Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week, we highlight one of the best trails from around the world. For us, reading about a great backpacking trip motivates us to want to see it ourselves. We hope this series inspires you to do the same!
This week's focus is the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail in Canada's rugged east coast.
Featured Photo: Cape Chignecto Provincial Park (photo by Claudiu Dobre)
Why Hike the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail?
From the Three Sisters Sea Stacks to beautiful beaches along the Bay of Fundy and spectacular viewpoints throughout the trail, the Cape Chignecto Coastal hike in Nova Scotia, Canada has plenty to offer those looking for a quality coastal hike.
- 52 km (32 mile) loop, typically completed in 3-4 days
- Open seasonally May-October
- Warmest Month: July/August (21°C high/11°C low)
- Driest Month: August (96.2 mm rainfall)
- Moderately Difficult: Consistent elevation gain and loss (sea level to 150 meters/500 feet) on the trip as well as some mud on trail.
- Designated lookout points and beach access points throughout the trail.
- Cliff sides are constantly eroding and can be unstable. Only approach cliffs at designated viewing areas
- There are 7 designated backcountry campgrounds with outhouses available at these sites. There are no bear lockers so you will need to hang your food.
- There are 4 cabins on the trail for those looking for an alternative to tenting
- Campsites and cabins will need to be reserved though the Nova Scotia Provincial Parks Website or upon registering at the Red Rocks Visitor Centre. All campers must register at the park office before entering the park
- Moose, deer, black bears and coyotes can be found in the vicinity
- Dogs are permitted on trail but are not permitted inside any public structures such as cabins
- Fishing is permitted with a Nova Scotia fishing licence
- Will need to be aware of the tide charts for certain sections of the trail. The tidal range and steep cliffs may trap unwary hikers. The tide rises and falls at a rate of 1 inch per minute.
- There is usually cell phone coverage at high elevations and on beaches
- Campfires are not permitted
- Hiking along the beach west of McGahey Brook is not permitted
How Do I Get There?
The Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail is located along the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Halifax International Airport is the closest airport to the Cape Chignecto Coastal Hike. It takes approximately 3 hours to drive from the airport to the trail.
Frederiction International Airport in New Brunswick is another option if you need to take a plane. It is approximately a 3 hour and 20 minute drive to the trailhead.
Advocate Harbour is the closest town to the trailhead. There are hotel options in Advocate Harbour if you are looking for a place to stay prior to starting the trail. It should take 5 minutes or less to get from a hotel in Advocate Harbour to Cape Chignecto Visitor Centre where you will register before beginning your hike.
Map of Recommended Route
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended camp sites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
- Day 1 - Red Rocks to Eatonville Bunkhouse + Three Sisters and Squally Point Trail Loop
- Day 2 - Eatonville Bunkhouse to Big Bald Rock Campgrounds
- Day 3 - Big Bald Rock Campgrounds to Refugee Cove Campgrounds
- Day 4 - Refugee Cove to Red Rocks
The Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail is loop trail usually completed in 3-4 days. You can complete this trail clockwise or counter-clockwise. The below itinerary follows the trail in a counter-clockwise path over a four day period.
Day 1 - Red Rocks to Eatonville Bunkhouse + Three Sisters and Squally Point Trail Loop (Eatonville Day Use Trail)
Your journey begins after registering at the Visitor Centre by Red Rocks. You will be following the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail loop counter-clockwise through the woods towards Eatonville.
The trail to Eatonville Bunkhouse is approximately 14 kilometers and mostly uneventful. In fact, there are plenty of people who choose to forgo this initial portion of trail. However, in order to skip this section of trail you would either need two vehicles or a way to shuttle from Red Rocks parking lot to the Eatonville parking lot or vise versa (if doing the trail clockwise).
You will likely experience some mud along your travels through the forest though it is not likely to be overly strenuous or difficult to navigate. The first night of this trek will be spent at the Eatonville Bunkhouse (you will need to book this in advance) rather than the Eatonville campgrounds. The bunkhouse will save you time as you will not have to set up camp this night. This will allow you to drop your gear and quickly head out to complete the Three Sisters and Squally Point Trail loop. This mini loop is actually part of Eatonville’s day use trail and not officially apart of the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail. However, this optional loop will provide you with spectacular views of the Three Sisters Sea Stacks and Eatonville Harbour (Eatonville used to be a vibrant shipbuilding and lumber centre), making it a well worth diversion from the Coastal trail. After exploring Eatonville’s day use trails head back to the bunkhouse for the night.
Those individuals who decide against the day loop trail at the end of day 1 might consider hiking to Seal Cove rather than the Eatonville Bunkhouse as it is a much nicer campground. Also, if you forgo the Eatonville Day Use Trail during your backpacking journey then it is highly recommended that you check it out either prior to or after your backpacking trip.
Day 2 - Eatonville Bunkhouse to Big Bald Rock Campgrounds
Today’s travels will take you another 14 kilometers down the trail. The beginning of your day will be spent travelling out of the forest towards the coast line. You should get some distant glimpses of the Three Sisters sea stacks once you reach the coast.
