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Hike and camp on a Canadian island this summer: Campobello & Grand Manan

Hike and camp on a Canadian island this summer: Campobello & Grand Manan

Grand Manan

A three-day weekend is all you need to visit the southern coast of New Brunswick (well, that and a passport).

A half-day ride away, New Brunswick, Canada, offers some fun island camping and hiking adventures that are easy to reach by car (and don’t require a full week of vacation).

Campobello Island is accessible by bridge from Lubec while Grand Manan requires an easy and affordable ferry ride (humans and cars) from Blacks Harbour, less than a one-hour ride northeast of the Calais border crossing.

The Bay of Fundy is the feeding ground for multiple species of whales, and August is considered the best month to see – and hear – the whales off the coast. The weather is variable on the islands with heavy morning fog, but it often clears up in the afternoon. Here are a couple of island campground suggestions for a long weekend trip with some picturesque hiking off the Canadian coast.

Raccoon Beach on Campobello Island. Wendy Almeida photo

CAMPOBELLO ISLAND

The Roosevelt Campobello International Park is run jointly by the U.S. and Canadian governments, so there’s no need to exchange currency on this small island. The park is free to the public and tours of the Roosevelt’s summer home and gardens are offered daily free of charge. There’s even a tea time with Eleanor hosted daily by park staff. The hiking trails around the park offer some great views of the coast and working fisheries.

Crossing into Campobello Island. Wendy Almeida photo
Entering Roosevelt Campobello International Park. Wendy Almeida phoro
Roosevelt’s summer home on Campobello. Wendy Almeida photo
A view outside from a cottage next to Roosevelt’s home. Wendy Almeida photo

At the other end of the small island (about eight miles long) are some excellent hiking trails with sweeping vistas of the Bay of Fundy. The trails are well marked and run through forests and along beaches and cliffs. There are observation decks, interpretive panels about wildlife and geology as well as an interesting sculpture along the way. The trails around this island are well maintained and rated easy to moderately difficult. Time your visit at low tide and you can walk to the small rocky island home of the East Quoddy lighthouse. Just be sure to check the tide charts ahead of time because the window for walking to the lighthouse is a small one. The island also offers several boat tours to see the whales, which are particularly active in August.

Friar’s Head trail. Wendy Almeida photo
Trail to Friar’s Head, which is near the Roosevelt’s home. Wendy Almeida photo
East Quoddy Lighthouse at high tide. You can’t cross to the rocky island where the lighthouse is unless it’s low tide. Wendy Almeida photo
Raccoon Beach on Campobello Island. Wendy Almeida photo
Liberty Point on the south side of island. Grand Manan can be side to the right in the distance. Wendy Almeida photo
Trail sign near Liberty Point. Wendy Almeida photo
Sunswept Sculpture can be seen when taking trail from Liberty Point to Ragged Point. Wendy Almeida photo
Sugar Loaf Rock near Liberty Point. Wendy Almeida photo
Bridge from Lubec to Campobello Island. Wendy Almeida photo

The Herring Cove Provincial Park campground has wooded and coastal campsites. The wooded sites offer some natural privacy with trees around sites and strategically located outhouses are convenient. The campground is host to the Fog Fest music festival (this year it’s Aug. 1-5) and the campground is one of many venues on the island.

Herring Cove Provincial Park campsite in teh wooded area. Nothing special but privacy between sites is nice along with a picnic table and fire ring. Wendy Almeida photo

ISLAND TRAIL MAP [PDF]: www.fdr.net
BOAT TOURS: www.visitcampobello.com/whale-wa
CAMPGROUND: Herring Cove Provincial Park
WEBSITE: parcsnbparks.ca/HerringCove?Map
COST: $28 (about $22 US dollars) for tent sites, full service sites are also available
SHOWERS: Bathrooms and showers available, outhouses closer to tent sites
PET-FRIENDLY: Yes
WIFI: Yes, at the campground office only with a signal that makes photo sharing spotty.
GETTING THERE: A bridge crossing onto the island from Lubec hosts a smaller border crossing than the mainland. The ferry service to the island is not operating this summer so the bridge is the only way onto the island.
AMENITIES: Picnic tables and fire rings at all tent sites; full service bathrooms with showers available.

Grand Manan
Sunrise from the campsite on Grand Manan. Wendy Almeida photo

GRAND MANAN ISLAND

This island is a 90-minute ferry ride from Blacks Harbour in New Brunswick. The first time my family visited the island we took the last ferry of the day and saw an amazing sunset over the Bay of Fundy. You won’t find a lot of fancy shops and trendy restaurants on the island, but you will feel welcomed and enjoy some causal island hospitality.

Blacks Harbour Ferry Terminal. Wendy Almeida photo
Sunset on the ferry from Blacks Harbour to Grand Manan. Wendy Almeida photo
Inside the ferry on the way to Grand Manan. Wendy Almeida photo

The island is about 21 miles long and offers hiking with rocky cliffs, marshlands and forest trails. There are lighthouses at both ends of the island and when it’s foggy the horns are loud. The whales can be loud as well if you’re visiting in August. (If you’re thinking you’re going to be in quiet solitude on an island, it’s not so quiet on Grand Manan. But for my family, that’s all part of this island’s charm.) There are boat tours and a kayak outfitter on the island with weather permitting schedules.

