Scenic Nova Scotia is the perfect destination for a summer road trip. No matter which route you choose, rich history and diverse culture awaits you at every turn. You can embrace the laid-back maritime vibe of “Canada’s Ocean Playground” and really take your time passing through postcard-perfect fishing villages and quaint coastal towns.
My husband and I embarked on a summer road trip to Nova Scotia and PEI to experience the best of everything this corner of the world has to offer. In just 10 days, we explored the peaceful beauty of Kejimkujik, the vibrant city of Halifax, the untouched splendor of Cape Breton Island, and the beautiful beaches of PEI. We left knowing that we had only scratched the surface and vowed to return as often as we could.
Read on for our jam-packed 10-day road trip itinerary in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
DAY 1: Portland & Yarmouth
We depart from Portland, Maine on the overnight ferry to Yarmouth. Although the overnight option is no longer offered, this ferry is still a great option. The beautiful journey up the East Coast takes just five and a half hours. With restaurants, bars, and even a casino on board, it feels like a mini cruise before our vacation has even begun.
DAY 2: Yarmouth & Kejimkujik National Park
The next morning, we arrive in Yarmouth, a quiet fishing village that serves as the Southern gateway to Nova Scotia. We first head to the richly historic port town of Annapolis Royal for lunch and a quick tour of the Fort Anne National Historic Site. We enjoy a quiet moment sitting in the iconic red Adirondack chairs, taking in the views, and reflecting on the historical significance of this now peaceful place.
We continue on to Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, where we check into our campsite at Jeremy’s Cove. This being our first-ever time camping, nature mocks us as we attempt to pitch our tent and build a fire in the middle of a heavy downpour. After getting camp set up, we bike to Jake’s Landing to rent a canoe. We refuse to let the rain deter us from exploring the intricate waterways that were the canoe routes of the Mi’kmaw people for thousands of years. In the end, the rain only adds to the quiet calm and mystique of this special place.
DAY 3: Lunenburg, Peggy’s Cove & Halifax
The next morning, we hit the road for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lunenburg. A coastal town packed with history, it is most well-known for its distinctive waterfront and for being the home of the Bluenose II. A replica of the original fishing boat that found fame as a racing schooner, it now welcomes visitors aboard to learn all about its storied past and pay tribute to Nova Scotia’s rich shipbuilding heritage. Afterwards, we have lunch at the Savvy Sailor on their outdoor deck overlooking the harbor.
We continue on to Peggy’s Cove, a popular destination just a few miles outside of Halifax. After fighting crowds of fellow tourists for the must-have shot of the lighthouse, we scramble along the rocks for incredible views of the sea.
At last we arrive in Halifax. We didn’t think we needed much time here, but end up being wowed by the city’s energy and charm. We check into Hollis Halifax, offering spectacular views of the waterfront, then stop for a pint at Alexander Keith’s Brewery. Founded in 1820, it is among the oldest commercial breweries in North America.
That evening, we enjoy dinner at The Bicycle Thief, a romantic, waterfront bistro. Afterwards, we slip into The Drawing Room, a secret bar upstairs at The Henry House. With a crackling fireplace, dark wood paneling, and comfy leather chairs, it’s the perfect, intimate spot to end the night.
Day 4: Halifax & Cape Breton Island
The next morning, we embark on a whirlwind tour of Halifax, starting with the Citadel National Historic Site. Sitting high atop a hill overlooking the city and harbor, you can spend hours wandering the grounds learning all about Halifax’s rich history or just a reverential pause to take in the stunning views and imagine how the surrounding landscape has changed over the years. We opt for the latter given our far-too-fleeting time frame.
Halifax also boasts a bustling waterfront boardwalk, lined with shops, museums, and restaurants. We explore the length of it before popping into The Lower Deck for a cold brew and fresh seafood lunch al fresco.
From there, we once again hit the road headed for the Cabot Trail, a scenic roadway that loops Cape Breton Island. Skirting the coastline and passing through Cape Breton Highlands National Park at its northernmost point, you’ll want to allow extra time to pull over for the numerous scenic overlooks and even the occasional moose spotting.
Cape Breton Island has a wild and untamed feel to it, evoking the highlands of Scotland for which Nova Scotia was named. We arrive at Broad Cove Campground near Ingonish after sunset, where we set up camp and marvel at the utter peace and quiet.
Day 5: Cape Breton Island
It’s time to lace up our hiking boots and explore the wilderness afoot. One of the more popular trails on the east side of the Cabot Trail, Franey offers a stunning view of the valley below. After a steep climb, we are rewarded with a large, rocky clearing and iconic red Adirondack chair. We make a loop by taking Forest Road back, and it takes us a little over 3 hours, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way.
We hit the road again, following the Cabot Trail north to Jumping Mouse Eco-Camping. This small, family-owned campsite located in the remote village of Bay Saint Lawrence ends up being the highlight of our trip. It offers a rare glimpse into the every day rhythm of this small, rural fishing community. One of the northernmost points of Nova Scotia, we feel like we have arrived at the edge of the world.
Our visit to the sleepy village happens to coincide with one of the most festive days of the year, Canada Day, and the community welcomes us to join their celebrations with open arms. Fishermen and their families gathered at the docks sharing Tupperware filled with homemade baked goods. Kids zip by on scooters on their way to The Hut for lobster rolls and deep fried Mars bars. Fireworks sparkle over the water as the sun starts to dip below the horizon.
Recently, we were devastated to learn that heightened government regulation forced Jumping Mouse out of business. We count ourselves lucky to have been among the lucky few to visit this special place. One day, we’d love to return to Bay Saint Lawrence to see the effect that time does (or doesn’t) have on its magic.
