Prince Edward Island’s best road trip: Red Cliffs & Green Gables

Take an idyllic coastal drive to see stunning red-rock backdrops by land and by sea.Monday, 10 February 2020

National Geographic photographer Dan Westergren hit the highlights of the Prince Edward Island coastal drive—Red Sands Shore, North Cape Coastal, and Green Gables Shore routes—on a leisurely 250-mile loop beginning and ending in Charlottetown, the island’s captivating capital and largest city. Since Prince Edward Island is Canada’s smallest province, you’ll do more exploring than driving each day. Embrace the slower pace while exploring the Island’s iconic red clifftops and beaches, and seaport villages on this five-day island escape.

TOP FIVE REASONS TO GO

1. See the places that inspired the beloved literary classic, Anne of Green Gables.

2. Taste world-famous Malpeque oysters harvested fresh from the bay.

3. Go sea kayaking for water-level views of Prince Edward Island's stunning red cliffs.

4. Visit Lennox Island First Nation to experience a 10,000-year-old culture.

5. Hike and bike coastal trails in Prince Edward Island National Park.

Day one: Charlottetown, Argyle shore, Victoria

Walk Red Clifftops and Beaches

From Charlottetown, continue southwest along the coast to Argyle Shore Provincial Park. Walk down the stairs to the beach to see the quintessential Red Sands Shore scene: green grass disappearing into eroded red cliffs overlooking red-sand beaches. After strolling the beach, walk along the cliff and look down at the water, which can appear rust-red due to Prince Edward Island’s iconic soil. If you’re travelling with kids, visit nearby Canoe Cove, the protected bay beach at Lloyd Inman Memorial Park—at low tide when the tidal pools are teeming with marine life.

INSIDE TIP: Close to Argyle Shore, the new Bonshaw Hills Provincial Park is a great place to go trout fishing, hiking, or mountain biking.

Roll Through Farm Country

Follow the Red Sands Shore route markers (red seaside cliffs) to the enchanting fishing village of Victoria-by-the-Sea. The bucolic coastal drive leads past grazing cows, weather-worn barns, and flowering fields where the island’s world-famous potatoes grow. Arrive in Victoria-by-the-Sea in time for a lobster roll at the Lobster Barn Pub & Eatery before catching the daily performance (June to September) at The Historic Victoria Playhouse.

INSIDE TIP: The Festival of Small Halls, held every June in rural community halls across the island, embodies everything that represents traditional Irish, Scottish and Acadian music in Prince Edward Island. Beyond the festival, there are cèilidhs [traditional music concerts] held in community buildings all summer. You just pay a small fee, sit in chairs, and listen to local musicians play.

Day two: Victoria to West Point Lighthouse

By-the-Sea-Kayaking

In the charming seaport village of Victoria-by-the-Sea, paddle the protected waters of Northumberland Strait with By-the-Sea-Kayaking. Guided tours include sunrise, sunset, and full-moon paddles, plus introductory trips ideal for beginners and a kayaking-clam digging experience ending with making (and eating) clam chowder on the beach.

Celebrate Acadian Culture

On the way to the western edge of the Island, drive along the southern coast through the French-speaking Evangeline Region, home to Prince Edward Island’s vibrant Acadian communities. Try traditional Acadian meat pie and listen to live music at Village Musical Acadien in Abrams Village.

INSIDE TIP: Nearby, make your Instagram sparkle with shimmering images of the Cap-Egmont Bottlehouses crafted from recycled glass.

Sleep at a Lighthouse

Drive along the North Cape Coastal Drive to the West Point Lighthouse Inn. The inn features two guest rooms (the restored keeper’s quarters) inside the black-and-white-striped West Point lighthouse and an attached, 11-room hotel. Climb up to the beacon inside the lighthouse—Prince Edward Island’s tallest at 69 feet—to look down at the beach.

 

 

Day three: Tyne Valley and Lennox Island

Tour a Traditional Oyster Factory

From the West Point Lighthouse, explore more of Prince Edward Islands Northern Cape by following the coastal drive markers (lighthouse, grass, water, and sunset) northeast to Tyne Valley for a tour (by appointment only) of old-school Valley Pearl Oysters. The co-owners are competitive shuckers (one of whom is on the team holding the Guinness World Record for most oysters shucked in an hour) who harvest oysters from the bottom of Malpeque Bay the traditional way—with wooden tongs. No tour is required to buy oysters at Valley Pearl’s small factory or to slurp oysters and beer Thursday to Saturday evenings at their oyster bar.

INSIDE TIP: In Tyne Valley, Backwoods Burger Craftbeer Cookhouse is a good choice for a burger, fries, and a beer. The restaurant features beers by a local microbrewery, Moth Lane Brewing. Try a Moth Lane at the Cookhouse and most anywhere in the area with local brews on tap.

