Winter is upon us, and with 2021 being a brand new year, this is a great time to rediscover everything great about winter in Nova Scotia. Listing all the options for outdoor winter adventures would take a book (or two), but the list of activities below will give you a great starting point.
Check out places nearby, or plan a trip for a weekend away (subject to COVID-19 restrictions); either way, you’ll find out that winter is just as cool as any other time of year in Nova Scotia—just bring a good pair of mittens!
1. Beach Walks
Wintertime in Nova Scotia can sometimes mean snow and sometimes mean icy cold gray and brown surroundings. Either one is a fascinating backdrop for a beach walk!
1.1 Crystal Crescent Beach
Crystal Crescent is definitely my favourite beach to walk on in the winter, mostly because it’s one of my favourite beaches. It’s technically three beaches, each connected by a strip of rock and a boardwalk, but it feels like one nice long oceanside trip. Crystal Crescent is also home to Pennant Point Trail (see below), and with it being so close to Halifax it’s a great option for a wild and woolly winter day.
Address: 220 Sambro Creek Road, Sambro Creek
1. 2 Inverness Beach
Inverness Beach provides a similar kind of closeness to civilization as Crystal Crescent Beach, but a very different aesthetic. The town of Inverness is a popular summer destination, but you can enjoy the town and the beach just fine in the winter. The beach is long and fairly flat, and with the town only steps away it’s a perfect place to enjoy a Caper winter beach walk.
Address: 158 Beach No.1 Road, Inverness
1. 3 Mira Gut Beach
Mira Gut Beach is a different sort of beach, but just as lovely in the winter. You’ll find a beautiful riverside place to walk (especially at low tide), surrounded by parks to explore. If there’s snow on the ground you can really get a sense of a Cape Breton winter. Just don’t get the song stuck in your head!
45 Mira Bay Drive, Mira Gut
1. 4 Sandy Cove Beach
“Time and tide wait for no man”, and they certainly don’t wait for winter. The Bay of Fundy’s world record setting tides are usually enjoyed in the summer, and that means in the winter you’ll find fewer crowds in the way of enjoying the majesty of the ocean’s movements. This is a splendid small beach for walking, and (paying close attention to the tide times, of course), you can explore the ocean floor in all its winter finery.
Champlain Road, Digby
2. Bird Watching
There are many species of birds that fly south for the winter, and human snowbirds follow them. But don’t feel too lonely, because there are birds to keep us non-snowbirds company with cheerful songs and flashes of bright colour against the whites and grays of winter.
2.1. Amherst Point Bird Sanctuary
The Amherst Bird Sanctuary is, of course, a go-to place for birdwatching—the trail is designed around doing so! Since the sanctuary includes a diverse forest, marshland, and a lake, you’re bound to see several different kinds of birds. With up to 8km of trail to walk, bring snacks both for you and your feathered friends in order to enjoy this day to the fullest.
Southampton Road, Amherest Point
2.2 Cape Breton Highlands National Park
The Cape Breton Highlands is the only national park on Cape Breton Island, and it contains several beautiful examples of the Island’s beauty. Whether you want to explore the third of the Cabot Trail within the park or hike into the wilder parts for winter camping, you’ll have your pick of beautiful places to watch for birds. There are several small towns contained within the Highlands, so once you’ve had your fill of the outdoors you can enjoy some Caper hospitality.
37647 Cabot Trail Road, Ingonish
Once a French Fort, Fort Louisbourg remains an important and educational historical site. Thanks to its trails and the nearby village, you’ll also find a great place to come looking for birds. With the sea beside you and the fort behind you, there’s no telling what birds you might see. Although if I liked to gamble, I’d bet on seagulls and albatrosses….
Louisbourg, Cape Breton (fort itself is closed in the winter)
2.4 Salt Marsh Trail
A classic place for birdwatching, the Salt Marsh Trail takes on a unique aesthetic during the winter. The marsh doesn’t quite freeze and there are still lots of birds around, so it’s not quite hibernating like other trails seem to do in the winter. In fact, it’s the perfect place to put a little pep in your winter step while you watch the birds. The trail is long enough for a good bout of exercise, but since it’s linear it’s easy to turn around when you’ve had your fill, or you’ve caught a chill.
806 Bissett Road, Cole Harbour; Ph: 902-435-3952
2.5 Sheffield Mills
Did you know that that you can watch Bald Eagles being fed? Volunteers feed the eagles at the corner of Middle Dyke Road and Bains Road daily from January to March at Sheffield Mills in Annapolis Valley.
corner of Bains Road and Middle Dyke Road , Sheffield Mills
3. Cross Country Skiing
When there’s plenty of snow but no hills in sight, you can always go cross-country skiing! Most of the downhill skiing hills also have cross country trails, you’ll also find them all over the province.
