Greg and I attempted Cape Chignecto on Thanksgiving of 2005, but turned back around the 7km mark due to exceptionally heavy torrential rains that showed no signs of letting up. Cape Chignecto is probably the best multi-day trail in Nova Scotia, and is one of the more challenging multi-day on-trail hikes in the Atlantic provinces.
The trail follows the top of the cliffs along Cape Chignecto in the Bay of Fundy for about 2/3 of the loop before turning inland through the forest. The trail is a 51km loop that can be done with some beach sections to make it a tiny bit shorter. There are 7 back-country campsites and 2 huts that you can stay at along the way. Unlike similar trails in BC (the West Coast Trail for example) you do have to book your campsites or cabins ahead of time so you don't have flexibility in where to stay.
We did the loop of the entire park, called the Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail
for more info.
When Greg and I planned our trip for Thanksgiving long weekend 2007, the weather looked much more pleasant than our previous attempt. We left Halifax late Friday afternoon and arrived at Cape Chignecto the usual 3 hours later after the long and winding drive along the Fundy Coast. We hiked our stuff the couple hundred meters into the walk-in campsites at Christy Field near the Red Rocks visitor centre. The weather was actually quite warm for October, especially since there was quite the breeze coming off the ocean. We quickly set up our tent and settled in to giggle about the contents of the hilarious Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue - $500 electronic pants presser anyone? How about a $75 upsidedown tomato garden? (See http://www.hammacher.com/
for some hilarious "gift ideas" for the hard to buy for person on your list.
Saturday: Red Rocks Visitor Centre to Refugee Cove ~12km
After getting up as early as we could manage, we carried our stuff back to the car to sort out gear and put away what we didn't need. Then we went in to the visitor centre to check in, pay our campsite fees, and get our assignments for which campsites we would be allowed to camp at. We saw a two other groups at the visitor centre also checking in to do the whole coastal trail. In total, 8 people did the whole loop that weekend - fairly typical for off-season hiking in Nova Scotia - that is to say, nice and deserted.
We headed down the hill to Red Rocks, a small beach near the visitor centre that has some, you guessed, red rock outcroppings. From there we trekked the 1.5km along the beach to McGahey Brook. This route can only be taken when the tide is not high as the cliffs are sheer. However, the route is passable most of the time, even if the tide is not all the way out, and it saves close to 1km and quite a lot of annoying elevation gain and loss.
Leaving Red Rocks and walking the beach towards McGahey Brook
Once we reached McGahey Brook, we turned inland and took the big staircase up to start the trail proper. We later found out that it is possible to walk along the beach at the base of the cliffs all the way to Mill Brook, and even beyond to Refugee Cove at low tide, but you have to be very careful about doing this since if the tide comes in, you'll be in big trouble.
The stairs leading up to the trail at McGahey Brook
From McGahey Brook, the trail turns inland up the brook and meets up with the Fundy Ridge Trail, the alternative to the beach route, and which I remember from two years ago as unnecessarily hilly, nearly viewless, and boring. I'm glad we took the beach this time. Once we crossed the bridge over McGahey Brook we began the first of the climbs out of a gully that the trail is famous for. The McGahey Brook climb is fairly mild compared to some of the ones we would do later, but it was a bit of a grunt first thing. The funniest thing was that we encountered a cluster of party balloons part way up the climb, one of which still legibly read: "To encourage you". I don't know if the balloons just floated to that spot, or if someone found them elsewhere on the trail and thought that was a good spot for them.
An "encouraging" message climbing out of McGahey Brook
Once we reached the top of the climb, we passed the turn-off to the Eatonville trail, which would be our return route to finish the loop on Monday. After the turn-off we spent quite a few kilometers walking along the top of the cliffs in some beautiful sun-dappled deciduous forest. Since it was October, the leaves were starting to turn. The weather was also really warm. Even though there weren't very many views in this section, the trail was fairly flat, or just slightly undulating, and this was some of the most pleasant hiking on the trail.
Sun-dappled trail through the woods
At the 6km mark we began the steep descent into Mill Brook. The trail here is an old horse track and it is so steep that I can't believe laden horses used to trek down it. The ravine walls are too steep for switch-backs, and it was toe-mashingly painful walking down it. At the bottom of the ravine is Mill Brook and Mill Brook campsite. We stopped for a quick lunch by the brook, then kept on going.
