Nova Scotia might not be home to the Rocky Mountains but with rolling hills, lots of forests, parks and over 13,000kms of epic coastline it is still a great place to go hiking. There are lots of excellent trails for leisure and beginner hikers as well as more difficult intermediate and expert level hikes. Whether you are hiking to waterfalls or secluded lakes, or along a rocky shoreline you will love your time hiking in Nova Scotia. Here is a list of some of the best hiking trails in Nova Scotia.
The Best Hiking Trails in Nova Scotia
This is a Guest Post by Jenn Currie and Chris Surrette
1. Gaff Point, Kingsburg
This tops our list because you get to experience all of nature’s beautiful features in one great trip along the South Shore; beach, cliffs, forest and a little secret. It also holds a special place in our hearts as it was one of our first hikes together, and later our engagement spot. You start out by parking at the beach parking lot, walk along a beautiful beach for 3km and then head off onto a path that goes into the forest. The trailhead isn’t totally visible, so just look for a small path at the end of the beach and a trail map. The path loops completely around the peninsula for a total of 7.5 kms. There is a little hidden beach with a rope to assist your descent- Will you find it? This beautiful headland is protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
2. Cape Split Provincial Park, King’s County
Another hike that has all of nature’s beautiful features is in the beautiful Annapolis valley. This is only bumped to number two in our books because it is one of the most popular hiking spots in Nova Scotia. There is plenty of parking and a few picnic options along this trail. There are also public toilets located in the parking lot for before you get going on your hike.
The trail is approximately 6.5 km one-way which turns into a return trip of around 3-5 hours depending on your speed and how often you stop to take it all in. The view of Cape Split is absolutely incredible overlooking the Bay of Fundy. It is very important however to ensure you keep a safe distance from the cliffs edge as they are constantly battling the ocean and eroding. Make sure you bring lots of water, good hiking boots, layers and your binoculars. There are so many unique birds to see along the way too.
3. Victoria Park, Truro
Located in the heart of Truro is the 130+ year old park Victoria Park. The park is full of large and beautiful Eastern Hemlock trees, as well as a winding river and waterfalls! If the 0.7km hike around the park doesn’t get your heart pumping enough- you should definitely scamper up the 175-step climb to the top of Jacob’s Ladder. This is such a special place, you can spend an hour exploring or spend the day with your family while utilizing the picnic benches, playground and pool. Also, there are newly developed downhill mountain bike trails, with bike rentals available from the local bike shop, Bike Monkey. Bike Monkey is located right outside of the park entrance for your convenience.
4. Franey Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park
If you haven’t adventured to this part of Nova Scotia—you must! This 2-3 hour (7.5km) hike loop does get a little steep in some portions of the trail, but I can promise you it’s worth the sweat. The trailhead is located just off of the Cabot Trail and offers you even more stunning views then what you see driving. Your hike will consist of some wooden stairs plus a dirt path with a winding river. Once you get to the top, you will be able to see the most stunning 360-degree view of the entire Clyburn Brook canyon and the Atlantic coastline. Take a deep breath of that fresh mountain air and soak in the beautiful view.
5. Halifax Shaw Wilderness Park, Halifax
The newly protected Halifax Shaw Wilderness Park is a 379 acres gem of a park within Halifax city limits. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Shaw Group and many donations it can now be enjoyed without worry of any future developments. Make sure you grab your swimsuit and towel or scarf and skates before heading to this one depending on the time of year. I’ve hiked the park in Winter and in Summer and both offer bonus fun stops with Williams Lake and Colpitt Lake surrounding the paths. Be sure to make time for a little dunk or skate.
The trailhead has a new main parking area found along the shore of Williams Lake. The park has lots of hiking paths to choose from varying in difficulty levels which are all marked on new signage found in the parking lot. Be warned however that there isn’t much signage once you get going. The park is full of rocky barrens, so stick close to the path to make sure not to get lost.
6. Salt Marsh Trail, Cole Harbour
The Salt Marsh trail is not too far from downtown Halifax. You can easily hike or bike your way along a 9km trail (4.5k one way). Parking is available at either end of the trail, but the best spot is found at the trailhead on Bisset Road. The beautiful water views plus bog-land make it a very popular spot for birders and nature-lovers, as the area houses a diverse array of waterfowl, mammals and plants.
This trail is well-marked, including distance markers and informative signs giving you some history as you walk or bike along. If you want to pack a light lunch, there are benches available as well as a covered picnic table further down the trail at West Lawrencetown Road. One of the best features of rails to trails? It’s flat the whole way! Other rails to trails to put on your list: Celtic Shores Coastal Trail (90km+) in Cape Breton and the Rum Runners Trail (100km Halifax-Lunenburg).
