If you can imagine a series of outdoor environments, each with a particular background, acoustics, lighting, aromas and characters, you can begin to understand the magic of traversing the Salt Marsh Trail in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

This section of The Great Trail of Canada – on the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq – is very well maintained and inviting for all ages and abilities. The transformations of landscapes, light and tides on the Salt Marsh Trail play out on markedly flat terrain, for the full length of the 6.5 kilometre gravel and wood path.  Accessible and a delight for all the senses, you will never forget your journey on this Trail section.

Morning Toggle Arrow

Start your adventure at the head of the Salt Marsh Trail on Bisset Road in Cole Harbour, where there is ample parking for cars and motorbikes.

Within minutes of stepping onto the Trail, you are in the forest and the distinct scents of evergreens – spruce, cedar, pine or balsam fir – fill the air. You will see the first of many amenities, tactfully installed along the first third of the Trail. Benches, a restroom, interpretive installations and marker at every kilometre will help with navigation. The Trail itself continues on, giving no hint of what’s ahead.

Next on your walk is Rosemary’s Way, a rest stop and the beginning of the saltwater marsh. Marshes are vital ecosystems, wild with colourful insects, flowers, shorebirds and other wildlife. These wetlands are flooded and drained daily by tidal activity and contain a myriad of bacteria that can sometimes give off a peculiar whiff!

Soon the salty air will take over, and the Trail will appear to leave the forest and pour out onto the cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean (when the tide is in) or the open mudflats teeming with wildlife (when the tide is out.)

Water brings canoes and ducks; mudflats bring clam diggers and singing shorebirds. On an overcast day you may find a great fog bearing down on, and silencing, the water. It’s an ideal moment for a budding photographer who can catch a mirror image of the shore at this moment.

In any weather, when crossing the incredible, four-bridge causeway, remember you will be open to the elements for a couple of kilometres. As glorious as it is, you’ll need plenty of sunscreen in summer and cozy layers in winter.

Once you’re back among the trees, you are about two-thirds of the way to the end of the Salt Marsh Trail. But why end the day there? If you keep walking, you can continue on to the Atlantic View Trail until you hit Lawrencetown Road (Hwy 207).

You’ll come to a small ocean beach on the right – a wonderful outdoor “studio” for selfies, particularly in the summer when the wild flowers are in bloom. Up the hill is your destination, the storied MacDonald House located at 4144 Lawrencetown Rd.

Once in MacDonald House, start at the café. Enjoy a beverage or small lunch and rest your legs. Your eyes will quickly catch the view of the ocean, the white caps forever churning.

Afternoon Toggle Arrow

After taking a break to cool off or warm up, as the weather dictates, cross the hall and enter the Fancy Lucky Art Gallery and Craft Shop.  A feast for your eyes, the many forms, textures, and colours bring the crisp, white space to life. Climb the stairs to visit Fancy Lucky Vintage to delve into hundreds of antiques, pre-loved garments and shoes and period jewellery. This cute shop is like a museum – every inch of the shop beckons for attention, showing off a wonderful collection of locally handmade goods and artful bits and pieces.

Your treasures tucked away in your backpack, return to the Salt Marsh Trail in the reverse of how you arrived.

In any weather, returning to the open, albeit shallow, harbour never fails to impress. If you are lucky, or have timed your trip according to tidal activity, you can witness an entire ecosystem transform right in front of your eyes.

From rushing water with ducks bobbing up and down to seemingly barren mud flats as far as the eye can see, this landscape and coast are subject to incredible changes in wind, temperature, sounds and aroma, as well as flora and fauna. Everything will be so different, you may wonder if you are in the same part of the Trail where you were this morning!

 

Along the way, you may meet volunteers from Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association (CHPTA) and/or the trained, volunteer Trail Wardens. Feel free to ask them anything about the Trail!

Volunteers are at the heart of the Salt Marsh Trail and other trails in the area. For more than 20 years a small but fierce group generated the funds and provided the labour required to design, build, maintain and continually improve this section of the Trail. In fact, if you’d like to add volunteering to your Salt Marsh Trail adventure, you can! Most Saturdays, CHPTA holds an open volunteer work morning.

Now you should be back where you started, but you might want to discover more! You can make your way another five kilometres to the Heritage Farm Museum on the 400-acre, Cole Harbour Heritage Provincial Park, where you can learn about the history of “Poor’s Farm”, visit the old barns, have some quintessential afternoon tea and even pet a few sheep in the pasture! The bike or walk back to your starting point on Bisset Road ends a perfect day on the Salt Marsh Trail.

 

 

Marty Zelenietz, birder and member of the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association

“My favourite part is where the Trail opens up from the woods to the water; that moment when you step out of the trees and the water is right there and everything opens up to us. The vistas are stunning.”

Getting there

Fly to Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ). Cole Harbour is about 40 kilometres from the airport. The Cole Harbour Salt Marsh Trail connects with the Shearwater Flyer Trail at one end and the Atlantic View Trail at the other. From Halifax, you can bike the fifteen kilometres to the head of the Trail in about an hour.

Where to stay

For 23 years, Jane and Cal Dominie have hosted visitors at their Moonlight Beach Inn, East Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia. Situated on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, this group-friendly vacation rental offers four separate suites, a common space including a games room with a pool table, hot tub, fireplaces, decks looking over the ocean and bicycles.