After leaving Mill Brook, we started the steepest climb of the trail - 150m of elevation gain on a switchbacking trail. By BC standards, this section of trail is pretty moderate, if a bit rugged, but by Atlantic Canada standards it is pretty darn tough.
Part way up the climb we encountered a true forest gnome. I don't know what he is doing there or how he got there, but we certainly had a giggle over it and took some photos.
Rugged stairs on the climb out of Mill Brook
Once we reached the top of the climb, we headed back into some cliff top trails in a mixed forest.
Big dead tree along the way.
Around the 11km mark we reached a viewpoint side trail. The view trail hugged the side of the cliff and had railings to stop us from falling right off the edge. We had great views of the coast we had already hiked down, the Bay of Fundy, and Refugee Cove, our destination for the night.
View from the cliffs
Soon afterwards, we started the steep descent into Refugee Cove on another old cart track. This one wasn't as steep as the one into Mill Brook, but it was pretty steep.
The steep trail into Refugee Cove
Once we reached the bottom of the hill, we were on the pebble beach at Refugee Cove. The cove got its name because Acadians fleeing the the British during the Acadian expulsion in 1756 made their home here.
Pano of Refugee Cove
After we arrived at Refugee Cove, Greg decided to have a nap in the sun since it was still early afternoon. Apparently he can sleep anywhere.
napping on beach at Refugee Cove
Later in the afternoon we trekked the 1km back past the tidal lagoon into the woods to find our designated campsite, which turned out to be the furthest one back, next to the pretty Refugee Cove Brook.
campsite at Refugee Cove
Since it was dark in the forest, we spent most of the evening around a beach campfire with some other campers, who had hiked in entirely along the beach at low tide the previous day.
Sunday: Refugee Cove to Seal Cove ~18km
First thing Sunday morning we began the steep climb out of Refugee Cove. While it wasn't as steep as Mill Brook, it was enough to make us rather sweaty. At the top there was a nice clearing and a great view. The cliffs here are apparently the highest in mainland Nova Scotia (180m).
top of Refugee climb
From the viewpoint, the going was fairly easy for the next few kilometers as we made our way towards Cape Chignecto. There were lots of great views from the tops of the cliffs.
top of cliffs on the way to the Cape
Soon we arrived at the spur trail to Cape Chignecto. It's about a 5min walk to the Cape, and besides being a nice place to rest, there isn't really much to see as the cape is covered in trees and there isn't really a view.
view from Cape Chignecto
After the cape, the cliffs got a lot shorter the trail got a lot rougher with more rocks and roots underfoot and more ups and downs. A few kms later we arrived at Little Bald Rock, an open area where we stopped for lunch. There are campsites here up in the forest, but we didn't investigate. The best part of the campsite was an open grassy area that gave a great view of the cove, so we stopped and had lunch there.
Little Bald Rock Cove
After lunch we hit the trail again and soon passed the Big Bald Rock campsite. Soon after that, we walked out of the forest onto Big Bald Rock, which is exactly what is sounds like. The breeze was nice and cool out here, since we were actually quite warm. We could see all the way across the bay to New Brusnwick
Big Bald Rock
Pano of Big Bald Rock
After Big Bald Rock we still had 8km to go to get to our campsite for the night, Seal Cove. These 8km definitely felt like the longest kms on the trip. We passed through the Keyhole Brook campsite, which is actually up on the hill away from the brook, in a hurry. This campsite has no views and the water source is a fair distance away, so I was really glad we hadn't planned to stay here.
After passing the campsite we descended into the ravine of Keyhole Brook. At the bottom of the ravine we stopped to dope some water. That is when I realized that we were both about to bonk with about 4km still left to go. Thankfully, I dug some cliff shot bloks out of the pack, and those perked us right up. For people who don't like the taste/texture of gels, the shot bloks work really well because they taste and look a bit like candy, but work like gel.
We were thankful that we hadn't bonked when we reached the descent into Carey Brook a 2km later since the descent was quite steep and at the bottom, the soil and rocks underfoot were really loose. Struggling up the slope on the otherside seemed much harder than it should, due to our tiredness.
