Three days of solo backpacking is a long time when you don’t run into another human being. That’s exactly what happened to me when I backpacked the coastal trail in Cape Chignecto Provincial Park in Nova Scotia in late June. I endured extreme silence – except for the sound of my own voice for all but 5 minutes  – two thirds of the way into the third day when I finally met a couple of guys.

Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail

I was a little nervous going off by myself – not that I doubted my abilities but I was once again entering country where you might see a bear and there had been an incident a few weeks earlier. If you’ve followed my adventures this summer then you’d know about my bear encounter in Kejimkujik National Park – and that played with my mind.

"The Visitor's Center at Cape Chignecto Provincial Park"

The Visitor’s Center

Map of the Coastal Trail

Map of the Coastal Trail

I had planned to camp for the two nights I was out and in fact had made a reservation. But then while enjoying breakfast and conversation at the Cape d’Or Lighthouse, the owner asked me why I wasn’t staying in the huts. 

Huts on the Coastal Trail in Cape Chignecto Provincial Park

I didn’t realize they had huts along the trail – so he made a phone call immediately to check on availability – and lo and behold they were all empty. I changed my itinerary slightly so I could stay in the huts. They are basic – bunks, a stove and a picnic table BUT they are dry, bug free and I could sleep at night without wondering if I’d be woken up by a bear.

In the middle of summer with a group, I would take the camping arrangement because it gets you closer to the water and there’s more of a chance of getting a great view. The huts don’t have the same wilderness feeling as there are dirt roads leading to them but at this point I could care less about that.

Where is Cape Chignecto Provincial Park?

Cape Chignecto Provincial Park is located on the Bay of Fundy near the small community of Advocate Harbour. It’s the largest park in the province and one that offers truly dramatic scenery. Cape Chignecto is a peninsula that juts out into the Bay of Fundy – dividing it into two arms. Minas Basin lies to the south and Chignecto Bay to the north. There’s high drama along the coast with cliffs up to 200 metres (600 feet) high.

Here’s a rundown of what my 3 day Cape Chignecto backpacking trip looked like.

Day 1: Hiking from Red Rocks to Arch Gulch (6 kms – 2.5 hours)

Without a tent to carry my backpack was a tad lighter than I expected it to be. I also wasn’t carrying a stove or fuel as it’s such a hassle now to bring a stove on a plane and I didn’t want it confiscated. It was to be three days of cold meals – including a cup of cold instant Starbucks coffee every morning for breakfast to stave off a caffeine headache. Yum.

Starting the backpacking trip under cloudy skies

Starting the backpacking trip under cloudy skies

On the first day I hiked only 6 kilometres – and though the distance was small it is the hilliest part of the trail with very steep ups and downs. The trail starts by the Red Rocks on the beach. The first 1.5 kilometres go quickly enough but you do have to keep an eye open for the stairs leading up to the main trail – and judging by notes left in the cabins many people  missed the stairs (and had to retrace their steps) as they’re tucked in behind a rock. There are 65 stairs to the top.

The trail is easy to follow though there aren’t a lot of signs. Most of today’s hike was through forest with little in the way of views. It was over in no time and I felt a little guilty about finishing so quickly but pulled out my Kindle and got over it.

A serious set of stairs leading off the beach

A serious set of stairs leading off the beach

Beautiful woods at the beginning of the hike

Beautiful woods at the beginning of the hike

My camp at Arch Gulch on Day 1

My camp at Arch Gulch on Day 1

Not the best view from the hut

Not the best view from the hut

Day 2: Hiking from Arch Gulch to Big Bald Rock (15.1 kms – 4 hours)

From Arch Gulch to Refugee Cove – where most people camp the first night, it’s 6 kilometers. I dispatched with that in 1.5 hours. The beach at Refugee Cove is quite lovely – and one used for camping if you’re a sea kayaker. I don’t quite understand the logic of making the beach available to kayaking parties only (as there aren’t very many of them over the course of the summer) and the beach is a FAR preferable campsite than what is offered in the woods to backpackers.

