“Barking Seals and Sandy Beaches”
Thomas Raddall Provincial Park, on the beautiful South Shore of Nova Scotia, awaits you. The park offers a simple, secluded campground where you can enjoy nature at its purest. You can hear the shoreline greet the ocean swells, seals, coyotes, loons, and owls filling the night air with their cries. You can watch piping plovers, Great Blue herons, and gulls wandering the shoreline. You might even catch a glimpse of a deer, rabbit – or even a bear and her cubs.
Located close to the Lighthouse Route in Port Joli, this ocean-side campground is 2 hours southwest of Halifax and 1 ½ hours east of Yarmouth. It’s one of our favourite places to camp, swim, hike, and enjoy the seashore. We’ve been camping at Thomas Raddall every year since the park opened, enjoying time with our children, friends, dogs – our cat even joined us for a weekend.
Thomas Raddall is adjacent to Port Joli Harbour, and Kejimkujik Seaside Adjunct National Park is just across the bay. The park consists of over 650 ha (1,600 acres). With long, sandy beaches suitable for swimming and walking, it is a perfect place to enjoy the solitude and quiet.
How to get to Thomas Raddall Park:
Camping is available from mid-May to mid-October. It’s a very popular campground – I strongly recommend that you make a reservation before planning your camping trip. In September, when nights get cool, you can usually get a site during the week without reservations, but the weekends can still be busy.
Reservations are available online using a credit card at this site: https://secure.camis.com/NSDNR/Home.aspx
You can view photos and get information on each campsite by clicking on the site thumbnails.
Following is a list of the sites we like the best:
We’ve camped in many sites and walked by all of the sites many times. These are our favourites – with a short description of each one. All of these sites have surrounding trees for tarp setup – some a little more challenging than others, but – hey – that’s part of the fun.
These are listed in no particular order. Hopefully, this helps you with reserving a good campsite.
#82 is a big site with room enough for several tents and cars. It’s private, and you can hear the surf on the shore not far away – and the seals too. It is close to the comfort station.
#67 is close to the shoreline and a fairly private site – there’s a site right across the road. You can easily set up a tarp here.
#64 is well off the road and is usually fairly quiet. It’s small and very private, surrounded by trees.
#36, #38, #40 & #42 are all extra large sites with privacy and room for any size tent or RV up to 40 ft. long. These sites are wooded in the back, close to a water tap and a short walk to the comfort station.
There are also wheelchair accessible campsites available.
Conveniences, Things to do:
- There are 3 unsupervised beaches, one a short walk from the campground – Camper’s Beach, which slopes gently into the sheltered harbour, making it safe for children to play.
- There is a day-use area with parking, an unsupervised beach, picnic tables, change house and pit toilets.
- There are 82 campsites, 13 of which are walk-in sites.
- A short hike through a wooded trail from the provided parking areas will take you to the walk-in sites. There are two walk-in site areas: the Coastal Loop which overlooks a “Freshwater Fen” and is a short walk to the Camper’s Beach, and the Woodland Site that offers a more enclosed or secluded feeling. Both sites are surrounded by forest and have group fire pits.
- Group camping and picnic areas are available. There’s a group shelter with wood stove and picnic tables available for rainy periods. Also, there is a playground for children.
- Campfire wood and ice are sold at the park office.
- One of our favourite things to do at the campsite is play washer toss. Washer toss games are available at the park office.
- Groceries and alcoholic beverages are available at a nearby convenience store, or in the historic towns of Shelburne and Liverpool. Note: All Nova Scotia Provincial Parks are alcohol-free from the park opening date until 1 pm on July 5th.
- Thomas Raddall has a comfort station that is equipped with flush toilets, showers, a dishwashing area, and a camper disposal station.
- There are no hookups for RVs, but many sites are large and easy to access with a big rig.
• If you’re a golfer, Liverpool Golf and Country Club is only 17 km away.
• Liverpool is 32 Km east on Highway 103 and features:
The Hank Snow Country Music Centre
Liverpool Historical Walking Tours
Perkins House Museum
• Shelburne is 32 Km west along the Lighthouse Route – Highway 103 and features:
The Dory Shop Museum
Black Loyalist Heritage Society
• Summerville Beach Provincial Park is 14.8 km east.
• There are four migratory seabird sanctuaries nearby.
• You can fish for mackerel, when they are running, at the government wharf in Port L’Hebert.