The mouth of Carey Brook
From the time we got out of Carey Brook, we were back on top of the cliffs again. As we got closer to Seal Cove, we looked down off the cliffs and saw a group of seals relaxing on some rocks in a sheltered cove.
Seals near Seal Cove
Finally, we descended a slope to Seal Cove Brook and had our first look at Seal Cove beach. The beach was beautiful, and the campsites, although up the hill, were pretty nice. We set up the tent quickly, then returned to lounge on the beach and cook up a tasty Thanksgiving Dinner.
cooking dinner at Seal Cove
shadows at Seal Cove
dusk at Seal Cove
The fall weather was beautiful, but as it got darker, it definitely got a bit cold. Soon we had a tasty dinner ready, and that warmed me right up. We decided to forgo the turkey in a can, but we still had instant mashed potatoes, instant gray, stove-top stuffing, and real cranberry sauce made with a handful of fresh cranberries we carried in and some maple syrup crystals.
Thanksgiving dinner - so tasty
After dinner, decided to get to bed early since we were beat after our 18km day of ups and downs.
Monday: Seal Cove to Red Rocks Visitor Centre ~20km
We tried to get an early start on Monday morning since we had 20km ahead of us, but we didn't get on the trail until close to 10am. The first few kms were again along the coast. We reached Green Point after an hour or so and were treated to a great view of the Three Sisters, a rock formation of sea stacks. Apparently the park is building a new visitor centre near the Three Sisters and kayaking is popular in the area, but we didn't have time to trek over for a better look.
After Green Point, the trail turned inland along Eatonville harbour, and then joined up with an old cart track to the former site of the town of Eatonville. At Eatonville there is a large meadow of campsites, as well as access to a local woods road so this can be an alternative trailhead. However, we planned to take the woods trail, that roughly parallels the woods road, all the way back to the visitor centre, some 14km away. So we stopped for a quick snack, and then pushed on.
After leaving the Eatonville campsite, the trail followed the Eatonville River and its tributaries for quite a while, which was quite pretty.
After crossing a small divide, we left the Eatonville River behind and trekked through the woods of the highlands. Most of the area here has been logged in the past, but we did encounter a few stands of fairly big trees (well big for Nova Scotia anyway).
After what seemed like a very long time, the trail began to descend a long steep slope towards the ocean. It was a toe-masher on the same order as the descent into Mill Brook, but completing the descent meant that we were nearing the junction of the return trail back to the visitor centre. By the time we struggled down to the junction, down into McGahey Brook, and then down the stairs onto the beach, we were exhausted as we had barely stopped all day.
We stopped for an hour or so to rest in the sun on the beach and gaze towards the visitor centre which we could see 1km away as we wished that our car could just drive over and pick us up. I had recently returned to vegetarianism before this trip and Greg claimed to be able to go without meat for the duration of the trip, but by the time we got to the beach, he was moaning and groaning about how all he wanted was a cheeseburger and that he wouldn't be doing a multi-day trip without any sausage or pepperoni sticks again.
Eventually we managed to struggle to our feet and head off down the beach to check in to the visitor centre before they closed for the day. We washed up in their bathrooms, and set out for the long drive back to Halifax, stopping at the nearest Timmy's, in Parrsboro, for Greg to have a BLT with extra bacon. I had a muffin
All in all, this was a great trip. Chignecto is probably the best multi-day on-trail trip you can do in the Atlantic provinces, or at the least the one with the most varied and beautiful scenery. We did the 50km over three days and two nights, but taking 4 days/3 nights is more common. I quite enjoyed doing it at the pace we did, especially since the chilly evenings meant we wanted to go to bed fairly early so we didn't mind the long days.
In retrospect, I would probably do the loop in the reverse direction next time since it would get the long woods section out of the way first, and also because that way we would be descending the gently sloped Eatonville River valley all day, instead of gradually walking uphill all day.
I also found the campsites at Refugee Cove, Little Bald Rock, Seal Cove, and Eatonville to be the nicest. I wouldn't recommend staying Key Hole Brook at all.
If anyone is into trail-running or ultra-running, you might be interested to know that a friend of mine claims to hold the current world record for this trail - 6 hours 28 minutes.
If you are planning to be in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, this trail is well worth the trip - it is like the West Coast Trail of the Maritimes. If you have any questions about the trail I would be happy to answer them.