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A Visit To Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick

A Visit to Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick

It was a treat to visit Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick after I’d heard so much about the island for years. It’s especially well-known for its untamed beauty, superlative bird and whale watching and cliff-side hiking.

In fact Grand Manan Island is one of the top places for birders in all of Atlantic Canada. Located in a globally significant important bird area, the spectacular Grand Manan Migratory Bird Sanctuary Nature Reserve on the Bay of Fundy is one of the must see sights. Up to 300 species of birds have been seen here.

The Swallowtail Lighthouse
The Swallowtail Lighthouse

Grand Manan is one of the Fundy Isles

Grand Manan Island is the largest of the Fundy Isles though it’s only 34 kilometres long by 18 kilometres wide. Its home to about 2,500 people – many tied to the fishing industry as you’ll see in no time if you drive around.

A fishing weir
A fishing weir
Colourful lobster traps
Colourful lobster traps

Getting to Grand Manan Island

Most people get to Grand Manan Island via a 90 minute ferry ride from Blacks Harbour, located 90 kilometres west of Saint John.

The approach to the island gives you a sense of its ruggedness with rocky cliffs and lighthouses being the first things you’ll see. If you’re lucky you might see whales too.

The northern end of Grand Manan is more populated - and less foggy
The northern end of Grand Manan is more populated – and less foggy

What to do on Grand Manan Island

I stayed for two nights which wasn’t much time but it was enough to give me a sense of the place. A kayak trip out of Seal Cove was high on the wish list. Other activities I had in mind included a hike to the Hole in the Wall, cycling the backroads of the island and a hike on the trails around the Southwest Head Lighthouse.

But Grand Manan’s notorious pea soup fog thwarted some of my plans.

Fog so thick that it's unsafe to cycle
Fog so thick that it’s unsafe to cycle

Fortunately I arrived on a day that was sunny and clear. I stayed in a cabin rented out by Adventure High in Seal Cove. It was nothing fancy but what a view it had out the back door!

View out the back door of my cabin in Seal Cove
View out the back door of my cabin in Seal Cove
The view out my back door on the second day at low tide
The view out my back door on the second day at low tide

Kayaking out of Seal Cove

After I unloaded my things I spent the rest of the afternoon kayaking from Seal Cove down to Anchorage Provincial Park with an Adventure High guide and a couple from Ottawa.

It was great fun to poke around the quiet harbour that is Seal Cove – and watch the comings and goings of the fisherman.

There are a number of kayaking trips you can do out of Grand Manan Island but it’s the weather and wind that ultimately decides where you can go. If it is calm, it’s possible to paddle alongside the cliffs and around the Swallowtail Lighthouse at the north end of the island.

Kayaking at the north end of Grand Manan
Kayaking at the north end of Grand Manan
Paddling around the protected harbour at Seal Cove
Paddling around the protected harbour at Seal Cove
Checking out the floating fishing dock
Checking out the floating fishing dock

On the first evening – after a delicious dinner at The Inn at Whale Cove, I took the time to wander Castalia Marsh, a pretty salt water marsh with beaches and a picnic area.

Spring is the very best time to visit Grand Manan if you’re into birding and this is one of the many spots that is frequented by birders.

A Visit to Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick
Castalia Marsh on Grand Manan Island
An artist at work at the Castalia Marsh
An artist at work at the Castalia Marsh
Castalia Marsh
Castalia Marsh

On my second day I had great plans to hike the 10 kilometre trail at the southern end of the island. It’s here where you can see the Flock of Sheep – a rock formation hidden by fog on the day I visited.

On a clear day the views from here would be spectacular but after just 30 minutes of walking my feet were sloshing around in my shoes and my pants were soaked. I gave up – but not before getting a few moody photographs.

A Visit to Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick
Beautiful hiking trails around the Southwest Head Lighthouse

I decided it was time to dry off so I headed to what had become my go to place in just 24 hours – The Island Arts Cafe and Gift Shop, just a few hundred metres away from the ferry terminal. Over a latte and homemade muffin I reformulated the day’s plan.

The Hole in the Wall Park

The fog had started to lift so I took advantage of the window and hightailed it to the Hole in the Wall Park. It is here you’ll find hiking trails skirting the coast and the famous Hole in the Wall rock formation.

A Visit to Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick
The Hole in the Wall Rock

Dark Harbour, Grand Manan Island

Next was a drive rather than a bike ride to Dark Harbour on the west side of the island. It’s a place that owes its existence to fisherman. Fishing boats – with names like Days Pay, Seakelp and Unhook the Stars – are lined up on the beach. Across the river sit fishing shacks and I suspect no end of fishing stories.

Fishing boats lined up at Dark Harbour
Fishing boats lined up at Dark Harbour
You need a boat to access these fishing shacks in Dark Harbour
You need a boat to access these fishing shacks in Dark Harbour

The rock faces into and out of Dark Harbour sport colourful autographs – though I’m unsure of whether the locals approve of the writing.

A rock with a colourful history
A rock with a colourful history

I just got a taste of what Grand Manan Island offers

My visit to Grand Manan was way too short. It would be easy to spend a week here. I’d go whale watching. A short ferry ride on a clear day over to Whitehead Island to explore it on foot would be a priority.

I’d certainly walk what beaches I could find and get up at dawn to look for birds. And one day I’d do nothing but read. Grand Manan Island invites you to relax.

Further reading on New Brunswick

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

What to do on a visit to Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 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

This Post Has 23 Comments
  1. What a Jekyll and Hyde location. Very beautiful and vibrant with the sun out and eerie and a little spooky with the thick fog. After melting in Isle Royale heat, the fog pictures are kind of welcoming to me.

  2. Wow, what a lovely scenery. I would definitely go kayaking there. I must admit that the view out your back door on the second day at low tide was just amazing!

  3. This looks beautiful on a non-foggy day I would definitely be happier if the sun was out like some of your trip…kayaking sounds like the right thing to do being in the water!

  4. What a beautiful place! It looks like a great place to spend some time in the summer. That was a killer view you had from the back door and fascinating even in the fog. Fog is weird stuff, isn’t it?

  5. The contrasting pictures of your back door view was awesome. What a difference a day makes! I haven’t been to Grand Manan Island but now I want to go. It looks so serene and beautiful. Love the lobster traps! You covered quite a lot of the island’s personality in two days.

    1. @Amy It is family friendly and there are loads of places – especially along the coast – that are great fun for all ages. Some of the beaches have water that is warmer than what you might find in Virginia.

  6. Hi Hike Bike Travel,
    Wonderful this is really wonderful post about Grand Manan Island, I never have been there but I love these great pictures of Grand Manan Island & now I really wish to be there with my family 🙂

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