Day 6: Cape Breton Island
Our hike to Pollett’s Cove the next day is another highlight of our trip. I’m almost reluctant to share this untouched, hidden gem, but the secret is too good to keep to myself. The land is owned by a local lottery winner who generously makes it available for public use. Starting near Gampo Abbey, a Buddist monastery in Pleasant Bay, the 18km trail follows the coastline and offers epic views of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Not for the faint of heart, the hike includes a steep climb, rugged sections of thick brush, and a river crossing. We only pass a handful of people on the trail, and are rewarded at the end with the entire cove to ourselves – except for the herd of wild horses peacefully grazing on the valley floor.
We manage it as a day hike, but if we did it again, we would love to make it a backpacking trip so that we could take more time to explore the magical cove.
That night, we check into Glenora Inn & Distillery near Inverness. We’re hoping to experience a classic ceilidh dinner and dance, one of the Celtic cultural treasures of Cape Breton. Although the inn offers live music, we are disappointed that there is no dancing. You could likely find a more authentic experience elsewhere.
Day 7: PEI
It’s time to say goodbye to Nova Scotia and set our sights on Prince Edward Island. We drive to Twin Shores Camping Area and spend the day relaxing on the beach. Be wary what time of year you visit. The camp is packed with families with kids in July, so we don’t find the peace and quiet we’re after. But it is still nice to set up our chairs on a little sand bar and enjoy the sunset. Bonus: the water is so cold, we don’t need a cooler for our beers!
Day 8: PEI
The next morning, we set out to bike the Cabot Loop (not to be confused with the Cabot Trail!) PEI has a very flat landscape, so biking is relatively leisurely. We stop along the way for a picnic lunch and swimming.
That night, we drive to Charlottetown, the capitol of PEI, for boardwalk dining at Peakes Quay. This isn’t originally part of our agenda, but no visit to the province is complete without trying famed PEI mussels and clams, fresh from the water!
Overall, we are not as impressed with our visit to PEI. It dulls in comparison to the splendor of Cape Breton Island. In hindsight, we would have skipped this province altogether to allow more time there. I think it depends: if you’re into more adventurous hiking, you’ll have more to gain from Cape Breton Island. If you’re looking for a low-key, family-friendly beach vacation, PEI is more for you. You’ll just have to visit to see for yourself!
Day 9: New Brunswick
It’s impossible to drive through coastal New Brunswick without getting a glimpse of the famous tides. So the next day, we break up our drive by stopping at the Fundy National Park. We hike the Fundy Trail to Hopewell Rocks, but don’t have enough time to see the drastic change in water level.
That night, we set up camp at Kiwanis Oceanfront Camping. It’s an RV park not ideal for tent camping, but gets us as close as possible to the border crossing so we can zip through customs first thing next morning.
Day 10: Home
Our final day is entirely a travel day; we drive over 9 hours from the border of Canada to Astoria, NY. We arrive home exhausted but happy, already planning our return trip to this beloved corner of the world.
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Planning a road trip to Nova Scotia and PEI? Pin this post for later!
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What an exciting trip! We have only been to Canada one time, and we only spent 3 nights in Montreal. We were left wanting to explore more! I won’t lie, I laughed a little reading about setting up camp in the middle of a downpour, especially being your first time! Ha! I wrote an article about planning the first camping trip and I usually recommend starting with just one night, so you guys are brave!
Cape Breton sounds amazing and right for our style, although having two little rugrats with us, it sounds like PEI would be more appropriate. I’m glad to hear they had easy biking trails there. Do you know if they had good hikes at PEI?
Mapped by Megan says
Hah we definitely should’ve started with one night (and read your article) before attempting our first camping trip! PEI would be great with kids. It is relatively flat, so less of a hiking destination, but check out Prince Edward Island National Park for some beautiful, coastal options!
Nova Scotia looks really beautiful! I’ve never been but would love to go one day…
Mapped by Megan says
I hope you get the chance to!
I am ashamed to admit that I AM Canadian, but haven’t been to the East coast since I was a young child. Thanks for this detailed post, you’ve truly inspired me to consider road tripping Nova Scotia in summer 2020!
Mapped by Megan says
I really hope you get the chance to! Summer is the perfect time to visit Nova Scotia. Thanks for reading!
Clarice Mendez says
I’ve been wanting to plan a trip to Canada – I’ve never been. This was really helpful! I love lighthouses and would love to check out Peggy’s Point Lighthouse!
Mapped by Megan says
It really is one of the most beautiful and iconic lighthouses I’ve seen! Hope you get a chance to visit!
Very cool! I did a road trip through Canada around Lake Superior, and it was awesome. Cape Breton looks incredible – also very interesting that a lottery winner bought land and opened it to the public, I like that. I’m a fan of all the hiking options as well.
Mapped by Megan says
Ooh a road trip around Lake Superior is on my bucket list next! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!
Ann DeFeo says
After the success of our wonderful socially-distanced road trip to Colorado to see Kim and Brian in October, Halford and I are planning to go to the Maritime Provinces this spring. No camping and a lot less vigorous hiking for us, but you have given me some great ideas of the best places to visit! Thank you.
Ann, I’m so happy to hear this! I hope you and Halford enjoy your trip and I can’t wait to hear how it is. It’s sure to be beautiful in the spring. Please let me know if I can help with any other suggestions! Thank you for sharing.
Great post! Planning a trip around Nova Sxotia and PEI this summer and your ideas have got me so excited to get planning.
FYI from one flower lover to another — those beautiful purple flowers are actually lupines! They’re my favorite sign of summer 🙂
So excited for you – I hope you have the most amazing trip! And thank you for the flower ID, so great to know, updating my post!