The destination of your next road trip? Nova Scotia, Canada. At least, it should be!
This East Coast province may look small(ish) on the map, but it actually has over 13,000km of coastline as well as mountain plateaus, lush valleys, 3000+ lakes and more.
As well as the outstanding scenery, you’ll find friendly locals, authentic small town charm and plenty of fresh, locally produced food.
Oh, and the world’s highest tides, 12 species of whales, 4 UNESCO Heritage Sites, 2 UNESCO Biospheres, 2 National Parks, 13 National Historic Sites and 1 Dark Sky Preserve! I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
In this post, I’m going to be sharing seven of the very best Nova Scotia road trips, with detailed route information featuring things to do and places to visit. JR and I have visited every place mentioned, most recently on a two month long road trip across the entirety of the province.
At the time of writing (February 2021), non-essential travel to Nova Scotia is not possible. Some of the places featured are temporarily closed. This post is intended to help future visitors plan their trip to Nova Scotia, when it is safe to travel again.
Nova Scotia Road Trips
To give you a taste of what’s to come, here are some highlights of each Nova Scotia road trip (you can also skip to each itinerary directly)
- The Annapolis Valley (2 to 3 days) – Wolfville, Grand-Pré, Cape Split, Fort Edward, Look-Off, Annapolis Royal
- Digby Neck and Beyond (4 days) – Brier Island, Long Island, Digby, Annapolis Royal, Port Royal, Bear River, Kejimkujik National Park
- Yarmouth and Acadian Shore (2 to 3 days) – Acadian Village, Cape Forchu Lighthouse, Mavillette Beach, Smugglers Cove, Port Maitland Beach, Église Sainte-Marie, Belliveaus Cove
- South Shore (3 to 4 days) – Peggy’s Cove, Lunenberg, Mahone Bay, Oak Island, LaHave Islands, Risser’s Beach, Liverpool, Kejimkujik Seaside, Shelburne, Black Loyalist Heritage Centre
- Eastern Shore (3 days) – Lawrencetown Beach, 100 Wild Islands, Memory Lane, Taylor Head Provincial Park, Sherbrooke Village, Canso Islands
- Cabot Trail (3 to 4 days) – Chéticamp, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Skyline Trail, Fishing Cove Trail, Pleasant Bay, Jack Pine Trail, Ingonish, Franey Trail, Baddeck
- Bay of Fundy – Burntcoat Head Park, tidal bore rafting, Five Islands Provincial Park, Parrsboro, Cape D’or, Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, Joggins Fossil Cliffs
At the end of the post, you’ll find two more Nova Scotia road trips featuring complete circular routes of the province:
Please note that I have not included Halifax in any of these Nova Scotia road trips – it deserves a post of its own! If you’re visiting from outside Nova Scotia, I’d suggest spending at least two days exploring the city. My recommendations for things to do in Halifax are here!
This post was written in partnership with Tourism Nova Scotia. It includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you.
The Annapolis Valley – 2 to 3 days
The Annapolis Valley is a rich, agricultural region located on the west coast of Nova Scotia. Small towns and villages dot a patchwork landscape of farms, vineyards and fields, all backdropped by the extraordinary Bay of Fundy (home of the world’s highest tides).
The artsy yet regal town of Wolfville (C), an hour’s drive from Halifax, is an ideal first stop. From here, you can easily explore some of Nova Scotia’s best wineries (try the Magic Winery Bus!), breweries, cideries and distilleries.
A short drive away is the foodie mecca of Port Williams (D), where local produce is king (think honey, gin, freshly made pasta and more). Just up the road is the simply named Look-Off (E), where you can take in panoramas of the fields and ocean beyond.
If you want to stretch your legs, consider the 16km round trip hike to Cape Split (F). This may sound long but the trail is almost flat all the way to the end, where the rugged tip of the Cape dramatically falls into the Bay of Fundy.
The Annapolis Valley is home to a number of National Historic Sites – Fort Anne (G) and Port Royal (H) in Annapolis Royal, Grand Pré (B) near Wolfville and Fort Edward (A) in Windsor. Annapolis Royal itself is also steeped in history, with over 120 heritage buildings and worth the detour from the Wolfville area on longer road trips.
Total distance: 200km
Where to stay: Micro Boutique Living in the heart of downtown Wolfville
Where to eat: The Noodle Guy in Port Williams, Crush Pad Bistro at Lucketts Vineyards
Detours and extensions: Take a trip to Burncoat Head Park to walk on the oven floor and see red ‘flowerpot rocks.’ Or for a bit of excitement, consider a tidal bore rafting adventure
Digby Neck and Beyond – 4 days
If you’re looking for a nature-focused off the beaten path adventure in Nova Scotia, this may be the one!
