The Maritime Provinces are a delightful region located in eastern Canada and consist of three provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. These provinces are known for their coastal scenery, fishing villages, and lighthouses. When our boys were occupied with sleep away summer activities, Jeremy and I decided to take a couples road trip to this delightful destination!
Our Chosen Itinerary
With our kids at sleep-away camp/activities, we knew we had a limit to our vacation itinerary. A road trip through the Maritime Provinces are best seen with at least 10 days, but in our typical fashion, we decided to cram as much as we could into 7 days. Note that if you aren’t flying into this area (e.g. Halifax), you will need to add extra time to this itinerary. For example, we were coming from the Boston area and needed to add at least a full day of driving on either end.
- Day 1: Arrive into Saint John, New Brunswick, by mid-afternoon and explore for an hour or two. Overnight in Moncton.
- Day 2: Explore Prince Edward Island including: the Green Gables Heritage Place, a scenic drive through Prince Edward Island National Park, and a walk on North Rustico Beach. Sleep in Charlottetown.
- Day 3: Take ferry to Nova Scotia and begin to explore the Cabot Trail. Walk on Ingonish Beach and sleep near Ingonish.
- Day 4: Explore the Cape Breton Highlands National Park portion of the Cabot Trail and hike the Skyline Trail. Visit the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site and sleep in Baddeck.
- Day 5: Relocate to Halifax and sleep there. Visit the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.
- Day 6: Day trip to Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg. Intended to sleep in Lunenburg, but had to deal with a Covid problem instead…
- Day 7: Intended to explore the Fundy National Park and spend the night in Fredricton, but had to deal with a Covid problem instead…
Map showing the basic road trip route from Saint John, through Prince Edward Island, and to the PEI/Nova Scotia Ferry Terminal in Wood Islands (runs seasonally):
Map showing the basic road trip route from the PEI/Nova Scotia Ferry Terminal in Caribou, Nova Scotia (runs seasonally); through the Cabot Trail, Halifax, and Lunenburg; and back to Fredericton, New Brunswick:
You should note that if you skip New Brunswick and fly into either Halifax or Charlottetown, you will have quite a bit more time to explore both Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
Day 1: Saint John (NB) and Moncton
Coming from the Boston area, the Maritime Provinces are not a short drive. Most people choose to fly in, but with our needing to leave unexpectedly early, driving helped in our case.
Saint John, New Brunswick
With a 3:30pm arrival into Saint John, New Brunswick (not to be confused with St. John, Newfoundland), we didn’t have a lot of time to explore this city, but we were able to take a walk through town and pop into a few sights.
My favorite part of the city walk was the Saint John City Market and viewing the various church spires.
Before getting back into our car, we made sure to find a Tim Hortons donut shop and stop by the King’s Square park and the Loyalist Burial Ground.
There were a few museums we could have gone into, but they were getting ready to close and we wanted to spend some time in Moncton as well.
All-in-all, Saint John is quite small and slightly run down, but it does make a good road trip stop to either take a break from driving or spend the night. Read the full post about Saint John here.
Moncton, New Brunswick
Moncton greeted us with a large aluminum factory. Despite the initial industrial feel, Moncton appeared to be much bigger and newer than Saint John. Definitely not as much character as Saint John, but we could see it being a very pleasant place to live and work.
After checking into our hotel, we decided to walk towards the downtown and the trail going through Riverfront Park.
If you are here at the right time, Tidal Bore Park is a great viewing spot to watch the tidal bore that rushes up the river twice per day. Unfortunately, our timing was not quite right.
Read the full post about Moncton here.
Day 2: Prince Edward Island
In the morning, we started my favorite day of our Maritime Provinces road trip. We almost crossed Prince Edward Island off our itinerary due to time constraints, but it ended up being one of our favorite days of the trip!
We entered the island over the Confederation Bridge, then followed the “scenic route” signs to Cavendish.
Green Gables Heritage Place
In Cavendish, we chose to visit the Green Gables Heritage Place, which is a must for all Anne of Green Gables fans!