Visit Lennox Island First Nation

Make the short drive north from Tyne Valley to experience culture 10,000 years in the making at Lennox Island First Nation. The ancestral home of the Mi’kmaq welcomes visitors who want to learn about Prince Edward Island’s indigenous people. Walk the Path of Our Forefathers nature trail along the shoreline, visit the small museum, and schedule one of the Lennox Island cultural experiences, such as making a hand drum or decorative birchbark circle, led by a Mi’kmaq artisan. Experience the annual Lennox Island Pow Wow held here every August.

Day four: Prince Edward Island National Park

Soak Up Sea Views

The north-central coast of Prince Edward Island, called Green Gables Shore, is lined with white-sand beaches and dunes, stunning red cliffs, and fascinating rock formations. As you follow the shore route near Darnley, see how the wind, waves, and weather have sculpted the island’s signature sandstone into arches, sea stacks, and other natural architectural wonders.

From here, the road hugs the coast for the scenic drive through Prince Edward Island National Park. Rent a bike from Outside Expeditions or take a hike to explore the park’s multi-use Robinsons Island Trail System. Stop for a meal (reservations recommended) at Dalvay by the Sea, a resplendent, 1895 seaside mansion.

INSIDE TIP: To go where the locals go. "Richard’s Fresh Seafood, a little place with a huge line but the best fish and chips.”

A Farm-to-Table Culinary Experience

For a one-of-a-kind food experience, The Table culinary studio in New London hosts intimate [maximum 20 people], family-style dinners made with locally-sourced ingredients. Reserve a seat well in advance to interact with the chef and savour the sea-to-farm bounty at one of the nightly-themed dinners, such as Friday’s “New London Shindig!” featuring toe-tapping, live music. Or, sign up for one of The Table’s small-group classes like Marilla’s Table, a culinary and historical deep-dive into the early 1900s Island life described in the beloved literary classic, Anne of Green Gables.

Day five: Cavendish, North Rustico, Charlottetown

Experience Living History

In Cavendish visit Green Gables Heritage Place. Stroll the grounds to tour the original Green Gables farmstead, learn more about author Lucy Maud Montgomery, and follow in Anne of Green Gable’s fictional footsteps on trails featured in the book.

INSIDE TIP: For a simple lunch with a surprising side of history, stop at Avonlea Village. It’s an outdoor food court where the restaurants are in historic buildings moved from other locations around the Island.

Go Deep-Sea Fishing

Embrace Prince Edward Island’s seafaring heritage on an unforgettable adventure with Joey’s Deep Sea Fishing in Rusticoville. Located two miles south of the charming fishing village of North Rustico, Joey’s offers Gulf of St. Lawrence fishing trips where you can catch your own cod and mackerel for supper. Or, skip the fishing on their Lobster and Fish Feast tour: a private guided boat ride with a lobster fisherman followed by dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers.

INSIDE TIP: For the best coffee, stop by The Fishead Company Store at North Rustico Harbour.

Feast on Island Foods

Customize the final leg of your trip in Charlottetown. Eager to explore the city or catch a Charlottetown Festival performance before your flight home? In the compact capital city, stroll the car-free Victoria Row, a historic retail and dining district, and savour homegrown Prince Edward Island flavours at the aptly named, Terre Rouge (red earth), perennially ranked as one of Canada’s top restaurants.

INSIDE TIP: Peakes Wharf shop [open May to October] in Charlottetown is the place to try a Prince Edward Island original, Cows ice cream. Cows is super-rich and flavorful because it’s slow-churned using eggs and cream from local dairy farms and stuffed with all-natural ingredients, like Island-grown strawberries. Something about sitting at the waterfront makes the taste even better.

HOW TO TAKE THIS TRIP

The drive is a 250-mile loop around the central portion of the Island and extending into the westernmost region. Fly to Charlottetown and rent a car at the airport. Drive southwest along the Red Sands Shore Coastal drive to Argyle Shore Provincial Park. Stay in Victoria-by-the-Sea. The next day, pick up the North Cape Coastal Drive near Summerside and head to West Point Lighthouse. Next, head east to Tyne Valley and Lennox Island. Follow the coast to connect with the Green Gables Shore Coastal drive in Kensington. Spend two nights in New Glasgow while exploring the Green Gables region. Return to Charlottetown.

WHERE TO STAY

In Victoria-by-the-Sea, stay at The Orient Hotel Bed & Breakfast, established in 1900. In North Cape, the second-floor seaside rooms at the West Point Lighthouse Inn have outdoor decks overlooking the water. In the Green Gables Shore region, stay at the gracious FarmHouse Inn in New Glasgow, only a six-minute drive from North Rustico and Cavendish. In Charlottetown, stay at a historic downtown property, such as The Great George or the Fairholm Boutique Inns.

TRAVEL TIP: The best time to drive the route is mid-June to mid-September since some restaurants and attractions are closed or have limited hours during the offseason.

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