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Brier Island: Nova Scotia’s Hidden Gem

If you love the outdoors and want to explore beyond the beaten path in Atlantic Canada, look no further than beautiful Brier Island, Nova Scotia. This tiny 7.5km by 2.5km island can only be reached by two short ferries from the Nova Scotia mainland (unless you have a boat handy of course).

Once on the island, you’ll find a laid-back fishing community of around 200 full-time residents. There is one general store, one gas station, two restaurants and a handful of places to stay.

Ocean with rock wall and town buildings in distance
View of Westport, Brier Island

Travelling around town, there are no traffic lights, no queues and few paved roadsBut that is why it is so special. Instead, you’ll find stunning coastal scenery to explore and intriguing local wildlife to spot. To help you plan your own trip to this island paradise, here is a quick guide to Brier Island, Nova Scotia

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Small basalt columns rising out of sea with lighthouse beyond
Brier Island’s beautiful basalt coastline with lighthouse in background
Wooden pallet chairs on rocky Pond Cove Beach, Brier Island
Pond Cove, Brier Island, Nova Scotia

Things to do on Brier Island, Nova Scotia

Brier Island may be small but punches well above its weight when it comes to places to see and things to do. We visited the island for a two-night break and found it to be an ideal length of time to explore and unwind.

Click here or above to view interactive Brier Island map

Brier Island whale watching

If there’s just one thing you have time for Brier Island, it has to be whale watching. Some say the whale watching on Brier Island is the best in all of Nova Scotia.

Considering the trip we took in late June with Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises, there is definitely something in that statement!

Humpback whale at surface, as seen on whale watching tour from Brier Island
Brier Island’s whale watching is considered by many to be the best in Nova Scotia

As a former tour bus driver, JR is lucky enough to have experienced dozens of whale watching tours in his lifetime. As he attests, our Brier Island whale watching experience was up there in the top three.

Inflatable zodiac boat by dock
Our whale watching boat on Brier Island

Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises offer two types of tours – up to 2.5 hours (Zodiac boat) and up to 5 hours (regular whale watching boat). We chose the Zodiac tour, preferring to get to the whales quicker.

Gemma and JR sat on Zodiac boat wearing red flotation suits

The Zodiac is also much smaller, with 12 passengers compared to 50 when full. The Zodiac’s size meant that we sat directly on the inflatable edge of the boat and bumped around with every wave on the Bay of Fundy.

It also allowed us to get amazing views of the two majestic humpback whales we soon came across.

Watching these incredible creatures at such close quarters was a magical experience. Most notably, we were the only whale watching boat in the area viewing these humpbacks, something that is apparently pretty common in this area.

Humpback whale diving into the ocean
Our Brier Island whale watching tour was fantastic!

There are a few different operators for whale watching on Brier Island, but all have agreed to adhere to self-imposed regulations to avoid harassing or overwhelming the whales.

The main Brier Island whale watching season is mid June to September. Aside from humpbacks, it is also common to see finback and minke whales plus harbour porpoises and white-sided dolphins.

Read More: Whale Watching in Nova Scotia: Why, How, Where And More

Two humpback whales in distance, as seen on our Brier Island whale watching tour

Other Brier Island wildlife

Whales aren’t the only animal attracted to Brier Island’s shores. Over 300 species of birds call Brier Island home at one time of the year or other, as it is a popular spot for migrating birds.

For this reason, Brier Island is known as one of Canada’s ‘Important Bird Areas.’ Peter’s Island, at the southeastern tip of the island, is protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Nest with eggs, with a seagull walking
Nesting seabirds on Brier Island, Nova Scotia

Besides birds, there is also a seal colony located in the aptly named Seal Cove, close to the Western Light. To reach Seal Cove, follow the short coastal trail (less than ten minutes) west of the lighthouse.

Red and white striped lighthouse on Brier Island, with seagull flying in front

Lighthouses on Brier Island

There are two lighthouses on Brier Island – Northern Light and Western Light. Both are easily accessible by road at their respective corners of the island. Northern Light has an adjacent coastguard station.

