The Northumberland Shore is the area in Nova Scotia that stretches along the majestic Northumberland Strait from Amherst to Aulds Cove. It is also called the Sunrise Trail. I’ll use these names interchangeably throughout this page. You'll find gorgeous warm-water beaches, vineyards, coastal trails, and historic towns along this route.
Some of the warmest waters in Nova Scotia can be found along this shore. The beaches have the warmest salt water north of the Carolinas. This is ideal for the little ones.
There are expansive tides here where high tide comes in twice a day and can reach 8 feet. The sand revealed by the tides is gorgeous.
You’ll see red sand and small pebbles on most of the beaches along this shore. Some may seem quite small but can become very large once the tide recedes.
I saw this sign along Heather Beach. Wise words!
The Sunrise Trail is located along the north-western coast of Nova Scotia. It stretches for approximately 300km along the Northumberland Strait which is the body of water that separates this area of Nova Scotia from Prince Edward Island.
We'll start our tour in Amherst. This is the first major town that you’ll see in Nova Scotia when you cross into the province from New Brunswick on the TransCanada highway. You'll see a couple of exits from the TransCanada Highway 104 for Amherst.
I suggest you visit the Nova Scotia Visitor Information Centre before you go to Amherst. It is full of information and they can give you a map of Amherst and the Sunrise Trail. You'll see a lighthouse from the highway (on your right) which indicates the information centre. The centre is full of information about travelling in Nova Scotia. Follow the signs to drive down a small hill to visit the lighthouse and get some photos.
Follow the Sunrise trail on Highway 6 when you are ready to leave Amherst. I suggest you take route 366 as this is known as the Sunrise trail Coastal Route. If you are planning to camp at the Amherst Shores Provincial Campground I definitely suggest you take route 366.
You will drive along the coast at certain points on the 366 so it is quite beautiful. You’ll see the turnoff for this route not far after you have left Amherst on Hwy 6.
My map below will
give you an indication of the Sunrise Trail and the Northumberland Shore area. View
the map on your full screen and you’ll see that I have pinned the major service communities as well as all the attractions and beaches that I am recommending you visit during
Amherst is a full-service town with shopping, grocery stores, banks, gas stations, restaurants, accommodations, a post office, Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, a hospital and a public library. You should be able to find anything you need in Amherst.
Other major communities and towns on the Sunrise Trail that provide full services are Pugwash, Tatamagouche, Pictou, New Glasgow and Antigonish. You’ll also find many small General Stores along this trail. These often have a vast array of goods and services available to the traveller. They also may have local crafts and baked goods that you may not find elsewhere.
There are 20 day-use provincial parks scattered along the Northumberland Shore. The Nova Scotia government publishes an annual Parks Guide which details all these parks including their location and the park facilities. You can get this guide at most Visitor Information Centres (VIC) in the province. The activities in these parks range from beach access, boat launches, fishing, hiking, kayaking, picnic areas, playgrounds and site-seeing. I definitely recommend that you get a copy of the Parks Guide at a VIC.
Of the 20 day-use provincial parks 12 offer beach access and swimming opportunities. Along these shores you’ll find some of the warmest waters in all of Nova Scotia. I explored some of the best beaches on this trail and if you love beaches then you are going to love the Northumberland Shore. Check out my page on Northumberland Shore beaches and start exploring.
There are 2 provincial campgrounds along the Sunrise trail: Amherst Shores and Caribou-Munroes Island. Reservations must be done on-line for provincial campgrounds. Reservations become open on a specific date. Check parks.novascotia.ca for complete information. Some campgrounds are very popular so it can be difficult to get reservations. You’ll also find information about these parks in the Parks Guide that I mentioned above.
There are also several private campgrounds including Gulf Shore Camping park, East Wallace Motorcycle campground, Sunset Watch Family Campground, Seafoam Campground and Hyclass Ocean campground. You can get further information on these private campgrounds on the internet.
