Cape Chignecto: Red Rocks to Eatonville (4 days / 36 km)

Cape Chignecto - Uninhabited Island of Isle Haute far in the distance

Gorgeous, quiet, and full of harbour seals, Cape Chignecto is the largest park in Nova Scotia. Located at the innermost point of the Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides in the world, it makes for a wonderful 3-4 day coastal hike. We were a group of three which included a first-time backcountry hiker! It’s a fantastic gateway to this type of trip, as long as you’ve got decent rain gear, a positive attitude about mud, and strong legs for climbing hills. 

Trip Completed: June 2023


Trip Summary

Starting Point: Red Rocks (Cape Chignecto Visitor Centre) 

Ending Point: Eatonville (Elliot Field Parking Lot) 

Total Distance: 36 km 

Elevation Gain: 2000 m

Duration: 4 days, 3 nights 

Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult. 

Location

Cape Chignecto is located on the Bay of Fundy near the small community of Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Halifax. 

Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Mi’kma’ki (source).

Maps & Resources

Map: When you arrive at the visitor centre, they will give you a paper copy of this map to preview the route. The trail is incredibly clear and well marked with red reflective blazes and kilometer markers the entire way, so we almost never took out our map. 

Tides: The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest times in the world! The tide rises and falls at a rate of an inch per minute, and changes by an hour each day. It’s important to be mindful of what direction the tide is flowing if you’re exploring the beaches. Route-wise, this is only really important at the beach near Red Rocks (if the tide is high, you will have to hike on the trail instead of the beach, its 1 km longer) 

Campsite Reservations: We made reservations months in advance (we are used to the British Columbia/Ontario booking system!) but when we arrived we saw this was probably not required! With the exception of our night at Refugee Cove, we were the only group staying at each campsite. That said, reservations can be made through the Parks Nova Scotia website, and is not overly competitive. 

Permits: Drop by the Visitor Centre before you start hiking to pick up permits. Park staff will also take down your contact info in case they need to evacuate the park for any reason (e.g. forest fire was the case in early June 2023). 

Know Before You Go

Season: This park operates through the summer months only.

Cell Reception: Not much – but we could sometimes get some connection on the beaches. 

Water: Freshwater is absolutely everywhere in Cape Chignecto! There are big creeks at every campsite and smaller ones throughout the trail. Access to freshwater was never a problem. Treating is always recommended. 

Parks staff bring in fresh water in barrels to the cabins, if you choose to rent them. They do recommend treating that water too, as it may have sat there for a few days. 

Wildlife: As in all parks it’s important to be bear aware, but we did not see any and did not carry bear spray. Bear spray is not mandatory and most local folk told us it is not required, as there are only black bears in NS and they are mostly quite timid. That said, always hang your food in a secure container and/or keep it far from your tent. 

We did see more than a dozen harbour seals along the coast, sunbathing on the rocks. This was easily the highlight of the trip. (Listen close for a slightly spooky howling sound while you hike!) Other animal sightings included a mama grouse and baby chicks, small snakes, lots of diving ducks, and chipmunks. 

Waste: There is a pit privy/outhouse at each campsite. There are no garbage cans at all outside of the Visitor Centre parking lot so this is a strict ‘Pack In, Pack Out’ scenario.

Outfitters & Shuttles

Did you use an outfitter for gear or for transportation? If not, is there one nearby?

Outfitter: We did not use any outfitter for this trip as nothing is required outside of your typical backcountry hiking equipment, though we did stop at MEC in Halifax to pick up a few extra dry bags! Keeping your dry things dry and wet things separate is crucial here.  

Shuttle: We used a shuttle service provided by Nova Shores to take us from our endpoint (Eatonville) to our parked car at the Visitor Centre. The service is not advertised on the website but if you email them they will arrange it for you. It cost us $70 total for 3 of us. It was about a 35-minute ride. We chose to book the shuttle because our group was from Ontario and wanted to maximize the amount of time we were by the ocean. Taking the shuttle enabled us to fit the trip into 4 square days and offer some lounging/swimming time at each campsite, as well as skip the 16 km return hike through the forest.

Trip Report

Day 1: Cape Chignecto Visitor Centre (Red Rocks) to Refugee Cove (16 km)

On the first day, we woke up early to drive in from Halifax to Advocate Harbour, the nearest town to Cape Chignecto. We checked in at the Visitor Centre at around noon to pick up our permits and tidal charts and fill up our water bottles with fresh water. 

