12-Day Rugged Atlantic Canada Itinerary

This 12-day Atlantic Canada itinerary is suited for outdoor enthusiasts with a love of nature. It is impossible to discuss adventures in the region without including Newfoundland, and so three days are spent on that island. If you have less time, plan on dedicating your next trip to Atlantic Canada to exploring the region’s largest province. In keeping with the theme, I’ve added accommodation recommendations that keep you close to nature, but if cabins and cottages aren’t your thing, you will find plenty of alternatives along the way.

Day 1

Pick up your rental car in Halifax and head for the Eastern Shore. Try surfing at Lawrencetown Beach or sea kayaking at Tangier. Enjoy a beachside picnic at Taylor Head Provincial Park. Stay at Paddlers Retreat Bed and Breakfast and rent a kayak for an evening jaunt around the bay.

Gentle waves wash up on shore at Ingonish Beach.
Ingonish Beach. Photo © Andrew Hempstead.

Day 2

Drive across Cape Breton Island, stopping for an outdoor lunch of steaming chowder at the Chowder House, and then spend the afternoon swimming and sunbathing at Ingonish Beach. Even if you don’t pay for a room with water views at Glenghorm Beach Resort, the ocean is just a short walk from your front door.

Day 3

Day 3 is spent in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. In the process of reaching the best hikes, you’ll drive the spectacular Cabot Trail. Leave the pavement behind on the Skyline Loop Trail, a moderate hike that leads to a stunning headland with sweeping water views. For a less energetic option, plan on walking to Benjie’s Lake and spend the extra time exploring Black Brook Cove. Either way, allow three hours to reach North Sydney for the overnight ferry to Port-aux-Basques.

An unusual rocky landscape strewn with boulders with sharp hills rising in the distance.
The moonlike Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park. Photo © Andrew Hempstead.

Day 4

The ferry arrives in Newfoundland as the sun rises, which makes the early morning drive north to Gros Morne National Park even more enjoyable. In the afternoon, choose between exploring the Tablelands on foot and driving out to Trout River for rugged coastal scenery. Fresh seafood cooked on your barbecue at Mountain Range Cottages winds up this long day.

Day 5

The boat tour on Western Brook Pond is an absolute must, but allow time to reach the dock, which is only accessible on foot through a low-slung forest. Stop in at the Discovery Centre to learn about the park’s geology and then hike to Green Gardens. Spend another night at Mountain Range Cottages.

A hiker sits atop a rocky ledge high above Gros Morne Park.
Hiking in Gros Morne National Park. Photo © Gros Morne Adventures.

Day 6

Even the adventurous need a day off, and this is it. Personally, I’d spend the time driving up the Northern Peninsula (Port au Choix National Historic Site makes a solid day trip while still allowing plenty of time for scenic stops), but you could also stay within the park and tackle the summit of Gros Morne Mountain. Drive back south to Port-aux-Basques and catch the evening ferry back to Nova Scotia.

Day 7

Hopefully you’ve not spent all night being entertained by the Celtic musicians in the onboard lounge, because the ferry docks just before dawn and the morning is spent driving to Caribou, where you board the ferry to Prince Edward Island. The fossil cliffs of Arisaig make a worthwhile detour en route. Once on the island, stop at Rossignol Estate Winery for a bottle of wine and continue to Murray Harbour’s Ocean Acres, where you can relax with a glass of chardonnay on your screened porch.

Day 8

Yes, you’ve seen the tourist brochures espousing the touristy wonders of the island, but on this visit you’re chasing a more nature-oriented experience. In this regard, spend the morning on a seal-watching trip, stroll along the singing sands of the beach below Basin Head, and walk through the disappearing coastal forests of Prince Edward Island National Park. The Trailside Café and Inn, at Mount Stewart, is your overnight stop.

The Hopewell flowerpot rock formations at low tide.
The famous Hopewell flowerpot rock formations at low tide. Photo © Vadim Petrov/123rf.

Day 9

Reserve an early tee time at Crowbush Cove Golf Course. After lunch, strike out for the Confederation Bridge to New Brunswick and head to Sackville Waterfowl Park for its bird-watching opportunities. Walking through the flowerpots at Hopewell Rocks is tide-dependent, but you can always kayak as a high-tide alternative. Spend the night in Fundy National Park.

Day 10

Continue down the coast to Saint John, where Irving Nature Park is a good example of what the entire coastline would have looked like before European settlement. You’re staying in a city, so you may as well take advantage of the delightful harbor-front Hilton Saint John (which isn’t as much of a splurge as you might imagine).

On a wooden pathway at the shore looking out over the wide waters of the Bay of Fundy.
Looking out over the Bay of Fundy. Photo © Andrew Hempstead.

Day 11

Catch the ferry across the Bay of Fundy and drive out to Brier Island, taking the time to hike to Balance Rock en route. An afternoon whale-watching trip can be combined with an evening of bird-watching. Stay at Brier Island Lodge, and dine in-house.

Day 12

The outdoor-oriented vacation is nearly over, but there’s one more activity to try, and Atlantic Canada is the only place in the world you can do so—riding the tidal bore down the Shubenacadie River.

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