The waters of Nova Scotia are not all saline, and there are plenty of places to swim that don’t involve the open ocean. Nova Scotia is home to several dozen lakes, each with its own aesthetic and activities. Some are good for fishing, some for swimming, and some for boating—there are even a few that allow for all those and more! You’re never more than 50 km from the ocean in Nova Scotia, but with all of these lakes, I doubt you’re ever more than 20 km from the water in general.
Bras D’Or Lake
Starting off the list is the Bras D’Or Lake Biosphere, which is actually brackish water (a blend of sea and salt); it’s the perfect place to start if you’re used to ocean swimming. It’s enormous, so the activities you can do depend on what part of the lake you decide to jump into. You can swim, boat, go rock hunting, and birdwatching along the coast. There are also guided expeditions of all kinds on and around the lake so you can learn more about the area from local experts. Stay in one of the surrounding communities like Dundee or Baddeck, and get ready for some days at the lake.
Cape Breton Island
While this lake is not actually made out of chocolate, it’s still quite a treat on a hot day! It’s a short drive from the Halifax peninsula, or you can take the bus to just across the street (just make sure your beach bag doesn’t leak with wet towels inside). The lake water is generally warmer than the ocean beaches nearby, so you can start to enjoy it a little earlier in the summer. There are lifeguards in the swimming season, lots of beach space for tanning or sandcastle building, and plenty of water for everyone to enjoy.
Herring Cove Road, Spryfield
If you’ve had your fill of Bras D’Or Lake, Dalem Lake Provincial Parkis fairly close and offers a whole new lake experience. This lake is smaller, but there’s still a boat launch (non-motorized only) and a white sand beach, so you can enjoy the water on warm days. On cooler days (and let’s face it, Nova Scotia’s got a few of those in the summer months), you can still have a fun day trip here! With picnic tables, a 2.2 km hiking trail, and sport fishing opportunities (fishing license required of course), it’s easy to have a pleasant lakeside day here, whether you decide to get wet or not!
220 New Dominion Road, Boularderie, Cape Breton
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The first but certainly not the last of the camping lake parks on this list, an excursion to Dollar Lake is worth every penny! You can launch non-motorized and motorized boats here, which opens up your surface-level activities to water-skiing and tubing (it’s a large lake, so there’s room for everyone). You can swim and fish as well—maybe even catch your dinner since the campsites offer fire grills. The campsites are unserviced, but they also have amenities like flush toilets and showers so you can still keep a piece of civilization in the wild.
5265 Old Guysborough Road, Wyse’s Corner; 902-384-2770
Deerfield is home to Ellenwood Lake, and you might want to make it your home away from home this summer! The fishing is great here, and so are the swimming and paddling opportunities. There’s a mix of serviced and unserviced campsites, and plenty of things to do on land as well, like activities at the multi-purpose building, a playground for the little ones, and a beautiful hiking trail that’s perfect for birdwatching. If you want to sleep by the lake after you’ve jumped in it, this is the place for you.
1888 Mood Road, Deerfield; 902-761-2400
Gypsum Mine Lake
The interesting thing about the Gypsum Mine Lakeis that it was never supposed to be a lake. Long ago it was the quarry for the Gypsum mine, but when the mine went out of business the quarry was filled with water. The trail out to the lake is quite long, about 5 km one way, but the trail is gorgeous and lovingly maintained by local volunteers. One important thing to keep in mind is that the lake is very deep, so it’s better for strong and confident swimmers.
Cabot Trail, Chéticamp
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Hazel Hill Lake
Hazel Hill Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Guysborough County when it comes to fishing and paddling. You can bait-catch or fly-fish, and you can either canoe or kayak the route suggested below. Hazel Hill Lake is isolated and quiet, which makes it a great place for birdwatching through the season. It’s also got some historical significance you can see as you travel the shore—it was home to the Trans Atlantic Cable Building, which connected Canada to the rest of the world and played a huge role in recovering the victims of the Titanic and in the naval efforts of World War One. As you enjoy the peaceful lake of today, it doesn’t hurt to think back and remember a time when this community was home to a buzz of communications from all around the world.
