Best Hiking Trails in Atlantic Canada

Best-Hiking-Trails-in-Atlantic-Canada

Top Sections of the Trans Canada Trail on Canada's East Coast

10 Great Trails of the Maritime Provinces of Canada

This list of the best hiking trails in Atlantic Canada includes our favorite sections of the Trans Canada Trail along Canada's East Coast. At 28,000 km in length, the Trans Canada Trail (formerly the Great Trail) is the world's longest recreational pathway. More than 3,000 km of the national trail system is in Atlantic Canada, including rugged coastal footpaths, scenic rail trails, world-class cycling routes, and exciting water trails. These hidden gems and great trails of the Maritime Provinces span from Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula, to the Celtic shores of Cape Breton Island, around the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, to the red sandy beaches of Prince Edward Island. They can be walked, hiked, cycled, skied, snowshoed, canoed, kayaked, sailed, and some sections can be done on horseback, ATV, or by snowmobile. According to Canadian Geographic, fewer people have hiked the entire Trans Canada Trail than have gone to the moon. In 2022, Sean and I became the first couple to walk, photograph, and blog more than 14,000 km of the Trans Canada Trail between Cape Spear, NL and Victoria, BC during our Come Walk With Us Royal Canadian Geographical Society Expedition. What follows is our list of the best hiking trails in Atlantic Canada, whether you're planning a family vacation, a weekend getaway, or a once-in-a-lifetime long-distance backpacking adventure.
Best Hiking Trails in Atlantic Canada. Photo Credit: Sean Morton
Sonya & Sean hiking Trans Canada Trail. Photo Credit: Daniel Baylis

East Coast Trail (ECT), Newfoundland

The East Coast Trail (ECT), Newfoundland is the most eastern section of the Trans Canada Trail and it traverses the rugged coastline of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. Established in 1994, the East Coast Trail is more than 330 km in length and it is composed of 25 well developed and maintained linked pathways. Unsurprisingly, in the past it has been named by National Geographic as one of the best adventure destinations and trails in Canada. Interestingly, visitors can choose to day trek any of the sectional paths, walking from town to town, or they can thu-hike it while camping at established sites. Moreover, venturing along the entire route provides stunning views of coastal cliffs, icebergs, migrating birds and whales. 

Wilderness sightseeing on East Coast Trail in Newfoundland Canada

Furthermore, hiking the East Coast Trail immerses visitors in nature, allowing them to explore some of the best Coastal Wilderness in Newfoundland, wander the Boreal forest, visit several Important Bird Areas, and watch thousands of Atlantic Puffins and Common Murres in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Finally, the trail is also rich in history, offering hikers the opportunity to visit Signal Hill, the famous Cape Spear Lighthouse, the La Manche Provincial Park suspension bridge, and the historic archaeological sites of the Colony of Avalon.

T'Railway Trail, Newfoundland

The T'Railway Trail, Newfoundland is the second epic pathway on our list of the best hiking trails in Atlantic Canada, and it is located just steps away from the East Coast Trail. Established in 1998, the T'Railway Trail is an 880 km long linear provincial park and trail which spans the province from St. John's in the east to Channel Port aux Basques in the west. Interestingly, it crosses the entirety of Newfoundland on the decommissioned rail bed of the famed 'Newfie Bullet' or 'Caribou Train'. Amazingly, this largely undeveloped gravel track includes over 130 trestles and bridges which help transport trail users through the wild, remote, Boreal landscapes of Newfoundland, across the Topsails, and to the ferry terminal in Channel Port aux Basques. 

ATV, Hiking and Snowmobiling on T'Railway Route

One of the longest sections of the Trans Canada Trail in the nation, the T'Railway Trail is primarily used by some of Canada's friendliest ATVers and snowmobilers. However, it is also accessible to hikers and very determined cyclists. With stops in Arnold's Cove, Clarenville, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Deer Lake, Cornerbrook, and Stephenville Crossing resupply points are plentiful for thru-hikers. Furthermore, water is abundant, and wild camping is permitted along the entire length of the trail! Newfoundland's T'Railway Trail offers the adventurous at heart a true outdoors backcountry nature experience unlike any other in Canada. Particularly wonderful are sections of the T'Railway Trail over the Topsails between Grand-Falls Windsor and Deer Lake, and from Jeffrey's to Channel Port aux Basques, as stretch known as the Wreckhouse.

