Maritime Provinces Summer Road Trip
April 22, 2018 12:47 PM   Subscribe

We have seven to ten days for a family vacation in July. We have never been to any of the Maritime Provinces so we're taking a road trip north. Please recommend beaches, restaurants, and things to do in any of the provinces so we can eventually hammer out a plan.

We'll be coming from Rhode Island and I know it's about seven hours to St. John. Kid Ruki is 16 and an artist. This is our compromise for the mister wanting a beach vacation and me not being able to handle high heat and humidity and getting bored of all beach all the time.
posted by Ruki to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Parlee Beach is nice!
posted by bibliotropic at 1:12 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tons of things to do in Halifax, depending on your interests. Halifax Citadel is a pretty cool 19th century fort in the middle of the city, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has a great Titanic exhibit (including an actual deck chair, but you can't rearrange it), and you can get good restaurant/bar/other suggestions from the local alt weekly, The Coast. The Art Gallery has Maud Lewis's house on display.

Peggy's Cove might be an interesting spot for you - it's standard tourist fare but the waves coming over the rocks is pretty damn impressive (stay off the black rocks, seriously). Risser's Beach is just down the road an hour or so, which means you can get both beach and cool spots.

Could make a lot of other suggestions, but that would depend on what you're looking to see/do. Drive the Cabot Trail, check out Cavendish and Green Gables (yes you can drive to PEI), Hopewell Rocks...

(oh, and remember it's Saint John, not St. John. That's too close to St. John's, which is in Newfoundland. A great place to visit, but not a short drive away.)
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:48 PM on April 22, 2018

Best answer: PEI is super charming.

Definitely worth a drive around Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:18 PM on April 22, 2018

Best answer: I loved my trip up there! I love that whole area. I got some good advice from people (ten years ago) and if you're dying to stay in a TRAIN CAR B&B I enjoyed my time in one.
posted by jessamyn at 2:22 PM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think Fredericton is one of the prettiest cities I've ever visited.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 3:13 PM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Kejimkujik national park / dark sky preserve was a highlight of our recent trip.
posted by Poldo at 3:15 PM on April 22, 2018

Best answer: The best beaches I've been at are either on PEI - or Cariboo Island, which is basically right across the straight from PEI. The shore at Cariboo is sandy, the water shallow and warm (for Canada). PEI beaches also tend to be sandy (it's a massive sandbar), as opposed to the more granite shores of somewhere like Canso, NS, or Cape Breton. Bay of Fundy may also have good beaches, but my family lives at Cariboo Island so that's where I go :)

Thing is: the Maritimes are bigger than they look, and if you don't want to spend the whole time driving, it may be best to pick a smaller region (like PEI or central NS) and move around it.

For culture: I recommend Halifax. It's the largest city in the region, has some great sites and museums (including the recently opened Pier 21, Canada's national museum of immigration, also the now empty site of Africaville, a historic black community written out of our history.) It's small and walkable - and if you time it right, they have a great annual buskers festival.

Halifax is also a good base to explore places like Lunenburg (historic ship building centre) and Peggy's Cove (apparently very pretty, though not a lot else going on). If you want more beachliness, you may find good stuff over by the Bay of Fundy; they definitely have cool stuff like tidal bore riding, and some paleontology sites.

If you're coming from Maine, there is also a car ferry to south NS.

(Background: my family is from Guysborough County which I love but would never recommend to anyone looking for beaches because all of the shoreline is razer sharp pebbles leading down into the COLDEST water ever. I also went to Cape Breton for the first time last summer and loved it and wished we have more time there - but again, not really a beach destination, more of a dramatic rocks and sea and mountains sort of place.)
posted by jb at 6:38 PM on April 22, 2018

Best answer: also: everything in Cape Breton seemed to be 1-2 hours drive from everything else - or more. Louisbourg was the most awesome thing this early modern history need has seen, but it's really out of the way of everything else.
posted by jb at 6:41 PM on April 22, 2018

Best answer: The Alexander Graham Bell museum is one of the best museums I've ever been to. I had only known him for his invention of the telephone; I was amazed and surprised to learn how much more he had accomplished! Definitely worth a visit. The reviews on tripadvisor agree.

And seconding the Titanic exhibit at the Halifax Maritime Museum.
posted by yawper at 7:25 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Before you get to Saint John pause in Saint Andrews. Saint Andrews is scenic. Visit the Huntsman Marina (fish zoo) if you like animals and nature.

On the way to Saint John stop for fried clams. Comeau's in Saint George is good for a sit down restaurant, but I like Ossie's on Route 1 better but you'll have to eat in the car, or on a picnic bench outside.