If the tide is low enough, you can actually skip the first section of the trail and walk along the beach at Red Rocks. This shaves about 1 km off the day’s hike and offers a beautiful introduction to the mystical ocean scenes to come. There are huge boulders covered in Rockweed and dotted with Periwinkle. (We learned from a fellow hiker that these are edible!) 

After a way, there was a large staircase (65 steps) linking back up to the trail. This area was easily the most strenuous section of the trail, with a succession of prolonged climbs and declines. It is mostly through a lush forest and has little in the way of views. This trail itself from the Visitor Centre to Refugee Cove is often done as a day hike and is in great condition. This took us about 5 hours. 

Campsite: A long descent brought us to the breathtaking Refugee Cove. Freshwater streams flow into the ocean, where enormous jagged rocks slice out of the water.  The campsites are set back a ways into the forest.  Kayakers can camp on the beach, but hikers are not permitted to. We stayed at sites RC1 and RC2, which were basically directly beside the outhouse. 

Day 2: Refugee Cove to Big Bald Cabin (9 km)

Seabirds and wildflowers made this part of the hike very enjoyable. There were numerous lookout trails along the way offering spectacular coastal vistas. They are worth it! The vistas are incredible, complete with 200 m red cliffs, sheltered coves, and perfect pebble beaches. We were often delighted to see (and hear!) seals resting on the rocks below. 

Though this section was shorter than the previous day, it felt a bit longer and was reasonably strenuous. It rained quite a bit and many of the trails transformed into little rivers. Like all coastal routes, expect mud and wet feet, and always check the depth of puddles with a hiking pole before stepping in!

Campsite: We had heard great things about the cabins at Cape Chignecto so we splurged ($57) and booked one for the middle of our trip, so we could have a fire and have a chance to dry off a bit. The cabin was incredibly cozy and clean, complete with a wood burning stove, firewood, 4x wood double bunk beds, and fresh water. We had a great evening of cards, protected from the bugs. 10/10 would recommend it! Once again there is a gorgeous beach a short walk away – polar bear dips in the Atlantic ocean were followed by dunks in the freshwater creeks, to refresh ourselves for the next day! 

Day 3: Big Bald Cabin to Seal Cove (9 km)

A beautiful continuation of the day before – we saw even more seals, Bald Eagles catching fish, Eider ducks, delicate wild Irises, and Pink Lady Slippers. It rained most of the day, but the rain ended up keeping us cool and refreshed as we hiked. Once again we were grateful for dry bags to keep the essentials dry! 

Campsite: Seal Cove is a popular campsite for folks hiking clockwise (like us) or counterclockwise, but we had this beautiful area all to ourselves. Once again the campsites were nested in the forest, a short walk from the beach. We stayed at SC1 and SC2, but wished we actually set up our tent at another campsite, which had a better water drainage situation. Dinner and reading on the beach as the tide gently rolled in was a dream. 

Day 4: Seal Cove to Eatonville (6 km)

This was the easiest section of trail to hike, as it flattened out and turned eventually inward, away from the coast, but not before offering a few stunning views of the famous ‘Three Sisters’. The forest section was also lovely and followed a larger river, which was a pleasant change of pace. Eventually, we arrived at the Eatonville campsites, which were cheerful and grassy, with picnic tables and a juicy river. The Pickup spot, Elliot Field, is just beside. 

Reflections

This hike really felt like a hidden gem. We encountered very few people on the trail, which made it feel very special. 

In Halifax we overheard someone say “In Nova Scotia, the weather changes every 30 minutes” and that was 100% true on our trip. The weather changed quickly, and never lasted for too long – full downpours would be followed by glowing ‘God Rays’ over the ocean, illuminating the mist from the waves. Absolutely breathtaking. 

We had read online that this was a recommended route for a ‘first-time backpacker’. I would agree but would specify that that first-time backpacker in question should be an experienced camper, reasonably fit, and comfortable/prepared for wet days and nights. I can attest that our first-timer friend had a great time. 

As on most wild beaches and coastal hiking routes, it’s hard to ignore the plethora of plastic waste that washes up on the beaches. The extent of the pollution often brought tears to my eyes, given the natural beauty all around. Please remember to make mindful choices about waste disposal, and what you bring in or near the ocean.  Vote and write to your MP to demand protections for our precious land and coastline every chance you get. 

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Author Bio

Sonya is a game producer and outdoorswoman based out of Toronto, ON, and sometimes Kelowna, BC. She is comically bad at rock climbing but is a great cook on a camping trip – things balance out. 

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