Nova Scotia has so much natural beauty to enjoy, but sometimes you don’t want to go too far off the beaten track. When you want to stay closer to civilization, you head to one of the provincial parks! From beach sides to mountain tops, from lakes to near-barrens, there’s a park for everyone, and probably even two. The weather’s getting nicer, so this is a perfect time to start planning your summer park expeditions. Parkxpeditions maybe? I’m working on it.
Prince Edward Island is famous for its red sand beaches, but did you know there are a few in Nova Scotia too? Anthony Park is right on the Bay of Fundy, so the amount of beach available for walks and beachcombing depends on where you are in the tidal cycle. The picnic area overlooks Cobequid Bay, and there’s a display (that’s actually covered so you can look at it on a rainy day) that teaches you all about the area. Hey, you might be on vacation, but you’re supposed to learn something new every day!
Where: 6889 Highway 215, Lower Selma
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Arisaig Provincial Park has a tremendous view, great history, and it’s a picnic park, so it’s basically all of my favourite things. Arisaig is about 27 km from Antigonish, so it’s a great day trip to take if you’re in that area. The loop trail in this park is 1.6km, and it takes you along the shore, down to the beach, and then up to an open field to get you the best view. Have your picnic there, and then look for rocks—there’s exposed Silurian rock here from 4 million years ago, and you might just find a fossil.
Where: 5704 Highway 245, Arisaig
I still maintain that Beaver Mountain only looks like a beaver from a very far distance, but that’s not really the point. There are freshwater taps in the park as well as vault toilets, which are perfect for a long day at the park. And you’ll want a long day so you can enjoy the whole trail system, which ranges from flat and easy walking to unpaved hills. Keep your camera ready, especially at the picnic area where on cloudy days you’ll get a view of Antigonish County, and on clear days you’ll also get a view of Cape Breton Island.
Where: 472 Beaver Mountain Road, Beaver Mountain
Ben Eoin is a tiny park with lots to see. It was once farmland, but now you can walk around the overgrown fields and up the hill. The hill is covered in trees, and it’s fairly steep, making it a bit of a workout and not recommended if anyone’s already cranky or past their nap time (which applies to any age group; anyone who tells you different is past their nap time). Besides, you can have a picnic on the edge of the fields at the picnic tables anyways. But if you do make it up the hill, you’ll be treated to a beautiful view of the East Bay and a great chance to do some birdwatching and picture taking.
Where: 5549 Highway 4, Ben Eoin, Cape Breton
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Black Duck Cove
Black Duck Cove is a beautiful little park on the Eastern Shore. You’ll find a beach that’s partly rocky and partly sandy, great for finding cool rocks and for sunbathing. There’s also a trail by the shoreline that’s 3.5 km long, perfect for working up an appetite for a picnic at one of the rest stops. There are other trails through the park that are accessible for everyone and provide an interpretive kiosk that details local history if you feel like having some learning with your exercise.
Where: 1409 Dover Road, Dover
Overlooking the Minas Basin, Blomidon is a park that lets you enjoy all kinds of Bay of Fundy fun. There are great big cliffs to look off, trails throughout the park, and some top-notch picnic sites. With the crazy Fundy tidal shifts, your trip to the park will look very different depending on the time of day. If you want to see the whole tidal cycle, you can camp here and enjoy waking up with the sun on the edge of a natural wonder.
Where: 3138 Pereau Road, Blomidon; 902-582-7319
Caddell Rapids Lookoff
You’ll want to make a day trip to Caddell Rapids Lookoff, so you can experience the full rapid experience. This park sits right where the Bay of Fundy meets the Shubenacadie River, so you can watch as the low tide turns into rushing rapids down the river. They’ve got picnic tables set up on the bluff, perfect for a snack while you watch the tides. But keep your table covered—there are lots of bald eagles in the area, and while you’ll probably see them diving into the water for food, they probably like peanut butter sandwiches too!
Where: 1609 Riverside Road, Riverside
This picnic park does indeed sit beside Cameron’s Brook, but there’s even more just across the road. Cameron’s Brook is mainly a rest stop just off the road, and the picnic tables are shaded under the trees, invaluable during the hot summer. It’s also right across the road from Cameron Lake (which also feeds into Ponhook Lake), where you can paddle and fish (license required) to your heart’s content. Between the brook and the lake, it’s a great place to enjoy the water, and the road is right there when you’re ready to continue on.
