Top 11 Must-Do Hikes in Nova Scotia, Canada

In Canada, Nova Scotia, Top Hikes by Hikers Movement

Dubbed Canada’s Ocean Playground, the province of Nova Scotia is home to a number of excellent hikes characterized by glacial rocks, thick Acadian forest, and plenty of lakes.

Hike along with coasts of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to the north, the Bay of Fundy to the west, the Gulf of Maine to the southwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Explore the vast wilderness inland from the shores or even boat out to one of the many islands for a hike!

Though there are plenty of excellent hikes in Nova Scotia, we’ve assembled a list of 11 must-do hikes for visitors and residents alike.

The top 11 must-do hikes in Nova Scotia, Canada are:

  1. The Bluff Wilderness Trail
  2. Cape Split
  3. Skyline Trail
  4. Pollett’s Cove
  5. Taylor Head Provincial Park
  6. Mcnabs Island
  7. Musquodoboit Trailway
  8. Kearney Lake Trail / Blue Mountain Birch Cove
  9. Cape Chignecto Provincial Park
  10. Liscomb River Trail
  11. Gaff Point

Completing the hikes listed above will bring you to different parts of the province. Many of the hikes can be done in a day trip from the capital city of Halifax (so long as hikers have a vehicle), and 2 of the hikes are just off of the bucket list Cabot Trail in beautiful Cape Breton.

With that introduction, let’s get into the top 11 must-do hikes in Nova Scotia!

The Bluff Wilderness Trail

Timberlea, NS

Distance: 9km to 29km (4 loops)
Time: 2-8+ hours
Difficulty: Hard

The Bluff Wilderness Trail is known for its challenging 4-stacked loops. The terrain varies throughout each loop and ranges from a quick 2-4 hour hike to a full-day event or even an overnight hike.

Each of the four loops is marked off with different colored markers to help prevent hikers from wandering off onto the wrong loop.

The first one, which is also the shortest, is the Pot Lake Loop. This is a 9-kilometre loop that takes around 2-4 hours to complete. This is the most popular loop, making it the busiest.

Next is the Mi’kmaq Hill Loop, a 17.4-kilometre loop hike and can take up to 6 hours to complete.

The third loop is the Bluff Loop. This is a 23.4-kilometre loop and can be quite difficult due to the mixed terrain.

The longest loop is the Hay Marsh Loop. This trail is 29-kilometres long and can take over eight hours to complete. Many hikers who take on the Hay Marsh Loop tend to camp out midway along the trail and complete the entire loop in two days.

Trailhead Access

There is a parking lot located at 2890 St. Margaret’s Bay Road, Timberlea. To access the trailhead, you must walk a half kilometre on the Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea (BLT) trail.

For more information on Bluff Wilderness Trail, check out our article Hikers’ Guide To The Bluff Wilderness Trail, NS.

Cape Split

Cape Split Provincial Park Reserve, Kings County, NS

Distance: 12.1 km (out and back)
Time: 4-5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

Cape Split is one of the most popular hikes in Nova Scotia. It is well-groomed and easy to follow. The trail leads out to a breathtaking view of the Bay of Fundy.

The trail is rated moderate as it is a gradual incline up the split. However, it is not overly taxing and just enough to get the heart pumping.

While the trail is groomed, it is muddy towards the beginning. Especially after rainfall and in the spring as the snow begins to melt. For this reason, it’s suggested to wear waterproof hiking shoes.

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The lookout is a perfect spot for hikers to rest up and enjoy lunch while taking in the view. Be careful not to get too close to the edge of the cliffs as the edges are constantly eroding.

This is a day-hiking trail only, no camping is permitted.

For more information on Cape Split, check out our article Hikers’ Guide To Cape Split, NS.

Skyline Trail

Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS

Distance: 6.5 km (return); 8.2km (loop)
Time: 1.5 – 3 hours
Difficulty: Easy

The Skyline Trail in Cape Breton leads to one of the most scenic views of the Cabot Trail and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The trail is located just off the Cabot Trail and is the perfect excuse to get out of the car and stretch your legs while taking in the beauty of Cape Breton.

Skyline Trail is open all year round. However, the full visitor’s service is only open from mid-May until mid-October.

There are two options for the Skyline Trail. You can complete the out and back trail, which is the shortest of the two, or the full loop, which is just over 8 kilometres.

The majority of the trail is well-groomed with crushed rock and very few inclines. The biggest incline is on the loop option of the trail and if you choose to go down the stairs.