• Kejimkujik National Seaside Park is just across the bay. You can hike for miles on trails, or along the rocky shoreline, to a beautiful beach. A large section of the beach was closed to visitors the last time we were there. This section is a protected area for the endangered piping plovers.
Hiking trails: There are six hiking trails in Thomas Raddall Park:
• Coastal Hardwood Ridge Trail – 1.3 km – Travel through mixed forest and along the beach with views of Port Joli Bay.
• Historic Port Joli Road – 1 km – Roadway – walk or bike by Cove Lake, a marshy area, and on to the day use area.
• Herring Rock Trail – 0.5 km – You will see remnants of an old fisheries station and wharf pilings along the shoreline.
• Moody Barrens Trail – 2 km – Through a softwood forest, adjacent to Moody Barrens and near Moody Bog.
• Port Joli Trail – 1.1 km – Walk the pebbled coastline and through strands of white spruce and balsam fir with views of Kejimkujik Seaside.
• Sandy Bay Trail – 0.7 km – Softwood forest, coastline, remnants of early settlement and fisheries. This trail will take you to Sandy Bay Beach.
Deer, coyotes, black bears and harbour seals are the largest mammals found in the park and are sometimes seen along the seashore. Squirrels, rabbits, porcupines, and raccoons inhabit the woodlands. Shorebirds, such as piping plovers, sand snipes, gulls, and great blue herons are commonly seen along the shore-side trails.
We’ve only spotted bears once. We were relaxing on the beach, close to the trail-head, when a couple walking along the shore stopped and told us a mother and two cubs were walking along the beach close by. They were travelling away from us, so we watched them meandering along the shore, eating. We have occasionally seen bear tracks in the sand as well.
Keep your dog on a leash at all times – a black bear, with her cubs, is protective, and coyotes may attack and kill a dog. Sometimes packs of howling coyotes roam the woods close to the campground at night – we’ve never had any problems with coyotes.
Seals are numerous in the harbour. Their long, eerie wails are often heard throughout the campground at night. The first time I heard them they woke me up. At the time, I had no idea what I was hearing. I thought they were coyotes at first, but after coming fully awake realized it was something else. In the morning, while walking along the beach, we heard the same sounds and saw seals, some lying on the rocks, others swimming in the ocean, barking and howling – mystery solved.
Harbour seals sometimes put on a show, splashing in the waves or barking from their rocky perches.
We enjoy hiking the wooded trails, strolling on long, sandy beaches, or digging for clams at low tide. We finally figured out how to dig clams. We tried spades and shovels, but the clams are buried unusually deep in the sand. We dig with our hands, going in up to our elbows, and are rewarded with some of the biggest clams we’ve ever seen.
The park is named for Thomas H. Raddall, a popular Canadian author, who incorporated the Port Joli area into many of his works.
The explorer Samuel de Champlain landed in Port Joli in 1604 and named the harbours of Port Mouton, Port Joli, and Port L’Hebert.
The Mi’kmaq First Nations people indigenous to Canada’s Maritime Provinces used the area for summer encampments.
Alexander MacDonald, the first permanent European settler, arrived in 1786 and built a house – you can see the foundation along one of the trails, along with a small cemetery. MacDonald House, built by later generations, still stands – plans are underway to turn it into a museum.
A few notes:
Thomas Raddall Provincial Park is a popular campground with both locals and tourists. Of all the times we have spent there, it is very seldom foggy – and it can get very hot in the area. Plan to spend at least a weekend. The first week of September is our favourite time to camp at Thomas Raddall. The days are warm, nights cool, and there are fewer insects to bite you.
When we camp, we enjoy the sounds of nature, whenever or whatever they may be. However – we don’t appreciate barking dogs, especially at night – or when they attack us on our walks on the beach or in the campground.
Listening to a loud RV’s generator day and night is one of the most aggravating things we’ve experienced while camping.
Please respect park rules and keep your dog on a leash at all times and follow the times permitted for generator use, between 9:00 am and 8:00 pm only.
There is a bit of poison ivy around on the trails so be aware. There are signs posted.
All in all, Thomas Raddall is our favourite Provincial campground in Nova Scotia. It’s a great place to visit, whether for a day trip, a weekend, or to spend a week or two. It’s perfect for photographers, swimmers, kayakers, hikers and of course, campers – both RVs and tents. Check it out and enjoy the white sandy beaches, hiking through the forest, and the peace and quiet of a starry night with only the campfire for light.