Canada Coast to Coast – Our 2017 Cross-Country Trip


Rose Blanche lighthouse, Newfoundland

Granite lighthouse, Rose Blanche, Newfoundland

Before moving back to Nova Scotia, Canada from our one-and-a-half year stay in Ecuador, we decided we’d like to live on Vancouver Island on the west coast of beautiful British Columbia – where the winters are much shorter and milder than in our home province of Nova Scotia.

We chose to drive and visit all 10 provinces along the way, avoiding main highways where possible, and finding Parks Canada Red Chairs along the way. After over a month on the road, enjoying so much fantastic scenery from coast to coast, we made it to Vancouver Island.

To jump to any province, click on one of these links:

*This is going to be a long post…we’ll work on it as we find the time, so check back for updates periodically.

*You can trace our route with the interactive map at the end of this post. (coming soon…)

We packed up our old camper van and began our journey from Nova Scotia with a visit to Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island before heading to British Columbia.

 

Newfoundland

We took a ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, making a 7-hour crossing to Port-aux-Basque. The ferry was the “Blue Puttees”, 200 metres/650 feet long, and equipped with cabins, lounge areas (including an outdoor viewing area on the top deck), restaurants, a bar, and souvenir shop – more like a cruise ship than a ferry. We totally enjoyed the trip, spending most of the time outside on the sun deck.

Nova Scotia to Newfoundland ferry

We met a ferry similar to ours just outside of North Sydney, Nova Scotia

We didn’t stay long enough to explore all of Newfoundland, but what we saw was fantastic. If you visit this province, plan to stay for a month or more – you’ll need a week in Gros Morne Park alone!

Our 1st day in Newfoundland included a visit to an alpaca farm, driving to Rose Blanche to see the granite lighthouse, and hiking to Barachois Falls. We were amazed at the hundreds of small lakes, rivers, and streams everywhere we went. Also amazing was seeing snow in the small mountains – this was in July – but the weather was very pleasant and warm for our entire visit.

Rose Blanche lighthouse, Newfoundland

A walk along the rocks to the lighthouse in Rose Blanche

Gros Morne National Park was the highlight of our visit and has been on our bucket list for a long time. We weren’t disappointed. Our only regret – not having enough time to explore the whole park and hike all the trails.

We did walk a few trails, one of them behind the Discovery Centre in Woody Point. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the top – we were rewarded with a fantastic 360 degree view.

Look Off, 300 metres, Woody Point

Look-off, 300 metres above the Discovery Centre in Woody Point, Gros Morne Park.

We highly recommend the 2-hour boat tour of the 16-km-long, landlocked fjord, Western Brook Pond – it’s impressive to be surrounded by 600-metre-high, billion-year-old cliffs. You have to walk a path for about 3 km to get to the wharf to board the tour boat. You’ll walk through a peat bog on a boardwalk, and through forested areas. We even got to see a young moose on the trail!

Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne Park, Newfoundland

Boat tour of Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne Park, Newfoundland

Newfoundland Photo Gallery

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Prince Edward Island (PEI)

We took the ferry back to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and headed for Prince Edward Island. We camped at Caribou-Munroes Island Provincial Park – close to Pictou – and boarded another ferry to PEI in the morning.

Ferry, Prince Edward Island, PEI, Nova Scotia

Ferry to PEI from Nova Scotia

It’s a free ride over to PEI, you pay only when you leave the island – either on the ferry or the Confederation Bridge, which links PEI with New Brunswick. We came back on the bridge, which is 12.9 kilometres (8 miles) long, and is the longest in the world crossing ice-covered waters.

Confederation Bridge, Nova Scotia to PEI Prince Edward Island

Confederation Bridge, from the PEI side.

PEI is a great place for family adventures, with many theme parks and about 800 km of beaches with the warmest ocean water north of the Carolinas.

Red sand beach, PEI, Prince Edward Island

One of many red sand beaches.

It’s also the home of Anne of Green Gables and Stompin’ Tom Conners – everyone remembers the song “Bud the Spud” – right? Did you know that Charlottetown, PEI is the birthplace of the Confederation of this great country?