This area is the perfect spot for boaters and sailors. The waters here are called the Northumberland Strait and boosts some of the best sailing in Nova Scotia. There are also Bluefin Tuna fishing charters out of Ballantyne's Cove and Arisaig. You'll find the following marinas along this shore:
Some of these locations cater mostly to local fishing fleets. However, they have space for recreational boaters. I suggest you contact them ahead of time if you plan to visit their area and require their services.
There are numerous opportunities for cycle, walk and hike along the Northumberland Shore/Sunrise Trail. The TransCanada Trail stretches from the New Glasgow area westward to Tidnish Bridge. Sections of the trail may be used for hiking, cycling, horseback riding and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.
The Cape George hiking trails are located on the Cape George peninsula overlooking St. George's Bay. This is a gorgeous area and only 30 minutes from Antigonish. These trails offer 37 km of trails ranging from easy to difficult.
I did the Caribou-Munroes Island hike at the provincial campground of the same name. If you love walking along the coast you'll love this hike. You can access the via the campground or the day park, both access the beach. Once you are on the beach look to your left and you'll see Munroe Island.
You might want to do this hike at low tide as the water at high tide impedes the hike at one point. As you finish the beach section you'll start to walk on Little Caribou Spit. One one side is the Northumberland Strait and the other is Inside Channel and Main Channel. Walk further and you'll see where the water flows in from the strait to the channels.
I wasn't able to keep walking to Munroes Island because the water level was quite high. So, check the tides before you go to be sure you can make it to the island.
The Thinkers Lodge, located overlooking the coast in Pugwash, is a place everyone needs to visit. This was the site of the first Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs in 1957. Since then this special place has continued to unite thinkers from around the world to discuss what can be done for the better of the world.
This was at the height of the cold war. Scientists from around the world including the Soviet Union came to Pugwash to discuss the threat of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament. The Pugwash Movement was born which still leads peace conferences worldwide.
The historical importance of the Thinkers Lodge cannot be understated. Work done at the lodge lead to a Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. The lodge was named a National Historic Site in 2008.
The current lodge is filled with historical information and photographs from the initial 1957 conference. The 1995 peace prize is also on display. I was amazed about the significance of this event and the work that had been done.
There are 5 golf courses along the Northumberland Shore. The most well-known are the seaside courses at the Fox Harbour Resort in Wallace and Northumberland Links in Pugwash. These courses have magnificent views of the Northumberland Strait and are great destinations for golfers. The other courses along the route are Brule Point Golf Course near Tatamagouche, and the Abercrombie Country Club and Glen Lovat Golf Club, both in the New Glasgow area.
Do you like Nova Scotia wine? Award winning Jost Vineyards is located in Malagash. Jost is the biggest winery in Nova Scotia. They offer wine tastings and you can purchase wine and various merchandise there as well.
You can also have lunch there overlooking their vineyards. A gorgeous spot.
Tatamagouche is a gorgeous village filled with interesting corners to visit and explore as well as enjoy meals and cold drinks. You'll find a micro-brewery, a farmers market, a general store, a creamery, a chocolate shop, restaurants, shops, accommodations and walking and cycling trails. Many conveniences that a visitor might need are also in the community: a grocery store, a bank, a library, post office, gas station, pharmacy and others.
I especially loved visiting the Tatamagouche Train Station. Several trains are on display where you can stay overnight and there is a dining car as well. They are beautifully refurbished. The Old Train Station is a now a gift shop and coffee shop. A section of the Great Trail passes through the area at the train station.
Pictou is known as the Birthplace of New Scotland and they are quite proud of this special designation. This is where you will find the in-progress restoration of the replica of the Hector. The original Hector arrived in Pictou in 1773 from Scotland carrying 189 settlers.
This was the first significant immigration of permanent settlers to Nova Scotia from Scotland. It is hoped that the restoration will be completed & the ship launched in 2023 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the original Hector.
You can see the progress of the restoration at the Hector Heritage Quay. Also visit the Interpretive Centre, learn about the Battle of Culloden & the events that led to the large-scale immigration to Nova Scotia.
Pictou is a full-service community where the traveller can find most services including banks, food stores, gas, accommodations, restaurants, hospital, and a library.