Digby Neck is a 30km long peninsula extending into the Bay of Fundy from the town of Digby (A) itself. Long Island (B) and tiny Brier Island (C) are found at the end, accessible by short vehicle ferries. Natural beauty is the main draw here, with the ocean never being far away.
Whale watching is a must do activity, with humpbacks commonly seen nearby (just one of twelve species visiting the Bay of Fundy!) If you prefer wildlife spotting on land, this area is a popular migration spot for birds.
As well as sharing a wonderfully laid back vibe, Long Island and Brier Island both have excellent hiking trails and coastlines featuring beautiful basalt columns (the best example being Balancing Rock).
Back on the mainland, make a short detour up to Annapolis Royal (D). In addition to a number of notable National Historic Sites, this distinguished town has over 120 heritage buildings (and a great brewery). Be sure to also drop into Bear River (E). This tidal village on stilts is as characterful as it is small.
Outdoor adventure awaits in Kejimkujik National Park (F), where you can camp under Nova Scotia’s darkest skies, paddle an intricate lake system and hike to beautiful waterfalls. It’s also possible to connect with Mi’kmaw culture, with canoe building demonstrations.
Total distance: 250km
Where to stay: Brier Island Lodge on beautiful Brier Island
Where to eat: Kalen’s Takeout in Digby, Lighthouse Café on Brier Island
Detours and extensions: Backtrack to the Bay of Fundy and then head to Wolfville (see above itinerary) or continue along Highway 8 from Kejimkujik to the South Shore
Read Next: Brier Island, Nova Scotia’s Hidden Gem
Acadian Shore – 2 to 3 days
In my mind, Nova Scotia’s southwestern coast is the most underrated area in the province. Imagine beautiful coastal scenery, an abundance of fresh seafood, pretty lighthouses and a vivacious blend of Acadian and English culture.
You first stop is the Historic Acadian Village of Nova Scotia (A). This beautiful living museum by the sea offers the chance to immerse yourself into the life of local Acadians back in the early 1900’s.
A short drive from Yarmouth will bring you to the uniquely shaped Cape Forchu Lighthouse (B). This red and white ‘apple core’ light sits on a headland, surrounded by hiking trails and epic views. Time your visit right and there’s the chance to see a sunset too!
As you travel north from Yarmouth, bilingual signs and the tricolour flag (with yellow star representing the Virgin Mary) welcome you into la Baie Sainte-Marie, home of Nova Scotia’s largest Acadian community. North America’s largest wooden church, Église Sainte-Marie (F), is here, plus 30 other heritage sites.
There are fabulous beaches along this coast too, with Port Maitland beach (C) and Mavillette beach (D) being great examples. Belliveau Cove (G) is another ideal place to stop, featuring 5km of looping trails along salt marshes and shingle beach. Pretty Smuggler’s Cove (E) was used by rum runners during the prohibition era.
While exploring the Clare region, be sure to look out for informal seafood suppers, listen to the local dialect of Acadian French and have a taste of râpure (also known as rappie pie), a classic Acadian comfort food dish made of meat and potatoes.
Total distance: 140km
Where to stay: Argyler Lodge in Lower Argyle
Where to eat: Keeper’s Kitchen at Cape Forchu, La Cuisine Robicheau in Saulnierville
Detours and extensions: Consider starting at Cape Stable Island instead. This laid back place (accessible via causeway) hosts Nova Scotia’s tallest lighthouse as well as a 1,500 ‘drowned’ forest. On the way to the Acadian Village, you could also stop at the Shag Harbour Incident Interpretive Centre to learn about the 1967 UFO crash
South Shore – 3 to 4 days
This 250km stretch of coastline south of Halifax is absolutely packed with gorgeous scenery and things to do, which is why it’s my top road trip choice if you’re short on time. Some sections are busy in summer, but there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy solitude as well.
Leave Halifax early to arrive at Peggy’s Cove (A) before most visitors arrive. Once you’ve taken in those iconic granite rock and lighthouse views, head past infamous Oak Island (B) to the picture perfect churches of Mahone Bay (C). The colourful port town of Lunenburg (D) is just a short drive away.
With the most popular sights ticked off, it’s time to explorer the quieter side of the South Shore. Stretch your legs at Ovens Natural Park, where a trail leads above and into rugged ocean caves. To continue along the coast, take the cable ferry (one the last remaining in Nova Scotia) across to LaHave (E).
If you like beaches, you’ll love this next section. In fact, you may even be overwhelmed by the number of beautiful white and golden sand stretches of sand! Some of my favourites are Risser’s Beach (F), Summerville (H) and Kejimkujik Seaside (I).
For a deeper insight into Nova Scotia’s history, I’d recommend stopping in the towns of Liverpool (G) and Shelburne. Just outside the latter is Birchtown, once home to the largest settlement of Black Loyalists (former slaves offered freedom by the British) in North America. If you go to just one museum on the South Shore, let it be the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre (J).