There are lots of campgrounds, beaches, and hiking trails on the Island. We walked on Shaw’s Beach, hiked a trail at Robinson’s Island, and camped at Cabot Beach Provincial Park before heading to the bridge to cross to New Brunswick and head back to Nova Scotia again.

PEI, Prince Edward Island

Just another PEI beach…

Prince Edward Island Photo Gallery

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Nova Scotia

Our native province of Nova Scotia – and yes, we are kind of biased here – has lots to offer. We’ve traveled the whole province from Cape Breton Island to Cape Sable Island; from the fantastic drive around the Cabot Trail in the north, to the Acadian villages with their huge churches of the southern region; from the beautiful beaches of the South Shore (ahem – where we’re from), to the orchards of the Annapolis Valley.

We visited a few of our favourite places on the way back home from PEI, including Five Islands Provincial Park, Blomidon Provincial Park, and the Cape Split hiking trail.

Red Head trail, Five Islands Provincial Park, Nova Scotia

Red Head trail, Five Islands Provincial Park

Five Islands Provincial Park is a good place to witness the extreme difference in high and low tides – it’s close to the location of the highest tides in the world – more about Burntcoat Head later in this post. Red Head Trail is an easy hike with some great scenery. At low tide you can walk along the shore – just make sure you give yourself lots of time to get to higher ground – the tide comes in very quickly.

Highest tides in the world, Burntcoat Head, Nova Scotia

Highest tides in the world – Burntcoat Head

Blomidon Provincial Park offers great views along the trails and private, wooded campsites. You can hike to the beach from the campground and walk on the mud flats at low tide.

Blomidon Provincial Park, Nova Scotia

View from Blomidon Provincial Park

The Cape Split hiking trail winds through the forest, eventually coming to a clearing about 60 metres above the Bay of Fundy. It’s about 12 km return – a relatively easy hike. Warning: It’s not a place to take your children – the cliffs are steep and there are no guard rails.

There is a lot of fog in the area during the warmer months – I recommend timing your hike for early to mid-afternoon instead of 1st thing in the morning, so you can enjoy the distant views.

Cape Split hiking trail, Nova Scotia

The end of the trail

Robin decided walking back from Cape Split in her sock feet was more comfortable…

Cape Split hiking trail, Nova Scotia

Robin bought new hiking boots after our trip. 🙂

*You can read more about Nova Scotia in some of our other posts: Camping At Thomas Raddall Park, Hiking Gaff Point, Whale Watching In the Bay of Fundy.

Nova Scotia Photo Gallery

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New Brunswick

We started our journey to British Columbia on August 24th, 2017. We drove from the South Shore of Nova Scotia to Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick on the first day. Kouchibouguac is a great place – lots of trails and miles of beaches.

Following the 750-km Acadian Coastal Drive through old Acadian settlements, we saw tons of beautiful scenery and churches like this one.

Church, Acadian Coastal Drive, New Brunswick

Church along the Acadian Coastal Drive

We ended up at MacEachern’s Point wharf after taking an off road looking for a nice place to eat lunch. The clam boats were just landing their catch on the shore. Each boat brings in about 500 clams a day. I wanted to buy some, but they weren’t allowed to sell any to the public, only the buyer.  🙁

Clams, Maceacherns Point, New Brunswick

Lots of clams, MacEachern’s Point

Following the Acadian Coastal Drive, we came to Miscou Island where we stayed the night at Frey Lake Nature Reserve. We found a small picnic park close to a seabird observation deck, where we watched a Great Blue Heron hunt for his supper.

Great blue heron, Frey Lake Nature Reserve, Miscou Island, New Brunswick

Great blue heron at Frey Lake Nature Reserve

The Miscou Point lighthouse was built in 1856, stands 23 m/76 ft high, and was the 2nd lighthouse to be built on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Miscou Point lighthouse, Miscou Island, New Brunswick

Miscou Point lighthouse

The legend of La Gougou – yes, there’s a monster in Acadia – according to Mi’kmaq legend. The explorer Samuel de Champlain refers to La Gougou in his book as told to him by the Mi’kmaq inhabitants: “They told me the beast has a woman’s shape, though very frightful, and of such a size that they say the tops of the masts of our vessel would not reach her waist.” Fortunately, she didn’t show up while we were there…

New Brunswick Photo Gallery

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Québec

Driving around the Gaspé Peninsula in Québec is one of the most memorable parts of our journey. The scenery is spectacular, the weather was great – and the beer was cheaper too.  🙂

This is a tough section to write – I’m trying to get all the accents right en français! For anyone who doesn’t know, Canada has two official languages, French and English. In Québec, there are very few signs in English, and people will speak to you in French first. Most do speak English, which was good for us – high school French is just not good enough.