7. Tenerife Mountain, Cape North
I can’t believe I just discovered this hike last Fall (2019)! The Tenerife Mountain hike is found just off the Cabot Trail, in Cape North at the top of Cape Breton. It is one of our new favourite hikes to do while in Cape Breton. This 3.7km out and back climb will get your heart pumping and give you a good sweat for sure. The trail is marked by surveyor tape around trees—so keep your eyes peeled. There is also a rope available to help at the steepest portion of the trail to help you climb. You’ll want to be sure you keep your distance at one section of the trail if you are hiking with others as there are loose rocks that take no time to runaway under your feet.
The top of Tenerife mountain is the ultimate reward. Your senses will go into overdrive as you feel the accomplishment of making it to the top of that steep incline. That combined with the fresh mountain air mixed with the sounds of nature all around you and the most stunning panoramic views you will feel like you are on top of the world. This hike took us approximately 2 hours round-trip with a half hour bask in the scenic glory at the top.
8. Keji Hemlock and Hardwoods Trail, Kejimkujik National Park
Our family camps at Kejimkujik National Park often and the Hemlock and Harwoods trail is our favourite in the park. With this 5km loop starting out of the Big Dam Road parking lot, you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous, giant 300-year old hemlock trees. Walk along the beautifully constructed boardwalks built to protect the giant tree’s roots. Enjoy the coolness of shade given from the lush thick-leafed canopy and breathe in the freshest of fresh air. Don’t forget your bug spray!
9. Cape D’Or Lighthouse, Advocate Harbour
Sticking out along the shores of the mighty Bay of Fundy, the Cape D’Or lighthouse offers stunning views of the ocean and ragged cliffs. The hike down to the lighthouse from the parking lot is only a couple hundred metres. You can also hike along the cliffs on an old service road that takes you into the community of Advocate Harbour(~10km). The lighthouse keepers house is also a small hotel where you can spend a night or two. If you book in advance you can also enjoy a meal at the Lighthouse Keepers Kitchen overlooking the lighthouse and ocean. Advocate Harbour boat tours offer zodiac tours along the Bay of Fundy, and even around the mysterious Isle Haute.
Our tip: if the weather cooperates try kayaking with Nova Shores. www.CapeDOr.ca
10. McNabs Island, Halifax Harbour
We are always surprised to hear people say “I have never been to McNabs Island. How do you even get there?”. There are many ways to get to McNabs Island. We think the best way is to leave from Eastern Passage with Taylor Made Tours or the McNabs Island Ferry. For $20 return, the ferry will take you out by appointment, and pick you up whenever you want!
PRO TIP: Bring your bike! The island features an old road that allows you to explore both sides of the island (about 4km) easily in an afternoon. From Fort McNab, to Fort Ives and the surprisingly beautiful McNabs beach.
You can also camp on McNabs Island and explore the newly renovated teahouse. The hiking trails are marked and there are washroom facilities available. Head to McNabsIsland.ca to find out all you need to know about before you go. Just make sure you do! It’s a gem, and we can’t even call it a hidden gem because you can see it from downtown Halifax!
The Best Tips For Hiking in Nova Scotia:
- Always bring plenty of water and snacks.
- Bring layers of clothing. The weather in Nova Scotia can change pretty fast so it is always best to be over prepared with good layers or a light jacket.
- Carry bug spray and sunscreen with you. Even on a foggy day you can get a sunburn in Nova Scotia.
- If you are a fan of birds be sure to bring your binoculars. You might wonder what that was flying up ahead if you don’t.
- Most importantly wear proper footwear. Your hike will be that much more enjoyable if your feet are dry and comfortable.
- Be sure to check for ticks after your hike. Unfortunately Nova Scotia has an increasingly bad tick problem. It is important to always check yourself and your pets for ticks diligently.
- For coastal hikes know the tide times in the area before you go as they change daily. You don’t want to end up getting surprised by high tide and getting stuck somewhere.
- Let someone know where you are hiking and when you plan to be back as well always hike with buddy.
- Always follow the “leave no trace” principles. Carry all of your garbage back out with you and try to disturb nature as little as possible.
Jenn Currie and Chris Surette
Chris and Jenn are Nova Scotian nature lovers that enjoy exploring this beautiful province. They feel lucky to have so many options for adventures right here in our backyard and are excited to share with others so they, too can see the beauty and feel the East Coast vibes Nova Scotia has to offer. If you’d like to be further inspired to get outdoors— check out A for Adventure @a.foradventure and @outdoorsyjenn for additional fun activities and locations!
image credit Acorn Art Photography
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