Scenic Coastal Route through Prince Edward Island National Park
From here, we decided to take the Scenic Coastal Route through Prince Edward Island National Park.
North Rustico Beach
Wanting to explore one of PEI’s beaches, we made a stop at North Rustico Beach for a walk. Lovely!
North Rustico Harbour
We then went to North Rustico Harbour and enjoyed some Canada Day festivities.
Covehead Harbour Lighthouse
After lunch, the Covehead Harbour Lighthouse was our next stop. We decided to walk on the beach for a bit one way, and on the road on the way back.
Eventually, we made it to our hotel in Charlottetown. We had wanted to go to the Province House National Historic Site, but since it was closed, we decided to spend most of the afternoon and evening wandering through the town.
Eventually, we reached the Confederation Landing Park.
We also wanted to see Victoria Park, and were pleased to find a Canada Day celebration.
Read the full post about Prince Edward Island here.
Days 3-4: The Cabot Trail
Prince Edward Island to Ingonish
In the morning, we made our way from Charlottetown to the Wood Islands Ferry Terminal. This began our foray into Nova Scotia!
The ferry terminal in Caribou is a little out of the way, but not nearly as far out of the way as taking the Confederation Bridge. Our final destination for the day was Ingonish in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and is a minimum of 3.75 hours of driving from Caribou.
We stopped in Antigonish for lunch. In retrospect, I wish we would have gotten out of the car and walked through the downtown.
Instead, we decided to take a “scenic drive” through Marble Mountain that we saw advertised on the ferry. As it turns out, the roads were very poor and most of the great views were blocked by trees and other vegetation. If you have extra time, consider spending more time in Baddeck rather than doing this scenic drive.
Knowing that we would be spending the night in Baddeck on a future night, we decided to simply drive through the town and not stop.
Eventually, we made it to the entrance of Cape Breton Highlands National Park and then to our rustic cabin in Ingonish.
In the evening, we explored the beach in front of our cabin, found a delicious dinner at Coastal Restaurant and Pub, then took a post-sunset walk on Ingonish Beach.
Exploring Cape Breton Highlands National Park
After waking up early to watch the sunrise, we started our foray into the Cape Breton Highlands National Park portion of the Cabot Trail, making sure to stop at occasional pullout.
Black Brook Beach
We had though about walking down to Black Brook Beach, but decided to skip due to concerns that we wouldn’t have enough time to see everything else. In retrospect, we probably could have made time for this.
Coastal Route Detour to Cape North
We then decided to take the coastal route detour to Cape North. We made a wrong turn and headed north, rather than west, but found our mistake fairly quickly and arrived in Pleasant Bay way too early for lunch. Everything except a small gift shop was still closed, but did manage to buy a couple of candy bars for lunch.
Skyline Trail Loop
The highlight of the day was the Skyline Trail loop! From everything we read, if you pick one hiking trail, this is the one that you should pick.
Not being sure if we wanted to do the full 5.1 mile loop or the 4 mile round trip hike, we started walking the short way to the main lookout point. The trail was wide and flat; it felt like more of a walk than a hike, but the scenery was breathtaking. The trees, ferns, and grasses were brilliantly green. The lushness of the boreal forest was incredible.
Great choice! Hike this trail if you can!
Le Buttereau Loop
Similarly to the Black Brook Beach, we thought about hiking the 1 mile Le Buttereau loop, but in the end, decided that the Skyline Trail was enough and that we wanted more time in Baddeck,
Eventually, we made it to Chéticamp, which could be a great place to overnight if you want more time in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We used it as a place to improve upon our candy bar lunch.
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL MUSEUM
Arriving into Baddeck, we decided to stop by the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, which also had some great views of the lighthouse. We were surprised to learn how much more he did than simply invent the telephone. None of it was near as successful as the telephone (big surprise), but some of it was quite interesting and other things were laughable.
Eventually, we checked into the Dunlop Inn, which was right on the water, just a short walk from the spot in the picture below. The staff recommended eating at their restaurant, the Cable Room, which turned out to be quite tasty. Afterwards, we took a stroll along the water and relaxed a bit in preparation for another long day of driving.
