There's no better way I know to celebrate my birthday these days than by heading north, specifically to Canada, and now that we're east coast based we have a whole new set of provinces to explore! So first off, while New York is a border state, we're close to the Quebec border and less close to the New Brunswick border let alone Nova Scotia. Therefore, with a destination base of Halifax, we planned for two drive days both there and back with a mid-point stopping point of Acadia National Park. This trip was completed in a little over a week and to explore bits of Maine & New Brunswick and the area surrounding Halifax it was just fine. It was not enough to consider exploring Cape Breton Island or Prince Edward Island like we'd initially planned to do. You'll fill up four full days of exploring around Halifax easy! Add more days and a couple more base camps if you'd like to make it further around Nova Scotia and the surrounding islands.
A few quick tips based on what we learned from our drive days;
- Stop at Irving gas stations. In this part of the world, both in the U.S. & Canada - they have the absolute cleanest and fanciest restrooms. Seriously, sometimes it feels like you're in a fancy gym or hotel.
- Fuel up whenever you get the option, especially in Northern Maine and in New Brunswick. There are some very long stretches without fuel.
- Nova Scotia is big! It might look small on the map but it takes a considerable amount of time to get between places. Day tripping from Halifax to Lunenburg is totally doable, however day tripping around Cape Breton would be a little nuts (says the family that day tripped the Oregon Coast in one day).
This trip covered our second and third nights in Maine since moving east and the first night of this trip just happened to be on the eve of my 33rd birthday. We'd always been told that watching the sunset from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park was a must and I can say now that it's absolutely worth the early wake up call. Want to make it even better though? Pick up some Holy Donut's in Portland on the way (I recommend the gluten free Maple) and make green tea on your tailgate while watching the colors shift on the island dotted landscape around you.
While we typically don't frequent national parks due to their restrictive dog regulations, Acadia in November makes it easy. Campsites are just about empty and costs are down to just about $15 per night with a self check-in system. Blackwoods is the only option for car camping, but they keep one bathroom open and wait for it, HEATED! It was wonderfully cush for an un-staffed time of year - also no entry fee! Major wins for saving some dollars.
We only drove through a small corner of New Brunswick on the way to Nova Scotia but it's most certainly deserving of exploration all on it's own. First of St. John is the most adorable little city. It's a bit industrial by nature being right on the water and surrounded by vast forests, but the brick alleyways and windswept look is what make it so charming. We stopped at Rogue Coffee in both directions and took a moment to step into the fiber to textile shop, Good Fibrations just about a block away. I think a weekend in a city AirBnB would be quite a wonderful one here.
In our efforts to always make our drive days longer than they should be, we cut out to the coast after St. John on a whim to see if the tides would be right for a visit to Hopewell Rocks. As with the magic that occurs with most unplanned travel excursions we hit it right on the button. However, the catch is that in November it's mostly closed up for the season. There are two official access points down to the beach and the lowest level of each stairway is pulled up or removed at this time of year since the park is not staffed. Unlike in U.S. National Parks, that does not mean you aren't allowed down there - it's simply at at-your-own-risk situation. Now, we took the silly way down that I don't recommend - suspending ourselves and using Zeke's height to our advantage. If you're going to visit in the off season, take desire path down the bluff in the parking area very carefully and watch for those tides. Regardless it's an awesome place to stop - also dogs are totally cool in the off season. Gotta love Canadian National Parks!
- See: Blue Rocks, Halifax Citadel National Historic Park & Peggy's Cove
- Eat: Evan's Fresh Seafoods, Java Blend Coffee Roasters, The Nook on Gottingen, Pavia Gallery, Steve-O-Reno's Cappuccino Cafe, & The Tea Brewery
- Hike: Polly's Cove & Salt Marsh Trail
- Shop: Ironworks Distillery & Pete's Fine Foods
- Stay: Halifax Flat
Like I mentioned earlier, Nova Scotia is rather large, so our travels only let us cover a very small area around Halifax and Dartmouth - down to Lunenberg. Admittedly, we also spent a good chunk of our time seeking out coffee shops - so while there's lots more to do, I couldn't recommend a stay in Halifax more if you're into coffee shop hopping.
Speaking of coffee shop hopping, we picked our lodging partially based on it's location in the North End due to the plethora of shops within walking distance. Also, because Laura Jean's Halifax Flat was far to adorable to pass up. Decorated with the work of local artists and historic in it's own right - everything we could have needed was available and the location just very walkable. A parking spot in the back was a bit plus too! From the North End, we walked full loops around the Halifax Citadel in chilly November weather - absolutely no problems.
In terms of coffee shops in Halifax, the coffee quality was outstanding - honestly the best of any city I've ever visited. Pavia Gallery wins for the best latte in my opinion and Java Blend for the best coffee shop ambiance. Steve-O-Reno's had a fun vibe as well. Even better, almost all the coffee shops had a couple of good gluten free options for snacks or light bites.
Venturing outside of Halifax and across the river to Dartmouth, the one spot to get gluten free fish & chips is worth a stop - despite the surprising location in the Ferry Terminal. Also across the river is a great rail trail walk that's part of the Trans Canada Trail - the Salt Marsh Trail. It's really as long as you want to make it and easily walkable for hours if you want it to be!
The opposite direction takes you towards the ever popular, Peggy's Cove - which in my opinion is more worthwhile for the stunning white rocks than the cute houses perched along the edges. A bit before you get to Peggy's Cove is Polly's Cove which is just about deserted comparatively and filled with paths around and up over the same white rocks with vistas down to Peggy's Cove. It's fallen in line as one of my favorite places I've ever been environmentally speaking. The kind of place you can really just wander.
Driving further south is Mahone Bay - a little coastal town I think I'd move to in an instant if I could! It's small, cute, filled with adorable shops, and home to The Tea Brewery. A micro-blender of some really amazing teas and tisanes - we came away with some of their Rhubarb Cream, Kambaa Estate Kenyan (my fave!), & their Maritime Morning which is the best breakfast blend I've had since finding Bay of Islands Breakfast in Auckland years ago. Past Mahone Bay is Lunenburg, where the old town is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We didn't get to spend much time here but did enjoy a good visit at Ironworks Distillery where I found one of the few alcoholic beverages I've ever enjoyed; a rhubarb esprit. The folks here also tipped us off to head over to Blue Rocks - another beautiful alternative look out to Peggy's Cove.