The out and back trail is more of a gentle walk than a hike. Both trails start at the same trailhead. From the peak (staircase lookout), hikers have the option to return the same way they came or continue right of the trail to complete the full loop.

On the loop option of the trail, you are more likely to see wildlife such as moose and bears. Again, the trail can be a bit more challenging as it does include a few inclines and is exposed to direct sunlight.

To help you prepare for possible wildlife encounters, check out our article Wildlife Safety While Hiking In Atlantic Canada.

For more information on the Skyline Trail, check out our article Hiking the Skyline Trail: Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Pollett’s Cove

Apsey Fault Wilderness Area, NS

Distance: 13.2 km (out and back)
Time: 6-8 hours (option to camp at the peak)
Difficulty: Moderate

Pollett’s Cove is one of the most breathtaking hikes in Cape Breton. The trail is located on the northwest side of Cape Breton Island off of the Cabot Trail.

The trail is sure to get your heart pumping with a few tough inclines and declines. The peak is well worth the challenge once you see the scenic cove with wild horses roaming around.

While this hike can be done in one day, many hikers opt to camp out overnight at the peak and hike back the following morning.

This trail is owned by a local lottery winner who generously opened up his property to the public. Hikers should be respectful to the property and wildlife at Pollett’s Cove. Leave no trace behind. Do not litter or cause any damage to the environment or horses.

Getting There
Follow the Cabot Trail until you reach Pleasant Bay. Turn onto Red River road and follow until you reach Gampo Abbey (a Buddhist monastery). The trailhead access is just past this point.

Taylor Head Provincial Park

Taylor Head Provincial Park, Spry Bay, NS

Distance: 18.5 km of total trails
Time: 1 – 5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

Taylor Head Provincial Park offers over 18 kilometres worth of hiking trails and a variety of mixed terrains that are bound to reach every hiker’s heart. The terrains include beaches, a thick Acadian Forest, and characteristic Nova Scotian glacier rock with views of the Atlantic Ocean.

The park features four different trails and two separate parking lots. The first parking lot provides direct access to the Beach Walk Trail, the shortest (1 kilometre).

The next is the Bull Beach and Bob Bluff Trail. This is a 9.5-kilometre return trail. From there, you can continue onto the Spry Bay Trail (4-kilometre loop) or make a full day out of it with the Headland Trail (8-kilometre loop).

All the trails can be completed in one day for those seeking a long, adventurous day of hiking or in multiple days. However, there is no camping permitted.

Hikers may run into numerous wildlife on the trails. Keep an eye out for porcupines, white-tailed deer, otters, muskrats, short-tailed shrews, hares, minks, and raccoons, to name a few.

For more information on Taylor Head Provincial Park, check out our article Hikers’ Guide: Taylor Head Provincial Park (NS, Canada)

McNabs Island

Halifax Regional Municipality, NS

Distance: 22km worth of trails
Time: 4-8 hours (option for overnight stay)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

McNabs Island is a fun way to venture out of the city without going too far. Located a 30-minute boat ride from Halifax, McNabs Island has 400 hectares of military, cultural and natural history spread over the island.

The main trail is Garrison Road, which runs the entire length of the island.

To get to McNabs Island, visitors can either take a private boat, commercial water taxi, and charter boat operators from Halifax, Dartmouth, and Eastern Passage.

Visitors can spend the night on McNabs Island if they obtain a permit.

There are vault toilets on McNabs Island. However, there is no access to clean drinking water. Hikers should prepare enough water and snacks for an entire day of hiking or an overnight stay.

Musquodoboit Trailway

Halifax Regional Municipality, NS

Distance: 15 km (oneway)
Time: 6 – 7 hours
Difficulty: Easy

The Musquodoboit Trailway is an incredible trail system that branches off to various backcountry trails. Formally a railway, the Musquodoboit Trailway is a well-groomed 15-kilometre one-way trail.

The trail is both accessible and stroller-friendly. It is also a popular spot for dog walkers, though dogs must be on a leash at all times.

Just off of the main Musquodoboit Trailway are some of the most scenic backcountry trails. All of the real magic of the “Musquodoboit Trailway” is really found on these backcountry trails.

The five backcountry loops are Gibraltar Rock (Skull Rock) Trail, Admiral Lake Trail, Bayer Lake Trail, South Granite Ridge Trail, and North Granite Ridge Trail.

These trails can be strenuous as they are quite hilly and feature various terrains.

There is no camping or fires permitted on any of the loops. Hikers should prepare accordingly for each hike. It is important to bring enough water, snacks, and proper hiking boots.

