Nova Scotia stunning scenery is something you don’t want to miss as there are so many sights to see!
Nova Scotia has over 7,600 kilometers of coastline and is known as Canada’s Ocean Playground, making driving in Nova Scotia popular as it is the best way to view the province. Along these scenic routes, you will find beaches, lighthouses, unique restaurants, local boutiques and artisans, and so much more!
Nova Scotia is known for its friendly people, Acadian culture, small-town charm, and fresh local seafood from the Atlantic. The province of Nova Scotia has a vast coastline, mountain ranges, many lakes, and lush valleys. It is home to many of the most scenic roads in Canada, including the unforgettable Cabot Trail.
This post will outline the Best Nova Scotia scenic drives to take and what attractions to stop at and enjoy along the way. Take in the natural beauty of the east coast with our guide to epic Nova Scotia road trips.
Top 5 Best Scenic Drives in Nova Scotia
These scenic driving tours will give you a taste of what Nova Scotia is all about and why so many people are choosing to move or travel to Nova Scotia. Scenic routes, coastal access, and seaside towns make for the perfect maritime road trip in Canada.
The best time to explore any of these scenic drives is June through October, as the weather is warm, sunny, and clear most days, giving you the best views. The summer months are definitely the busiest as tourists visit from around the world.
1. The Cabot Trail
- Distance: 296 kilometers/184 miles
- Time Needed: 3-4 Days
Enjoy the natural landscape of the Cabot Trail as you drive through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park which offers spectacular cliffside views as Nova Scotia’s highest mountains meet the Atlantic Ocean.
This trail is ideal for outdoor lovers as there are hiking trails, whale watching, beaches, camping, water sports, and much more along this adventurous route. The spectacular scenery on this route has so many places to stop to just enjoy the coastal views.
You can drive the Cabot Trail in either direction however most people start the route in Baddeck and work their way towards Cheticamp, then Pleasant Bay, followed by Ingonish and lastly, looping through Sydney on the way to Baddeck.
Since most of the views are on the coastal side of the trail, you will want to drive clockwise so the driver can also take in the views. However, driving counterclockwise can allow easy access to parking stops on the right-hand side of the road, so really, there is no wrong answer on which direction to travel the Cabot Trail.
The most popular stop on the Cabot Trail is the Skyline Trail which is spectacular and a little scary all at the same time as you hike through the forest to a set of stairs that run alongside the cliff’s edge offering ocean views below. Plan for about 2-3 hours as the trail is about a 6.5 km return.
Throughout the route, there are multiple places to enjoy whale watching, paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking, but I recommend making reservations ahead of time during peak season.
For an authentic Nova Scotia experience, you will want to experience local Acadian culture and food in the small fishing towns of Baddeck, Cheticamp, and Ingonish. We highly recommend checking out the Doryman, which is known for great food, good times, and live Celtic music. Don’t forget to check out the local artisans and shops in all of these small communities as they sell unique souvenirs.
If you are looking to enjoy some time at the beach, we advise checking out the six different beaches in Ingonish, as there are 4 saltwater beaches and 2 freshwater beaches. Don’t be surprised though, that even on the hottest summer day, the Atlantic Ocean is very cool.
Pro Tip: Plan accommodations ahead of time, as during peak season in the summer, it can be near impossible to find lodging without pre-booking. Be sure to pack water and snacks for this trip as sometimes it is a far distance between locations that sell these essentials. For a real adventure, consider staying in yurts or camping along the route rather than in expensive hotels.
2. Lighthouse Trail
- Distance: 340 kilometers/211 miles
- Time Needed: 1-2 days
The Lighthouse Trail begins in Halifax and runs along the Southern Shore all the way to Yarmouth. Along this route, you will encounter unique fishing villages, stunning beaches, and over 20 different lighthouses, including the famous Peggy’s Cove.
There are a few places you don’t want to miss along the lighthouse route. You definitely want to stop at Peggy’s Cove, which is a charming fishing town where locals rely on fishing for a living, all while enjoying the beautiful backdrop of the Atlantic. You will want to check out the lighthouse, as well as the visitor’s centers, boutiques, and art gallery, before stopping at the restaurant for a lobster roll.
Queensland beach is a great stop if you want to enjoy the white sand and turquoise waters and enjoy a quick swim. At your next stop in Chester, you can enjoy watching boats in the harbor of this seaside village.
Mahone Bay has unique historic buildings and homes to view as you head to the picturesque waterfront cafe and restaurants making this a perfect mid-day stop to eat. There are also many souvenir shops featuring handmade items, jewelry, home decor, and much more.
