Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bay of Fundy Vacation Checklist

So, you've decided to come visit the Bay of Fundy. You will not be disappointed! It's not surprising that the Bay of Fundy, with the world's highest tides and spectacular seascape, was the last Canadian finalist in the Natural Wonders of the World competition.

 In this post we provide a checklist of fifteen attractions to include in your itinerary, briefly describing each. Future posts will explore each of these, and others, in depth, but we thought it would be handy to have a complete list all in one place. The list is arranged in order around the bay, starting at the New Brunswick border with Maine. We have updated this in summer 2017 with a few revisions this list which as first published in 2011.

Grand Manan Island
A visit to Grand Manan will involve some time since a ferry trip is involved, but the island really is a jewel of the Bay of Fundy. It offers an authentic coastal environment and natural beauty. It is a perfect location for seascape photographers.  Also, it is one of the best places to do whale watching (as well as porpoises and a rich variety of seabirds).

Saint Andrews
This charming coastal New Brunswick town offers a rich educational setting with the Huntsman Marine Centre Museum and Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre offering family friendly places to learn about the Bay of Fundy. So a visit to Saint Andrews is a must.  The Algonquin is a classic Canadian hotel, which also includes superb oceanside golf courses. In 2017 Saint Andrews was rated the top place in Canada to visit by USA Today - indeed high praise.

Saint John and Reversing Falls
The Saint John River (one of Canada's great rivers) flows into the Bay of Fundy in the city of Saint John. The high tidal range produces reversing falls. At low tide there are falls as the water flows downriver, while near high tide the water rushing from the bay up the river creates falls in the opposite direction. The city of Saint John includes other attractions, including New Brunswick's provincial museum that has fine displays on the geologic background for understanding the area, and a first rate downtown market.

St. Martins and Fundy Trail
The village of St. Martins is the gateway to the Fundy Trail, a spectacularly beautiful set of coastal vistas. There are parallel walking and driving trails. Walk at least part of it if you are able at all. While much more limited than the Nova Scotia Cabot Trail, the Fundy Trail is every bit as beautiful. St. Martins also offers a chance to see two of the more interesting covered bridges of the province. The Fundy Trail is largely complete at this time, although the final link to near Fundy National Park will be officially open in 2018.

Fundy National Park
Of course your Bay of Fundy vacation must include a stop at Fundy National Park. In fact, there is enough in the park that you could spend weeks just there, doing something different every day. As well as coastal walks and views, the highlands of the park offer an interesting contrast. The park has an extensive set of well developed trails of varying difficulty levels. The village of Alma (at the eastern entrance to the park) offers a variety of services as well as a charming active harbour. Due to the tidal range, the ships sit on dry ground at low tide, and high up at high tide six hours later. There are excellent dining choices in the village, ranging from the fish and chips at the takeout along the river, to fine dining at the Parkland Hotel, and much in between.  There are several lobster shops in this tiny village, and a bakery that offers incredible sticky buns (and lots more)!

Waterside Beach
Imagine a beach of almost level sand that stretches almost forever. Now add the impressive flow of rising tide from the Bay of Fundy. What if you could have the feeling that beach was almost just for you? While not nearly as well known as most of the other attractions on this list, on your way to Cape Enrage be sure to stop at the Waterside Beach. While the water is cold, the beach is spectacular and usually near empty. Best time to visit is during low tide, or just when the incoming tide is beginning.  This spot is becoming better known and is more frequented than used to be the case, but is still not crowded by any means.

Cape Enrage Lighthouse
One of the most scenic lighthouses along the Bay of Fundy is that at Cape Enrage. On rugged cliffs you have spectacular views of the bay. This lighthouse was saved and turned into one of New Brunswick's top attractions by a pair of Moncton teachers, along with high school and university students. As well as the views, there is a gift shop, coffee shop, and for the more adventurous, the chance to rappel down the cliffs or travel by zip line from cliff to cliff.  If adventure is in your plans, you simply can't miss Cape Enrage!

Hopewell Rocks
New Brunswick's best known tourist attraction is The Hopewell Rocks, and it is regarded as one of the premier tourist attractions anywhere in the world.  As beautiful as pictures are of this location, you really do need to be there in person, surrounded by the majestic structures, to appreciate how special this place is. It is located near the village of Hopewell Cape.  The operators offer motorized rides who find the moderate length walk more than they desire, but note that there are many stairs down to the actual location.  The tides continue to erode these impressive rock formations (a major formation called 'Elephant Rock' partially collapsed in the off season just over a year ago). Plan your visit near the time of low tide to permit walking among the formations - the Hopewell Rocks site will tell you when it is safe to be at sea level. This is the signature tourist destination in New Brunswick, and one of the top sites in all of Canada, all for good reason!