Celtic Shores Trail, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

The Celtic Shores Trail, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia is our next best hiking trail in Atlantic Canada on the Trans Canada Trail after leaving 'The Rock.' This 92 km long pathway is a well signed, highly developed, and extremely well maintained hard-packed trail. As a result, it is excellent for hiking and cycling, and in winter it is popular with cross-country skiers, making it a hidden gem on Canada's East Coast. The route of the Celtic Shores Trail runs along a former rail bed from Inverness, to the Canso Causeway in Port Hastings, along the western coast of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Therefore, explorers can enjoy some of the gastronomy of Cape Breton Island along the route, sample some local delicacies from Atlantic Canada, and take in the culture of the region. Interestingly, this includes visiting the Celtic Music Centre in Judique and listening to Rankin Family play live music in Mabou at the Red Shoe Pub

Sightseeing Nova Scotia's Regional Pathway

In addition, those who undertake to cycle or walk the full pathway will be 'wowed' by terrific coastlines, amazing landscapes, and the stunning sandy beaches of Mabou and Inverness. Furthermore, the Celtic Shores Trail is not only a terrific regional path, it is also part of the Trans Canada Trail, a segment of Nova Scotia's Blue Cycling Route, and a section of the International Appalachian Trail. These are just a few of the reasons the Celtic Shores Trail made it onto our list of the best hiking trails in Atlantic Canada.

Musquodoboit Trailway, Nova Scotia

The Musquodoboit Trailway, Nova Scotia is perhaps the shortest of our favourite trails on the Trans Canada Trail in Atlantic Canada, but it is well worth a mention on any list of great trails in the Maritime Provinces. The result of years of dedication and development by local trail builders, the Musquodoboit Trail is a superb Rails to Trails route with a crushed gravel surface. Moreover, it is well signed, features regular picnic tables and rest stops, and offers stunning views along its length. It is a relaxing 15 km in length, and it runs along the former Intercolonial Railway from the Musquodoboit Harbour Railway Museum to the Gibraltar trailhead at Meagher's Grant. Furthermore, it is easily accessible from nearby Halifax, allows for relaxing hiking, great cycling, and terrific cross-country skiing. Best of all, beyond the beautiful waterways and lakes in the White Lake Wilderness Area, the Musquodoboit Trailway connects with other pathways, giving users the option to easily expand their exploration along other pathways and rail trails.

Atlantic View and Salt Marsh Trails, Nova Scotia

The Atlantic View and Salt Marsh Trails, Nova Scotia are located on the outskirts of Dartmouth and Halifax. One of the greatest parts of the Trans Canada Trail is that it brings people to nature and brings those in the city out into the county side. These trails give way to amazing opportunities for hikers and cyclists to easily and quickly access nature, birding hotspots, and terrific ocean views. In particular, the Atlantic View Trail is a 10 km trail located near both Dartmouth and Halifax, which runs between Lawrencetown Rd and Causeway Rd. Hikers and cyclists enjoy coastal woodlands, boardwalks, and one of Atlantic Canada's best surfing beaches at the Lawrencetown Beach Provincial Park. Like many of the wonderful paths on the Trans Canada Trail, the Atlantic View Trail is seamlessly tied to the Salt Marsh Trail, which is a 7 km linear multiuse path that is ideal for walking, hiking, cycling, birding, and cross-country skiing. Established along the abandoned Musquodoboit rail bed, it takes trail users over causeways, along the Atlantic shoreline, and through lush coastal wetlands.

Harvest Moon Trailway, Nova Scotia

The Harvest Moon Trailway is our final pick from Nova Scotia and is also one of the more recent additions to the Trans Canada Trail. This 177 km long pathway follows the former rail line and historic Acadian dyke system, running from the wonderful Grand-Pre National Historic Site (UNESCO World Heritage Site) to Annapolis Royal and Parks Canada's Fort Anne. The Harvest Moon Trailway is a shared multi-use route open to hikers, cyclists and horses. Moreover, it is a level path, has terrific trail conditions, and it is extensively signed. Furthermore, traversing the HMT gives one the chance to discover Acadian heritage, walk 17th century historical dykes, and visit charming coastal communities. In addition, this segment of the Trans Canada Trail is also known as Nova Scotia's Ale Trail, giving adventurers lots of opportunities to check out local distilleries, cideries, and pubs en route.

