Linking over 15,000 communities across Canada and traversing our varied landscapes, The Great Trail promises countless opportunities for adventure. With so many Trail sections to see, is there a simple solution? A road trip that allows you to experience numerous sections of the Trail over a few days or a few months – depending on how much exploring you get up to!
Driving to trailheads allows you to prepare in advance, take your time and be open to serendipity. Nothing says adventure quite like the phrase, “road trip.” Our daily work lives are so determined by routine that it’s a blessing to be able to spend days on the open road. Even though Canada has been mapped and explored extensively, aspects of the experience of seeing are country are still uncharted. Any drive through it is sure to be filled with surprises no GPS-driven map will prepare you for.
With all its unlimited potential for experience, it’s impossible to reduce a 24,000-kilometre Trail to one single article. The goal here is just to give you the right starting point, offer a few helpful tips, and keep you in the right frame of mind to properly enjoy a trip. Here are some of our favorite spots on The Great Trail in the Maritimes.
Before you go: Road trip tips for beginners
Even though online maps allow us to preview journeys and experiences at the touch of a button, they also have the unintended consequence of ending any chance of encountering amazing surprises off the beaten track. Why not embrace the chance to unplug and use a good road map instead and check out many spots along the way?
A physical road map contains the key to both direction and openness, and you’ll find them at tourist centres across the country. In advance, mark out a few destinations that you want to see, then use the road map to find them. Here’s the map of The Great Trail itself – where you can mark spots along the way. Consider how much time you have to trek, where you are and where you want to get to, and have fun seeing and doing as much as you can!
As far as basic safety tips, it’s a good idea to keep a spare tire in the car, along with things like water, spare toilet paper and a headlamp. Hopefully you won’t need them, but that’s what emergency preparation is all about.
Once you’re ready to hit the road, why not curate your own great Canadian playlist? Scotch connoisseurs say that pouring a drop of water from the river where the scotch was made perfectly opens up the drink. This is akin to listening to music from the land you’re driving through. Canada has produced some great musicians, from classics like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, to Gordon Lightfoot. Listening to the Tragically Hip is a must–Canada has always loved this band, but nevermore than after the death of frontman Gord Downie, coming as it did after a national tour in the shadow of his cancer diagnosis. There’s newer music too, like Grammy-winning band Arcade Fire and rollicking East Coast bands like Great Big Sea. These are some of the big touchstone landmark bands, and of course there are too many other ones to name.
Photo: Jared Nusinoff/Out Here Travel
The Bay of Fundy National Park & The Fundy Trail
Canada evokes an almost mythical sense of nature’s splendour. To get an incredible slice of it, park your car at Fundy National Park and walk the Fundy Footpath. Hugging Canada’s coastline, it starts from the suspension bridge at Big Salmon River along to the boundary of Fundy National Park. To be sure, it’s not a cakewalk. This challenging Trail section runs along jagged cliffs and mixed forest, and takes three to four days to complete. However, hikers will be rewarded with stunning views of the Bay of Fundy.
The Fundy Footpath also leads the way to the Fundy Trail, a 2,559-hectare park offering wild Atlantic vistas. The park also features three “discovery beaches,” a path to Long Beach spanning 2.5 kilometres, a 10-kilometre multi-use trail section and several footpaths. You’ll find lookout points, waterfalls, a 60-metre suspension bridge, kayak tours, 600-million year-old rock formations and much more as you explore.
By car, Fundy National Park is only minutes from St. Martins and under an hour from St. Johns and Sussex – meaning you can spend a few hours or the entire day there. With plenty of accommodations and restaurants in the area, you can see unspoiled swathes of nature without feeling like you’re isolated in the wilderness.
Photo: Nova Scotia Trails Federation
Celtic Shores Coast Trail, Cape Breton Island
Some locations are so breathtaking that all you need to do to experience them fully is see them. Such is the Celtic Shores Coast Trail, which offers a wonderful gateway into the magic of Cape Breton.
The Trail section itself runs from Port Hastings to the town of Inverness, on Cape Breton’s west coast. The terrain is ideal for a wide range of outdoor activities, from off-road cycling to long-distance treks. The trail is easy and flat, with a beautiful lookout to the Atlantic coast. As you go further, you’ll see tranquil streams, picturesque ocean views and busy fishing harbours – as well as warm beaches where you can swim. For some more hikes, here is another post about other hikes on Cape Breton Island by Out Here Travel.
Even by night, there is plenty to see and do on the Celtic Shores Coast Trail! This Trail section also runs through vibrant Celtic communities with high-quality accommodations and restaurants, where you’re sure to enjoy lively Celtic music from talented local musicians!
Photo: Jared Nusinoff/Out Here Travel
PEI’s Confederation Trail
Prince Edward Island might be one of Canada’s most precious gems – historically and geographically. Seeing the island, or “PEI” as it is fondly known, is a must for visitors to Canada. It’s all about encountering the island’s beautiful land itself and the people who live here, and exploring the Confederation Trail is a great way to explore this maritime province. This 448-kilometre Trail section takes you across the island from tip to tip, passing through beautiful rolling scenery, quaint villages, hardwood groves and beautiful seascape vistas. It’s a flat, well-serviced trail, easy for cyclists, hikers and snowmobilers of all fitness levels.
Experience Canada & The Great Trail with Out Here Travel
Here to make your trip easy and memorable is the Canadian road trip adventure tour company, Out Here Travel. Hop on their bus, and join fellow travelers looking to experience Canada’s best big and tiny landmarks. According to their philosophy, Out Here plans an itinerary, not a destination. Every trip is different even if the route is the same, coloured by the combination of unique conditions along the way. It’s led by a seasoned traveler and adventurer from Canada who felt no tourist infrastructure existed, making it easy for visitors to his home country to easily see the best of what’s here. Out Here sews together the values described above, and hopes to leave visitors with a wonderful impression of Canada. Looking for more tips, you can always check out the rambles blog.