The Hebron Lakes is between four and five lakes in the Yarmouth area (depending on who you ask). And if it’s too cool for swimming and you’ve got a bike, taking the Hebron Lakes cycling route is a great way to enjoy the lakes from the shore! The total distance is about 12.7 km, and takes you right down Lakeside road, which is….by the side of the lake, no surprise there. Like I said before, sometimes there’s a cold day in your vacation but you still want to enjoy the lake, so this is a great way to do so!
Kearney Lake is just outside of Halifax, and it’s a popular swimming destination in the summer. There are lifeguards on duty throughout the summer, and a playground where kids can play when they’re bored of swimming. You can also watch the local rowing and sailing club practice, and take swimming lessons from them. There are also trails off the lake, including the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Wilderness Area. Pack a GPS unit in your beach bag, and you’re good to go!
Saskatoon Drive, Halifax
This lake has a history reaching back long before the Shubenacadie Canal was built. The Mi’kmaq people used it as the beginning of a marine pathway through the province, and that pathway eventually became the Shubenacadie Canal. It’s still a beautiful place for paddling and rowing, and several local rowing clubs make their home here. You can bring your own boat, or go swimming and watch from a duck’s point of view.
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With the Bay of Fundy thundering close by, Lake Georgeprovides a more peaceful alternative. This lake has everything you could want for a day at the lake: changing houses so you don’t have to wear a wet sandy bathing suit home, a sandy beach fit for making a sandcastle city, and a picnic area for a less-sandy lunch. With a boat launch to complete the picture, you can enjoy this Annapolis Valley lake while knowing that the world’s most powerful tides are yanking water back and forth only a 30-minute drive away.
125 North River Road, Lake George
Another Annapolis Valley gem, Lake Midway is even closer to the Bay than Lake George, and still provides a relaxing getaway if you’re getting tired of the ocean life. Lake Midwayis best known for its trout fishing, which is supposedly fantastic during the season (again, get yourself a fishing license before you go trouting). If you’re not into fishing, you can also go for a swim or a paddle, which makes it a good destination for families that have differing interests…so families, I suppose. Hey, that’s what makes families fun!
7600 Highway 217, Lake Midways
You’ll find Lake Milo right in the heart of Yarmouth, which means it’ll be quick to get there and back again: helpful when you’ve got little ones who have important nap times. This lake has more structures than others on this list—it’s got a well-built dock and plenty of places for jumping in, a boathouse that has bathrooms and change rooms, and a few tables for picnics. Lake Milo is supervised, has warm water, and the series of docks allows you to swim at your choice of depth, making this a perfect place for a quick dip with the kids in the afternoon.
700 Main Street, Yarmouth
Lochaber Community is home to Lochaber Lake, and if you want to visit the community you should bring a swimsuit. The water is shallow by the shore, which is perfect for younger swimmers, and the boating area is roped off, so you can swim without worry. Bring a fishing pole and your canoe or kayak, and you’ll be ready for everything the lake has to offer!
Lochiel Lake is part of a picnic park, which is one of my favourite kinds of parks. The park is set up for picnics even on a rainy day, with some of the tables under cover and all of them under trees, so you’ll get shade on the hot days. The park overlooks the lake, which has a boat launch for kayaks and canoes, and a small beach for swimming. Right off the highway, it’s a great place for either a planned outing or a much-needed break when tempers start to fray on a long drive.
13575 Highway 7, Lochiel Lake
Long Lake Provincial Park is a patch of wilderness only minutes away from downtown Halifax. Long Lake offers swimming and boating opportunities on a lovely beach. In fact, you can even rent kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards. And if you want to dry off, there’s plenty of other things to do at the park on the trails.
Mary Ann Falls
This particular lake is more about the water falls than anything else (hence the name). You can go for a swim, but the water can get cold. I’ve been here a couple of times, and the walk outto the falls is the perfect thing to do on any day of the year. Rain or shine, cold or hot, you can enjoy the local flora and fauna and listen to the soothing sounds of the waterfall running into the lake.