Confederation Trail, Prince Edward Island

The Confederation Trail, Prince Edward Island is one of our favourite sections of the Trans Canada Trail on Canada's East Coast. Prince Edward Island might be Canada's smallest province, but it boasts some of the best trails in the nation. The Confederation Trail spans the entire province, following the bed of the former Prince Edward Island Railway. Furthermore, it is complimented by the Camino de la Isla, or Island Walk, which connects its spurs. Redeveloped in the early 1990s, the Confederation Trail is maintained to incredibly high standards, and it is kept in immaculate condition from Tip to Tip. As a result, it is a cyclists' paradise and a joy for hikers, and in winter it is transformed into a snowmobile route. In short, it is comparable to Quebec's stunning Route Verte and P'Tit Train du Nord routes. The Confederation Trail consists of a 270 km main route spanning the entire province from Tignish to Elmira, as well as several spurs, which together total 449 km in length. Interestingly, the route connects the ferry, the Confederation Bridge, and the capital city of Charlottetown. Amazingly, this trail system is almost entirely off road and takes users to small towns, coastal lighthouses, red sandy beaches, and Important Bird Areas making it one of the best hiking trails in Atlantic Canada.

The Marshes, New Brunswick

The Marshes, New Brunswick may be a less well known path than the famous Dobson Trail and Fundy Footpath. However, it made our list of the best hiking trails in Atlantic Canada because we feel trekkers shouldn't overlook the province's other amazing trails. As a result, our first choice is the understated but rewarding route known as the Marshes, which stretches 66 km from the base of the Confederation Bridge at Cape Jourimain National Wildlife Area to the university town of Sackville, New Brunswick. The Marshes follows a former rail line, forming a wonderful off road trail that takes hikers and cyclists down a corridor of shade trees, through gorgeous agricultural landscapes, and alongside stunning marshlands known for their wildlife and birding opportunities. The decent trail conditions from beginning to end make this section of the Trans Canada Trail an amazing experience for cyclists and hikers alike.

Riverfront Trails of Fredericton, New Brunswick

The Riverfront Trails of Fredericton, New Brunswick are our final choice for great trails in the Maritimes Provinces along the Trans Canada Trail. Developed on the abandoned railway lines which crisscross Fredericton, these regularly maintained paths are locally loved and provide wonderful examples of how nature can be accessed in a busy city. Moreover, the Riverfront Trails of Fredericton are part of a 120 km network. Furthermore, with the recent restoration of the main rail bridge, they now span both sides of the Saint John River, with the sections linked via a terrific pedestrian way. Adding to the beauty of this network of trails is the fact that they run under a canopy of shade trees. In particular, they take users through city parks and woodlots as well as to many scenic locations, historical hotspots, and great restaurants in Fredericton. As a result, the Riverfront Trails of Fredericton stand as proof that nature can be found and enjoyed even in the heart of Canada's large city centers.

Riverfront Trails of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Credit: Sean Morton
Reflections, Saint John River, Fredericton, NB. Credit: Sean Morton

The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot.

by Werner Herzog

In Conclusion

In conclusion, our list of the best trails in Atlantic Canada includes some of our favourite sections of the Trans Canada Trail on the East Coast. While it might be tempting to think of the Trans Canada Trail as a single unified pathway that offers a singular experience, it is instead best understood as a collection of regional routes. Furthermore, each of the unique sections has been locally developed, with its own approach to the outdoors and its own reflections of local attitudes and cultures, which gives way to unique experiences. This means that the experience on Canada's Trans Canada Trail is as varied as its peoples, cultures, ecozones, and regions. The best of the Trans Canada Trail in Atlantic Canada is of course only a sampling of the amazing routes we explored during our full adventure and which are open to you if you wish to become more deeply connected to the Maritime Provinces.  

Best Hiking Trails in Atlantic Canada

Top Sections of the Trans Canada Trail on Canada's East Coast

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Comments 16

Andrea Horning on Saturday, 25 March 2023 03:20

Stunning photos and great list of must see places. I would love to quad the T'Railway Route someday!

Stunning photos and great list of must see places. I would love to quad the T'Railway Route someday!
Sonya Richmond on Sunday, 26 March 2023 02:17

I would definitely recommend it! The T'Railway Trail is beautiful, and there is a fantastic community of quad and ATV riders on it, as well as tours that go from one end of the island to the other.

