New Brunswick’s best road trip: wonders of highest tides

Embark on an action-packed adventure along New Brunswick’s stunningly scenic Bay of Fundy Coast.

Monday, 10 February 2020,
By
Aerial view of Saint Andrews.
Aerial view of Saint Andrews.
Photograph by Courtesy Tourism New Brunswick

Walk across the ocean floor and kayak among otherworldly rock formations with National Geographic filmmaker and adventurer Bryan Smith on a five-day coastal loop shaped by the highest tides on the planet. Every six hours over 150 billion tons of water flushes in and out of the Bay of Fundy. The 50-foot tidal exchange creates opportunities for a different New Brunswick outdoor adventure every day of the drive.

TOP FIVE REASONS TO GO

1. Witness the world-famous Bay of Fundy tides each day.

2. Take a low-tide drive across the ocean floor to an island.

3. Be amazed by the Reversing Falls Rapids in UNESCO Stonehammer Global Geopark.

4. Go sea kayaking the highest tides in the world in the Fundy UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

5. Spot whales, dolphins, majestic seabirds, and other wildlife on a whale-watching tour.

Day one: St. Andrew's

Take a Low Tide Ride

From the Fredericton airport, drive 90 miles south and more than 200 years back in time to Saint Andrew's. Designated as a National Historic Site, the charming seaside community established in 1783 boasts an array of 18th and 19th-century homes, churches, and commercial buildings. The historic town’s strategic position—at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy—makes it the ideal spot to start exploring the coast by land and sea. To see how the massive tidal shift dramatically alters the landscape, drive on the ocean floor from the Saint Andrews’ mainland to Ministers Island at low tide. Check the daily tide schedule in advance to ensure you allow enough time to go over and back.

INSIDE TIP: “Driving the tidal road to Ministers Island was one of my favourite experiences on the trip,” says Smith. “At low tide, there is a road across the seafloor, but at high tide, the road is submerged under 14 feet of water.”

Go Whale Watching

Mid-June to early October, go on a whale-watching tour aboard the M/V Island Quest, a custom-built cruiser owned and operated by a local fishing family. Minke, humpback, and finback are among the whales commonly spotted in the Bay of Fundy. In addition to whales, look for dolphins, porpoises, seals, and other marine life, as well as majestic seabirds, such as bald eagles, blue herons, and petrels. Back on land, explore the wild side of Saint Andrews by walking the shoreline of Pagan Point Nature Preserve, which protects 30 acres of salt marsh, woodland, and sandy beach on Passamaquoddy Bay.

INSIDE TIP: “Catch the epic sunsets over the harbour,” Smith says.

The flukes of a humpback whale in the Bay of Fundy.
Photograph by Bryan Smith
Quaint shops, restaurants and whale watching operators are located at the St. Andrew’s Wharf.
Photograph by Bryan Smith

Day two: City of Saint John

Witness the Reversing Falls Rapids

Drive east to City of Saint John, world-famous for its Reversing Falls Rapids—the colossal, tidal tug-of-war between the Bay of Fundy and the St. John River. Twice daily at high tide, the powerful Fundy waters roar into the Saint John River. The titanic clash of natural forces causes the river to reverse direction. Craft an Instagram story capturing the raw power of the roaring waters from the rooftop SKYWALK Saint John. The steel-and-glass observation platform extends 28 feet out over the river, offering a bird’s-eye view of the backward flowing river below.

Explore On, Over, and Around Ancient Rocks

The Reversing Falls Rapids are a featured attraction of Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark, the first of its kind in North America. Centred in Saint John and spanning 965 square miles along and near the Fundy Coast, the park’s rocks, rolling waters, and adrenaline-pumping adventures—such as rock climbing, zip-lining, and sea kayaking—connect visitors to nearly a billion years of earth history. Climb a 542-million-year-old volcanic rock wall at the Inside Out Nature Centre. June to October, soar along the river and over a cove on the five-line Saint John Adventures Zip Line.

INSIDE TIP: “Stroll around the Saint John City Market, North America’s oldest continuously operating farmers’ market,” Smith says.

Day three: Saint Martin's

Capture Classic Bay of Fundy Photos

Continue east to St. Martins, a charming, clapboard coastal village with a rich maritime history. More than 500 wooden sailing ships were built and launched here between 1803 and 1900. Today, St. Martins harbour offers a postcard-perfect backdrop for photographers. Climb the replica lighthouse at the harbour for the 360-degree views of the rising and receding tides. Photograph the Instagram-famous covered bridges bracketing the harbour and the fishing boats moored on the mud at low tide.

INSIDE TIP: “Even if you don’t stay long in St. Martins,” says Smith, “a must-stop for food is Fiori’s Restaurant at the Salmon River B&B.”

A replica of the Quaco Head Lighthouse at St. Martin's harbour also serves as the visitor's centre.
Photograph by Alexander Iotzov, ShutterStock
Fishing boats docked at low tide on St. Martins harbour.
Photograph by Phil Tifo

Sea Kayak in a Biosphere Reserve

St. Martins is by far the best place to push out onto the Bay of Fundy in a sea kayak, or, for the less intrepid, explore the coastline on a guided zodiac cruise. However, you choose to float the world’s highest tides through the Fundy UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, local outfitter Red Rock Adventure offers the gear and guides to get you there. Get up-close views of St. Martins’ iconic red rock cliffs and mysterious sea caves. Watch for seals, porpoises, and other marine life as you head north along eastern North America’s longest stretches of wilderness coastline.

