Big things await groups traveling to Atlantic Canada. That’s not big as in “exciting,” but big as in quantifiably large. It’s big as in icebergs, humpback whales and the 100 billion tons of water that flow into and out of the Bay of Fundy twice a day.
With tens of thousands of miles of coastline, the provinces of Atlantic Canada — New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador — enjoy a wealth of marine life and maritime adventure opportunities. American groups that make the short trip north to explore these areas will be rewarded not only by the region’s rich natural landscape but also by delicious coastal cuisine and cultural heritage.
Whether you try to tackle Canada’s Atlantic coast all in one tour or break it up into shorter trips exploring individual provinces, here are some of the best experiences to seek out for your groups.
Located just across the border from Maine, New Brunswick is the easiest Atlantic province for Americans to visit, and it is often packaged with New England tours and cruises in addition to more comprehensive tours of the Canadian Maritimes.
Regardless of how you package it, most groups visiting New Brunswick are there to see its most remarkable natural phenomenon: the Bay of Fundy.
“Many people know more about the Bay of Fundy than they do about the rest of New Brunswick,” said Lynn Meehan of Tourism New Brunswick. “It’s a key attraction for us because it’s home to the highest tides in the world. More than 100 billion tons of water flows into the bay from the ocean twice a day. It’s enough water to fill the Grand Canyon.”
One of the most popular places to observe this phenomenon is the Hopewell Rocks Ocean Tidal Exploration Site, where the powerful bay tides have carved towering rock formations into the stone cliffs. At low tide, visitors can walk along the rocks on dry ground to see them up close. Afterward, they can retreat to a safe distance to watch the tide rush in and flood the area with seawater several stories deep.
Also in the area, Fundy National Park offers a variety of opportunities for walking and hiking tours.
“Fundy National Park has over 75 miles of walking trails and an abundance of wildlife right on the coast,” Meehan said. “If you’re lucky, you’ll see some beautiful moose. The bay is also a huge birding location, and bird-watchers come from all around the world to experience it.”
Wildlife experiences abound in other parts of New Brunswick as well. North of Moncton, in the interior of the province, groups can join Little Big Bear Safari to see bears in the wild.
“You go up into this massive tree fort, and the owner of the tour calls to the bears,” Meehan said. “It’s totally in the wild, but you’re very protected up in this tree house. You’re up there for a couple of hours being very quiet, watching mother bears with their cubs. Not many people get an opportunity to see that.”
If you have wildlife enthusiasts in your group and are willing to go to great lengths to see rare animals, plan ahead to take them to New Brunswick during July or August to visit Machias Seal Island. Situated between New Brunswick and Maine, this island is home to a colony of north Atlantic puffins, and visitation to the island is restricted to 15 people per day.
“Sea Life Tours takes a 45-minute boat ride out to this amazing little island,” Meehan said. “You’re in a bird blind for about an hour, within a couple of feet of thousands of puffins. Only two outfitters have access to the island, so it’ s a special experience for small groups.”
Across the Bay of Fundy from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia is surrounded by water on three sides.
“We have about 4,600 miles of coastline, and we’re connected to the rest of Canada by only about 30 miles of land,” said Nova Scotia Tourism Agency’s Pamela Wamback. “You’re never more than a half-hour from the water. Water is in our blood.”
With all that shoreline, sea kayaking has become an extremely popular activity in Nova Scotia, and outfitters throughout the province can arrange for guided paddle excursions for groups. Two of the most popular destinations for kayaking are the province’s national parks, Kejimkujik, often referred to as Keji, and Cape Breton Highlands.
In Keji, groups will not only see compelling scenery but also learn about the first nations whose culture and traditions still run deep in the area.
“Keji is the only one of the Parks Canada sites that is also a National Historical Site because of the Micmac culture there,” Wamback said. “There are petroglyphs in the park and interpreters who take you to see them and explain what they mean.
“You can go canoeing in and among the rivers and inlets of the park. They’re the same routes that the Micmac traveled on thousands of years ago. It’s a great spot for doing outdoor activities with a cultural perspective.”
Groups with a penchant for the outdoors can arrange to stay overnight in permanent tent camps inside Keji. Similar camps are also available at Cape Breton Highlands National Park on the northeastern tip of the province, which has become popular for its hiking trails and scenic mountain views.
Visitors to Cape Breton can also get a close look at Nova Scotia’s distinctive Scottish heritage.
“It’s a miniature version of Scotland,” Wamback said. “As soon as you cross onto the cape from the mainland, you see the road signs in both English and Gaelic. You’re also going to get influences of the French and Acadian culture, which you find in pockets around the island.”
Groups find additional adventures on Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy shores. Among the most distinctive sites is the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where visitors can see hundreds of prehistoric fossils on the beach.
Adventurous groups can also set out onto the bay for an activity known as tidal bore rafting.
“Because of the high tides on the Bay of Fundy, this is a unique phenomenon,” Meehan said. “You go out and ride the tide in a Zodiac [a small inflatable boat]. It’s awesome, like being on a roller coaster in the water.”