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Extreme Silence: A Solo Backpacking Trip in Cape Chignecto Park

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.

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

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.

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.

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 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.

"rock at low tide"

"Stairs leading off the beach"

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

"Daisies are in bloom in late June"

Daisies are in bloom in late June

"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.

"Beautiful open woods for much of the day"

Beautiful open woods for much of the day

"The occasional sign points the way"

The occasional sign points the way

"Low tide at Refugee Cove"

Low tide at Refugee Cove

"Phenomenal cliff top views"

Phenomenal cliff top views

"Looking out from Cape Chignecto"

Looking out from Cape Chignecto

"Coastal paths beat the woods every time"

Coastal paths beat the woods every time

"Coastal scene at low tide"

"There was never a soul on the water either"

There was never a soul on the water either

"One of the best views on the hike"

One of the best views on the hike

"Another great view at low tide"

Another great view at low tide

"wild iris blooming"

Some of the cliff tops had loads of wild iris blooming

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.

"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.

"The Three Sisters are off in the distance; I'd kayaked here just a few days earlier"

The Three Sisters are off in the distance; I’d kayaked here just a few days earlier

"The fog forest"

The sublime fog forest

Useful Information for backpacking the Cape Chignecto Trail

  • 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.
  • The entrance fee to the park is $5.40.
  • There are lots of streams to get fresh water but treat it.
  • 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.

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

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

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 32 Comments

  • Gillian @GlobalBookshelf says:

    The views are lovely, aren’t they? Did you expect to not see anyone else?

    • @Gillian I was definitely surprised that there was no one else on the trail. It was late June and the snow was long gone and fortunately there was barely a bug to be seen. Really where were the locals?

  • Marlys says:

    Wow, you are such a courageous woman in my eyes. Respect, respect!

  • Jackie Smith says:

    Stunning scenery and setting, Leigh. I’d have opted for the bear-free huts as well!

  • Ron Danforth says:

    I absolutely love hiking alone, though I have never had quite the bear encounter that you did. There is something so calming and relaxing about it that I just love. Those cliff top views look absolutely amazing too and totally worth the trek. I think you may have just added another hike itinerary for me!

  • Wow – you’re so brave. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable/safe hiking solo for 3 days. I applaud you! The photo of your lookout from Cape Chignecto is simply stunning. Glad that you enjoyed your adventure!

  • Joe @ Cosmic Smudge says:

    I’ll be doing a three-day solo backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park this month. I totally agree about the loneliness factor. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be out for a couple weeks at a time like some people do.

  • Another beautiful series of photos. Although the rain has been a pain in the neck this spring/summer, it really has done wonders with the trees and wildflowers as shown in this post. Everything looks so vibrant.

    • @Ted The fog forest – a term I’ve never heard of before certainly speaks to the amount of rain the park received before I got there. I thought this park was particularly beautiful.

  • Mast Holiday says:

    Wow, what the wonderful experience narrated beautifully! all the pictures looking beautiful and peaceful. hope you’ll also visit my blog.
    thanks for sharing your experience with us through this post.

  • Tim Moon says:

    Beautiful scenery. Sounds like you had a good time. The backcountry permit seems awfully expensive.

    • @Tim The park permit was reasonable and if you’re referring to the backcountry lodges keep in mind that it’s usually a group of 2-6 people splitting the $57 per night cost so it becomes quite reasonable.

  • jill says:

    You’re so awesome! I don’t think I can go on a trek by myself. I’m afraid I might find that I make a pretty boring company to myself :)

  • Charu says:

    That’s really a LONG time to go without seeing anyone, but it’s zen in a way, right? Beautiful views, Leigh.

  • I’m not sure I could endure so much solitude, but really admire your guts.

    • @Mette I didn’t think I’d have that much solitude on the backpacking trip and though lonely at times it’s also a great trip for building one’s confidence. I would do it again – as long as I had a few good books for company.

  • You make my home province look awesome Leigh! I will have to try to work this trek into my future outdoor adventuring plans… :)

  • Andrew says:

    Beautiful desolate scenery, Leigh. Your forest shots came out very well, and that’s not something easy to achieve from my experience.

  • Debra says:

    Inspiring post, thanks. Your pics are way better than ours, really lovely. A question: do you think it would be possible to boil or heat water using the stoves in the cabins?

  • Lisa says:

    it appears as if there was no wildlife, as a wildlife photographer I would have been disappointed despite the beautiful views. was there nothing to be seen? I’m debating a camping trip here or elsewhere on the east coast either in Canada to the U.S. and have been really hoeing to capture the elusive black bears of Nova Scotia they seem to be so well adaptive at staying away from humans, which is not a bad thing for their own preservation. I’m also looking to photograph the mainland moose which again are highly elusive given their small numbers.

    • @Lisa I saw squirrels, the snake but nothing else. As a wildlife photographer you might get some birds as well. I don’t know how often the bears and moose are typically seen. It’s still a very beautiful area.

  • Susan Carey says:

    I did it quite a few years ago-ill prepared fitness wise for the (^%## inclines, but otherwise so glad I did. I was happy to have the cabin for the same reason you did-nears. Never saw a sign of one in the park, though. Good post!

  • nadja says:

    Beautiful post! What time of year did you go?

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