Southwest Head Light trail. Wendy Almeida photo
Southwest Head Light. Wendy Almeida photo

The Southwest Head Light sits on an open expanse of open field with trails leading to various cliff vistas. If you are prepared for hiking with solid footwear, the trail in this area leads through some varied terrain to a view of the Flock of Sheep (white boulders moved by glaciers that sailors believed looked like sheep). But the “sheep” are only visible during low tide. On a clear day (which is rare on this part of the island) Machias Seal Island, the breeding ground for puffins, can be seen in the distance.

Hole in the Wall hiking trail. Wendy Almeida photo
There it is: Hole in the Wall. Wendy Almeida photo

The Hole in the Wall campground on the northeast side of the island and has a short, easy trail system leading to its namesake, an actual hole in a rock wall. Many of the campsites have amazing views of the coast with cliff edge and cliff top sites. It should be noted that the cliff edge campsites are not for the faint of heart (and definitely not kid-friendly). You are literally on a cliff’s edge and setting up your tent less than 50 feet from the drop off. When they say camping on the edge, that’s not an exaggeration.

Cliff edge campsite on Grand Manan. Wendy Almeida photo
View from the tent at the cliff edge campsite. Wendy Almeida photo
View of the cliffs from the campsite. Wendy Almeida photo

Careful maneuvering is required to set up a medium-sized tent at these sites. The road to the cliff edge sites is narrow and comprised of loose gravel. Our family’s Corolla didn’t have much trouble getting down the gravel path to our cliff edge site but it struggled a bit with the steep incline when we departed. That said, the campsite was amazing for its view of the sunset, sunrise and during the first night we were there, a dim (but still amazing) view of the Northern Lights. The cliff-top campsites offer a view similar to the edge sites with easier access by car and can accommodate larger tents. The campground also has full service wooded sites for campers (or tents). The campground also lets folks who like sleeping under the stars without a tent know there are “no bears, moose, coyotes, skunks, porcupines, or poisonous snakes on Grand Manan.”

Sunset from the cliff edge campsite on Grand Manan. Wendy Almeida photo

ISLAND TRAIL MAP[PDF]: www.grandmanannb.com
KAYAKING & BOAT TOURS: www.grandmanannb.com/watching.html
CAMPGROUND: Hole in the Wall Campground
WEBSITE: grandmanancamping.com/wilderness-campground
COST: $29 (about $23 US dollars) for tent sites, there are cabins and full service sites as well
SHOWERS: Showers available for $2 fee.
PET-FRIENDLY: Yes, but should always be on a leash
WIFI: Yes, at the campground office only with a signal that makes photo sharing spotty.
AMENITIES: Picnic tables and fire rings at every tent site. Outhouses near tent sites.
GETTING THERE: Take the Calais border crossing from Maine to the Coastal Transport ferry. The ferry makes several trips every summer day to Grand Manan. The cost for a party of 2 adults and a car it will cost $60 (about $46 US dollars) roundtrip for the picturesque 90 minute ride across the Bay of Fundy. Once on the island, the campground is less than a mile from the ferry (walkable if you decide to leave your car at home). Make ferry reservations in advance at grandmanan.coastaltransport.ca

So long, islands of Canada. Ferry ride home. Wendy Almeida photo


6 things to know about camping in Canada

The border. A passport is required, which is scrutinized more heavily on the way back home so be prepared for a long line at the U.S. border (this was true even before the current political climate).

Timezone. New Brunswick is in Atlantic time (one hour ahead) so if you’re planning to take a ferry, be sure to pay careful attention to the time change.

Perishable food. When planning a camping trip north of the border, pack the non-perishables but leave fresh meats and produce to buy after the border crossing. The customs law outlines some specific rules about what food can be brought into Canada. It’s unlikely you’ll have a problem with a small cooler for camping but it’s just as easy to stop at the grocery store on the islands. There’s also a grocery store on the road to the Blacks Harbour ferry terminal if you want to stock up on the mainland.

Money. Using a credit card with no foreign transaction fee is the most economical option. The first time my family visited Canada I didn’t have any Canadian cash when we got to the border. There’s a charge for converting US dollars into Canadian and during that trip I discovered it was cheaper to use my card because the credit card company automatically calculated the current currency rate. Even the smallest of stores on the islands took a credit card. Just be sure it has a chip, there is no swiping in Canada.

Cell service. Unless you have an international service plan, cell phones will drain the battery quickly and potentially rake up roaming fees unless you keep it in airplane mode. Campobello and Grand Manan both have wifi at the campground offices. It might be spotty but an email message to family back home to say you’re having fun is possible. Posting or viewing social media websites might be more challenging with weak campground wifi.

Download your route map in advance. Download your GPS route before leaving home. Accessing maps is unreliable in Canada for U.S. cell phones unless you have an international service plan. It is very likely the cell phone GPS map will just stop working shortly after you cross the border.

Wendy Almeida

Wendy Almeida

Wendy Almeida and her daughters have been exploring the Maine outdoors - and the Canadian outdoors - for more than 18 years (and they're nowhere near done yet).