Total distance: 275km
Where to stay: Smugglers Cove Inn in Lunenburg
Where to eat: LaHave Bakery in LaHave, Quarterdeck Grill in Summerville
Detours and extensions: Make a real road trip of it and complete a circuit by travelling the Acadian Shore towards Digby. Along the way, take the trip to Cape Sable Island at the very tip of southern Nova Scotia. Be sure to visit ‘the Hawk,‘ a white sand beach featuring 1,500 year old petrified tree stumps and views of Nova Scotia’s tallest lighthouse.
Eastern Shore – 3 days
The Eastern Shore starts just north of Halifax but feels like a world away. There are no busy tourist traps here, just plenty of authentic fishing villages and beautiful sandy beaches. The road stays close to the coast, which means great views and also a lot of twisty turns!
If you’d like to have a go at surfing, head to Lawrencetown Beach (A). There are a number of surf schools here with rentals and lessons.
For beauty, my top pick is Martinique Beach (B). Living up to its exotic sounding name, Martinique features a sweeping, 5km long stretch of white-sand. Further north, Taylor Head (D) is also worth a stop.
More idyllic beaches can be found within the 100 Wild Islands archipelago, which borders part of the Eastern Shore (between Clam Harbour and Taylor Head). If you don’t have your own boat, you can still reach these pristine paradise islands by joining a kayak tour.
For something a little more cultural, check out the Memory Lane Heritage Village (C) and Sherbrooke Village (E). These community focused projects depict life on the Eastern Shore during the late 19th century (Sherbrooke) and 1940’s (Memory Lane).
At the upper end of the Eastern Shore is the Canso Islands National Historic Site (F), preserving the remains of the oldest fishing port on mainland North America. As well as an interesting visitor centre, it’s usually possible (in non-Covid years) to take a free boat trip out to Grassy Island to walk amongst the ruins of a fort.
Total distance: 340km
Where to stay: Liscombe Lodge in Liscomb
Where to eat: The Cookhouse at Memory Lane, Henley House Pub & Restaurant in Sheet Harbour
Detours and extensions: Continue on to the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island (info below) or head towards Pictou and the Northumberland Shore
Read More: Kayaking the 100 Wild Islands, Eastern Shore
Cabot Trail – 3 to 4 days
The Cabot Trail is a 298km driving loop on Cape Breton Island, where Nova Scotia’s highest mountains meet the sea. This scenic drive is an adventure in itself. Expect to be pulling over often for the views! This is the ideal road trip if you love the outdoors.
There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking, whale watching, camping and kayaking along the way. The most popular hike is the Skyline Trail (C). Ballpark two hours for the 6.5km return distance, which leads through meadows (watch for moose) to a headland with sweeping ocean views.
Other awesome day hikes include the Jack Pine Trail (F) and Franey Trail (H), both near Ingonish. For an overnight hiking adventure, check out Fishing Cove (D). The 12km return trail leads down to a pretty seaside campground, with ocean views from most tent pads.
Besides all of these outdoor activities, you can also experience local Acadian, Canadian and Scottish culture and cuisine in fishing villages like Baddeck (I), Chéticamp (B) and Ingonish (G). Pleasant Bay (E) is another of my favourite places to stop, as it features a gorgeous pebble beach.
One place that is certainly worth the detour (180km, about two hours) from the Cabot Trail is the Fortress of Louisbourg (J).
This National Historic Site is a living museum portraying French colonial life in the 18th century featuring costumed actors and restored buildings (barracks, working bakery, blacksmith etc). If you have any interest in history, Louisbourg is a MUST!
Total distance: 365km
Where to stay: True North Destinations in Pleasant Bay (or the Fortress of Louisbourg itself!)
Where to eat: Aucoin Bakery in Petit Étang, Coastal Restaurant in Ingonish
Detours and extensions: Consider attending a cèilidh in the Mabou area, southwest of the Cabot Trail. For a real off the beaten path adventure, head to Meat Cove, at the very tip of Cape Breton Island. The campground here has some of the best views anywhere in Nova Scotia
Bay of Fundy – 2 to 3 days
This Nova Scotia road trip showcases the Bay of Fundy’s world record breaking tides, from the power of the tidal bore created by them to the fossils revealed underneath the ocean floor.
Start your adventure at Burntcoat Head Park (A). If you time it right (check tides here), you’ll be able to walk on the ocean floor and marvel at the bright red ‘flowerpot rocks’ created by the receding ocean.
You can experience the power of the Bay of Fundy yourself on a tidal bore rafting adventure (B) in nearby South Maitland. When the tide comes in, the Shubenacadie River becomes a rollercoaster of standing waves and whirlpools. You’ll leave soaked, exhilarated and smiling ear to ear.
