8 Day Travel Itinerary: Nova Scotia in Shoulder Season
This 8 day Working Joe Travel Itinerary explores the southern half of Nova Scotia (the territory between Yarmouth, New Minas, and Halifax). The trip planner includes driving tours, hikes, and city walks.
Nova Scotia is a Canadian Maritime province with seemingly endless miles of seashore. Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, the peninsula is a wonderful mix of sleepy villages, nautical towns, and rocky coastlines.
Between May and September, the vacation destination bustles with energy and tourism peaks. Visiting Nova Scotia in the shoulder season (early October) many restaurants and businesses will have closed for the season. This inconvenience will be off-set by the bliss of encountering uncrowded roadways, national parks, and beaches.
Read on for an itinerary Randy and I followed on our last visit to the province.
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Day 1: Digby Pines Resort
Traveling by car, Randy and I arrive at Digby Pines Resort in Digby, Nova Scotia. The resort is seeped in old world charm. It is beautifully landscaped and the staff is attentive. After check-in, we explore the resort. Then, we enjoy dinner at the onsite Churchill's Restaurant. The food and service were excellent and the dining room had panoramic views of Digby Harbor. Great start to the week.
TRAVEL TIP: Unless you book a tour, you will need a vehicle in Nova Scotia. Sites are spread out and public transport is primarily found in regional commercial centers.
Day 2: Landscape of the Grand Pre, Evangeline's Beach, and Digby Harbor
This next morning we are fogged in, but enjoy an expansive (and fairly-priced) buffet breakfast in the dining room. Soon, we are cruising north on Highway 101 along the Bay of Fundy and the Annapolis Valley. We head toward The Landscape of the Grand Pre. When we arrive the sky has cleared and it is a sunny, autumn day.
On the grounds, Randy and I visited a museum honoring the Acadian people. We hiked around the acreage and took in the sweeping landscapes. The site is serene and beautiful. However, after visiting a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, we found this one to be underwhelming. We couldn't shake the feeling that this was a long ride for a pretty view (when there were so many equally nice views along the way).
We drive on to Evangeline’s Beach, and have a similar reaction.
Next, we attempt to take Route 1 into Wolfville, but the traffic is backed-up so we retraced our route along 101 until reaching Margaretville. Then, we took a winding route along a series of tiny coastal communities until we reach Port Royal.
Back in Digby, we tour the world famous fishing wharf lined with scallop boats. The fishermen were friendly and happy to let me take photos of their boats. This was a fun stop.
Returning to our room, Randy called to confirm our whale watch for next day. It was cancelled due to high winds, but we were never called. Major disappointment!
Turning in for the night, Randy and I are slightly deflated. After two long days in the car we are feeling as if this beautiful territory is so similar to Maine's Acadia National Park that we should have gone there for less expense and driving. Goodness. We're grumpy. We need a good night’s rest.
Day 3: Kejimkujik Scenic Drive and Old Town Lunnenburg
It is a gorgeous day for a ride. With no whale watch, we decide to head across the peninsula to check-in at our next resort a day early. We take Route 8 down the Kejimkujik Scenic Drive to Route 216. Along the way we pass lakes, rivers, long swathes of dense forest, tiny rural villages, rolling pastures, and Christmas tree farms. It is glorious, and we pass few cars.
From Route 216 in Bridgewater, we traveled to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Old Town Lunnenburg (established in 1753 as a planned British community). We park and walk Lunnenberg's historic district. The site is home to the world-famous Bluenose II Schooner.
We discovered that Lunnenburg has a small, but vibrant fishing museum and a picturesque waterfront. It is also home to many restaurants and tee shirt shops. The blocks of buildings stretching uphill from the ocean-front were brightly painted, and worn from the wind and elements. Parking was limited due to the many tour buses. The town had a lively carnival atmosphere. We enjoyed a drink on a patio overlooking the waterfront and shopped for souvenirs.
Back on the road, we finished the drive to Summerville Beach. Late in the day we arrived at the Quarterdeck Beachside Villas. The hotel's location is on a quiet stretch of Nova Scotia's south shore. Our clean and cozy one-bedroom suite overlooks Summerville Beach. We had dinner at the hotel's Quarterdeck Grill. The food was delicious and the ocean views were complimented by the modern, minimalist interior.
Day 4: Hiking at Kejimkujic Seaside National Park
After a good night’s sleep we are off for a hike. The Kejimkujic Seaside National Park is ten minutes down the road. We find it, and set off on the Harbor Rocks Trail (6.4km) in thick fog. After a half an hour, the clouds lift. We arrive at the seashore to see brilliant blue waves crashing upon jagged rocks as far as the eye can see. Along the trail we happen upon sea lions frolicking in the surf. We never want to leave, but eventually make the return trip to the trailhead.
Day 5: Halifax and Peggy's Cove
Randy and I drive two hours north to Halifax, and walk its waterfront boardwalk. It is family friendly area with hammocks and other inventive spaces to enjoy along the way. For a small fee, there are several ships to explore. We found a number of interesting shops including a pewter store and crystal showroom (where you can watch glass being blown in an attached workshop). For lunch we feasted on scrumptious chowder and poutine on the porch at Murphy’s on the Water. From the porch's vantage we saw barges and zodiac boats buzzing about the harbor.
