Help us plan our road trip!
June 20, 2012 10:49 AM   Subscribe

A friend and I are planning a road trip from Boston to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. We've got six days total (Friday, June 30th until Wednesday, July 4th). So far, we've booked Saturday and Sunday nights at a campground in Cape Breton, and we're planning to take the ferry from Digby to St. John on Wednesday morning (and finish the rest of the drive back that day). We'd love some advice about the trip in general and how best to spend our time!

* Any recommendations for where to stay Friday night? We think we'll make it about up to the border (Houlton or so) -- any great places to camp/hotel that we should consider in that area? We're open to reasons to stop earlier or drive farther for a good cause, but we won't have a lot of flexibility since we want to get to Cape Breton by Saturday night.

* Any advice about where to go while we're in Cape Breton? Great hikes, restaurants, etc? Neither of us have been, and we're looking forward to it!

* I think we're going to spend Tuesday in Halifax -- any recommendations for what to prioritize there?

* There's going to be a lot of driving on the trip already, but are there any other must-sees in Nova Scotia that seem within striking distance?

Thanks so much!
posted by cider to Travel & Transportation around Halifax, NS (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Fundy National Park is great for visiting camping and hiking. Along the NB shore of the Bay of Fundy. Camping will be a serious challenge there though, as its the Canada Day long weekend (our July 4th) and the campsites are probably all booked.

Be sure to stop and appreciate the crazy tides in Digby (but anywhere along the Fundy Coast really).

I don't know where on Cape Breton you're staying (locals just call it "Cape Breton" and leave the Island label off), but I would highly recommend taking half a day and driving the Cabot Trail on the Western shore of the Island. One of the most beautiful drives in the world. Also worth seeing on Cape Breton, if you like historical stuff, is Louisbourg, a recreation of an 18th Century French colony/fort that was conquered by the English. It is more touristy than anything though.

Beyond that, the best thing I can recommend in Nova Scotia is the people. Some of the friendliest you will meet anywhere. Have fun!
posted by dry white toast at 11:05 AM on June 20, 2012

(1) If you've read Anne of Green Gables, the actual Green Gables on Prince Edwards Island is only a couple hours drive from Amherst Nova Scotia (which I presume you'll be passing through on your way back). This would be must-see for my wife and I if we were on your trip.

(2) If you haven't read the book, you should. It's very good. Then you should do (1).
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 11:13 AM on June 20, 2012

Have you actually booked the St John ferry? I'm not sure, but I thought it was suspended a few years ago. If not, book ASAP as it gets crowded.
Do the Citadel in Halifax-it's worthwhile. Many good pubs and seafood in town. We liked The Split Crow, if it's still there.
Louisbourg is a must. Baddeck and Lunenburg are nice small towns as well.
posted by pentagoet at 11:41 AM on June 20, 2012

First off don't go via 95 to/through Houlton. Drive up to Bangor and take the "Airline Route" which is Rt9 across the hills of ME to Calais, ME and cross the border there into St. Stephen,NB. Take the Canada Rt1 through St. George and St John to Canada Rt2 in Moncton. Lots more to see and do and stay along the way.

You do realize the drive to Halifax (non-stop) is about 14 to 15 hours from Boston, right? So 2 of those days will go by at 60MPH...

On the way to Digby leave time for Annopolis Royal, and the Habitation there. Don't forget to eat Digby Scallops, and try some Rapure Acadienne (Rappie Pie)
posted by Gungho at 11:47 AM on June 20, 2012

I would overnight in Fredericton on Friday night, not Houlton.
Mactaquac or Woolastook if you want to camp .
This way, you can hit the Farmers Market for breakfast and food to go...samosas, coffee, Betty Lee. It's a great market.
You may want to check out Kings Landing if you have time and seconding Fundy National Park.
posted by Snazzy67 at 11:49 AM on June 20, 2012

Seconding the Cabot Trail and Louisburg. The best Cape Breton fiddling is in Inverness county, that's where both Ashley MacIsaac and Natalie McMaster are from.