Where: 7900 Highway 8, South Brookfield
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The Cape Breton Highlands National Park is so huge that it actually holds a few provincial parks within its limits. Cape Smokey is one of them, sitting happily on top of Smokey Mountain. It’s a small park looking down on the ocean, and it’s a great place to stop on your Cabot Trail drive. They’ve also got a nice trail about 5km long to see more of the mountain, and you’ll even get a glimpse of Ski Cape Smokey, the mountain’s ski hill.
Where: 40301 Cabot Trail, Cape Smokey, Cape Breton
If you want a slightly different perspective on the Bay, head over to Scots Bay and visit Cape Split Park. The view is incredible, of course, and the best view is achieved by taking the hike out to Cape Split itself. This is not a hike for newbies, with a 13km round-trip distance that will take roughly five hours. And I would think you’d want to return? You can’t camp in this park, so give yourself plenty of daylight and drinking water and set out on a cape-ward hike.
Where: 999 Cape Split Road, Scots Bay
Dollar Lake offers several dollars’ worth of fun, and most of it is free! Dollar Lake is big enough to have room for a bunch of activities. While you can of course do the traditional lake activities—swimming, fishing, and canoeing—powerboats are also allowed, which means water skiing and tubing are on the table. There are also backcountry trails to explore for those days when it’s too cold to swim. If you love Dollar Lake Park, you can even camp out there during the summer.
Where: 5265 Old Guysborough Road, Wyse’s Corner; 902-384-2770
Fancy Lake stands out in the South Shore mainly because of Fancy Lake Provincial Park. Small but mighty, this picnic park sits right on the shore of the lake. The small beach lets you wade right into the lake, as well as the perfect place to launch a canoe or kayak. If you’ve got a fishing license (and a fishing pole, I believe you need that as well), the sport fishing here is decent. If you want a fancier outing, why not break out the good Thermos and pack a high-end picnic?
Where: 854 Conquerall Mills Road, Conquerall Mills
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If you’ve got Irish roots, why not visit the Irish Cove Provincial Park? Overlooking the Bras d’Or lake, this picnic park is the perfect destination for an outdoor meal. There are even sheltered tables, so you can enjoy the view on a rainy day. It’s right off the road, so it’s easy to make a getaway for nap time or a sudden storm.
Where: 16165 Highway 4, Irish Cove, Cape Breton
MacCormack Provincial Park
The Bras d’Or Lake’s Scenic Drive is an excellent way to experience the full beauty of this UNESCO biosphere, and MacCormack Provincial Park is the perfect rest stop. This picnic park is right off route 223, so it’s not even a detour, and there are lots of picnic tables sheltered by the pines. You can even walk down to the Plaster Cove beach, so you can at least get your feet wet even if you don’t feel like swimming. Road trips are great, but one of the best parts is finding creative and pretty rest stops, and MacCormack Park fits the bill!
Where: 2481 St. Columba Road, Iona
This beach is the longest continuous sandy beach in Nova Scotia at 5 kilometres. That’s 5 kilometres of space for beach walks, kite flying, sunbathing, and beachcombing! That could easily take up a whole day, but of course you can also go for a swim. The water is generally quite cold, but the waves are great and there is supervision during July and August. Whether you stay on the shore or venture into the waves, make sure you work up an appetite for a picnic lunch just past the dunes.
Where: 2389 East Petpeswick Road, East Petpeswick
Despite the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores region being in the southerly part of the province, the water’s not warm—in fact, it’s downright chilly most of the time. Mavillette Beach has a secret weapon though; at low tide sand flats are exposed and heated, so when the tide rolls back in the water is warmed. It’s still not bathwater, but it makes this 1.5km beach a great destination in the hot days of summer. If the water is too cold, pack your Bird Bingo card—the beach is equipped with several bird-watching platforms, as well as interpretive panels that outline the wildlife you can spot in the park.
