Toronto to Maritimes: Road Trip Routing
September 9, 2015 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Your tips for a road trip from Toronto the East Coast of Canada, please!

My partner and I have 10 days later this month, and we are planning to do a road trip to the East Coast of Canada.

Ideally, we'd take more time but all we have is 10 days, and we have decided to just go while the weather is still nice, and we can still see some whales. This is kind of a dream trip for both of us!

The focus of this trip is whale watching (something I've always wanted to do), and driving the Cabot Trail (something he's always wanted to do), so we have decided to combine the two and just go whale watching off of Cape Breton Island. Our plan right now is to drive straight to Cape Breton Island since it's furthest east of the places we want to go in this trip. So we would drive the Cabot Trail and go whale watching, and then try to do anything else that we may have time for.

Right now, we have:

Day 1: Drive from Toronto to Edmunston, NB. Stop overnight in Edmunston. (Time including stops: 13 hours)
Day 2: Drive from Edmunston to Baddeck, NS. Stop overnight in Baddeck. (Time including stops: 10 hours)
Day 3 and Day 4: Using Baddeck as a home base, drive the Cabot Trail. Stop at the centre of the Cabot Trail (Pleasant Bay) for whale watching, as Pleasant Bay is supposed to be the whale watching capital of Cape Breton.

So now we're at Day 5, we have done what we came to do (Cabot Trail and whale watching) and we are back in Baddeck, NS. We have to be back in Toronto on the night of Day 10.

What do we do now? What route do we take home? What are the not-to-miss sights?

Our goals after we've driven the Cabot Trail and gone whale watching are solely: get back home in time, and see some other highlights of the East Coast.

I've been to Halifax before and loved it, and would want to take my partner there, but ideally, I'd want at least 2 days there, and that would leave only 1 day for anything else, because it would take us 2 days to drive home.

So I am thinking the time may be better spent around the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy. We are thinking, from Baddeck, we go to Hopewell Cape (to see the Hopewell Rocks), to Saint John, to Montreal (maybe with a stop in Fredericton), to Toronto.

Another thing we are concerned about is the long haul nature of the trip. The furthest we have driven before in one day has been 8-9 hours from Toronto to Chicago. This is the first really long distance road trip either of us is taking.

Please help us with tips for best routing, must-see sights, and any tips and tricks for long distance driving, particularly along this route!

Thanks so much!
posted by spicytunaroll to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
We more or less did the same trip in July, though starting from Ottawa, which buys us a couple of hours.

The Trans-Canada is the quickest route for sure, but an option might be to take the route around the Gaspe peninsula. We considered it, but ultimately couldn't spare the extra day or two even just the drive would take. I would not recommend the route we took down east, through Maine. Gas was cheap, but it was slow. Otoh, it did allow us to stop in Moncton on the way down.

On Cape Breton there are a couple of things you've not mentioned that I'd recommend. Lousibourg for certain, for which I'd give a full day. The rebuild city is a lot of fun, though be certain to dress warm and for the weather.

On the east coast of the Island, I'd make a point of checking out the musical resources. There's a music centre in Judique that's a quick stop, though for a more authentic experience, I'd stop in Mabou and check out the Red Shoe (owned by the Rankin sisters, and, full disclosure, operated by some distant relations of my spouse). They're both fun, but the food at the Red Shoe is really good, and that's where the locals go.

The Genora Inn and Distillery is near Mabou too and a nice place for a meal.

What else: the Dancing Goat Cafe just east of Baddeck was a nice place to stop for lunch.

On the way back, an alternative to Halifax (which is worth at least a couple of days), might be the Anapolis valley, Wolfeville and Grand Pré. The park at Grand Pré is worth the trip, and there are a bunch of wineries in the area. Ths time of year is peak harvest season too, so all the fruit will be available. One of the highlights of our trip was a meal at the Domaine de Grand Pré restaurant. A bit on the expensive side, but a really nice way to finish our trip.
posted by bonehead at 11:30 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and do plan for at least a day on the north part of the island. The scenery in the national park is fantastic, and there are some very nice walks.
posted by bonehead at 11:32 AM on September 9, 2015

1. Instead of Edmundston, try Rivière-du-Loup. It's pretty much the exact midpoint, it's right where you make the turn down to NB so there's no missing it, and it's a little place so you don't need to do any searching for your hotel. There's a Best Western with a St. Hubert across the street; what more could you ask for after an exhausting drive?

2. If you have passports, consider cutting through Maine, from Woburn, PQ to St. Stephen, NB or vice-versa on one leg of the trip. It doesn't cut any time off since it's all winding roads, but it beats seeing all the same stuff twice. (It's also just a lot more interesting than northern New Brunswick as viewed from Highway 2. Not much isn't.)

