Exploring Atlantic Canada's Bay of Fundy
Spread over New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on North America’s Atlantic coast, the Bay of Fundy is the highlight and focal point of Fundy National Park, one of Canada’s smallest yet most popular parks. The area is famed for its maritime attractions, including eight miles of rugged shoreline featuring impressive sandstone cliffs, wide sandy beaches, picturesque islands and, most notably, an extraordinary tidal range. There are countless ways to experience the park’s spectacular natural beauty, plentiful wildlife and colourful Atlantic Canada culture, with beachcombing, kayaking, hiking, island hopping and whale watching being some of the most popular pastimes. Here’s our guide to getting the most out of this unique and fascinating coastal environment.
The world’s highest tides
The area’s biggest draw is undoubtedly its remarkable tides, which are renowned for being the highest and most dramatic in the world. Twice a day, every day, over 160 billion tonnes of water flow in and out of the bay, causing sea levels to rise and fall by up to 16 metres, the equivalent of around 4 storeys. Astonishingly, this volume of water is equivalent to the combined flow of all the world’s freshwater rivers. Such immense power has naturally had a huge influence on the surrounding landscape. It’s shaped and eroded the coastline into irregular patterns, creating dramatic cliffs and spectacular sea stacks in the process. The coming and going of the water creates expansive tidal flats rich in nutrients and attracting a wealth of birdlife to the shoreline. It also results in a phenomenon known as the tidal bore where outflowing rivers are reversed and start flowing back upstream with the incoming tide. Best of all, twice a day the bare ocean floor is exposed and accessible for all to explore, littered with intriguing debris, covered in seaweed and bursting with intriguing intertidal wildlife.
So how best to appreciate Fundy’s incredible tidal spectacle? There are two high and low tides every 24 hours, so visitors can expect to see one of each during daylight hours, with around 6 hours between every high and low tide. Be sure to check exact tide times beforehand then head out to explore the coastline. Simply strolling and beachcombing along the ocean floor at low tide is a must-do. In some areas, the tide retreats by as much as 5km, leaving vast areas open for exploration.
You’ll notice that the bay’s long and diverse geological history is in full evidence all around. There are heavily eroded cliffs, sea caves and rock formations to admire, along with semi-precious stones, minerals and fossils (some more than 300 million years old) that can be foraged in the sand. During the mid-summer migratory season, be sure to spend time observing the vast flocks of diverse birdlife that feed on the area’s tidal flats. For those looking to gain further insight into the region’s fascinating tides, ecosystem, geology and local culture, guided beach walks and a range of interpretative programmes are on offer throughout the summer months.
One of the best places to gain a full appreciation of the tides is at Hopewell Rocks. Here you can admire towering cliffs and hike up to giant “flower pot” rock formations at low tide and then watch as the surrounding landscape is gradually submerged by the incoming water. Stroll the ocean floor the first half of the day, then later on return to marvel at how the entire scene has been transformed. You can even paddle a kayak over the area where you were walking just 6 hours earlier. Tours are available and expert guides will lead you along the shoreline past secret sea coves, hidden beaches and scenic inlets. The site is also home to a fantastic interpretive centre, where you can learn more about the science behind Fundy’s tidal phenomenon. Whilst you’re waiting for the tides, there are also two sandy beaches, several hiking trails, a unique gift shop and an attractive restaurant featuring panoramic views to enjoy.
Joggins Fossil Cliffs
Venture to the Nova Scotia side of Bay of Fundy and you’ll find the phenomenal UNESCO World Heritage Site Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a site of 15km of coastal cliffs home to the world’s most complete fossil record from the Coal Age 300m years ago. This barren landscape is truly remarkable, and hop on a guided tour and you’ll be immersed in the fascinating history of the Coal Age, revealing rare fossils.
Between June to October, more than a dozen species of whale can be found cruising the waters around the Bay of Fundy, including humpbacks, minke and the rare right whale. A whale-watching excursion is a definite must-do for all visitors and there are plenty of operators that will take you out on guided boat trips and maximise your chances of getting up close to these awe-inspiring animals. Expert guides will brief you on what to expect, but ultimately nothing can prepare you for the marvel of first seeing a whale break the ocean surface or shoot spray high up into the air.
There are several different ways to experience Fundy’s whales, with options to suit a variety of preferences, from joining an old-fashioned tall ship, to chartering a private catamaran. You can also join a thrilling high-speed zodiac excursion and even opt for a kayak tour that will enable you to venture even closer to these incredible creatures. August is highly recommended for whale watching, as the whales are particularly active during this period and there’s a high chance of them putting on a spectacular show of breaching, rolling and spraying.