On the other side of the Bay of Fundy, stop at Five Islands Provincial Park (C) to admire the 90m red cliffs. Continue on to Parrsboro (D), which is famous for fossils and minerals.
Admire the airy views and lighthouse from remote Cape D’or (E) before heading towards Cape Chignecto Provincial Park.
There are two hiking trailheads here, Red Rocks and Eatonville (F). The latter has a 2.6km loop that takes in the dramatic Three Sisters sea stacks.
The final stop on this route is Joggins Fossil Cliffs (G), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the museum or walk the beach. Keep your eyes peeled, there’s the chance to stumble across 310 million year fossils (like this visitor did in 2020!)
Total distance: 300km
Where to stay: Cresthaven by the Sea in Maitland
Where to eat: Harbour View Restaurant in Parrboro, Lightkeeper’s Kitchen at Cape D’or
Detours and extensions: Looking for an adventure? The Cape Chignecto Trail is a 51km circular route offering spectacular panoramas of the Bay of Fundy. It takes three to our days to hike, with four cabins and seven campgrounds along the way. Click to read a full guide
Ultimate Nova Scotia Road Trip Itinerary – 2.5 weeks
Of course, you can combine all of these Nova Scotia road trip into one ‘ultimate’ route. It would look a little bit like this, when starting and ending in Halifax:
This ‘ultimate’ Nova Scotia road trip would be about 2.5 weeks in length, with the total distance around 2500km.
If you have more time available to you to explore this road trip route, all the better. Nova Scotia is a place to slow down and take as many side roads as possible!
As mentioned, we’ve spent over two months road tripping Nova Scotia and I’d happily go back tomorrow (restrictions dependent, of course). There’s still so much more to see!
If you’re looking for even more recommendations to add to this road trip, consider:
- Pictou – the “birthplace of New Scotland” with Hector Heritage Quay
- Tatamagouche – charming small town with many local food producers
- Melmerby Beach – stunning 2km long beach
- Cape George – 33km of looping hiking trails
- Inverness – famous scenic golf course, great beach
- Stellarton – Museum of Industry with Canada’s oldest steam locomotives
North/South Spotlight – 8 days
If you are short on time, consider this condensed version I call the ‘North/South Spotlight.’
This Nova Scotia road trip route also starts and ends in Halifax and breaks down like so:
- South Shore – 2 days
- Acadian Coast – 1 day
- The Annapolis Valley/Bay of Fundy – 2 days
- Cabot Trail – 3 days
This is fast but features most of Nova Scotia’s must visit places on a circular route. The total trip distance is just under 2000km.
Of course, I recommend you to stay longer in Nova Scotia (because it is incredible!) but if you simply can’t, this road trip features all of the highlights you’ve probably heard about – Lunenberg, Peggy’s Cove, Cabot Trail – as well as some beyond the beaten path gems such as la Baie Sainte-Marie and Burntcoat Head.
Road Trips in Nova Scotia: Top Tips
- Drive carefully. While there are some high speed highways, many of Nova Scotia’s rural roads are twisty and narrow
- Take the side roads. Slow down your trip by turning off the highway – you’re sure to find some hidden gems!
- Look out for wildlife. Large animals (such as moose) may be on the road at any time, but more likely at dusk and dawn
- For the most part, Nova Scotians are really, really friendly. Prepare to be stopped by people while exploring. We even had people invite us home for dinner!
- Plan ahead. Make accommodation and camping reservations in advance to avoid disappointment
- Don’t overcrowd your schedule. Rushing around is never fun and, besides, you’ll want to have a bit of flexibility to investigate recommendations from locals!
- Here for the lobster? No problem! No matter what time of year you choose to road trip in Nova Scotia, there’s always lobster to be found
Nova Scotia history and culture
The history of Nova Scotia is probably more varied than you may expect and that’s exactly why I want to give you a very quick overview before you dive into the nitty gritty of road trip planning!
The first residents of Nova Scotia were the Mi’kmaq, who called their home Mi’kma’ki. Some of the place names used today are Mi’kmaw (such as Shubenacadie).
A contingent of French explorers landed in 1605 and established Port Royal, one of the first European settlements in North America.
Soon, groups of French settlers arrived farm the land. They called it ‘Acadie’ (idyllic place) and themselves ‘Acadian‘ (read more about Acadians here).
The French and British fought over Nova Scotia over a century. The Acadians wanted to stay neutral but the British wouldn’t allow that and consequently deported the Acadians in an act called the ‘Great Upheaval’ or ‘Expulsion’ (1755).
The revolution in America in the 18th century brought thousands of British Loyalists to the shores of Nova Scotia, including a large continent of former black slaves called Black Loyalists. They were promised freedom in exchange for fighting for the British.
Scottish and Irish immigrants arrived in huge numbers in the 19th century, attempting to escape famine, overcrowding and discrimination.