Mining has a central place in the history of Island life. Try and tour the Mining Museum in Glace Bay, which is also the home of the Men of the Deeps choir. There are often concerts in the summer, so you might catch one of those. Just down the road is the village of Dominion, where Margaret's Museum was filmed. You can see my family's house in some of the shots! It's the green house on the cliff in the beach shots.

If your tastes run to the kitch, check out Rita McNeil's Tea Room in Big Pond.

For a fancy-schwank meal, go to the Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa.

Driving around, you might want to go through Mira Bridge, the community mentioned in Alistair MacGillivary's song, "Out on the Mira".

And if you're in Glace Bay, stop in to St. Anne's Parish and say hi to my uncle, who is the Parish priest! He'll priobably have some good recommendations for places to see in the area.
posted by LN at 11:55 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, that should be Marion Bridge, not Mira Bridge.
posted by LN at 11:56 AM on June 20, 2012

The Glenora Inn and Distillery is charming and has amazing food. And yummy single malt.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:44 PM on June 20, 2012

Have you actually booked the St John ferry? I'm not sure, but I thought it was suspended a few years ago.

Still running. It's the US to NB and NS ferries that have gone away, which is a shame.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:48 PM on June 20, 2012

Good to hear the ferries are still running- I thought they went out with the US- Canada runs.
Definitely take the Airline through Calais. Much quicker and more direct. St Andrews is a quaint seaside town and you could overnight in Saint John.
posted by pentagoet at 3:36 PM on June 20, 2012

Lunenburg and Mahone Bay on the South Shore are about as charming as towns get on the East Coast. I recommend the Maple Bird House in Lunenburg if you want to spend the night.

Take a stop at Hopewell Rocks outside of Moncton at low tide. Amazing.

Been a few years since I lived in Halifax, but The Lower Deck is standard issue Maritimes. It'll probably be a total zoo on Canada Day, which is perfect if you ask me.

I also recommend Annapolis Royal if you like history. The local Lequille Country Store makes the best beef jerky I've ever had.

If you're into hiking, head to Cape Split.

And definitely make sure you see the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. It's stunning scenery. And mind the moose!! Those bastards'll run right out of the trees and in a battle between a moose and your car, I'd put money on the moose.
posted by fso at 6:00 PM on June 20, 2012

Bonus points if you can get everyone singing "Barrett's Privateers" in a pub in Halifax.
posted by fullerenedream at 8:04 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't try driving all of the Cabot Trail as a separate activity from hiking, swimming, etc. The best use of your time is to tackle one side of the island and then the other on separate parts of your trip. Use the link below to determine which hikes you'd like to take.

Some easy hikes that really pay off include:

1. Skyline trail: The view at the end cannot be adequately described or captured in photographs. It would be a shame not to do this one. If you aren't blown away, you haven't gone far enough. You will know when you hit the end.

2. Warrren lake: The variety and superabundance of plant life is Amazon-like. If it rains, the trees will provide cover.

3. Green cove: All you need to do is step out of your car. The rocks and water are intense.

I've heard the restaurant at the Markland resort at the north end of the island is good. Food is strangely not the area's strong point. Most of it is cheeseburgers, pizza, and the like. The Markland's 99$ cabins are a good deal and great place to stay if you get tired of camping.

If you run into locals, pay attention to their accents, which are indistinguishable from Scottish. Scottish scholars regularly travel to Cape Breton for the fiddling, which they consider to be closer to ancestral fiddling than their own. Some locals still speak Gaelic.
posted by xammerboy at 8:40 AM on June 21, 2012

Best answer: Oh, and when going to Halifax, don't take the highway. There is a route along the shore (Route 6,7?) that passes through local fishing towns, etc. The prettiest fishing town, maybe in the world, is Peggy's Cove, but that's a little further past Halifax.
posted by xammerboy at 8:44 AM on June 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all of these suggestions, everyone! I'll be looking at them carefully over the next week and trying to plan things out. I really appreciate the recommendations of specific routes, hikes, and restaurants. I do wish we had more time -- I realize that there's a high driving to relaxing ratio -- but I think we'll have fun no matter what!
posted by cider at 10:16 AM on June 21, 2012

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