The red and white striped Western Light sits on its lonesome near bird nesting grounds. Both Western and Northern Light are perfect places to watch the sun set into the Bay of Fundy.

The red and white striped Western Lighthouse on Brier Island, Nova Scotia
Brier Island’s Western Light

Brier Island also has views of another lighthouse, on nearby Peter’s Island. There is a viewpoint located at the southern end of Water Street.

In addition to the views of the lighthouse, there is also a monument here to remember Brier Island local Joshua Slocum, who was the first man to sail single-handedly around the world.

brier island sunset nova scotia at northern light
Sunset on Brier Island, Nova Scotia

Brier Island hiking

If you like hiking, Brier Island is a must visit. It is possible to circumnavigate the whole island via hiking trails, with the majority of time spent directly on the beautiful coastline. This would take a long day of around 6-7 hours.

We checked out a couple of sections of the coastal trail during our visit, starting at Western Light and Pond Cove. The trails are fairly easy to locate, with clear parking areas at the trailheads and interpretive panels between Western Light and Pond Cove.

JR walking on trail near basalt coastline, Brier Island
Hiking along Brier Island’s basalt coastline

Most of Brier Island’s inhabitants live in Westport, so hiking along the coastline here felt far away from civilisation despite being so relatively close. For the most part, it’s just you, the wildflowers, hundreds of birds, the waves against the rocks and the neverending Bay of Fundy beyond.

Talking of wildflowers, Brier Island is one of only two places in the world where the Eastern mountain aven plant grows. The flower is a wonderfully sunny bright yellow, not dissimilar to a buttercup. If you go hiking on Brier Island, try to spot these delicate plants.

JR stopping to smell the flowers at Pond Cove, Brier Island, Nova Scotia

Rock hunting

Whether you’re a rock hound, have an interest in geology or just like to search for pretty stones from time to time, you’ll love exploring the coastline of Brier Island.

Much of the island is composed of basalt, causing the creation of straight-sided columns. There are beaches too, filled with agates, unusually shaped pebbles and glittering rocks. I have no doubt if I’d left him there, JR would still be rock hunting on Pond Cove beach now!

Handfuls of colourful rocks and agates in Pond Cove
Rockhunting on Brier Island

Where to Stay on Brier Island, Nova Scotia

Brier Island has one hotel, a motel and a handful of B&Bs and vacation rentals. We stayed at Hooking by the Sea B&B at Brier Island Wood Farm. This 200-year-old schoolhouse has been lovingly and carefully restored by host Victoria, who is also an avid rug hooker, farmer and animal lover.

Two story 19th century farmhouse with Canadian flags outside
Hooking By the Sea B&B is a 200 year old former schoolhouse on Brier Island

Behind the schoolhouse is a herd of heritage sheep, watched over by alpacas. Victoria uses the high-quality wool in her own work and also sells from the on-site hooking studio.

Staying at Brier Island Wood Farm is ideal if you’re looking for an authentic Brier Island experience (plus the home-made breakfasts are fab).

Victoria and husband Floyd are a wealth of information about the island. They also happen to be some of the kindest folks you’ll ever meet.

Two black lambs looking at camera
The cutest lambs at Brier Wood Farm
Wool for sale at Brier Wood Farm

Where to Eat on Brier Island, Nova Scotia

On Brier Island, eating out is all about quality over quantity. And if you like seafood, you’re in luck!

Cooked lobster, fries and clam chowder soup on table
Lobster dinner at Bare Bones Cafe (now the Lighthouse Cafe) on Brier Island, Nova Scotia

The Lighthouse Cafe

The Lighthouse Cafe (formerly the Bare Bones Cafe) serves up fast-food done well, Nova Scotia style! Think homemade burgers, scallops, fish and chips and donair.

On our visit, the Lighthouse Cafe (then the Bare Bones Cafe) also offered Lobster Supper, including 1lb lobster, clam chowder, fries and coleslaw, for $26.

There are around ten tables available for seating inside, or take-out is an option. All of the take-out containers and cutlery used are biodegradable.

