best hike Nova Scotia – Cape Chignecto FAIL

Trip report by besthike editor Rick McCharles.

Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail is the best hike in Nova Scotia:

… approximately 51 kilometres (40 miles) long beginning and ending at the Red Rocks Trail Head. When you venture along the coastal trail at Cape Chignecto be prepared for one of Atlantic Canada’s most spectacular adventures. The views are breathtaking. It can be done from either direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise). A three to four day trip will allow time to stop and explore the beaches and viewpoints along the way. …


David Beattie of the Gillespie House Inn had recommended Chignecto. That was the first time I had heard of it.

At Mountain Equipment Co-op in Halifax (the major airport closest to this adventure), staff advised me to get Wilderness Trails and Day Hikes of Cape Chignecto by David Hamilton, the only dedicated guide.

While wolfing down a $5 steak dinner special, I skimmed the guidebook. That was the night before driving to the trailhead. Cape Chignecto sounded quite straight forward. No special concerns.

I wish I’d checked the website, as well:

Picking up my rent-a-car at Noon I enjoyed a leisurely drive through rustic Nova Scotia. On the map the trailhead did not look far. I expected to check in at the Visitor’s Centre in the afternoon and get a good start before dark. … Unfortunately the drive on narrow scenic highways took far longer than I expected. I did not arrive at the trailhead until 5:02 PM.

It closed at 5PM.

I was still psyched, though. Happy to have made it. Raring to go.


Disappointingly there was no information posted outside the building on what after hours arrivers should do. Where to camp?

I could not deposit money for my Park Entry Fee and camping fees ($23/night) into a drop slot. There was none.

I drove back to the only open store in town. They had no additional information for me.

Still “early”, I decided to drive out to Elliot Field campground, hoping to find someone to notify that I was hiking. Or someone to accept my fees.


There were no people. No vehicles at Elliot Field. The only signs posted by the Provincial Park warned that my unregistered vehicle would be towed. That concern nagged.

The section from this campground to Seal Cove my guidebook called “The Crown Jewel” of the hike. I decided to leave my vehicle at Elliot Field campground and enjoy the 6km walk to Seal Cove.

It is gorgeous.

I chose a tent site overlooking the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy below.


How’s this for creative food bag hanging?


I left a Summit Stone on behalf of artist DSD atop the highest point on Seal Beach.


In the morning I finally decided to hike back to the car. And drive away. Happily, my rental was still there at 8AM.

Irked at having FAILED on this hike, I didn’t bother to go complain at the Visitor Centre. Nor pay my Park fee.

There’s a reason that Cape Chignecto Trail is deserted in July, while the West Coast Trail is overbooked.

Cape Chignecto simply has not been promoted enough. Nor is it managed properly.

Fact is Cape Chignecto is the best hike in Nova Scotia. Perhaps all the Maritimes. Yet almost nobody knows about it.

You can have it to yourself if you go.

But don’t show up at the trailhead except during office hours.

See my photos from this too short hike on flickr.

8 Replies to “best hike Nova Scotia – Cape Chignecto FAIL”

  1. I imagine they closed closer to 4pm than 5pm. People move at a slower pace in those parts. Did you ever think of sliding the money under the door of the office? Why did you decide to leave rather than start the next morning? Not enough time to hike the route?

    1. Impatience.

      If I had it to do all over again, I would have left a NOTE under the door. Left a NOTE on the windshield of the car. And started the hike.

      Foolishly I assumed I’d find someone at the campground.

      Live and learn.