3.1 Ellenwood Lake Park
A popular spot in the summer, Ellenwood Lake Park is a great place to enjoy in the winter too. It’s a huge park with a 2 km trail perfect for cross-country skiing. There’s plenty to see in the park, from the eponymous lake to the wildlife that calls this park home. While you’re skiing, keep an eye out for the camp sites—you might find your new favourite summer spot.
1888 Mood Road, Deerfield; Ph: 902-761-2400 or 902-648-3540 or 888-544-3434
3.2 Keppoch Mountain
You might not think of a mountain for cross-country skiing, but Keppoch Mountain has several cross-country trails. Several of them are bike trails in the summer, so the terrain is reasonably flat, while others provide a steeper challenge. Keppoch Mountain is a great destination for outdoor winter activities in general, including others mentioned in this article, so even if your group can’t agree on one activity, you should be able to agree on a destination.
193 Keppoch Road, Beaver Meadow, Antigonish
3.3 North Highlands Nordic Cross-Country Ski Facility
If you’re looking for a place to cross country ski in Cape Breton that’s maintained, groomed, and ready to welcome you, the North Highlands Nordic Cross-Country Ski Facility is the place for you. With five trails 16 feet wide each, you’ll find plenty of room whether you’re a beginner or an expert. And if you’ve brought your snowshoes too, you’re welcome to mix it up.
29841 Cabot Trail, Cape North; Ph: 902-383-2479
3.4 Ski Tuonela
Another Cape Breton destination, you can actually get to Ski Tuonela by skiing from the Cabot Trail. They have a Telemark ski area which is both uphill and downhill skiing (which sounds fascinating honestly), and they also have 18 kms of cross-country trails. They have chalet accommodations, equipment rentals, and a sauna—all you need to bring is yourself!
Cabot Trail, Goose Cove, Cape Breton; Ph: 902-295-7694
4. Downhill Skiing & Snowboarding
Look, I’m not getting into the debate about whether skiing is better than snowboarding, or vice versa (personally I can’t snowboard to save my life, but I’m decent at skiing—this is not a value judgement). Whichever you like (or both, both is good), there are a few places in Nova Scotia to enjoy the snowy downhill rush.
4.1 Ski Cape Smokey
Cape Smokey is a ski hill that has risen from a puddle of snowmelt more than once, but with every incarnation it retains its charm and fun. Located in the Cape Breton Highlands, Cape Smokey overlooks the town of Ingonish, the ocean, and thick Cape Breton woods, making each ride to the top an aesthetic pleasure (and you can sometimes see moose, I did!) Ride Nova Scotia’s only gondola lift, rent all the gear you need for a reasonable price, and get ready to hit the slopes.
Cape Smokey, 38696 Cabot Trail, Ingonish Beach; Ph: 902-776-0231
4.2 Ski Martock
When you ask mainland Nova Scotians where they learned to ski, it’s usually either Martock or the next entry. For me it was Martock, so I’ve got more years of memories to draw on. Martock is the perfect place for family skiing/snowboarding, with trails ranging from the Bunny Hill to blues, and lessons available from beginners to experts. The instructors are great, night skiing is a thing, and once the lodge is open you can enjoy all the awesome food they have!
370 Ski Martock Road, Windsor Forks; Ph:902-798-9501
4.3 Ski Wentworth
While Wentworth wasn’t my childhood ski hill, I’ve gone a few times and I enjoy it just as much as Martock. It’s just as family oriented, including offering classes for all in both skiing and snowboarding, but it’s a bit taller and has more trail variety, including a couple black diamonds. If everyone in your group is comfortable with varied terrain and routes, and you don’t mind the extra half hour from Halifax, this is a great place for a snow day.
14595 Route #4, Wentworth Valley; Ph: 902-548-2089
5. Explore Provincial Parks
Nova Scotia is home to dozens of provincial parks—some big, some small, some on mountains, some by the sea, and everything in between. You can enjoy several of the activities in this article at the parks, and the biggest decision you’ll have to make is where to go first. 20 Parks to Explore During Winter in Nova Scotia
5.1 Black Duck Cove Provincial Park
The Black Ducks may have flown south for the winter, but you can still enjoy the park that bears their name. You can enjoy the shoreline trail as well as the beach, perfect whether it’s snowy or not. You can learn about local history and watch for birds (just not the ducks) and if you want, there are picnic tables for winter picnic time!
1409 Dover Road, Dover
5.2 Dalem Lake Provincial Park
Even if skating isn’t your thing, there’s something special about enjoying a day by a frozen lake. Dalem Lake Park is fairly small with a 2.2 km trail, perfect for a colder day when you need fresh air but you don’t want to be out for too long. Bring your binoculars and search for wildlife, and walk the beach beside the lake (note: do not walk on the lake unless you’ve received confirmation that it’s safe to skate on it). Dalem Lake is along the Bras d’Or Lakes Scenic Drive, so if you want to mix outdoor fun with a drive in a warm car, this is a great place to stop.
220 New Dominion Road, Boularderie
5.3 Cape Chignecto
The majesty of the Bay of Fundy can and should be enjoyed from several angles. Cape Chignecto provides several of those angles, some more difficult to reach than others. If you want to simply walk the trails to the look-offs and visit the beach to take pictures of the winter scenes, you can do so easily. However, if you’re looking for a more intense winter challenge, the whole trail is 52 km—however, save the full loop for the summer, as you can’t camp in the park in the winter and 52 km is just too many for one day.
1108 West Advocate Road, Advocate Harbour; Ph: 902-392-2085
5.4 Mira River Provincial Park
If you do the Mira River beach walk mentioned above, you’ll walk through part of Mira River Provincial Park. The park is beautiful to explore, and there’s an easy 1.2 km hike through it to see it fully. Like Ellenwood, walking here in the winter is a great chance to scope out the campsites. This park is bustling in camping season thanks to its many features, so find the place you like best and mark it on your map.
439 Brickyard Road, Albert Bridge, Cape Breton; Ph: 902-563-3373
6. Hot Tubs & Spas
Winter brings chills and aches, and as fun as the cold outdoors might be, it’s nice to switch it up a bit. Outdoor hot tubs are becoming more popular, and with the first Nordic spa opening in Nova Scotia, it’s possible that you’ll be able to warm up in the cold wherever you like.
6.1 Irwin Lake Chalets
Log chalets in the middle of the woods, close to the lake with several nearby winter activities like Sugar Moon Farm and Hamilton Sleigh Rides (see below), Irwin Lake Chalets is the perfect place for a winter getaway. And the best part? Why, four of the units have their own private outdoor hot tubs. After a long day in the snow, scare away the chill in your bones and relax into a winter’s night.
680 Loch Haven Lane, Old Barns; Ph: 902-895-2663 or 1-866-554-7946
6.2 Sensea Nordic Spa
The idea of this Nordic spa is simple: it’s all about temperature therapy. You move between saunas and hot baths to the waterfall or ice fountains (these are both outdoors and indoors). The shifts in temperature help rejuvenate and relax your body, and after the recommended three rounds (with relaxation in between each round), you’ll understand why extremes can bring such peace. They’ve also got massage treatment available, and there’s some strong hints that you’ll soon be able to sleep at the spa, spending day and night attending to your wellness.
40 Sensea Road, Chester; Ph: 1-902-800-9033
6.3 Smith Rock Chalets
Smith Rock Lodge & Chalets is settled on Fitzpatrick Mountain, which gives you a tremendous view of the surrounding area. There are activities both inside and out, including an outdoor hot tub for relaxing in. If you want to enjoy heat at the inside, you’ll find a sauna attached to the fitness centre. Like Irwin, Smith Rock is a great place for a winter getaway, and if you love the view from a winter mountain, you can chill out without getting chilled.
310 Fitzpatrick Mountain Road, Scotsburn; Ph: 902-485-4799
7. Farmer’s Market
Farmer’s markets are a joy no matter what time of year. Their winter aesthetics are generally unique and fun, focusing on selling items of comfort and warmth to all their visitors.
7.1 Antigonish Farmers’ Market
With St. Francis Xavier University in town and Cape Breton only a few minutes’ drive away, it’s no surprise that Antigonish has a special aesthetic, and that extends to their farmers’ market. There are over 60 vendors now, selling everything from Dairy to plants to health and home products. You can currently buy online, and January 2021 will bring a new year and a new year-round market for visitors and residents to enjoy.
30 James Street, Antigonish; Ph: 902-867-7479
7.2 Wolfville Farmers’ Market
Right in the heart of Annapolis Valley, Wolfville is another college town, with Acadia University bringing students from all over the world to enjoy the Valley’s delights. A mainly indoor market this year, this farmers’ market nevertheless brings in all the bounty of the outside with local produce, dairy, and baked goods. There’s also a new part, the Farm & Art Market Store, that will showcase local artisans’ products of all kinds.
24 Elm Avenue, Wolfville; Ph: 902-607-3344
7.3 Yarmouth Farmers’ Community Market
Right at the end of Nova Scotia, Yarmouth’s Market is a co-op of local producers connected across southwestern Nova Scotia. Come every Saturday to find local coffee, ciders, artisanal gluten-free bread, ethically raised meat, and so much more. I feel like my first stop is going to be at the booth for Bully Goth Farm, because they sell everything mushroom related and I need to experience this firsthand. Again, much of this has moved indoors this winter, but you can buy a hot drink of your choosing and examine your purchases outside as a group, and really, isn’t that the best part of farmers’ markets?
15 Hawthorne Street, Yarmouth; Ph: 833-442-1400
8. Frozen Waterfalls
Now I will be fair—there will be times in the winter where these waterfalls aren’t quite frozen, but as a general rule they will be. Seeing water frozen in motion is something special, and you’ll also get a chance to walk through the wintry woods.
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8.1 Baxter’s Harbour Falls
When this waterfall is frozen over, it looks like the one from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s tall, frozen in its cascade into the harbour—it looks very cool in the summer, too. What makes this an ideal winter outing is that you don’t actually have to walk very far to see it. The dirt road off Baxter Harbour Road takes you to the shore, where if it’s low tide you can walk a little closer to the falls, but if the tide’s in don’t worry—you’ll still have an excellent view. This harbor is connected to the Bay of Fundy, so if you’re heading for any of the other Bay of Fundy destinations in this article and it’s close to low tide, it’s worth a stop to do a quick walk out to see the full picture of these icy falls.
8.2 Mary Ann Falls
To reach Mary Ann Falls, you’ll need to take a short walk—about 0.8 kilometres, actually, close to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It’s a nice flat trail, easy to walk even in the dead of winter (and snowshoes will ease the way too!), and it leads out to some very nice falls pouring into the lake. The slope of the waterfall is gradual, meaning it can take a long period of cold to be fully frozen, but half-frozen water has its own kind of beauty—caught in the middle, ready to go one way or the other.
8.3 Phantom Falls
I am a little bit sad that this is not a set of haunted falls, but the beauty of the trail makes up for it. The trail follows the waterfall from nearly the top to the bottom, so you get to see it all the way down. It’s a 3.7 km trail, so best saved for a day when the weather’s not horrible and there aren’t massive drifts of ice and snow. You don’t want to distract yourself too much from this amazing waterfall, and trust me, there is nothing more distracting than trying to choose between stepping up to your knees into a snowdrift or penguin-shuffling over an ice patch.
8.5 Uisge Ban Falls
Story time: my brother learned Scottish Gaelic last year, while I’ve been learning Irish Gaelic on Duolingo. These languages are pretty different, but their words for water are close—it’s uisce in Irish Gaelic, and uisge in Scottish. This is a meandering way to explain that our language learning comes to a common point, much like the meandering path to reach the Uisge Ban falls. It’s a 4 kilometre trail through forest and into a valley that becomes a gorge where the waterfall starts to descend its 50 ft height. Suspended in frozen time, let’s hope this waterfall provides everyone with a chance to find some common ground and enjoy some of water’s most vertical beauty.
715 North Branch Road, Baddeck Forks, Cape Breton
9. Ground Hog Day
Will there be six more weeks of winter, or will spring coming early this year? Will Nova Scotia groundhogs agree or will they disagree on the coming of spring?
9.1 Shubenacadie Sam
Shubenacadie Sam is one of the most famous of Canadian groundhogs. It should be noted that Shubenacadie Sam is not a singular groundhog, rather there have been four groundhogs that have served as Shubenacadie Sam since the inception of the furry forecaster in 1987 at Shubenacadie Wildlife Park. People from across Nova Scotia head to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park to watch Sam come out of his hole and to check if he sees his shadow. Visit Shubenacadie Wildlife Park on February 2nd or watch online to know your spring forecast (In 2021, the event will be virtual). The Park usually opens from 7 am to 12 pm for Groundhog Day.
149 Creighton Road, Shubenacadie; Ph: 902-758-2040
9.2 Two Rivers Tunnel
Shubenacadie Sam isn’t the only groundhog in Nova Scotia with an opinion on the length of winter. Two Rivers Wildlife Park in Mira is home to TR Tunnel. TR Tunnel checks out the weather later than Sam, at around 11:22 am on Groundhog Day.
4581 Grand Mira North Road, Huntington
10. Ice Fishing
If you like to fish, would like to try fishing, or you’re just looking for an outdoor activity that doesn’t require too much effort (and I feel you), ice fishing is a fantastic thing to try out. This section lacks examples because the lakes available for ice fishing change every year, and may change day to day with temperature shifts. Check your municipality’s page to see ice fishing lakes in your area, and check back frequently as the winter goes on and you can enjoy license-free fishing on Heritage day weekend.
Ah, the classic winter activity that literally helped Holland win a war against Spain (I’m not even joking, it’s one of my favourite history stories). Simple and satisfying, grab a pair of skates and head for the nearest ice!
11.1 Lake Skating — Cape Breton
Cape Breton has literally dozens of lakes, so it’s no surprise that the tradition of lake skating remains popular today. Contact your local municipality or skating group to find out which lakes have thick enough ice for skating, and if there’s any doubt at all, don’t go out there. Take that day to explore one of the several indoor skating rinks across the Island.
11.2 Lake Skating — HRM
The HRM covers several communities on mainland Nova Scotia, so naturally the lakes contained within are monitored by the municipality. Since the lakes haven’t frozen yet, there are no current updates, but the link will take you to ice thickness results as soon as things get colder. They cover several lakes and provide helpful comments and advice about the over 70 lakes in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
11.3 The Oval
You don’t have to go to a lake to skate outside thanks to the Emera Oval in Halifax. Created for the Canada Games and sustained by an enthusiastic municipality, the Oval draws skaters of all ages and experiences. You can borrow gear as long as you have some card to exchange with your name on it, so all you need are well padded clothes and gloves, because it gets cold! Also, there is a Beavertails parked right beside it, perfect for cranky, tired, and cold people of all ages…or just people with a sweet tooth.
12. Sleigh Rides
Why should Santa get to have all the fun? Sleigh rides are a great way to enjoy the snow, and if there’s not enough snow, most places with sleighs also have wagons for winter rides.
12.1 Hamilton Sleigh & Wagon Rides
With thirty years of sleigh and wagon rides under their belts (or is it reins?), Hamilton Sleigh & Wagon Rides is ready to take you on the ride of a lifetime. Whatever the weather, you can head down to Truro for an adventure. The pandemic means that your group will be the only one on the sleigh, so get your bubble together and get ready to meet some horsies!
12.2 Hatfield Farm
Hatfield Farm has plenty to offer all year round, from weddings to petting zoos, but they’re well known for their sleigh/wagon rides. Depending on the amount of snow, you’ll climb aboard one of their vehicles and enjoy a snowy afternoon. The ride also includes food, ice cream, and mini golf (weather depending), and after your two-hour ride you’re free to explore the rest of the farm.
1840 Hammonds Plains Road, Hammond Plains; Ph: 902-835-5676 or 1-877-835-5676
12.3 Ross Farm Museum
One of the most interactive museums I’ve ever been to, Ross Farm Museum has preserved a 19th century farm in working order, from heritage animals and crops, 19th century farming techniques, and even actors in period costume. While you’re there, you can enjoy a wagon ride around the farm and learn about the crops, the animals, and how they’ve managed to preserve this heritage farm into the 21st century.
Note: Ross Farm Museum is currently closed due to provincial guidelines, but it’s expected to reopen once the province gives the word, likely by the end of January.
4568 Highway #12, New Ross; Ph: 902-689-2210 or 1-877-689-2210
12.4 Shelby Ranch
Ride a pony or mechanical bull, explore the countryside by horse-drawn wagon, and visit the petting farm at Shelby Ranch. They also offer winter trail rides. You can opt for 1-hour wagon or sleigh ride during winter and hot chocolate is included the cost.
Shelby Ranch, 753 Durham Road, Scotsburn; Ph: 902-957-7433
A quintessential Canadian invention, the snowmobile is the answer to accessing remote areas, travelling in harsh conditions…and going really, really fast. There are several trails stretching the length and breadth of Nova Scotia, and the link will guide you to your local “chapter” of the Snowmobilers Association of Nova Scotia. From the Antigonish Sno-Dogs to the Sutherlands Lake Trail Groomers, these groups will help you start, continue, and enjoy your snowmobiling journey.
On the other hand, if you want to explore the frozen world at a more leisurely pace, snowshoeing is a great option. All you need is a pair of snowshoes, and the world becomes your snowy oyster.
14.1 Celtic Shores
The Celtic Shores Coastal Trail stretches the length of the west coast of Cape Breton, roughly 92km in length. Now that might be a bit much for one day of snowshoeing, but it’s easy to get on and off the trail wherever you might be staying in Inverness County. Quite a bit of the trail is flat, having once been railroad tracks, so these parts are a good place to get your feet…well, not wet, right? Snowshoes keep your feet dry. You can learn to snowshoe, is what I’m saying. There are plenty of interesting places to stop along the way, with everything from fishing harbours to museums to restaurants, and even live Celtic music!
14.2 Mount Uniacke Trail
Mount Uniacke Museum Park is a great place to learn about Richard John Uniacke, one of the first Attorney Generals of Nova Scotia, but there’s a special magic to the grounds of the estate. With nine different trails, you’re free to snowshoe around to your heart’s content, exploring the remnants of fields, grazing areas, and walls. There’s actually a haha wall (which is a barrier that looks natural, usually made out of rocks and dirt mounds) that is one of two still standing in Canada. See if you can find it, and then try to imagine what the estate looked like when it was in full use.
758 #1 Highway Mt. Uniacke; Ph: 902-866-2660
14.3 Petersfield Provincial Park
A charming little picnic park near Sydney Harbour, Petersfield Provincial Park provides a perfect place for…snowshoeing, guess I couldn’t keep the alliteration going forever. This park has remains dating back from the late 18th century, and you’re sure to see most of them on your snowshoeing adventure. This will be a great place to build up snowshoeing stamina, as there are 7km of trails in the network, and each one gives you a great chance to be in nature, see some of the past, and has a great view of the Harbour.
1126 Westmount Road, Westmount
14.4 Shubie Park Trail
In the heart of Dartmouth, you will find a quiet park that connects to the rest of the province, and eventually to the rest of the country. There’s no need to go that far though, because Shubie Park has all you could desire. There are easy trails all through the park, perfect for learning how to snowshoe on easy terrain, not far from your choice of coffee shops, restaurants, and other places to warm up and compare notes on your snowshoe trail.
54 Locks Road, Dartmouth; Ph: 902-462-1826
There is something powerful in looking up at a cold winter sky. Whether you’re surrounded by snow or by sleeping vegetation, you can see the winter constellations light up the sky, sometimes complemented by the moon. With a warm coat and something to drink, you can spend hours gazing at the stars, reminding yourself that while constellations will change with the turning of the Earth, the beauty of the night sky is eternal.
15.1 Cape Smokey Provincial Park
As shown above, Cape Smokey has a ski hill section. However, the whole hill is enclosed by the Cape Smokey Provincial Park, which is part of the Cape Breton Highlands…you could sing the “tree in the bog” song about this. Anyways, because you can get to the top of the hill without skiing, it’s the perfect place to go stargazing. And if you don’t love heights (which is fair), head into the park and gaze at the stars framed by the trees, or stand on the beach for seaside stargazing.
40301 Cabot Trail, Cape Smokey, Cape Breton
15.2 Kejimkujik National Park
Kejimkujik (affectionately known as Keji) is known for many things, but its Dark Sky Preserve ensures that it’s beautiful both by day and night. You can see a staggering number of celestial bodies on clear nights, and out in the wilderness with nothing but the starlight to light your way, you can really sink into the majesty of the winter night.
15.3 Fisherman’s Cove
Sometimes you don’t want to go out into the middle of nowhere to look at the stars—this is totally fair. Fisherman’s Village in Eastern Passage is a heritage village with plenty of lovely shops and history sites, and it’s especially quiet in the winter. Take the afternoon to do some shopping and have some old-time candy, and then watch the sunset melt into the dark winter sky with stars scattered as far as you can see.
4 Government Wharf Road, Eastern Passage; Ph: 902-465-6093
16. Sugar Maple Farms
Look, I’m Canadian, alright? There’s going to be maple syrup on this list somehow. Visiting one of these farms allows you to see maple syrup’s earliest roots (nope, not apologizing for puns), and enjoy a process only possible in the turning of winter to spring.
16.1 Highland Gold Maple
Just outside of Boisdale (which is close to Sydney too), this one of Cape Breton’s newer maple syrup farms. Fifteen years in, Highland Gold Maple has around 8 thousand trees (you get an award from me if you count all of them), and their syrup can be found in local products from tea to pancake mix. Come and get a taste of the local trees, and enjoy an afternoon in the woods.
16.2 Maple Mist Farm
Deep in Colchester County, you’ll find another “teenaged” maple syrup farm, Maple Mist Farm. You can visit their sugar camp (which just sounds delightful) all through maple-processing season and explore the woods. If you call ahead, you can also visit the farm before you decide which of their lovely maple products you want to bring home—just don’t bring all of them, or you’ll be eating pancakes for the rest of your life.