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Molega Lake Park
Molega Lakeis a Lunenburg attraction you don’t want to miss. Quiet and peaceful, you’ll see a few homes dotted around the lake. There are picnic tables and benches to sit on and self-actualize, or to watch the swimming members of your group if you don’t feel like jumping in. Sometimes you just need peace and quiet, and while that can be hard to find at a Nova Scotia beach, it’s easy to find at a Nova Scotian lake, especially this one.
564 Molega Lake Road, Lunenburg; 902-541-1343
Mickey Hill is a provincial park that features a lake, a river, and…a suspension bridge? Yes, this park is a bit rougher around the edges of the lake than most of this list, and the design fits this pattern accordingly. You’ll find a lakeside beach and a riverside picnic area, but in between the trails go up steep staircases, boardwalks over the roughest parts, and a suspension bridge for fun. If you’re looking for a beginner’s adventure, Mickey Hill is the place to go.
7956 Highway 8, Graywood
Porter’s Lake is just outside of Dartmouth, and it might be the best outdoor base of operations close to the capital. They have camping sites that include RV sites, and there are also accessible sites so everyone can come along. You can even bring a leashed pet! You could spend your whole vacation on the lake with a wide range of activities available, and there are also trails within the park. If you want to do some out-of-park days too, you can absolutely do that, since you’ll find a huge list of suggested day trips at the link below. Pitch your tent(s) and get ready for some outdoor lakeside living!
1160 West Porter’s Lake Road, West Porter’s Lake; 902-827-2250
Sackville Lakes Provincial Park
Another spot of urban wilderness, Sackville Lakes Provincial Park is a fun destination year-round. The lakes are beautiful, and there are trails that take you around both of them. Of course, the most popular time is the summer, when you can swim in the lakes and enjoy the view of the wetlands and old-growth forests from the water. The beach has supervised swimming in the summer, and it’s close enough that if people are feeling snacky it’s easy to run to the store for candy and trail mix.
440 First Lake Drive, Lower Sackville
Shubenacadie Grand Lake
Another of the lakes along the Shubenacadie canals, Grand Lake is actually the last one, way out by the airport. It’s a popular destination for history buffs to see Lock 5, the only restored lock in the canal system, and fishers can catch everything from bass to salmon depending on the season. There are also two provincial parks alongside the lake (which will give you an idea of how big it is), so you can camp and enjoy boating and picnicking for a few days. And hey, if you’ve got folks coming from out of town (which will likely be possible this summer), they don’t have to drive far to join you for a jump in the lake!
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So this lake is not made out of tea, just like Chocolate Lake isn’t made out of chocolate…although now I’m wondering if tea in lake water would taste different than regular tea. As long as you boil it, right? Anyways, it’s also called Purcell’s Pond so this might not even be relevant. Whatever you call it, it’s close to Halifax and provides some lovely swimming, although it’s quite deep in parts so keep an eye on the little ones. There are also some trails around the lake—you can even get into the Backlands. Just bring some waterproof footwear: with all the water, it gets pretty boggy.
Victoria Park is the outdoor highlight of Truro. This park is full of things to do, from a heated outdoor pool, waterfalls, play areas, and of course, a lake. This lake is along the reservoir trail, so it’s not for swimming in, but it’s perfect for observing waterfowl and having a watery view to complement the forest-y one. Bring a picnic, climb Jacob’s Ladder, and when you’re ready to take a swim, jump in the pool!
29 Park Road, Truro; 902-893-6078
Williams Lake is now encompassed by Shaw Wilderness Park, the bouncing baby of Nova Scotian parks. Designated only in 2020, it’s now an entire area dedicated to the pursuit of wild adventures, and the protection of those wild spaces. You can now trek to Williams Lake without having to cross private property, and enjoy exactly why generations of Haligonians have made the trip out. It’s a beautiful big lake perfect for swimming, and since it is a bit of a walk everyone who goes out there is committed to having a good time, so you’re sure to have a great day at the lake.
By: Adrienne Colborne