Percé Rock, Gaspé, Québec

Our 1st view of Percé Rock, Gaspé

Our 1st overnight stop in Québec was at a picnic area on a beach in Cap-d’Espoir. Most of the picnic areas along the Acadian Drive in New Brunswick and along the east side of the Gaspé Peninsula did not have “No Overnight Parking” signs as in most of the country, so we could park for free – and they were in great locations with nice views and picnic tables too…

Cap-d'Espoir, Gaspé Peninsula, Québec

Beach by picnic area, Cap-d’Espoir

The village of Percé is home to the famous Percé Rock. You can take a scenic boat tour, go whale-watching, or just walk around this neat little town for some spectacular scenery.

Percé, Gaspé Peninsula, Québec

A short hike, and you’ll get views like this at Percé

Forillon National Park would be our home for the next several days. We were totally impressed by this area – the scenery, the hiking trails – and we got to hike the end of the Appalachian Trail.

Mont-Saint-Alban and Cap-Bon-Ami were the first trails we hiked in Forillon Park – four and a half hours for both. The view at the top of the Mont-Saint-Alban tower made it worth the climb, as you can see in this (not-so-great) video.

We had a great hike with nice views, but the highlight was when Robin got to watch a black bear run up the trail shortly after some other hikers climbed up. She was pretty excited/scared – I could hardly keep up with her for the remainder of our hike back to the van.  🙂

We hiked to the end of the Appalachian Trail at Cap-Gaspé the next day. The trail is super-scenic, following the coast for much of the way. We saw humpback whales, seals, porcupines, and a groundhog along the way – and another bear as we drove back to the campsite.

The trail leads to a lighthouse perched on top of the cliffs with more amazing views, then drops down a fairly steep hill to a lookout platform close to the ocean – the end of the Appalachian Trail.

On the way back, we took a small, alternate trail closely following the shoreline. We called it “Bear Shit Trail” – there were bear droppings everywhere! Robin was so glad to get back to the van for the 2nd day in a row.

End of Appalachian Trail, Cap-Gaspé, Gaspé, Québec

End of the Appalachian Trail, Cap-Gaspé

We hiked to a small waterfall in the morning, then enjoyed the scenic drive around the rest of the Gaspé Peninsula to Matane, where we stayed for the night by a beach with several other campervans.

Waterfall, Forillon Park, Gaspé Peninsula, Québec

Waterfall, Forillon Park

After missing the ferry in Trois-Pistoles – the ramp was just going up when we got there – we drove as fast as the old van could handle to catch another ferry in Rivière-du-Loup – we made it with 2 minutes to spare. We got to see a pod of beluga whales on the ride across the St. Lawrence River, and found another beach to camp beside in Lac Bouchette.

The drive through the Mont Tremblant area was nice, and we got to see some of rural inland Québec – it’s a big province!

Québec Photo Gallery

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Ontario

We arrived in Ontario on September 1st. We spent our first night in Kettle Lakes Provincial Park, got the oil changed in Timmins – home of Shania Twain – and went on to Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park. Our campsite for the night was right on the lake with a little beach.

Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park, Ontario

Campsite on the beach at Ivanhoe Lake

We kept seeing Sandhill Cranes along the side of the road the next day – they were pretty shy, but I finally got a picture of one.

Sandhill Crane, Ontario

Sandhill Crane

It was a foggy day in Wawa (which is Ojibway for wild goose) – we were getting close to Lake Superior. Wawa is home to the giant Canada goose statue which commemorates the completion of the last link of the Trans-Canada Highway – there has been a statue here since 1960.