From Refugee Cove all the way to Big Bald Rock the trail got far more interesting. There were numerous lookouts along the way offering spectacular coastal vistas. Cape Chignecto itself wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the rest of the shoreline. Seabirds and wild flowers made this part of the hike very enjoyable.

Some signage around in Cape Chignecto Park

Some signage around in Cape Chignecto Park

Phenomenal cliff top views on the Coastal Trail

Phenomenal cliff top views on the Coastal Trail

Low tide at Refugee Cove

Low tide at Refugee Cove

"Coastal paths beat the woods every time"

Coastal paths beat the woods every time

Great views at low tide near Cape Chignecto

Great views at low tide near Cape Chignecto

Never a boat on the Bay of Fundy

One of the best views along the Coastal Trail

One of the best views of the three days along the Coastal Trail

Some of the cliff tops had loads of wild iris blooming

Some of the cliff tops had loads of wild iris blooming

Really lovely cliff-top walking in Cape Chignecto Park

Really lovely cliff-top walking in Cape Chignecto Park

It was nice to know I was getting close

It was nice to know I was getting close

The view of the Bay of Fundy from my cabin on night two

The view of the Bay of Fundy from my cabin on night two

Day 3: Hiking from Big Bald Rock to Seal Cove to Eatonville and back to the Visitor Center (~27 kms – 8.5 hours)

My last day was the biggest and not one I’d recommend to people. If you can – do a car shuttle at the beginning of the trip and leave one car parked at the Eatonville trailhead. The last 14 kilometres is unremarkable except for the fog forest – which you might see on the first day of hiking . And in fact this section of trail has many downed trees and VERY LITTLE in the way of trail markings. It still needs a bit of work.

Lush trail through the woods

Lush trail through the woods first thing in the day

Huge expanses of beach at low tide

Huge expanses of beach at low tide

However, there are some lovely sections of the trail. On the way to Keyhole Brook there is a beautiful open area with extremely good views – but then it’s back to forest walking for most of the way to Keyhole Brook. It gets better again the closer you get to Seal Cove – and for a kilometre or two past it. Seal Cove is another place where people camp a lot – either on the first night going in if hiking in a counterclockwise direction  – or on the second night if they’re hiking in a clockwise direction.

Could never get over how quiet the trail was

Could never get over how quiet the trail was

Near the Red Rocks - Seal Cove junction

Near the Red Rocks – Seal Cove junction

The sublime fog forest - one of the greenest forests I've ever seen

The sublime fog forest – one of the greenest forests I’ve ever seen

Looking out to the Three Sisters rock formation

Looking out to the Three Sisters rock formation where I’d kayaked a few days earlier

blistered, sore feet at the end of the 50+ kilometre hike

Not shown – the blistered, sore feet at the end of the 50+ kilometre hike

Useful Information for backpacking the Cape Chignecto Trail

  • The trail is open from the May long weekend until Thanksgiving weekend in October.
  • You can reserve the huts ahead of time by phoning 1-888-544-3434. Or you can walk up at the Visitor Center and see what might be available. It’s $57.65 per night for the cabin – and it can accommodate 4-6 people. Once you’ve booked it your group gets the whole cabin. There is no sharing with strangers.
  • The huts do provide treated water and outhouses.
  • It’s $25.90 per night for a backcountry campsite (2013 prices.)
  • The entrance fee to the park is $5.40.
  • If you plan to do wilderness hiking and camping you must use the Red Rocks Visitor Centre entrance at 1108 West Advocate Road. The visitor centre itself is closed in 2019.
  • There are lots of streams to get fresh water but treat it.
  • The tide rises and falls at a rate of an inch per minute.
  • Bring sturdy hiking shoes. I have 3 black toenails (just lovely for summer) because I wore lighter weight hiking shoes.
  • Bring bear spray. I didn’t have any so I gave a running commentary of the topography to scare any critters away. It was either that or singing.
  • For more information email them parkinfo@novascotia.ca

Have you ever done a backpacking trip in Cape Chignecto Park?

Other posts related to my Nova Scotia trip you might like:

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A Hike on the Coastal Trail in Cape Chignecto Provincial Park

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
HikeBikeTravel
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Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada. Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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