Tidal Bore
The heights of the tidal range cause a tidal bore in several rivers, including the Petitcodiac in New Brunswick. Since shallow water waves travel faster when the water, is deeper, the wave gains strength as it moves up a river. One of the better places to view this is from the city of Moncton. Part of the Canada Trail runs along the river in Dieppe and Moncton, and this is one of the easiest, and perhaps best, places to observe the tidal bore. Join the trail near the Chateau Moncton hotel (which is almost across the street from the large Champlain Place shopping mall). If you do arrange your visit to be there at the right time to see the tidal bore, make sure to stay after the bore to see how rapidly the water flows into the river. Recently professional surfers have begun to use the tidal bore as the longest 'wave' in the world.  Because of rocks near the shore, this is best left to experienced surfers, but it is fun to watch.

Upper Bay Marsh - Sackville
As you proceed up the bay the topography changes from rocky cliffs to flat marshlands. You should spend at least a little while exploring these ecologically important and historically interesting marsh areas. Perhaps the best place, is from Sackville, NB, a delightful and culturally rich town and home of Mount Allison University. The Tantramar marshes extend from the town, and you can walk along the dikes that protect this area from the high tides of the bay. The flat agricultural land reclaimed from the bay are dotted by marsh barns. While in Sackville, make sure to visit the Sackville Waterfowl Park and to spend a little while wandering the beautiful campus of Mount Allison University, most years the top rated primarily undergraduate university in Canada. It's Owens Art Gallery is the oldest university based art gallery in Canada. While in Sackville consider trying out one of the several cafes downtown, or fine dining at the Marshlands.  Joeys is a long time favourite offering excellent Italian cuisine.

Joggins Fossil Cliffs

The action of the tides wears away the coast, in certain regions constantly uncovering new fossils. The best location to view these is at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Joggins Fossil Cliffs near the village of Joggins, Nova Scotia. The site has a wonderful modern interpretive site, offers guided walks along the beach where almost everyone can find fossils (but you must leave everything you find on the beach). While Joggins is a bit out of the way, don't even think of skipping this on your Bay of Fundy trip. The interpretive centre was totally modernized a few years ago, and provides a fun, informative and comprehensive background to appreciate what you will find on the beach.

The town of Parrsboro, NS has a rich geologic and cultural history, and some of the more beautiful vistas of the bay. In fact National Geographic have proclaimed it the most beautiful place to view the Bay of Fundy. There is much to do in this area, including the Fundy Geological Museum and the Ottawa House by the Sea Museum. The town also is home to a first class summer theatre, Ship's Company Theatre.  The golf course at the edge of town offers outstanding views of the ocean, all at a very reasonable price.

Burntcoat Head
It is surprising but most visitors to the Bay of Fundy region don't actually visit the location with the highest tidal range. Burntcoat Head, NS has this distinction. Not only does this location have the highest regular tide, but it also holds the record for the highest single tidal range (nearly 71 ft) during the 1869 Saxby Gale. There is a small interpretive park, some rock formations that mimic the larger ones at Hopewell Cape, and a lighthouse built on top of a house. Do take the time to include Burntcoat Head in your vacation plans. At the time of writing there is continued redevelopment of this site as a tourism location.

Shubenacadie Tidal Bore Rafting

The Petitcodiac River in New Brunswick is not the only Maritime river with a tidal bore, for example the Salmon River near Truro is another excellent location. If you have a sense of adventure and want to feel the tide, why not consider a rafting expedition as the tidal bore moves up the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia. Check out Tidal Bore Rafting  or Rafting Canada for details. The part of the month with higher tides are the times to experience tidal bore rafting.

While there are a number of interesting harbours along the Bay of Fundy, none are perhaps as active and interesting as that in Digby, NS. Much of the town faces the harbour, so you can sit in restaurants in the town as you watch the activity in the harbour. Settled in 1783 the area has a rich history, and is perhaps best known as the home for the world famous scallop fleet. If looking for fine dining or an upper scale place to stay, the Digby Pines located on the outskirts of town is your destination. It includes a spa and golf course. The downtown region is right along the working harbour, and has lots of interesting shops and cafes. While getting to Digby will add to time required for your trip, a visit to Digby is well worth it. If you have time continue along route 217 (including the two ferry rides) to the end of the spit of land.

We could have included a number of other locations, for example Advocate Harbour Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, and other locations along the bay such as the charming university town of Wolfville. If you are up to a fairly rigorous hike, we highly recommend adding Cape Split to the checklist. If you time it correctly, from the end of the trail you will hear the waters of the bay rushing past this point on an incoming tide. Back on the New Brunswick side, Campobello Island provides a different Fundy island experience from Grand Manan. If you are making your visit in early to mid August, be sure to include a visit to Johnson Mills or Marys Point in New Brunswick to observe the huge flocks of sandpipers who pause here to eat mud shrimps before they fly non-stop to South America.

In future posts we will explore in more detail each location on our checklist, as well as interesting places that did not make our checklist. Can't wait for our future posts? Check out the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia tourism sites. As always, we welcome comments (and corrections!). Feel strongly about a location we did not include in our "top fifteen"? Why not make your case in a comment on the blog. Happy Bay of Fundy vacation!