While I was driving near Knoydart on route 245 toward Arisaig I saw a sign for a Culloden Memorial. I quickly stopped and turned around to investigate. The Culloden Memorial Cairn is a short walk from the road and overlooks the Northumberland Strait. It is a must stop!
An interpretive panel explains that it was erected in
1938 as a memorial to three settlers who immigrated to the area and who had
fought at the Battle of Culloden. The men were Angus and Hugh MacDonald, and John MacPherson. The great
great grandson of Angus MacDonald decided that a cairn was needed.
Stones from the Culloden battlefield as well as local stones were used to build the cairn. This is the only cairn in memory of the battle outside of Scotland.
Arisaig is a small, picturesque fishing village located along the Northumberland Shore in Nova Scotia. You can easily get there from New Glasgow or Antigonish via Route 245 on the Sunrise Trail. Check out my map to see its location.
There is a charming lighthouse on the wharf where you can buy ice cream. The harbour was established in 1813 and you'll find fishermen that fish lobster, herring, tuna, crab and scallops. Try to spend some wandering around this coastline and exploring the boats. There are also several plaques near the shore that explain the history of the community.
Be sure to visit the Steinhart Distillery located on route 245 not far from the wharf. It's actually on a small hill overlooking the Arisaig Lighthouse and harbour. You’ll love this place if you enjoy spirits. They have a wide selection of gin, vodka, whiskey, brandy, and liqueurs. They have tastings and tours and weekend get-away specials.
They also have a full day gin-making class called the "Ginstitute". The staff are amazing and the Gin Master is very knowledgeable. Rent one of their cabins during your stay and enjoy the gorgeous sunset over the Northumberland Strait.
Arisaig provincial park is only a few minutes from the harbour and is definitely worth a trip. This area is rich in fossils and minerals and there are several interpretive panels explaining the special geology in the park.
There is a hiking trail (albiet a short one) in the park that leads to the shore. It is not difficult but is steep in a couple of sections and also has some stairs to access the shore. There is also a small waterfall. There are picnic tables and several gorgeous look-off areas to enjoy.
The Cape George Point Lighthouse stands on a cliff with a commanding view over the Northumberland Strait and St. George’s Bay. The cliffs are over 400 feet (150m) high. This is a gorgeous place where you can easily spend an afternoon.
On a clear day you can see Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island. The first lighthouse was built in 1861. The current is the 3rd lighthouse and has been here since 1968.
The lighthouse is located in the Cape George Day Park where you’ll find picnic facilities and washrooms. The lighthouse is owned and maintained by the community.
Ballantyne's Cove is located a short distance from the Cape George Lighthouse. It is a lovely spot to stop and enjoy being on the coast.
The small craft harbour and marina are fully serviced and equipped. This is a major Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing area and serves as a major point for trading with the Japanese for quality tuna to be used in sushi.
Ballantyne's Cove Bluefin Tuna Interpretive Centre is located on the wharf and is worth a visit. It might be small but it is full of information about the local tuna industry.
Antigonish is the last major town heading east on the Sunrise Trail. Antigonish is a full-serviced area for the traveller with restaurants, accommodations, restaurants, shopping, banks, liquor stores and everything else that the tourist might need. It is also the home of St. Francis Xavier University.
The Antigonish Highland Games started over 150 years ago and is the longest continuous highlands games outside of Scotland. The folks here are extremely proud of their Scottish ancestry. You'll see several cairns near the welcome sign of well-known Scottish family names.
There are many places to stay along the Northumberland Shore - Sunrise Trail. Once you decide on your planned activities I suggest that you check their location on my map that I included near the beginning of this page. Then you can check the closest town and its accommodation options on Trip Advisor.
Nova Scotia has a wide variety of places to eat. From fine dining, family restaurants, pubs and pizza spots. There is something for everyone. I suggest you check my Where to Eat page for some tips on how to find a restaurant in your location.
Wondering what to do after your tour of the Sunrise Trail along the Northumberland Shore? You are not far from Cape Breton so I strongly encourage you to go there. There is lots to see and do on the gorgeous island called Cape Breton: Cabot Trail, Ceilidh Trail, Fortress of Louisbourg, Miners Museum and the Alexander Graham Bell Museum.
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