Lunenburg is a popular stop as it is home to the famous Bluenose, is featured on Canadian coins and has a rich history in Canada. Along the waterfront, you will find the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, where you can explore old schooners, visit the small aquarium or learn how to shuck a scallop.
Pro Trip: The whole route takes four hours in each direction. However, you can shorten the route by stopping in Lunenburg to turn around and head back if you want to avoid having to stay overnight.
3. Bay of Fundy
- Distance: 300 kilometers/186 miles
- Time Needed: 2 days
Enjoy the world’s highest tidal waves from a variety of locations along the Bay of Fundy Trail that connects Nova Scotia to New Brunswick.
This adventure-filled route will highlight the famous 50-foot tidal waves and allow you to experience unique water sports such as kayaking as the tidal changes, local sea wildlife such as whales and puffins, and enjoying the scenery of historic lighthouses located on the cliffside.
Navigate the changing waters of the river as you go tidal bore rafting in the Bay of Fundy, and once the tides lower, you can experience the unique experience of walking around the ocean floor before the rides begin to rise again. Tidal bore rafting is fun and exhilarating as the rushing waters of the river create a roller coaster-like experience.
You will want to stop at Burncoat Headcoat Park and plan your visit according to the tides so you can explore the Ocean floor and view the famous flowerpot rocks. During your visit, stop by the lighthouse to learn more about the history of the area and about Fundy Tides. If you enjoy walking or hiking, the park features a few nature trails.
Five Islands Provincial Park is along the Bay of Fundy coastal route and has 90-meter cliffs to view. The Red Head trail takes you through the woods but also has a few scenic lookouts along the cliff’s edge. Watch from the cliff’s edge as the tides change and completely alter the area’s natural environment.
Stop for a quick bite at Cape D’Or, which features the lighthouse keeper clam chowder and many other local seafood dishes that are fresh from the Atlantic. The restaurant looks out onto the Bay of Fundy, and along the cliffside, you can view the historic lighthouse.
The last stop is at UNESCO-listed Joggins Fossil cliffs, where you can uncover a variety of fossils.
- Distance: 275 kilometers/170 miles
- Time Needed: 3 hours
The South Shore trail is quieter than most scenic drives as it takes you from Halifax to Shelburne, which has a rich history in Nova Scotia. Part of this trail overlaps the lighthouse trail mentioned above. Explore the natural wonders, delicious seafood, and historical significance of lighthouses and buildings along the trail.
Ovens Park features unique sea caves that you can explore in a short amount of time (2 hours) or stay for longer to enjoy multiple caves and walk along the cliffside coastal walk. Continue along the coast by Cable Ferry to find some of the best beaches in Nova Scotia: Summerville and Riser’s Beach.
Learn about the Acadian history as you visit the Annapolis Royal, which offers Candlelight Graveyard Tours. If you are a wine lover, you will want to continue into the Annapolis Valley and explore the variety of different wineries.
Explore Nova Scotia’s local fauna and flowers in the largest national park of Kejimkujik which has over 14 hiking trails to explore. If you prefer to enjoy the water, you can rent kayaks or canoes. Stay late into the evening and enjoy one of the best spots in the world to stargaze, as the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada forbids external lighting, ensuring that you have the best views of the stars above.
The South Shore trail offers lots of family-friendly activities, natural beauty, and wonderful communities of people.
- Distance: 300 kilometers/186 miles
- Time Needed: 2-3 Days
The Sunrise trail is known for having some of the best beaches, wineries, breweries, and distilleries. This scenic drive takes you along the North Eastern Coast of Nova Scotia, which has many locations to view beautiful sunrises. The beaches are located on the North Cumberland strait, which has some of the warmest water in all of Nova Scotia.
Stop in Malagash Bay to learn more about oyster fishing as you are taught how to catch, clean, and shuck these delightful seafood treats. Don’t worry; there is lots of time to enjoy some samples while you visit.
If you enjoy cycling, there are a variety of options, as you can ride down the Trans Canada Trail or enjoy a quieter route through a local winery called Jost Vineyards. If you are visiting on a Saturday, you will want to stop at one of the many local farmers’ markets that have fresh produce, local crafts, and excellent food options.
Stop for lunch at the Train Station Inn in Tatamagouche to enjoy a meal in a vintage train car, and you can also stop by the gift shop located in the old train station. Meals feature fresh local herbs and vegetables grown on-site as well as local seafood dishes such as clam chowder, shrimp caesar, spicy crab, and many more that will delight your taste buds.
Make the most out of your Maritime adventure by visiting one of these amazing scenic driving tours. Nova Scotia is the perfect destination for a family vacation, especially in the summer when you can source local seafood and view Nova Scotia’s unique landscape.
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If you’ve enjoyed this guide, you may also want to learn more about:
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