Cafe counter with blackboards
Inside the Lighthouse Cafe (previously known as the Bare Bones Cafe)

Brier Island Lodge Restaurant

Located at the hotel, the Brier Island Lodge Restaurant is the second restaurant option on the island. Breakfast and dinner are both offered in a comfortable dining room with ocean views. More on the fine dining side of things, the menu features cocktails and plenty of seafood.

brier island views nova scotia st peters island

How to Get to Brier Island, Nova Scotia

Brier Island is reachable from mainland Nova Scotia by two ferries. Each ferry costs $7 for the return journey, payable on the outgoing trip to the Island.

The current timings for the ferries to Brier Island are as follows:

  • Digby Neck (East Ferry) to Long Island (Tiverton): Departs on the half-hour e.g. 10.30am, 11.30am, 12,30pm etc.
  • Long Island (Freeport) to Brier Island (Westport): Departs on the hour e.g. 10am, 11am, 12pm

In the other direction, the ferries run:

  • Westport to Freeport: Departs 25 minutes past the hour e.g. 10.25am, 11.25am, 12.25pm
  • Tiverton to East Ferry: Departs on the hour
JR hiking next to Brier Island coastline

Brier Island ferry tips

  • There is a 24-hour ferry service but they do run on-demand overnight
  • Each ferry takes around 15 cars (less if a commercial truck or RV is on board)
  • Bring cash for the ferry charges, ideally smaller bills and change
  • The ferry journey time is just less than 10 minutes
  • The drive from Digby to East Ferry is approximately 45 minutes while the journey from Tiverton to Freeport is about 15 minutes
  • Ferry timings are roughly coordinated so if you want or need to catch them both in a row, simply drive straight through
View from the ferry, Brier Island, Nova Scotia

On the Way to Brier Island: Balancing Rock Hike

Columns of basalt can be seen around the coast of both Brier Island and Long Island. One of the most interesting demonstrations, however, can be seen at Balancing Rock on the eastern coast of Long Island. Here, one 9 metre tall narrow column of basalt is balanced almost impossibly on its tip.

Balancing Rock trail leading into woods
The start of the Balancing Rock trail on Long Island, Nova Scotia

It is a pretty impressive sight up close. The trail through the lush forest to the viewing area is also plenty interesting, with interpretive panels explaining the local flora and fauna. Balancing Rock is reached by a 2.5km return trail including 235 stairs.

If visiting Brier Island, I’d highly recommend stopping at Balancing Rock to take in this short hike. We arrived on Long Island on the 11.30 ferry, hiked to the Balancing Rock and then took the 1pm ferry to Brier Island.

Singular basalt column balancing perilously in the air next to the ocean
Balancing Rock, Long Island, Nova Scotia

Big thanks go to Tourism Nova Scotia, Hooking by the Sea and Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises for their help with our visit to Brier Island, Nova Scotia

Other Nova Scotia posts you may find helpful:

7 Must Do Nova Scotia Road Trips: Itineraries, Tips + Maps

Kayaking the 100 Wild Islands, Eastern Shore, Nova Scotia

11 of the Best Nova Scotia Campgrounds

Hiking the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail, Nova Scotia

13 of the Best Beaches in Nova Scotia

Canoeing in Kejimkujik National Park: A Must Do in Nova Scotia

East Coast Canada Road Trip | 2 and 4 Week Itineraries

If you love the outdoors and want to explore beyond the beaten path in Atlantic Canada, look no further than Brier Island, Nova Scotia. This tiny island (7.5km by 2.5km) has plenty of beautiful nature to explore plus some amazing wildlife to watch! Click here to read more about Brier Island, Nova Scotia - offtracktravel.ca
Brier Island is a tiny island paradise in Nova Scotia, Canada with amazing wildlife watching opportunities, beautiful hiking, tasty seafood and more! offtracktravel.ca

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megan

Thursday 25th of July 2019

Great article! Just wanted to say that southeastern tip is protected by Nature Conservancy of Canada, not Nova Scotia Nature Trust!

Gemma

Friday 26th of July 2019

Good spot, thanks Megan!