Wawa goose statue, Ontario

Robin and the Wawa goose

Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior was our next overnight stop – the 1st night that we needed to set up a tarp because of rain. The Great Lakes are huge – it’s almost like being on the ocean with big waves and driftwood on the shores.

The sun was shining in the morning, and we had some amazing views following the Southern Headland and Manito Miikana Trails through the forest, along rocky ledges, and walking along beautiful beaches.

Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake, has more coastline than Nova Scotia, and holds a tenth of the planet’s fresh water.

Beach on Lake Superior, Ontario

Beach on Lake Superior

We drove on through Thunder Bay – home of the largest adult DVD store in Canada, by the way – stopping at a rest area near Raith for the night. It was right on the 90 degrees longitude west line, and divides the Central and Eastern time zones. We had to adjust our watches every time we walked past this sign.  🙂

Eastern/Central time zone sign, Ontario

Eastern/Central time zone

Heading to Manitoba today, we passed through Nipegon – home of Canada’s smallest Canadian Tire Store – and not too far from Canada’s largest adult DVD store! We’re roughly halfway across the country now, as another province passes by…

Ontario Photo Gallery

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Manitoba

We arrived at Whiteshell Provincial Park on September 5th and found a campsite by a beach at West Hawk Lake. The lake was formed when a meteor hit many moons ago, and is one of the deepest lakes in Manitoba. We got kind of lost – which is becoming a common occurrence for us – on what appeared to be a trail along the lake, but found our way back after doing some rock climbing.

West Hawk Lake, Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba

Nice beach at West Hawk Lake, Whiteshell Park

A sandy beach on big, beautiful lake is not what a lot of people would expect of Manitoba – flat land with no trees, stretching forever to the horizon comes to mind for many. We did see a lot of land like that – sort of like being out on the ocean – but also a lot of lakes and trees.

Prairies, Manitoba

Lots of wide open spaces

Fields and trees, Manitoba

Lots of fields and trees too

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We decided to bypass Winnipeg to the north, and ended up at Skinner’s in Lockport – “Home of the World Famous Hot Dog”. Really cool spot with old-fashioned chrome tables and chairs, a jukebox, and great hotdogs.

Skinner's, Lockport, Manitoba

World Famous Hot Dogs

Skinner's, Lockport, Manitoba

Inside of Skinner’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had an interesting drive to Riding Mountain National Park, enjoying scenery like this:

Hay bales, Manitoba

Giant rolls of hay

Wasagaming campground in Riding Mountain National Park was our next stop. A hike along Clear Lake brought us to the quaint little town of Wasagaming. Another night at the campground and then off to Audy Lake to see buffalo at the bison paddock!

Clear Lake, Wasagaming, Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba

Nice trail along Clear Lake to Wasagaming

The dirt road to the paddock was awful, and at an average speed of about 15 km/hr it took us about an hour to get there. We spotted a few bison in the distance and followed a narrow dirt road in hope of a closer view. After a kilometre or so, we rounded a corner and there they were – a dozen or so standing in the road.

They are huge! We watched them for a while, but the boss buffalo was looking kind of edgy, Robin was terrified, so we left. Scared to drive through the herd, we had to back up the entire way to the main road. 🙂

Bison Paddock, Lake Audy, Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba

Bison blocking the road

Off to Saskatchewan in the morning, more dirt roads and nice scenery along the way.

Manitoba photo gallery

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Saskatchewan

We headed southwest to Moose Mountain Provincial Park which was our 1st overnight stop in Saskatchewan. There’s no big mountain there, but it’s a nice area with lots of lakes. A campfire ban was in effect there too – almost the entire country had fire bans. We started to see more and more oil wells along the way too.

The further west we drove, the more haze we encountered from all the wildfires burning in Alberta and British Columbia. Everything was so dry – and dusty! To make matters worse, we drove on mostly dirt roads – but we saw some of rural Saskatchewan that you just don’t see driving the highway.

Road and hills, Saskatchewan

On our way to Grasslands National Park, we drove close to the U.S. border in places. We stopped at a Jewish cemetery along the way, and since it was pretty hot, we had a couple of beer breaks along side of the road in wheat fields.

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