The bay is also a migration hotspot for myriad other wildlife species. In between keeping an eye out for the whales, be on the lookout for dolphins, sharks, porpoise and seals, along with puffins, terns, albatross, heron, and plenty more birdlife. Getting out onto the water is of course a fantastic way to also admire the stunning coastal scenery, spotting lighthouses, passing picturesque islands and breathing in the fresh sea air along the way – just remember to bring your camera to snap those once-in-a-lifetime shots!
The Fundy coast is home to three stunning island destinations, each one of them a great base for launching a deeper exploration into the bay’s captivating maritime wonders. Each island is unique, with its own distinctive character, but in each one you’ll be sure to find rugged shorelines, colourful fishing villages, heritage sites, succulent seafood, friendly locals, and plenty more. Visitors can easily arrange to take a boat trip with a knowledgeable guide, making a stop at each Fundy isle, or alternatively pick from a wide range of accommodation options and take a few days to explore an island in depth.
Grand Manan Island
This island destination has everything you’d expect from a Fundy vacation, perfect both for outdoor lovers, as well as those wanting to explore the shopping, culture and dining scenes of its bustling fishing communities. Grand Manan is home to miles of breath-taking landscapes, including magnificent cliffs, picturesque lighthouses, secluded beaches and an excellent trail network that’s perfect for hiking, cycling and wildlife watching. At the end of a busy day, munch on mouth-wateringly fresh lobster rolls, admire the spectacular sunset from the harbourfront, before retiring to a cosy waterfront cottage.
Get back to nature on this picturesque and wild island. Hike the spectacular Eagle Shadow Trail, admire the jaw-dropping views from Chocolate Cove then set up camp for the night on a beautiful wave-swept beach. Tour the numerous active fishing villages that dot the shoreline and don’t skip a trip out to the Old Sow Whirlpool, the largest tidal whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere.
Campobello is famed for having been a favourite destination of Franklin D. Roosevelt and you can tour the impressive heritage cottage which the Roosevelts returned to year after year. It’s easy to see what attracted them. Secluded sandy beaches, spruce and fir forests, salt marshes and flowering meadows grace the landscape, along with plentiful wildlife, including deer, moose, hare and red squirrels, which can be spotted along the hiking trails. The island is also home to some of the best land whale-watching spots in the region. Further attractions include the golf course at Herring Cove Provincial Park and the charming gift shops and galleries found in the villages.
Lovingly known as a rugged diamond in Nova Scotia’s crown, Brier Island will grace you with some of the best sunsets you’ll ever see in the world. This is also one of the Bay of Fundy’s most popular spots for whale watching – we’d certainly recommend enjoying a Whale and Seabird cruise for a closer look at these incredible creatures.
Beyond the Bay
This region isn’t just about the maritime attractions. The bay is located within the larger Fundy National Park that also protects an inland central plateau harbouring a rich natural ecosystem. This includes a large swathe of dense Acadian forest, home to hundreds of different plant species, including the world’s oldest red spruce tree and the bird’s-eye primrose, a flowering plant that is unique to the park.
Hiking is a popular way to experience the inland portion of the park and there is a comprehensive network of impressive of trails winding through the mountains and pristine forest, often passing cascading waterfalls and streams along the way. Visitors are spoilt for choice, with over 100km of routes to explore, ranging from easy strolls that can be completed in an afternoon, to the taxing 45km Fundy circuit. One of the most popular hikes is to Dickson Falls, a route which starts off with sweeping views over picture perfect Fundy shoreline before delving into lush forest leading to the park’s most photographed waterfall. Equally stunning is the Coppermine Trail, a 4.5km scenic loop through verdant forest and boasting staggering views out along the coast.
Burntcoat Head Park
Nestled on the Minas Basin, Burntcoat Head Park is a beautiful area with an interesting history. The official site where it was recorded that the Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world, the park offers the ideal setting for a family-friendly, outdoorsy day out. With picturesque picnic spots, scenic walking trails and pretty gardens, an afternoon here is well spent exploring the area. There’s also a replica lighthouse, which is home to wonderful interpretive displays and a small shop filled with locally crafted goods.
Five Islands Provincial Park
If you’re the outdoorsy type, Five Islands Provincial Park is one of Nova Scotia’s best outdoor destinations. 300ft cliffs overlook the famous high tides near Burntcoat, and provides a gorgeous spot to camp and enjoy the area’s natural beauty. Whether you’re a hiker, a rock collector, or enjoy a bit of beachcombing, you’ll relish a few days in this eclectic park.