Read the full post about the Cabot Trail here.
Day 5: Halifax
Nova Scotia is a lot bigger than it appears on a map. The minimum drive time between Baddeck and Halifax is 3.5 hours and if you take the coastal route, it will be closer to 5 hours. We had thought about driving through Sherbrooke Village, but after our experience with the roads through Marble Mountain, we opted to take a nice predictable highway. As it turns out, it was the right choice since it allowed us to spend more time in Halifax.
Since we didn’t make any stops, this put us into Halifax just after lunch, which is plenty of time to see both the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Our first stop was the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which will explain all the ways the ocean has influenced Halifax. In addition to the major exhibit on the Titanic disaster corpse recovery, there are also exhibits on ship building, trade, and a major military explosion. It is really quite fascinating.
HALIFAX CITADEL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
After checking into our hotel, we still had time to walk to the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. Sitting at the top of the hill, this fortress was very important to the defense of the city. As much as the patriots tried, they could not dislodge the loyalists during America’s Revolutionary War.
Outside the fortress are some great views of the city.
A Walk Through the City
As evening approached, most of the other museums started to close, but we had seen the ones that interested us most. We decided to simply stroll and enjoy both the downtown and the waterfront, choosing to get dinner along the Harbourwalk.
Halifax Public Gardens
Before heading out in the morning, we decided to try and find a cafe for breakfast and then walk to the Halifax Public Gardens. Breakfast was a big mistake, since nothing was open in the area we chose to walk and we had to backtrack back to the food court at the mall. Fortunately, the gardens were nice. We always enjoy visiting gardens around the world!
Read the full post about Halifax here.
Day 6: Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg
After seeing the Public Gardens in Halifax, we checked out of our hotel and started the 45 minute drive to Peggy’s Cove. The town is quite small, but the lighthouse is beautiful! After walking around the lighthouse, we decided to get an early lunch at a lobster shack. If you wait until a more normal lunch hour, the lines will become quite long.
We continued along the water for about an hour until we reached Chester. While cute, it wasn’t as cute as some of the towns that were coming up. We briefly thought about getting out of the car and taking a walk, but were concerned about our timetable, so drove through instead. If you find the lunch lines at Peggy’s Cove to be too long, this could make a good lunch alternative.
Our next stop was Mahone Bay, about 20 minutes further down the road, which is famous for the three churches that you can see in the picture below. We stopped outside the town for a photo, then took a stroll through the town. There are tons of shops and restaurants and we found it to be a pleasant way to spend an hour. We could have spent longer, but knew that our next stop was going to be more impressive so got back into the car.
We drove another 15 minutes and made it to Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site! The town is considered to be “the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America.” As we wandered the town and soaked up the atmosphere, we were pleased that we had chosen to spend the night here rather than one of the other towns on our itinerary.
We chose to visit the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, which was a reasonable museum for a town the size of Lunenburg, but we found the admission price to be a bit steep for what it is. The history of fishing was quite interesting and we liked the outdoor fishing vessel exhibits, but unless you are an avid sailor interested in the history of the the Bluenose sailing races, the rest of the museum is skippable.
Read the full post about Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg here.
Day 6-7: Covid Strikes Again
Just as we were making plans for dinner, we got a text saying that one of our kids had a close Covid exposure and was likely to continue to have some level of exposure. Sigh. Not wanting to leave him in that environment, we decided to pack up early and head home. We were able to drive 3.5 hours to Moncton, then get an early start and drive all the way back to the Boston area the next day.
If we would have been able to continue our road trip as planned, we would have spent our seventh day exploring Fundy National Park and then would have spent the night in Fredricton before taking a slower drive home. We potentially would have tried to spend the next night in Portland, Maine. But alas, Covid can put a real damper on travel plans.
In any case, we did have an amazing time exploring the Maritime Provinces! It was a very fast paced trip, so do consider slowing down the itinerary a bit if you have a couple of extra days.
The next time you are in Canada, consider visiting this amazing part of the world!
Keep reading our travel blog for more itinerary ideas around the world!
Here are some more posts from this trip through the Maritime Provinces: