Nova Scotia is a peninsula, not an island, but it has plenty of orbiting islands to explore. Some islands are huge, like Cape Breton Island, but the majority are smaller and can be found all along the coast. From hauntings to endangered species to the quiet of the wilderness, Nova Scotia’s islands hold hundreds of adventures and activities. As you visit these islands, make sure that you take care; we all have to work together to ensure that these special pieces of land are preserved for generations to come.
100 Wild Islands
The 100 Wild Islands are an interesting archipelago, because it remains one of the largest undisturbed island groups in North America. Over 10,000 years old, they’re only occasionally visited by humans, generally by kayak or canoe. As such, the ecosystems have been preserved, and you can see coastal rainforests, bogs, island beaches, and over 100 species of birds that make their home on the islands. The 100 Wild Islands are currently 85% fully protected, and they plan to be fully protected in the next couple of years. You can still visit by water, and even walk on some of them, and it’s a great chance to see the value of preserving this truly ancient wilderness.
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Blue Rocks is a beautiful little village only 6 minutes away from Lunenburg, and while it itself isn’t the island, they have a special island in their harbour. Come and see this still working fishing village, and stay to gaze at the blue rocks along the shore. They’re a frequent inspiration for photographers and painters, so they might seem familiar. The main attraction, of course, is the tiny island in the harbour where a fish shack sits, and its location makes it the most photographed building in Lunenburg, and certainly in the top 20 in all of Nova Scotia!
As the site puts it, Boularderie Island is certainly “an island within an island”, as it sits in Bras d’Or Lake, Cape Breton. It’s a 40-kilometre island, which gives you plenty to explore as well as places to stay and activities to do. There are farms to visit, boating on the lake, tours to Bird Island, restaurants to try, and wildlife to try and spot, from both land and swimming or paddling along the coastline. If you want to be immersed in the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere, Boularderie Island is the perfect place to settle in.
Cape Sable Island
Cape Sable Island is the southernmost part of the province, and accordingly has several unique points of interest. They’ve got the tallest lighthouse in all of Canada, 101 feet of tower that continues to help ships navigate the challenging coastline to this day. They also have a drowned forest—1,500-year-old petrified trees that are visible at low tide. Finally, this is the birthplace of a style of boat called the Cape Island, which is a design for small boats perfectly suited to the North Atlantic ocean. Cape Sable isn’t a large island, so it’s perfect for an afternoon outing to see southern life.
This island is fascinating because for a long time it’s been mostly an island for looking at in the Halifax Harbour—it was rare for people to go there without their own boat. However, last summer a ferry was started, and it will continue in 2021 and beyond! One of the five sites of the Halifax Defence Complex, this island has a long military history and is still fortified as such. With a guide in your hand you can walk the island and see all of the sites of interest in about 2 hours, perfect for a busier day. Book your tickets early; everyone’s excited to finally get to see the island’s many features up close!
Islands Provincial Park
The Islands Provincial Park sits just across from Shelburne on the South Shore, so it offers you a chance to camp while still being close to the rest of society. The campgrounds come with a boat launch, firewood and ice, a program area, and so much more for the guests staying at their 59 campsites. The island itself has facilities for launching canoes and kayaks in the harbour, fishing (with a fishing license of course), and a picnic area that gives you a beautiful view of Shelburne, which offers plenty of activities of its own.
183 Islands Park Road, Highway 3, Reid’s Hill; 902-875-4304
This island in the Bay of Fundy might take a few attempts to reach. Only accessible by boat during low tide, timing is everything. If you miss a chance, you can always observe the island from a distance. Nineteen kilometres away from shore, Isle Haute was named for its towering cliffs, which are often shrouded in fog. Once you make it to the island, there are plenty of rewards for reaching this isolated space, including possibly finding a buried pirate treasure! Keep your eyes on the tide, and don’t give up if you can’t get all the way there this summer. Isle Haute is happy to wait for you until next summer…
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An island off an island (Cape Breton to be exact), Isle Madame was settled by the French in the early 1700s. Some Acadian families were able to escape the deportation by remaining on the island, and eventually, some families who were deported to Massachusetts returned to Isle Madame in the 1760s. Despite only having 4,300 residents, Isle Madame has several communities, each with its own identity, and several with their own lighthouses.
Nobody lives on Kidston Island, but that doesn’t mean that no one enjoys it! Kidston Island is owned by the village of Baddeck, and the local Lions Club runs a ferry there so people can enjoy the beach and the walk around the island. You can also paddle over there if you’ve got your own boat, and enjoy the views of Beinn Bhreagh (Alexander Graham Bell’s summer home), the Washabuck Peninsula, and watch for bald eagles soaring overhead. Personally, I’d just take the ferry—it takes you right to the beach, and you can make new friends on the (short) trip over.
The LaHave Islands are a highlight of the South Shore, on both land and sea. A famous bakery, a crafting co-op, two museums and lovely beaches are perfect for landlubbers, and the only time you need to spend on the water is one of the few remaining cable ferries in Nova Scotia, which takes you from the LaHave River to the islands. And if you want to explore by sea, Cape LaHave adventures has tours for kayak, SUP, and canoe, ranging from quick ½ day lessons to multi-day trips around the area. My suggestion is to do the best of both worlds—it’s very much the island spirit to enjoy both the land and the waters surrounding it.
If you’re having trouble getting to Isle Haute but you still want to check out a Bay of Fundy Island, Long Island is your best bet. Despite only being 15 km long, there’s plenty of things to see and do, regardless of the ever-changing tides. You can visit the Balancing Rock, hike to the two small lakes on the island, explore the coves by kayak, and get some very fresh seafood. The views of the Bay are incredible, and if you’re lucky you might spot some whales from the shore before you even get out on a whale watching tour (which you should absolutely do, whale watching in the Bay of Fundy is special).
McNabs is the larger of the Halifax Harbour Islands, and has so much to offer you can even camp there so you don’t miss a thing! There are remnants of old forts and picnic sites (with a huge string of other buildings, see the website for more) all over the place, which makes it a great stop for history buffs. It’s also home to several birdwatching sites, where you can find birds rarely found elsewhere in Nova Scotia. All you have to do is catch a water taxi, and you’re free to wander the island.
Halifax Harbour; 902-434-2254
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Melville and Deadman’s Island
You’ll find this pair of islands in the Northwest Arm, and they’re an easy paddle from the nearby boat rentals. As you can probably guess from the name, these islands have a gruesome past. They were once home to military prisons, established during the French Revolution and went up to the War of 1812. With almost 400 people buried on the island, it’s no surprise that there are reports of ghostly activity. If you’re feeling brave, take an early morning or sunset trip…that’s when ghosts go to bed and wake up, after all.
Most islands require either driving or boating to reach, but you can just walk to Micou’s Island at low tide, thanks to a very handy sand bar. There’s lots of walking to do on the island too, from the beach to the wetlands to the forest trails. While you walk, make sure to check out the restored fisher cottage, whose materials were brought to the island in the late 1800s. When you’ve had your fill of the island, simply walk back over the sand bar; there’s a five-hour window when it’s accessible, so make sure to keep an eye on the time!
After Cape Breton, Oak Island may very well be the most famous of Nova Scotia’s islands. This, of course, is thanks to the legend of buried treasure, which people have been attempting to find since the early 1800s. Whatever may or may not be there, the story of the hunt has become an adventure all of its own. The tour of Oak Island will guide you through the theories, the hunters, the science, and the natural history of this special place. I wonder if the pirates that buried the treasure(?) ever dreamed people would still be looking for it centuries later…
Whitehall Road, Parrsboro
Pictou Island lets you enjoy all that the Northumberland Strait has to offer. There are six separate beaches, and some are highlighted for sea glass and driftwoods finds, which is always a plus (it may be too cold to swim, but it’s never too cold to find pretty things)! There are also a few historical sights of note, including the Southern Lighthouse, Sutherland Memorial Church, and even a haunted carriage hearse, tucked away in a haunted carriage hearse house. You can stay on the island in charming accommodations of all kinds, so you only have to leave the island when you’re ready to go home.
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Sable Island is quite different than Cape Sable Island—for one, it’s far enough offshore that you’ll need either a plane charter or a seaworthy boat! Uninhabited by humans, there are horses and seals roaming free along the shores. Walking the island allows you to see the beaches, the wildlife, the birds that come to visit, and so much more. Sable Island is remote and requires a lot of planning to reach, but when you get to see wild horses roaming freely on a beach with seals in the distance and birds overhead…it’s well worth the effort.
Sambro Island is beautiful for many reasons, but there’s something special on it, even though this type of building is quite common in Nova Scotia. The striped lighthouse of Sambro may seem similar to many of its siblings, but this is no baby lighthouse. The Sambro light was built in 1758, and remains the oldest standing lighthouse in Nova Scotia—it’s never burned down and been rebuilt, unlike just about every other one. Its granite tower has been lovingly maintained for over 250 years, and the historic events it has observed just off of Halifax range from seeing off soldiers who would never return to welcoming immigrants coming to start a new life. If all you do at Sambro is come and look at the lighthouse, it will be well worth the trip.
This large, wild protected island sits on the north east of Cape Breton, and is the perfect place to enjoy the savage beauty of Nova Scotia. The hikes along the coast are challenging, but you’ll also find some easier trails inland and some picnic areas. If you want to explore by water, sea kayaking is highly recommended along the coast, although it’s certainly not for beginners. Bring your best skills and get ready for a truly wild adventure!
While Scaterie is at the northeastern tip of the province, Seal Island is at the southwestern tip. Sitting happily in the Bay of Fundy, Seal Island is home to some seals (of course), but it’s actually best known for its avian population. There are 330 species of birds who appear regularly at Seal Island—some for breeding, some for migration stops, and some even stay there for the winter. It’s the last patch of land before the long journey south, or the first patch of land after the long journey north depending on how you look at it. If you’ve got a Nova Scotian Bird Bingo card, this is the place to fill it out!
Sherose Island is a tiny island, so it makes sense that its nature trail is tiny too, at a 1 km loop. This makes it a perfect stop for families with little ones, or for just a quick outing when it looks like rain. The nature trail lets you see local flora and fauna, as well as some local art—there are decorated rocks all along the trail. You’re never too young (or old) to start learning about nature, and Sherose Island Nature trail is designed to be the perfect place to start!
St. Paul Island
St. Paul Island is interesting because you might very well be there only to jump off it into the water. There are plenty of fascinating places to explore on land of course—the coves, the lighthouses, and the radar and radio sites that linked this island to the rest of the world. However, many people come to this island for scuba diving expeditions. There are dozens of shipwrecks off this island’s coasts, and with a good guide and a thick wetsuit, you can see them with your own eyes.
Tancook Island is just off the coast of Chester, and a ferry ride will take you to this beautiful island. There are shells and sea glass to be fond on the beach, a museum about the island’s history, and an artists’ co-operative that represents several art forms. If you get seasick, don’t fret—just grab some ginger Gravol and you’ll be good to go!
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Sometimes it’s not the destination—it’s the journey. And for the Tusket Islands, it’s the boat Tour that takes you there that makes it special. On the way to Big Tusket island you’ll learn about lobster fishing and get to haul a trap, then when you reach the island you get to have a bowl of fresh homemade seafood chowder. On the way back there’s live entertainment, or you can actually stay on the island in the beautiful island shanty!
By: Adrienne Colborne