I would definitely recommend it! The T'Railway Trail is beautiful, and there is a fantastic community of quad and ATV riders on it, as well as tours that go from one end of the island to the other.
Diana Mohrsen on Saturday, 25 March 2023 03:49

Sonya, another wonderful blog! Since I grew up in the Maritimes, the place names and areas had special significance for me. How I wish I had time to do just a fraction of your walks. Also enjoyed Sean's gorgeous photos.

Sonya, another wonderful blog! Since I grew up in the Maritimes, the place names and areas had special significance for me. How I wish I had time to do just a fraction of your walks. Also enjoyed Sean's gorgeous photos.
Sonya Richmond on Sunday, 26 March 2023 02:19

Thank you! We both love Atlantic Canada, and walking through it was a real privilige.

Thank you! We both love Atlantic Canada, and walking through it was a real privilige.
EH Canada Marketing Group on Saturday, 25 March 2023 18:09

Great selection of hiking trails on the east coast. The scenery is beautiful. Well written and great photos.

Great selection of hiking trails on the east coast. The scenery is beautiful. Well written and great photos.
Sonya Richmond on Sunday, 26 March 2023 02:25

Thank you! There were so many really great trails to choose from it was hard to narrow it down!

Thank you! There were so many really great trails to choose from it was hard to narrow it down!
Sonya Richmond on Sunday, 26 March 2023 02:28

EH Canada Marketing Group Thank you so much! There were so many great trails to choose from in Atlantic Canada it was hard to narrow it down!

EH Canada Marketing Group Thank you so much! There were so many great trails to choose from in Atlantic Canada it was hard to narrow it down!
Cora Lee Rennie on Sunday, 26 March 2023 08:31

Amazing article and photos ! Well done! I enjoyed this article so much Sonya and I am so inspired by your adventures! What an amazing achievement to have hiked the entire Trans Canada Trail !

Amazing article and photos ! Well done! I enjoyed this article so much Sonya and I am so inspired by your adventures! What an amazing achievement to have hiked the entire Trans Canada Trail !
Rene Coatta on Sunday, 26 March 2023 22:52

These are some amazing hiking spots!

These are some amazing hiking spots!
Cora Lee Rennie on Monday, 27 March 2023 03:09

Love this article and all of the amazing photos ! So inspired by your adventures on the Trans Canada Trail!

Love this article and all of the amazing photos ! So inspired by your adventures on the Trans Canada Trail!
Sonya Richmond on Monday, 27 March 2023 03:35

Rene Coatta Thank you! We really enjoyed hiking in Atlantic Canada - such great scenery and so many trails to choose from!

Rene Coatta Thank you! We really enjoyed hiking in Atlantic Canada - such great scenery and so many trails to choose from!
Sonya Richmond on Monday, 27 March 2023 03:36

Cora Lee Rennie Thank you! I think you are the queen of the East Coast Trail, which is one of my favourites in Atlantic Canada!

Cora Lee Rennie Thank you! I think you are the queen of the East Coast Trail, which is one of my favourites in Atlantic Canada!
Kim Kenyon on Monday, 27 March 2023 04:03

So interesting to see the subtle change in scenery between the regions. Love all those structure photos and the trails, fantastic article! Intriguing that more people have gone to the moon than completed the Trans Canada Trail. Sonya, do you plan to write a book on your Trans Canada Trail adventure? You should!

So interesting to see the subtle change in scenery between the regions. Love all those structure photos and the trails, fantastic article! Intriguing that more people have gone to the moon than completed the Trans Canada Trail. Sonya, do you plan to write a book on your Trans Canada Trail adventure? You should!
Sonya Richmond on Monday, 27 March 2023 17:47

Also, we are currently planning to return to this part of the country for some further adventures - stay tuned

Also, we are currently planning to return to this part of the country for some further adventures - stay tuned :)
Cary Horning on Monday, 27 March 2023 19:01

Fabulous story and stunning photos Sonya! I have been to a couple of these places so thank you for the walk down memory lane. The East Coast is so pretty.

Fabulous story and stunning photos Sonya! I have been to a couple of these places so thank you for the walk down memory lane. The East Coast is so pretty.
Sonya Richmond on Friday, 31 March 2023 02:23

Yes, we thoroughly enjoyed walking across Atlantic Canada. It is such a great place to visit!

Yes, we thoroughly enjoyed walking across Atlantic Canada. It is such a great place to visit!
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