3. Consider doing some whale watching in the Bay of Fundy. I don't know how it compares to Cape Breton, but there were whales aplenty when I did it.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:35 AM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Alexander Graham Bell museum.
posted by brujita at 12:18 PM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you have one driver or two? If only one, I think you should do the drive in three days, not two. A 13 hour drive is a lot of driving for a person to do in one go even with short breaks.
posted by Poldo at 1:21 PM on September 9, 2015

Definitely check out the Hopewell Rocks. While on your way there, Sackville's a cool spot to hit for lunch (Mel's Tearoom!). Or, if you like breaded German foods, stop at Schnitzel Haus in Aulac (there is almost nothing else in Aulac, though the Big Stop there used to have good trucker food).

From the Sackville/Aulac area, you could potentially take a day trip to PEI, though it'd cost you $50 to cross the bridge. Beautiful beaches there, and you can drive the whole island in an afternoon.

What about a day of eating delicious food in Quebec City?
posted by Miss T.Horn at 3:33 PM on September 9, 2015

If you are beer drinkers, make sure to stop in Fredericton and grab a few growlers of Picaroons. Some of the best beer I've ever had.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:32 PM on September 9, 2015

Only two days in Cape Breton? You could spend the whole trip there! Meat Cove and Money Point are cool. Take a short sea kayak tour in that area, or anywhere else in Cape Breton. Alexander Graham Bell stuff, Louisbourg, music stuff, Acadian stuff - yeah, there's lots to do and see.

Re: Wolfville and Annapolis Valley. There's the Deep Roots Music Festival in Wolfville the third weekend of September. Also historical Acadian stuff in Grand Pre, and many wineries. In addition to the above-mentioned Grand Pre Winery, you can also get lunch at Luckett's Vineyard, Gaspereau Winery, and a new one in Port Williams. All do tours and tastings, as does L'Acadie Vineyard and possibly also Blomidon Estates? Local beer options abound as well.

Whale watching is best accomplished at the other end of the Annapolis Valley, around Brier Island. That would work well with a stop in Annapolis Royal, which has much interesting historical stuff, many bed and breakfasts, and a couple good restaurants. Other places of interest in the Annapolis Valley region include: Union Street Cafe in Berwick, Bear River, Margaretsville, Hall's Harbour, etc. With a Brier Island Whale watch, you could spend a pleasant three days in the region.

There's a ferry from Digby, NS to Saint John, NB that cuts some driving time if you're already in the Annapolis Royal/Brier Island area. If you drive back, a detour to the fossil cliffs in Joggins, NS is also interesting.

Have you considered Lunenburg and Mahone Bay, as well? It would be a good full day trip from Halifax, but out of your way if you're not otherwise hitting the Atlantic coast of NS.

Another return option would be to detour through PEI and stay overnight in Charlottetown for the first night of your return trip.

If you do go through Saint John, the coastal drive down to St. Stephen is quite pretty. There's the little resort village of St. Andrews, which I have heard good things about. At St. Stephen, if you don't want to travel through the US, you can head north on a secondary highway along the St. Croix river on the NB side of the border, and that's a nice drive. 'Course, Maine is really pretty too.
posted by eviemath at 6:53 AM on September 10, 2015

(There's also a ferry from Pictou, NS to PEI.)
posted by eviemath at 6:57 AM on September 10, 2015

If you're going to Hopewell Rocks, I suggest visiting Cape Enrage, which is a small park, which is essentially a lighthouse sitting on a cliff overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Very dramatic scenery. Also Fundy National Park is just beautiful. You could do a couple of the short trails in a couple of hours. Note it's easier to do this when you're driving eastwards, because the approach to the park has a huge, winding hill which is rough to climb in a car if you're traveling in the wrong direction. If you are driving east, however, you're treated with a spectacular view of the forest and the bay. Also, if you go to Fundy National Park, you should stop in Alma, the town connected to the park and go to the bakery and get yourself some sticky buns.

If you do head to Saint John, I suggest, if you have the time, going to St. Martins, whose beaches have some impressive caves (go at low tide). Also, instead of sticking to the Trans-Canada in this area, I suggest diverting off of it and driving on what is marked on Google Maps as route 100. This is the old stretch of the Trans-Canada and it's quieter and ten times more scenic. It'll take you through (going west to east) Renforth, Rothesay, Quispamsis, Nauwigewauk and finally Hampton. You'll get to see a nice portion of the big and gorgeous Kennebecasis River and travel through some nice towns.

In Saint John, the city market is worth seeing, and just exploring the downtown on foot. I wouldn't bother with much else outside that contained area. The Reversing Falls are kind of neat, but marred by being adjacent to a disgusting pulp mill.

While I don't live there anymore, I'm a native of Quispamsis and went to school in Sackville, so I have spent a lot of time farting around southern NB. If you have any further questions you can memail me.
posted by picea at 6:41 AM on September 11, 2015

Not an expert on the maritimes but if you haven't been to Quebec City I'd highly recommend a stopover there. The old city is really special and would make for a great final night of your journey.
posted by raider at 9:49 AM on September 12, 2015

Thank you, MeFi! We drove the Cabot Trail, and went whale watching. We saw the Bay of Fundy, spent two nights in Halifax, and were able to spend two nights in Quebec City as well. 10 days is far too short, so lots to see and do for next time!
posted by spicytunaroll at 8:59 AM on September 25, 2015

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