Hiking Gaff Point Trail, Hirtle’s Beach, South Shore Nova Scotia

“I love walks, hiking, exploring, and being on the beach”.  (Ireland Baldwin)

We do too! This is one of our favourite short hikes in Nova Scotia – and we finally found Secret Beach…

Gaff Point Hiking Trail, West Ironbound Island

The Gaff Point Hiking Trail (and access to Secret Beach) is a terrific 7 km-long looped trail that begins at Hirtle’s Beach in Kingsburg on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. About 1 ½ hours from Halifax, just outside of Lunenburg and not far from Bridgewater, it’s a great day-trip. The Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy, Nova Scotia Nature Trust, and Nature Conservancy of Canada protect this unspoiled 124-acre property and maintain the trail.

The hike is moderate and can take from 2 to 3 hours. Many people spend much more time, stopping to enjoy the many fantastic views, having a lunch break, surfing, swimming, and sunbathing. I suggest making a day of it – pack a lunch, bring lots of water and just take your time – a few hours can pass by quickly at Gaff Point.

It is an ideal hike for bird enthusiasts and photographers. Seabirds can be seen in the bays surrounding Gaff Point, and, if you’re lucky, you may catch sight of whales, seals, white tail deer, rabbits or porcupine.

Parking is available close to the beach, and there are outhouses for public use. In the summer months, you can enjoy the use of picnic tables. Many people enjoy trout fishing in the two small lakes adjacent to the beach. At times during the summer, a snack bus sells food and drinks.

Boggy Section, Gaff Point Hiking Trail

*Tips: Check the weather before you make the journey – the fog can be “thick as pea soup” at times, and you may not get to enjoy the beautiful views from the Point. There are many steep cliffs and drop offs, so keep an eye on small children at all times – and keep your dog on a leash. Don’t forget your binoculars.

You’ll start your Gaff Point hike walking on Hirtle’s Beach, where you will find more than 3 km of white sand, rolling surf, fresh sea air, drumlin cliffs, and breathtaking views. Because the sand and stones move and shift at the whim of the ocean, the beach is always changing. It can be sandy for an easy hike but is sometimes covered with small pebbles and larger beach rocks, making it difficult to walk on. I suggest wearing good hiking shoes.

After walking on a short section of boardwalk from the parking lot – which is engraved with the names of people that have contributed to the park and protection of the area – turn right and walk on the beach for about 1 ½ km before heading up into the wooded path. For an extended walk, you could turn left and walk along the beach to the drumlin hills and back before heading out to the trails.

Looking left on Hirtle's Beach

About half way to where the trail begins, if the tide is high, you may need to take a detour up and over a gated pasture high above the shoreline. This is private property, with grazing horses present at times, but access points allow hikers to pass. If the tide is low, you can walk on the beach.

Gaff Point Trail, Horses grazing

Close to the end of the beach, to the right in the sand dunes, the wooded path area begins. You’ll see a plaque with a map of the trail. You’ll walk through a spruce forest, fields of crowberries and cranberries, and some boggy areas covered with wooden walkways, before arriving at Gaff Point.

As you come into a clearing, keep your eyes open for another path branching to the right. This short trail will take you to Sandy Cove – or as most of the locals call it – ‘Secret Beach’. It’s not so much a secret anymore as it has become a very popular spot to visit.

Climbing down to Secret Beach

To reach this little gem of a beach you’ll climb down a cliff and back up using a knotted rope – don’t worry, it’s pretty easy. The beach is small and cannot be accessed at high tide. Once on the beach, you’ll get a close-up view of the multi-coloured rocks, which form the cliffs. It is totally worth taking the detour to Secret Beach!

Eventually, you’ll come to a fork in the trail where you can turn left or right – either route loops around and brings you back to the trailhead. When you near the tip of Gaff Point, you should begin to see inukshuks (stone landmarks) that previous hikers have built. Go ahead – build your own! From this area, you’ll enjoy awesome vistas of the seascape, with views of the LaHave Islands and Moshers Island, and to the left, you may see sheep grazing on the steep cliffs of West Ironbound Island.

We always stop here for a break, sitting on the cliff, our legs dangling over the edge, enjoying our snacks and beverages, appreciating the view and the beauty of nature.

There is a memorial plaque at the end of the point in honour of William F. Schwartz. He was a former Chair of the national board and a long time friend of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. It is a fitting tribute to a man who worked so hard during his life to preserve our natural heritage.

My family and I have hiked Gaff Point many times. We never get tired of the beautiful seascapes visible from most of the trail. I love the smells of the ocean and forest, eating the berries, lazing on Secret Beach, and just being outside spending special times with family and friends.

If you love to hike or just want to take a leisurely stroll, I highly recommend visiting Hirtle’s Beach and the Gaff Point Hiking Trail. You won’t regret it – and don’t tell anyone about Secret Beach!

Check out one of our favourite camping and hiking spots nearby: Thomas Raddall Provincial Park, Port Joli.

Happy hiking!

How to get there:

To get to Hirtle’s Beach, and the beginning of the Gaff Point Trail, take exit 11 in Blockhouse off Hwy 103, turning onto Hwy 324 toward Lunenburg. Next, make a right onto Hwy 332 and follow it for about 12 km to Rose Bay. Make a left onto Kingsburg Road, and finally turn right onto Hirtle’s Beach Road and follow it to the end and the parking lot.

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