  2. While some of your concerns are legitimate and will be addressed by the Park Management Board I find it somewhat inexplicable that someone who uses the internet to critique and criticize would not check the park website prior to visiting to determine such basic information as hours of operation, driving time and distances and the fact that reservations are required. You are probably not aware that Cape Chignecto is a provincial park in name only and is in fact community managed and operated without, until this year, any operational funding from the Province. A staff of less that 15 including summer students is responsible for maintaining over 50 kms of trails, 70 plus backcountry campsites, a cabin, bunkhouse and the recently opened Eatonville Day-Use area. To casually post that it is poorly managed without any background information or without going in the morning after and talking to staff and leaving without paying the fees is mean spirited and insulting to the very dedicated and hard working staff and volunteer board members. Money for marketing is scarce and Cape Chignecto has to use that money sparingly so word of mouth is very important. Your failing rating of the park on this posting is harmful to efforts to increase visitation and thus revenues which would help to address issues related to staffing, marketing, etc. Please visit again. I’m sure you’ll come away with a much better second impression once you meet the staff and learn more about the Park and its challenges,

    1. Thanks Ron. Most of what you say is news to me.

      Apologies for not doing more research in advance. I thought buying and reading the best guidebook would be enough. It wasn’t.

      I will try to return.

      In the end, however, I still departed Nova Scotia feeling the tourist infrastructure is lousy. Not sure what to do about that, however.

  3. Let me get this straight. You drive a long way without checking the park’s website or even calling ahead, arrive after hours, help yourself to a free hike on trails maintained by a tiny staff and then slag them without bothering to complain or enquire. If that is the extent of your research and judgement, then I can’t take your ratings seriously. I have hiked Cape Chignecto several times and found the staff helpful and dedicated.

  4. Attention to all BACKPACKERS. I would not listen to what the gentelmen posted above. I live in a small town in the US and let me tell anyone who is googling for the best trails out there this is one you do not want to miss,i have been BACKPACING for quite some time now and feel that i have covered alot of the best in North America depending on what you consider the best, just to name a few Denali,Banff,Glacier,Whites,Keneai,Rocky Mountain and the list goes on. I dont mean to bragg about the places ive been because to be quite honest i think every place has its own kind of best. The fact is everyone want to make the most beautiul places a tourist trap and that is exactly what this place is not and to a BACKPACKER who wants some solitude you will have this trail to yourself. One point that i will make is that being such a great spot i think that there could be a place to get some small supplies Backpackers food,fuel,film,ext. I get the feeling that this trail is still under the raidar because it is still very new and with a little more time it will become a VERY SHORT LIFE LISTER for many backpackers,i say short because it is only 40 miles and the last leg rougly 8 miles or so is very easy and fairly bland. Seasoned backpacker will want to start from the visitors center and head southwest toward the cape, the first leg you spend a lot of time under the trees with a few view points, when you refugee cove you will get teased with some incredible views but when you round the cape this where the real candy starts.I can remember walking through some of the most dramatic scenery that was so sublime i had to pinch myself to make sure i wasnt dreaming, lichens that were so colorful George Bush wouldnt even squash,(LOL),old mans beard that rivaled coastal Alaska,some of the finest flower displays and when the fog rolls even billy the kid wouldnt be able to keep up with your trigger finger.This is a photographers paradise. I really liked this hike and it has everything that a Backpacker wants minus the length, the difficulty rating would be another issue,if you hike southwest i would give it a rating of 6 of 10, hiking the other direction would be fairly easy. If you do decide to hike north route first dont get discouraged, the scenery doesnt start until the three sisters and gets quite interesting from there. The last note that i would like to make is this hike is not for the faint at heart there are alot of roots which requires sturdy trecking boots and and gaiters would be very helpful for lots of wet conditions. Oh yeah, one more thing, this would be an excellent ice breaker for the first time backpacker or teenager entering the wonderful world of backpacking just be very careful there are lots of high cliffs,if i was leading a group i would have them under close supervision. Feel free to e-mail me if u have any questions HAVE FUN AND STAY SAFE CAPE CHIGNECTO IS A WILDERNESS AREA AND REQUIRES DUE DILIGENCE

  5. This certainly is the best wilderness hike in Nova Scotia. It is in the wildest and most remote corner of the province and very underused, in fact most Nova Scotians have no idea about this gem in their backyard. The points about poor marketing and lack of funding for this incredible natural resource are completely true – it has the potential to be one of the highlights of any hikers trip to the east coast. But then again, that is part of the charm of this hike – you will probably have it to yourself, due to the “problems” mentioned.

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