INSIDE TIP: “St. Martins is also the starting point of the Fundy Footpath,” says Smith, “a challenging [30-mile] wilderness trail that weaves north along the coast and connects to Fundy National Park.”

Bryan Smith explores the sandstone cliffs of St. Martins at low tide.
Photograph by Phil Tifo
At low tide, you can walk through the mysterious sea caves in the Bay of Fundy.
Photograph by Phil Tifo

Day four: Fundy National Park

Choose Your Tidal Adventure

From St. Martins, New Brunswick Route 111 east curves inland on the way to Alma, a quaint fishing village on the salt-water estuary of the Upper Salmon River. Alma is the gateway to tidal adventures in Fundy National Park. Experience high-tide on a half-day or full-day ocean kayaking tour in the Bay of Fundy, or opt for a more leisurely river kayaking trip. At low tide, discover what lies beneath the water on a guided walk across the intertidal mudflats and ocean floor at Alma Beach.

INSIDE TIP: “Some of the coolest camping options available in Canada’s National Park system are at Fundy National Park,” says Smith. “Stay in an oTENTik or yurt close to the world’s highest tides.”

Go into the Wild

More adventure awaits away from the coast in Fundy National Park’s inland forest and river valleys. The park boasts dozens of waterfalls and more than 60 miles of hiking trails, ranging in difficulty from level wheelchair-accessible nature walks to the challenging seven-trail Fundy Circuit. Hike the mile-long Dickson Falls loop trail to see the park’s most-photographed cascades. For a wilder waterfall trek, plan an all-day (six to eight hours, roundtrip) hike to remote Third Vault Falls, the park’s largest.

INSIDE TIP: For an off-the-beaten-path park adventure, join a guided Swim with Salmon snorkelling expedition in the Upper Salmon River backcountry led by biologists and First Nations experts. The tours are offered in September when the Atlantic salmon return to Fundy National Park waters.

Day five: The Hopewell Rocks

Meet the Tidal Rock Stars

Roll north along the spectacularly scenic Bay of Fundy coast for the road trip’s grand finale: The Hopewell Rocks. Remnants of mountains formed millions of years ago, the rust-coloured cliffs, rockweed-covered “Flower Pot Rocks,” and other surreal rock formations at Hopewell Cape continue to be shaped by weather, wind, and water. If possible, stay all day to see how the shifting Bay of Fundy tides transforms the geologic wonderland. At low tide, explore a 1.25-mile-long stretch of ocean floor dotted with towering sandstone sculptures. At high tide, stand on the main viewing deck to see the peaks of the Flower Pots poking up through the water.

INSIDE TIP: There are days when tide schedules, site opening hours, and other factors may make it impossible to experience both low and high tide in a single visit to The Hopewell Rocks. If that happens, you can return the next day for free since entrance passes are valid for two consecutive days.

Visitors explore The Hopewell Rocks at low tide.
Photograph by Phil Tifo

Go Sea Kayaking Among the Rocks

Early June to early September, paddle near the Flower Pots at high tide on a “Kayak the Rocks” tour. The guided tours offer up-close views of the sandstone formations and opportunities to navigate through tight rock tunnels and passageways. Add hundreds of thousands of aerial acrobats to the experience by visiting during the seasonal shorebird migration (mid-July to mid-August). The astonishing natural phenomena is a bucket-list-worthy sight: massive waves of sandpipers, plovers, and other birds roosting on the beaches, feeding on the mudflats, and swooping over the shore at The Hopewell Rocks.

INSIDE TIP: Experienced kayakers can paddle solo during prime kayaking time: two hours before high tide until two hours after. To launch a self-guided tour, stop at the visitor centre to sign a waiver and get permission to access the kayak launching site.

The Fundy Footpath offers access to the longest stretch of wilderness coastline on the Eastern seaboard.
Photograph by Phil Tifo
New Brunswick
Photograph by Martin Walz

HOW TO TAKE THIS TRIP

Fly into Fredericton airport and drive south 90 miles via Route 3 south and Route 127 south to Saint Andrew's. From here, drive east 64 miles via New Brunswick Route 1 east to the City of Saint John. Continue east 33 miles via New Brunswick Route 1 east and New Brunswick Route 111 east to Saint Martin's. To reach Alma and Fundy National Park, drive northeast 67 miles via New Brunswick Route 111 east and Route 114 east. From Alma, continue east 27 miles on Route 114 east to The Hopewell Rocks. Complete the loop by returning to the airport via Trans-CanadaHighway/Route 2 west (126 miles).

WHERE TO STAY

Spend the first night at Saint Andrews’ iconic Algonquin Resort, opened in 1889 and extensively renovated in 2014, or at the family-owned Tara Manor Inn, situated on a private hilltop overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay. City of Saint John offers an array of lodging options, from no-frills camping to boutique hotels. At the Salmon River B&B in St. Martins, book the Baywatch room for the water, cliff, and cave views. If you’re not camping in Fundy National Park, stay nearby in a cosy Alma bed and breakfast.

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