that has a ton of culture and delicious food. Even though we didn’t stop to spend some time. I still recommend it for anyone visiting the area.
A large National Park in the middle of Nova Scotia mainland is Kejimkujik National Park. I read a lot of information online before we left Ontario about this park. The route we chose to take through Nova Scotia was largely based on visiting this park. It sounded great from all the reviews. It unfortunately did not live up to the hype. This was not because it was not a nice park. Much like all of Canadas National and Provincial Parks, it was clean well mapped and had a ton of fun things to do for families of all sizes.
It wasn’t for us because it was a very large park with hundreds of campsites and not much space or privacy between them. Jeff and I like the kind of camping that involves a camp fire and some quiet reflection. Perhaps a few beers with the neighbouring campsite, but generally remoteness is more our style. We stayed for one night, instead of our planned two nights. Ate the non refundable cost of the second night in our campsite and headed out early the next morning. We figured this would just give us more time in a spot we may enjoy more.
Next destination: The Cabot Trail
Once we were on the Cabot Trail route we asked each other what we wanted to do. This was actually a tough question. I hadn’t really done a lot of research beyond the directions around the island.
Not much available options in the Baddeck area and we didn’t want to drive too far north before finding a place to rest our heads. After an extensive search, we found a lovely place on the shores of a small lake not too far from the highway after exploring the Uisge Ban waterfall, we had a late lunch in Badeck at a lovely little town restaurant and started looking for the closest campground.
Typically when I travel, I look for hiking trails and good food. Along the Cabot trail were tonnes of small towns with their own reputation for good food. So I started looking for hikes. Along the North and West sides of the Cabot trail loop are a lot of hiking spots and parks for camping. But on the east side of the island, the hikes seemed fewer to be found
I looked a bit farther inland and discovered on my Google Map a symbol for a waterfall. Waterfalls are my favourite! Left turn just before Badeck for about 20 minutes and we arrived at the Uisge Ban Falls trail head. The trail had almost no elevation change and was very well maintained. I would rate it as an easy trail that someone of almost any level of fitness could handle. The large tree roots would make a child stroller very difficult to get along with, but most walking kids should have no trouble.
After we spent an hour or more climbing and swimming in the falls, we drove back out to Badeck for some lunch.
Badeck is a cute little town with all the charm that the East Coast has to offer. On the main drag you’ll find shops selling local artisan goods, and souvenirs, as well as a few pubs and restaurants. The Bell Buoy restaurant had great fish and chips. We left with full bellies and feeling great. Our next destination was Meat Cove. It has an unusual name and I have no idea of its origin. A lot of the research I did for camping on Cape Breton led to Meat Cove, stating that it was one of the most beautiful camping locations on the island.On our way there, I tried calling the number found on their website a few times, just to make sure there were camp sites available but there was no answer. We hopped back on the Cabot Trail and headed north.
The road to Meat cove had some beautiful scenery.
Before leaving the Cabot Trail to head up to Meat Cove we stopped at the Neils Harbour Light House for an Ice Cream Cone.
In order to get to Meat Cove, we had to leave the Cabot Trail main highway and head north. It was a 30 min detour that was absolutely stunning. We arrived at about 6pm. The location of the Camp Ground was very remote and it was the only place to legally camp.
When we arrived, we asked for a campsite and were quickly told that there were no sites available. The person we spoke with was quite rude about it stating that if you don’t get here before 3pm there is no chance of getting a site. We were already very disappointed that we could not get a site and his attitude made it much worse. I explained to him that I visited the web site and there was nothing on it explaining the difficulty in getting a site after 3pm, and that I had tried calling a number of times without response. This did not change his attitude at all. We simply had to turn back and find a campsite on the main highway. This worried us as it was already close to 7pm and we would be losing daylight soon.
Note that Meat Cove is still a destination I think any traveller should visit. Despite our negative experience, it was an incredible location. I only wish we had more information before departing. So if you plan to visit Meat Cove, get there as early as possible in the day to avoid the trouble we found ourselves in.
Leaving Meat Cove, we were unsure of where to head next. It was already after 6pm and we needed to find a campsite b before it got dark. Up until this point, we had been staying at legit campsites and paying the nightly fees. However there were no options for overnight camping in the area. After driving the highway for an hour or so, we turned down a side street in the town of Pleasant Bay to try and find a person we could ask about local camping. That was when we found the beach. There were a couple of campers already set up se we followed suit. This ended up being the best camping spot on our entire trip. We pitched our tents and went for dinner. When we returned, we discovered a fire pit on the beach just below our tents, so we got a fire going, franks some beers and toasted to our luck of getting kick out of Meat Cove only to end up in this incredible camping location.
After our stay in Pleasant Bay, we were off to find more hiking.
Our GPS showed a few spots along our route so we marked them off and headed out.
First was the Mackintosh Brook hiking trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Next was the Skyline trail in the same park
and our final hike of the day was my personal favourite, Egypt Falls
We had intended to stop at the Glenora Distillery after our last hike at Egypt Falls, but it was unfortunately already closed for the day by the time we got there. The forecast called for a downpour of rain through the night and I was in need of a soft bed for the night so I splurged and got Jeff and I a hotel room for our last night in Cape Breton.
Feeling fresh the next day, we headed off the Cabot Trail with Prince Edward Island in our sights.
Prince Edward Island
We drove through a horrendous hail storm as we came over the bridge into PEI, which was both exciting and scary at the same time.
Some of the best oysters on the east coast of Canada can be found on PEI. Malpeque Bay is a small fishing town on the north west coast of the Island. There is not much to it, so you could easily miss it but if you like oysters, I would definitely make a stop. The Malpeque Bay Oyster Company has a small restaurant over top of their oyster market, that has a varied menu for those that may want to eat something other than oysters, but also sells them on the half shell from the bar where you can watch them being shucked before they are served to your table. Easily the most delicious oysters I’ve ever had so fresh that they are only a few hours out of the sea.
Thunder Cove was not a stop on= this particular road trip because at the time, we were unaware that it existed. On a work trip that I took a few weeks later, I was introduced to Thunder Cove and I am including it in this post because it should be on everyones trip to PEI. It can be found easily on Google Maps and is a ten minute drive from Malpeque Bay. So you might as well.
We thought about staying in Cavendish for the night as there were lots of campsites on the map. Until we drove through it. If you have kids, they would love Cavendish. It is like an amusement park town. Full of touristy shopping with souvenir shops and playgrounds for the kids at every campground. If you have ever been to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, you will have a familiar feeling. We kept driving. Not far from Cavendish, we found a really cute campground that was much quieter and far less expensive. New Highlands Campground is one that I would highly recommend.
Much like any city, the best thing to do, is find a Main Street in the centre of town and get out of the car. Thats what we did. Charlottetown is rather small so we were able to see much of it in the one day we had to spend before heading out. We did some window shopping and bought a couple souvenirs. Once lunch time came along, we knew exactly where to go. Jeff had heard about this place from a friend back home and it was relatively easy to find. The Hopyard. An amazing restaurant concept that, I think, should be in every major city. The menu was fresh and creative, the prices were fantastic, the portions were huge, and they had a vinyl record table where you could choose any record, and the staff would play it for you on the turntable behind the bar. You have to check this place out!