The areas around Seal Cove and Keyhole Brook are particularly scenic and will be the highlights of today’s hike. On top of this, you will pass six designated look out points for wonderful views of the coast line.
Overall this day will offer you some amazing views from designated viewpoints however the terrain becomes more undulated, rising and lowering to and from sea level making the trail more difficult. The weather can also play a role in the difficulty of the trail. The trail can become quite muddy or washed out in large sections if it has rained recently. This has the potential to make travel more difficult as well as increase the time it takes to get to camp.
Day 3 - Big Bald Rock Campgrounds to Refugee Cove Campgrounds
Today’s hike will only be 9 kilometers but the constant rise and fall of elevation continues on this day. Also be prepared for mud on this day as well. You will follow the trail south from Big Bald Rock towards Cape Chignecto where you will round the cape and head east along the coast to Refugee Cove. This section of trail has some of the steepest cliffs in Nova Scotia.
There are five more designated lookout points along today’s travels that offer hikers chances to gape at beautiful vistas. Cape Chignecto itself isn’t as breathtaking as the rest of the scenery along the coastline though it is still a welcome site and beautiful in its own way. You will end todays hike heading down a steep hill with plenty of roots, descending into Refugee Cove.
The beach at Refugee Cove is a charming rocky area to spend the afternoon. The campgrounds, however, are situated off the beach within the treeline a short distance from the beach.
Day 4 - Refugee Cove Campgrounds to Red Rocks
The last section of trail is approximately 14 kilometers long and is considered front country standard. This means that you will encounter stairs, steps and railings along this section of the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail.
Upon exiting Refugee Cove you will embark upon the steepest and most difficult section of today’s hike. You will need to go up and down two hills that elevate fairly quickly without switchbacks.
You will encounter 1 lookout point shortly after Refugee Cove. The remainder of the hike generally remains off the coast with fewer views of the ocean and coastline. There will be a switchback trail prior to Mill Brook at approximately the 6 kilometer mark. The trail will theb head back inland until you approach McGahey Brook. It is just a short walk to the visitor centre parking lot from McGahey Brook which will bring you to the end of your travels at Nova Scotia’s premier coastal hike.
What Will I Need?
August is the driest month in Cape Chignecto Provincial Park. However, even in August there can be a considerable amount of rainfall with historical averages showing 8 days of rain in the month with 96.2mm of rainfall. Therefore it is imperative to have adequate rain gear. Look for waterproof hiking boots/shoes and gaiters. These will perform a double duty of protecting you from the rain as well as the mud. A good rain jacket is also necessary. A pack cover is a good option for most packs.
Bear spray or bear bangers can also be handy on trail as added protection in the wilderness.
A quality tent will be necessary if you choose to camp rather than stay in cabins. If you choose to hike with trekking poles then you might consider hiking with a trekking pole tent which will save you weight and space.
A sleeping pad with an R value between 3-4 will be good for most of the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail season (May-October). You may also think about getting a pump sack/bag for your sleeping pad if your pad did not come with one. It makes inflating your sleeping pad so much easier and takes up very little space and weight in your pack.
If you are hiking during the warmer months then you will not need an overly warm sleeping bag. A lightweight quilt might be a better option on trail. It will keep you warm while providing more mobility (rolling over) and options (sticking feet out of the quilt for example) for sleeping.
A backpacking quilt is extremely versatile! It can go from an open blanket to a closed up, mummy-style sleeping bag. This versatility makes them them ideal for 3-season use.
Speaking of trekking poles, they could be a useful option on this trail. Trekking poles will add stability and assist you with the constant climb and descent on trail, particularly if the trail is muddy or washed out.
A stove and pot set are definitely a must on any backpacking trip. However, you don’t need anything fancy on trail. If you are planning on mostly eating dehydrated meals then 1 titanium cooking pot will be all you need. A titanium mug is also handy to have on trail if you want to have a warm beverage in the morning or evening.
Do I Need a Permit?
Yes, a permit is required to hike the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail. You will need to register at the Red Rocks Visitor Centre as well as pre-book your campsites or cabins prior to your hike. Make sure to select ‘backcountry hiking’ as your reservation type. You will be able to see current camping fees and cabins fees when booking online.
The only cost associated with the trail will be the overnight camping/cabin fees.
Resources7-Day Weather/Tide Chart Forecast
The Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail presents hikers with towering cliffs, beautiful vistas and beaches. It is also an easier trail than the Fundy Footpath in New Brunswick making it a more accessible hike for those looking for a coastal hike in Eastern Canada.
If you are looking for a more challenging hike along the Bay of Fundy then read our Hike of the Week article on the "Fundy Trail/Footpath." Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other coastal hikes in Canada.Hike of the Week: West Coast Trail
Hike of the Week: Juan de Fuca Trail
Hike of the Week: North Coast Trail
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed writeup like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.