While in Saint John: Taylor's Island and Saints Rest Beach. (Irving Nature Park) There are walking trails on Taylor's Island. You might want to check out the uptown of Saint John for the boardwalk and nice old Victorian commercial buildings, and the City Market.

Black Beach is interesting because it is made of very fine flakes of black sand, not grains of sand. Mispec Beach past Red Head is also nice. The Bay of Fundy is COLD so don't expect to swim while on this side of the Maritimes. Beach combing and wading will be the extent of it.

Then perhaps head out to St. Martins which has a big cave that you can go into at low tide. Try to time hitting Saint Martins at low tide so you can walk out on the seabed and go into the cave also. St. Martins is a very scenic fishing town, the kind that gets photographed and the pictures end up as jigsaw puzzles.

Continue to Fort Beausejour in the Tantramar Marshes.

If time allows and you are interested in History head down to Port Royal to see a reconstruction of one of the first European settlements in Canada.

The Annapolis Valley is pretty farming country for a scenic drive.

Halifax is pretty. Hit the university district with the older houses. If you stay overnight Halifax will be your most expensive stop. I would suggest heading north and getting a cabin or a motel or something a little further on a couple of hours drive away where you will be near beaches to swim.
Once you start heading north from Halifax you will have arrived where the ocean is not too cold to swim.

Head up to PEI once you have seen enough of Halifax, taking the bridge over. (There is a charge to take the bridge. It's not remotely paid for yet.) There is a tourist trap just over the bridge to buy souvenirs that is extensive and can be fun to browse. Try Cavendish Beach on PEI. It has lovely sand and good swimming there, the water is not too cold. Have a lobster dinner. If you like Anne of Green Gables visit Green Gables. Warning: It will be crowded. There is an entire village there, that was the set of a Anne of Green Gables TV series.

It is no longer expensive to stay in PEI, as with the bridge people can do the island as a day trip rather than definitely having to stay overnight before catching the ferry. There are inexpensive cabins that you can book to stay in.

Cross back over the bridge and hang out in Acadia. It will be like going to a foreign country, as the language is French. Check out some Acadian music - fiddles and boisterous singing.

If you like history hit Kings Landing north of Fredericton.

Head back to Saint John, going down the Saint John River. Do not take the highway all the way back, follow the river and use the ferries to cross and recross to the Kingston Penninsula and back. That way you will be out on a boat at some point. There is no charge for the ferries, they are simply part of the road system.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:38 PM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: FWIW, we took the Confederation Bridge one way and the ferry the other way. The ferry was fun - they have an outpost of local ice cream chain Cows onboard.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:13 PM on April 22, 2018

Best answer: If you cross the border at Saint Andrews, the place to stay is Salty Towers, long a destination for wayward artists and musicians passing through the Maritimes. Kid Ruki will appreciate!
posted by wjfitzy at 11:58 PM on April 22, 2018

Best answer: Welcome to the part of the world where I spent the first 31 years of my life.

PEI is definitely incredible - north shore beaches are great (as are some of the ones in the east - particularly Basin Head) and one of the best features for non-beachers is totally feasible to stay in Charlottetown, drop your family off at Brackley in the morning and come pick them up later in the afternoon because it's only 25 minutes to a stunning beach from the downtown of the city.

If you stay in Charlottetown, my recommendation is to eat as much seafood as you can - one of the best places is the Water Prince Corner Shop near the hole-in-the-wall decor but they source the freshest fish in the city and it's not outrageously priced. Explore the Eastern part of the be honest, West is longer drives to everything and nowhere near as nice. I'd skip Summerside entirely. Cows ice cream is the real deal - eat as much of it as you can. Also - see the Anne of Green Gables play, it's dated but there's a real ascerbic humor that works today.

Nova Scotia - so many options here. Halifax is the obvious one - it's a bustling small city, a nice mix of historic and new these days. The waterfront is lovely, there are a TON of great craft brewers in Nova Scotia (avoid Keith's like the plague, there is so much better out there) and it has a very underrated food scene - particularly in the North End. People will warn you about the North End safety-wise but it's an older, straight-up racist reputation and you should ignore it heartily.

Otherwise - Cape Breton is breathtaking to drive. If you like backcountry camping, it's a great spot as well - tons of wildlife. Most people drive it, stay one night in a b&b, and then come out the other side but I love the hiking and camping there. Kejimikujik National Park is also spectacular, particularly if you're game for canoeing. Peggy's Cove is worth a day trip. I really love the Valley, specifically Windsor as a place to stay. There are great wineries in there and it's like a step back in time. Ditto for Mahone Bay.

