Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, maritime Nova Scotia can’t help but be all about the sea: The colorful villages clinging to its rocky cliffs, the lobster and shellfish plucked fresh from the ocean, the folk music inspired by the sweeping landscape. One of the best ways to see this beautiful, soulful place with a Scottish heart is on foot. Expect encounters with puffins, seals, a moose or two, and lots of Celtic culture. Sunny July and early August are the best months for outdoor adventure, but in late August and September, you’ll find the trails much quieter. Pull on your hiking boots and head to the best places to hike in Nova Scotia.
Skyline Trail: Cape Breton Highlands National Park
You'll feel on top of the world looking out from the celebrated Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This is hands-down the best hike on what Travel + Leisure calls North America’s No. 1 island, Cape Breton Island, a forested place with dramatic cliffs and tons of wildlife off Nova Scotia’s eastern end. The park encompasses 20% of the island and is accessible by the famed drive, The Cabot Trail. The Skyline’s easygoing 5.7-mile loop option ascends the headland ridge offering spectacular ocean vistas as you wind down to the sea on wooden boardwalks. Many say it’s the best scenery in a province packed with incredible vistas. Take a guided hike at sunset or go solo, starting early to sight prevalent moose and bear in the area, plus pilot whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There are 26 other trails in the park, including the popular steep and difficult 4.5-mile Franey Trail loop, which rewards trekkers with forest canyon and sea views that go on forever, plus a September Hike the Highlands festival, and the Hike 10 Trails in 10 Days challenge, too.
Cape Chignecto Coastal Loop: Bay of Fundy
You’re in Nova Scotia, so you want to see the highest tides in the entire world at the Bay of Fundy, where 160 billion tons of seawater flow in and out daily making for four-story-high water level fluctuations. If you like it tough, tackle the difficult Cape Chignecto Coastal Loop. Including the province's highest peaks, this trail is 33 exhilarating miles and takes three or four days to complete. The reward is big, though, where you’ll find superb views of the unusual rock formations surrounded by the bay’s turquoise waters, unusual plant life, valleys, deep coves, and 18 miles of peninsula coastline along the way. You can wilderness camp or reserve a cabin spot, and be sure to take time for R&R on the beach. Explore the shore nearby when the tide is out, looking for fossils in the distinctive red sand.
Port Joli Head: Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site
If you love the wild ocean, go to Nova Scotia’s southern end near Liverpool and Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, a beautiful backcountry park with petroglyphs, lakes and rivers, and seals basking on the white-sand beaches. The easy Port Joli Head hike is a 5.6-mile out-and-back to the silvery-sand isolated coast. The trail takes you through a bog and forest, past coves and headlands, skirting the shore and dunes where you’ll see lots of seals and seabirds, including endangered piping plovers. If you go in the water, though, beware of the strong tides. For a real wilderness experience, tackle the five-day, 37-mile Liberty Lake Trail, the park’s longest.
Cape Split: The Annapolis Valley near Wolfsville
The fertile, grape-growing Annapolis Valley has a network of 125 mile of trails from Digby to Wolfville, accessible from the municipal buildings parking lot in Kentville. But the area’s most stunning is the Cape Split Trail on Scots Bay, a 40-minute drive from Wolfville. A coastal landmark, it’s a steep, narrow piece of land, bookmarked by tall cliffs and carpeted on top with velvety emerald grass and shrubby green trees. You can watch the Bay of Fundy tide from here, too. This is a moderate hike, about four miles one way to the ocean. The pay off is a bird’s eye view of the Spires, aptly named rock formations that jut up out of the water. Picnic at the cliff’s edge, and visit a winery or two après-hike.
Polly’s Cove: Near Halifax
Peggy’s Cove and its iconic lighthouse near Halifax is a must — but it’s also busy. Drive instead to Polly’s Cove just over a mile away. Locals love the smooth gray-white granite bluffs carpeted with rust-colored shore grass and low green brush that overlook the numerous islets . This spot also offers a different perspective of Peggy’s Cove. Bring a picnic and walk the three-mile out-and-back path from the dirt parking lot to the water, find a spot, and savor the views and salt air.
After you’ve tackled the top treks, don’t miss Nova Scotia’s other top attractions.
Research your hiking vacation at the Tourism Nova Scotia website.