On the ride back to Summerville, we stop at Peggy’s Cove for rock climbing and picture taking. What can I say about this site? Breathtakingly beautiful. The preservation area that precedes the village announces that something special is coming. Rolling hills dotted with pine trees and boulders are eerily gorgeous.
Past the small village, massive granite ledges separate sea from land. On a desolate point stands the iconic lighthouse. The surrounding area is sprinkled with little shops, fishermen’s homes, and spectacular vistas. This was our favorite stop, by far, so far. We recommend you plan to go on a quiet weekday, and to spend some time here. Lots of places to picnic, stroll, and hike.
Next, we took the Lighthouse Route (Route 333 to Route 3) around Margaret’s Bay. It was a stunning seaside drive past fishing villages, delightful small towns, and million dollar properties.
We left at 10:30 in the morning, and arrived back at the Quarterdeck around 8pm. Did I mention the province is spread out? We are doing lots of driving. Randy and I agree the peninsula is too spread out for a week-long trip. We are only attempting to see half the territory, and we are weary of driving. We are ditching our plans to bike ride and explore Mahone Bay tomorrow. Instead, we will burrow in and enjoy the lovely Summerville Beach which is right outside our door. We will eat donuts, walk on the beach, and watch movies. This is, after all, vacation.
Day 6: Hiking at Kejimkujic Seaside National Park
On Day 6 we follow through with our plan to cancel the trip to Mahone Bay, but we don't feel like watching movies. As an alternative, we head back to Kejimkujic Seaside National Park. We complete a 10km hike that was equally magnificent to Day 4's. We love this park.
Note: If you do want to bike ride, google the Mahone Bay 10km (one way) Dynamite Trail.
Later, back at the hotel, we take a walk along Summerville Beach. The hard packed white sand beach stretches on for 1 mile. The sun is sparkling off the incoming tide. The sky is a million infinite shades of blue. At the end of the beach we encounter a river emptying into the sea. We follow the river to a deserted rail road bridge. Under the trestle, the river unfolds into a stunning estuary full of birds and sea grasses.
On the way back to the Quarterdeck, we marvel at how we have the mile-long beach to ourselves. The day is a crisp 66’, but in the blazing sun it feels much warmer.
That night we head to the White Point Beach Resort. The dining room is comfortably, casually, elegant with a huge field stone fire place and window on two sides of the expansive room. Dinner was wonderfully done.
Day 7: Summerville Beach
Beach day! The temperature has dropped to 55, but it is bright and sunny. We to walk the expansive beach and laze around watching DVDs in front of the fire.
Day 8: Check-out and travel home!
Nova Scotia is a beautiful territory with much to explore. It has gorgeous scenery, abundant wild life, and an efficient highway system. For a first trip we wanted to see as much of it as we could, but that was a mistake. For a one week vacation, I would recommend picking one region and fully exploring it. I would spend less time in the car, and more on foot or bike.
As noted earlier in the article, the environment and scenery are very similar to the Bar Harbor Maine / Acadia National Park area. Like that region, Nova Scotia shines brightest away from the the commercial districts. It is the verdant greens and vivid blues of the sea shore, forests, and wide open sky that we found truly magnificent. Randy and I most enjoyed the island when out hiking and walking away from the crowds.
Overall, a great first trip. We can't wait to go back.
Nova Scotia Travel Tips:
Timing Your Visit: Go in September; after the summer crush and the kids are back in school. We went the second week of October. Many historical sites, shops, and restaurants had closed for the season (or were in the process of shutting down). If you do decide to go in October, double check all of your reservations early in the week. Digby Pines closed for the season the day we checked out. Our whale watch was cancelled for bad weather (it also, suspiciously, closed for the season on the same day). And, our ferry left as posted on Saturday; but the Sunday ferry was cancelled due to the weather (and was also the last day of the season). Had we left on Sunday we may have missed our boat since our phones were not working most of the time.
Planning: Towns and attractions are spread out. Pick the region you think you would most enjoy and explore it. Book early. Many accommodations are small, dated and out of the way. If you want a resort with a restaurant and beach on premises, you will have to schedule out. Go for longer than a week if you plan to see more than one region (Difficult for working joes!) Otherwise, it is a lot of driving (or consider a chartered tour).
Costs: Be prepared to spend. It is (almost) an island. Everything is expensive: the ferry, lodging, food, gas. And there are charges for all national parks.
Driving: Take care on the highways. Roads are well maintained and signed, but we encountered: 2 deer in highway (dusk); 1 coyote that hit the car behind us (daytime), and 1 partridge that flew in front of us (daytime).
Weather: The weather changes quickly. We experienced fog, sun, clouds, drizzle and driving rain - all in the same day. Our week was unseasonably warm and humid. Almost every day we walked the beach barefoot. But at night the temperature dropped. Many people were wearing parkas. Over pack. You have no other choice but to bring warm weather and cool weather clothes all year round. And don’t rely on the extended weather forecasts. Ours was badly off.
Hope to see you soon, Laura and Randy
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