1927 Kemptown Road, Colchester County; Ph: 902-657-3711
16.3 Sugar Moon Farm
A popular field trip destination (I think I went twice with my class), Sugar Moon Farm is a gorgeous place to learn all about maple syrup production…and then enjoy it on some fantastic meals at their restaurant. Their tours explain the whole process with demonstrations (as applicable in the season), and they have everything from pure maple syrup to carvings done by the resident carver to bring home with you. And if you want to walk through the sugar woods, there are 30 km of trails on the property.
221 Alex MacDonald Road, Earltown; Ph: 1-902-657-3348 or 1-866-816-2753
17. Visit Wintry Memorials
With Nova Scotia’s long and complicated history, it’s no surprise that there are memorials scattered across the province. Check out memorials related to the winter season—some are sad, some are happy, all are a reminder of a past that we can build our future on, if we can only learn from it.
17.1 Halifax Explosion Park
The Halifax Explosion happened on December 6th, 1917, and remains one of the worst disasters in Canadian history. It was a time of terrible suffering, but also tremendous human generosity and kindness, as people rushed to help the survivors (shout out to Boston, I hope you liked your tree this year!). Fort Needham Memorial Park was built to remember the devastation and celebrate the rebuilding that created the vibrant city we know and love today. You can play at the park, see the city and harbour at one of the best viewpoints in the city, and pay your respects at the Memorial Bell Tower.
3340 Union Street, Halifax
17.2 Titanic Graveyard
After the Titanic sank, both victims and survivors were brought to Halifax. While the survivors were treated and comforted, several of the victims were buried in Halifax graveyards. Visit the Fairview Lawn, Mount Olivet, and Baron de Hirsch, where panels will inform you where you can pay your respects.
Alright, the last two were pretty grim, so if you want some cheerful winter history, head to Windsor, the birthplace of hockey. The lakes of Windsor saw the modern day game evolve from the game called hurley-on-ice. Visit the Birthplace of Hockey Museum in the Haliburton House (only on the outside for now) and tour around to see the various points around the town related to the story of hockey.
18. Wildlife Walks
So maybe birds aren’t your favourite thing. Understandable! If you like watching wildlife in general—mammals, reptiles, and yes, some birds—these places are as sure a thing as anything to see some fellow creatures enjoying (and enduring) the winter.
18.1 Duncan’s Cove Hiking Trail
Duncan’s Cove is different from the others on this list, because it’s not an organized wildlife park. Instead, it’s a protected nature reserve, with an 8km trail running through it. Since it runs beside the water you’re treated to incredible views of the ocean, and you’ll find wildlife of all kinds along the way. It’s a linear trail, and the ending is quite challenging in the summer, so it’s better to make this a shorter trip. Think of it like visiting a sleeping land, and if you’re charmed, make plans to return in the spring and summer, when it springs back to life.
18.2 Hope for Wildlife
When wild animals are in trouble, they will often end up at Hope for Wildlife. Focused on rehabilitation and education, Hope for Wildlife is a non-profit dedicated to protecting the animals of Nova Scotia, and they’re open for people to come and learn about the animals under their care*. The volunteers are passionate and knowledgeable, and you get a look at one of the better human-animal interaction places in all of Nova Scotia, where the wild is restored one creature at a time.
*Hope for Wildlife is currently closed for visitors, but like Ross Farm this is due to provincial guidelines, and will likely be lifted before the end of the winter.
Address: 5909 Highway 207, Seaforth; Ph: 902-407-9453
18.3 Two Rivers Wildlife Park
Open year round, the Two Rivers Wildlife Park is Cape Breton’s largest wildlife park, with more than 50 different species housed there. You can learn about the animals and even meet some up close at the petting zoo! Once you’ve said hello to all the animals, you can explore the hiking and cross-country skiing trails, take a wagon or sleigh ride (snow dependent), and have a grand day outdoors. If you love the park, plan to come back in the summer or fall, when you can camp right in the park, waking up with the animals every morning.
4581 Grand Mira North Road, Huntington, Cape Breton; Ph: 902-727-2483
18.4 Shubenacadie Wildlife Park
I didn’t know you could visit Shubenacadie Wildlife in the winter until recently—this is fantastic news. Shubenacadie Wildlife Park shows off several dozen indigenous Nova Scotian species of birds and beasts…and some peacocks, because why not? While some of the animals might not be as active in the winter months, there will be plenty to see and learn—besides, the park is lovely. And if you want to get in some extra exercise, you can always bring your snowshoes, as there are two trails through the woods next to the park.