Where: 295-395 John Doucette Road, Mavillette
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Oakfield joins the lakeside picnic park family, this one on Shubenacadie Grand Lake in the Halifax Metro area. You can swim in the lake if you like, or you can bring the whole family on a paddling trip—the boat launch is designed to be wheelchair accessible. There’s also a picnic area near the field edges where the tables are close enough together to be useful for group picnics (children’s table, anyone?) If you’ve had your fill of the water, there are some short hard-surface trails close by, so you can stretch your legs before you head back home.
Where: 366 Oakfield Park, Oakfield
Sitting happily at the South Arm of Sydney Harbour, Petersfield is a must-see for history buffs. There is 7km of trails crisscrossing the park, and when you walk these trails, you’ll find remnants of cultural periods. That’s right, plural—there are artifacts and ruins from four different cultural periods, ranging from the late 1700s to the mid-1900s. There are interpretive panels around to help you learn all about what you’re seeing, and you’ll have plenty of stories to tell around the picnic table.
Where: 1126 Westmount Road, Westmount, Cape Breton
This provincial park allows you to enjoy the warm waters of the Northumberland Shore. You can picnic right beside the beach, so if you believe in the “wait 30 minutes after you eat to swim” story you’ll be ready to jump in right away. If you’re more of a kayak person, they also have a boat launch. The beach is half sandy and half rocky, which means you can also look for cool rocks if you don’t feel like swimming.
Where: 8049 Pictou Landing Road
Picnic parks by the lake are all well and good, but you’ve got to check out Second Peninsula if you want a picnic by the ocean. It’s a cobble beach, so it’s not great for swimming but it is great for beachcombing and launching your ocean kayak. This picnic park is also on the larger side, so you can let the kiddos run around while you set up the picnic. The tables are also under a tree stand, so you’ll get some much-needed shade on hot days as you chow down together.
Where: 781 Second Peninsula Road, Second Peninsula
Smileys Provincial Park
This park is sure to leave you with a smile! Smileys is just outside of the town of Windsor, which makes it an ideal place for a camping spot if you want to have a mix of indoor and outdoor activities. There are several trails throughout the park, and with a mix of open and wooded areas, you’re likely to see a variety of birds and wildlife. You can even fish in the river if you feel like a Meander.
The river is Meander River, that’s the joke.
Where: 109 Clayton MacKay Road, Brooklyn; 902-757-3131
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The days of Prohibition may be over, but when you visit Smuggler’s Cove at low tide it’s easy to see why this was the perfect place for rum-running back in the day. At low tide there’s a staircase down to the ocean floor, but make sure you don’t dilly-dally with your beachcombing—when the tide comes in the cove fills with water. No, it’s better to make your way back to the picnic tables by then, where you can sit and enjoy the view while you enjoy a delicious meal. Smugglers may have had adventures galore, but they didn’t have Dunkaroos, so I think it’s balanced.
Where: 7651 Highway 1, Meteghan
Ten Mile Lake
Since this is a picnic park, why not try your hand at catching a meal? Ten Mile Lake is a small park, so the main attraction is the lake itself. You can go for a swim if you want, but the shore’s quite rocky so you’ll need to bring water shoes. The most popular activity at this park is sport fishing—once you’ve got your fishing license, the only decision you’ll have to make is whether you want to fish from the shore or from a canoe.
Where: 3933 Highway 8, Middlefield
Come to Trout Brook for Lake Ainslie, stay for the trout. It’s a picnic park right on the edge of East Lake Ainslie, with plenty of tables under the trees. The beach is white sand and perfect to jump into the lake, or I guess wade in because we want to be safe, you know. And as long as you’ve got a fishing license, you can also catch your dinner in the lake; fresh trout is hard to beat!
Where: 2535 Highway 395, East Lake Ainslie
Just outside of the town of Waterside, this park actually has three distinct areas. The first is the beach, which is long, wide, sandy, and despite the warm water, it’s rarely crowded. Then there’s the salt marsh, perfect for spotting birds and other marsh wildlife. Finally, there’s open farmland with a view of a windmill, where you can have a picnic lunch and talk about your day. It’s almost like getting three parks in one.
Where: 649 R. Grant Road, Waterside
By: Adrienne Colborne