For more information on 5 aforementioned backcountry loops, check out the following Hikers’ Movement articles:
Hiking To Skull Rock, Musquodoboit Harbour (NS, Canada)
Hiking Admiral Lake Loop, Musquodoboit Harbour (NS, Canada)
Hiking Bayer Lake Loop, Musquodoboit Harbour (NS, Canada)
Hiking South Granite Ridge Trail, Musquodoboit Trailway
Hiking North Granite Ridge Trail, Musquodoboit Trailway

Kearney Lake Trail / Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes

Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, NS

Distance: 2.9 km to 9.3 km (varies depending on the trail)
Time: 1 – 5 hours
Difficulty: Difficult

The Kearney Lake trails used to be a largely inaccessible system of trails that very few people knew about. It was not overly popular due to the lack of upkeep and grooming.

Now, the Kearney Lake Trail system is part of the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area. Now that the Kearney Lake Trails are part of a wilderness area, the trails have become better maintained, and markers and maps have been spread throughout.

The wilderness area features over 40 acres of backcountry trails. Some of the most popular trails in this trail system are Fox Lake (2.9 km), Charlies Lake (4 km), Hobson’s Lake (5.2 km), and Ash Lake (9.3 km).

All of the trails can be challenging to follow as the markers are sparse, and not all the trails are clearly defined. Many unmarked trails off of the main trails in the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area make it easy to get lost or stray off the main trails.

For this reason, we suggest hikers either download or print a map ahead of time or use a GPS for guidance.

For more information on the Kearney Lake Trail / Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes, check out our article Hiking Guide To The Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Lakes Trails (NS).

Cape Chignecto Provincial Park

Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, NS

Distance: 52 km (loop)
Time: 2-4 days to complete (time may vary depending on hiking experience)
Difficulty: Difficult

Cape Chignecto is a challenging, multi-day hike along the coastline of the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides in the world. This hike is no walk in the park. It is full of challenging inclines and declines that pay off to numerous breathtaking lookouts.

Some hikers choose to only make a one-night trip from the trailhead to Refugee Cove and then return the next morning. This is a great way to introduce yourself to a challenging overnight hike. For hikers looking for more of a challenge, you can spend the next 2-4 nights hiking and camping throughout Cape Chignecto.

If you are not into carrying camping gear with you, there are also lodges for rent. Although, these tend to book relatively quickly.

Cape Chignecto is not open all year round. The opening season is typically mid-May or June until mid-October.

Hiking poles and a water filter are a great asset to hikers for this hike. There are many rivers and brooks that you can filter your water throughout the trail. If you are looking at investing in a lightweight water filter to take on your hikes, we recommend our personal favorite, the Katadyn BeFree water filter (click here to view the prices on Amazon).

For more information on Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, check out our article Hikers’ Guide To The Cape Chignecto Trail (NS, Canada).

Liscomb River Trail

Liscomb Mills, NS

Distance: 7.4 km (loop)
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

Liscomb River is a loop hike that takes hikers up to one side of Liscomb River and loops around the other side. At the cross-over point, there is a suspension bridge that overlooks a beautiful waterfall. There is also a viewpoint of a fish ladder, which helps restock Atlantic salmon.

The trail sees regular use and is fairly easy to hike with proper footwear. As it does trace along a river, there are plenty of great access points of the river. However, this also means the trail gets quite muddy.

Liscomb River trail is also well marked and has various signage for lookout points.

While you can’t camp on the trail itself, there is lodging at Liscomb Lodge located before the trailhead on the same lot.

For more information on the Liscomb River Trail, check out our article Hikers’ Guide To The Liscomb River Trail System (NS, Canada).

Gaff Point

Kingsburg, Nova Scotia

Distance: 6.6 km (loop)
Time: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Easy

Gaff Point is an easy, well-groomed trail located near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. This is a family-friendly trail that offers incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean.

The trailhead is located roughly 1.5 kilometres down Hirtle Beach. This is the only way to access the Gaff Point trail. For that reason, the total kilometres for this hike includes Hirtle Beach. The beach starts with sand and turns into rocks before you reach the trailhead.

The trailhead is easy to spot. There is signage that indicates the trailhead as well as a map. The trail has many markers and signs throughout, though the wide and maintained trail makes it easy to follow.

There are various points where you will cross bridges and switch from forest terrain to open coastal terrain.

The trail has a “hidden beach” that is not so much of a secret anymore but well worth checking out.

For more information on the Gaff Point Trail, check out our article Hikers’ Guide To The Gaff Point Trail (Nova Scotia, Canada).