149 Creighton Road, Shubenacadie; Ph: 902-758-2040
19. Winter Camping
If you want some hardcore winter living, winter camping is a great place to start. From yurts to cabins to even more wild options, take a weekend, a week, or even longer to enjoy an outdoor adventure for the books.
19.1 CJA Yurts
Right in the heart of Acadian country, the CJA or Petit Bois Yurts are ready to give you the best of forest and sea in the middle of the winter. With a wood stove to keep you warm, you only need to bring a pillow, sleeping bag, flashlight and any gear you want for enjoying the area. There are dozens of trails close by, you can have a lovely winter beach walk, and go to the Church Point Lighthouse near the yurts where you can look out at the ocean. The yurts are securely locked, there are bathrooms and showers available, and they’ve got plugs so you can stay connected if you want, or you can go off the grid entirely.
23 Lighthouse Road, Université Sainte-Anne, Church Point; Ph: 902-769-2345
19.2 Iron Mountain Cabins
If you want a full-on remote, off-the-grid cabin experience that still provides a luxurious experience in the backcountry, Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins is the place for you. Set in the Cape Breton Highlands just 5km off the TransCanada Highway, these cabins are heated, insulated, and sleep up to four people. Cook on your private grill and roast marshmallows on the fire pit, visit the lodge for their 100% off the grid restaurant and pub, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the backcountry. And there’s so much else—there are hunting opportunities (with a license of course), places to go sledding, snowmobiling, hiking, snowshoeing, and a multitude of other activities.
901 Whycocomagh Mountain Road, Whycocomagh, Cape Breton
19.3 Norse Cove Seaside Camping
Want to go winter camping, but not sure what style? Not a problem—at Norse Cove Seaside Camping, they’ve got everything from tent sites to huts to RV sites so you can bring your home away from home. Located in beautiful Norse Cove, this camping site is ready to welcome you all year round, with all of the Eastern Shore at your doorstep. Or tent flap, I guess? If you enjoy yourself, make plans to come back in the summer too, when the activities might change but the spirit of adventure and fun at the camp stays the same.
51 Dewolfes Road, Tangier; ph: 902-430-4559
20. Winter Hiking
Hiking (or walking) in the winter is just as rewarding as any other season, with some additional benefits—you’re not likely to sweat, and there will be no bugs! Make sure you bring supplies (and extra gloves just in case), and set out to enjoy hiking in the winter.
20.1 Lighthouse Trails
Nova Scotia is a peninsula only by a few miles—it’s much closer to being an island. With coastlines known for being rugged and dangerous, lighthouses became a necessity. Lots of lighthouses. There are over 170 lighthouses around Nova Scotia, so you never have to go far. Hike to the snow-laden landscapes that surround lighthouses to enjoy some of the best scenery winter offers.
20.2 Bluff Wilderness Trail
This trail might come first alphabetically, but I would advise against this being your first try at winter hiking. The Bluff Wilderness Trail is comprised of four looping trails, each with its own unique beauty and challenges, but the winter adds another degree of difficulty. Some suggest bringing snowshoes to ease the way after a storm, and it is a rewarding experience to complete a loop (or more) under a winter sky. Take all proper precautions, bring supplies, and know your limits—physical, mental, and daylight.
20.3 Gypsum Mine Trail
If you want to walk out into a magic hollow created by human industry…welcome to the Gypsum Mine Trail. It’s fairly short, about 2.6 km in, and you’ll get to experience all the natural beauty that a gypsum quarry left behind. The views are incredible, the snow settling is beautiful, and the frozen lake is awesome—just don’t walk on it because it has springs that stay flowing even in the coldest of winters. There’s an active Facebook group sharing pictures and experiences all year round, so that’s a great place to join if you loved your time at the Gypsum Mine.
20.4 Point Pleasant Park
Point Pleasant Park provides a similar ease of access in the city as Shubie Park in Dartmouth, but its topography is very different. Parts of the park are long, flat trails; other parts are steep hills that will help you warm up on the coldest of days. Some parts give you a chance to walk beside the sea; others are in the forest, surrounded by trees both old and new. It’s the best kind of choose your own adventure park, with one caveat—you have to promise me that you will at least try to find the gazebo.
20.5 Skyline Trail
If you love great views but skiing/snowboarding isn’t your thing, I have the perfect place for you to hike in the Cape Breton Highlands. The Skyline Trail provides a reasonable set of stairs nearly up to the clouds, with a trail along the ridge of the hills that gives you a great view along with great exercise. It can be tricky in the winter as there isn’t maintenance, but all the more reason to bring your snowshoes to the top of the world.
By: Adrienne Colborne