New kind of a hole. Sorry - I said it. Fundy National Park is super beautiful, as is Kouchibouguac National Park, but the cities don't offer much that you can't get in Halifax and it's long, deer-suicide highway between everything. Particularly at night I hate driving in New Brunswick. I would maybe spend a day in Moncton if being outdoors is not your thing, otherwise you can get good Acadian food in both NS and PEI. The tidal shift/boar can be found in Nova Scotia.

Otherwise - very specialized, but driving between PEI and NS, stop in Masstown (about halfway) for the Market there - specifically their seafood chowder. They make the most heavenly tea biscuits in the world.
posted by notorious medium at 7:55 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When you visit, it will be semi-important to keep in mind that Saint John (spelled out, singular) is in New Brunswick, while St. Johns (abbreviated, plural) is in Newfoundland.
posted by eviemath at 11:33 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You won't have to worry too much about high heat or humidity in the Maritimes in July.

Seconding Maud Lewis stuff for the artist kid, if that's the right type of art. Also look into Canadian "Group of Seven" artists - there are a couple Maritime connections there.

I'd recommend Lubec, Maine and Campobello Island, or else Nova Scotia's South Shore (Chester - Mahone Bay - Lunenberg area in particular) over Saint Andrews. But I also second the recommendation to focus on a single sub-region: New Brunswick (Fundy shore, Parlee Beach area, Fredericton and central), or Gaspe region, or PEI, or Cape Breton, or mainland Nova Scotia.

If you like wine tours, definitely visit the Annapolis Valley. Aside from that, we could give more specific recommendations with more specific details about your families interests, types of lodging you prefer, and length of time you want to be in a car driving each day or in total.
posted by eviemath at 11:47 AM on April 23, 2018

Best answer: If you're going to go Cape Breton (and you should!), try to make it to one of the town festivals. Check out this page: Each festival is several days worth of events - lobster picnics, boat parades and the likes. You don't have to rule out beaches either - the Port Hood beaches are very nice. If you have Cape Breton questions, feel free to memail me. I'm not from there but my husband is and we've spent many summer vacations there.
posted by kitcat at 1:04 PM on April 23, 2018

Best answer: Fundy National Park is extraordinary.

Here's how I would recommend you structure your trip to hit the most attractions and see the best scenery (and with no back-tracking!)

Drive up Highway 1 to St. Stephen, N.B., and then cross the southernmost part of the province, with stops in St. Andrews and Saint John on your way to Fundy.

Hop across the Confederation Bridge to P.E.I., and then the ferry back to Nova Scotia. Head down to Halifax, continue south through to Lunenberg and Kejimkujik National Park, and then to Yarmouth for the ferry to Portland, Maine.
posted by lukez at 11:50 AM on April 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

(Route 1 in Maine in July will be slow. If the point is to get to Canada as quickly as possible, take I-95 to Bangor, then Route 9 to Calais. Or if more of New Brunswick is on the itinerary, take I-95 all the way to the Canadian border then straight down Canadian Rt. 2 to Fredericton.)
posted by eviemath at 3:41 PM on April 24, 2018

(Full disclosure - I have lived in NB my entire life, currently live in Fredericton, so I appreciate I have a bit of a bias)

Look, you have to drive through New Brunswick to get anywhere else, so rather than bombing through it with your head down, I highly suggest taking in at least some of what NB has to offer. And despite what some think, NB does have a lot to offer.

Fredericton, in general, is beautiful.
--- great walking trails, including a walking bridge over the river
--- The Beaverbrook Art Museum in Fredericton has some pretty amazing pieces
--- River activities, including paddleboarding, kayaking, etc. all of which you can rent
--- An amazing market on saturday mornings (Boyce farmer's market) that is absolutely worth the visit
--- Some really good restaurants (540 Kitchen and Grill, Damda, and Naru Sushi are my favs and they are all right downtown)
--- Outdoor movies in Officer's Square (in the downtown). Bring a blanket and some snacks and watch a movie sitting in the lawn. It is so fucking quaint, it kills me.

Other good things in NB:
- Parlee Beach is super lovely. The sand is perfect, the water is warm, and it is just wonderful.
- Tubing down the Miramichi river is ridiculously fun and you get some pretty amazing views along the way.
- Whale Watching tours in St. Andrews (early for whales, but you'll see a ton of other stuff, and maybe still some whales)
- St. Andrews is pretty gorgeous in general.
- Sussex has a drive-in movie theatre. Only shows movies on the weekend, but it is a fun time. Plus, the drive from Saint John to Sussex is possibly the most beautiful drive I have ever seen.
- Fundy is pretty incredible. Amazing hikes and trails, and the walking along the beaches is really fun too. Just check the tides.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:24 AM on April 25, 2018

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