Our Cape Chignecto Trek

We returned a few days ago from our 51 km, three-day trek around Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, and – spoiler alert – we survived!  There were moments when I wasn’t so sure, especially when the rain was coming down in sheets on Saturday, but we persevered.

Cape Chignecto Map
Cape Chignecto loop trail

We arrived at the park shortly after 8 am on Friday, full of energy, clean and fresh.  The parking lot is at Red Rocks, where the Visitor Centre is also located.  We decided to do the hike counter-clockwise, although a lot of the hikers we met were travelling in the opposite direction.  The reason we chose this direction is so that our longest day of hiking would be on the first day, and each day after that would require fewer kilometers.

Friday was a beautiful day for hiking.  A bit foggy in the morning, but the sun broke out pretty early on.  Luckily, it wasn’t too hot, as this leg of the hike would take us directly across the park, mostly through the forest, to Seal Cove.

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Amazing coastal views just a few minutes into the hike.
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Beef jerky break on the Eatonville trail.
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The first 6 km is frontcountry standard, with lots of stairs.

The first 3 km or so of Day 1 is a steady uphill climb but after you reach the Y where we turned right for Eatonville, the trail levels off for most of the rest of the way.  At the end of Day 1, we had hiked approximately 21 km, arriving at camp around 7 pm.

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Friendly hiker we chatted with on a break at the Eatonville bunkhouse.
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Red cliffs and the Three Sisters in the distance.
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So many cliffs, so little time.

The Seal Cove campsites are small, but flat.  Not all campsites have picnic tables, but the ones that are there seem to move around quite a bit.  We managed to set up camp and have some time on the beach before it started to rain.  It’s a short hike to the beach but well worth it.  One of the nicest thing about this hike was all the small, private beaches along the way.  They were so perfect, I wanted to climb down to each one, set up shop and live out my days there.

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I wanted to live on this beach.

When we woke up on Day 2, it was already raining.  Luckily, we had brought a tarp with us and set it up over the picnic table so we had somewhere to prepare and eat breakfast. On this day, we were planning to make it all the way to Refugee Cove, about 17 km along the coastal trail.  We got a short break in the rain in the morning and couldn’t believe our luck.  Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last as it started to rain lightly for a long time and then quite heavily as we were coming into the Big Bald Rock area.  This area is wide open and would be stunning on a nicer day, however, we had to boot it across the rock face to keep from drowning.  We took shelter on the porch of the Big Bald Rock cabin while we waited out the worst of the rain.  At this point in the hike we strongly considered getting the hell out of there but as we were halfway around the loop we figured any hike out would take just as long as the rest of the loop so after a short break, we headed back out.

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The rain held off for views of these stunning little coves.

We did eventually make it to the campsites at Refugee Cove, completely soaked through, tired and hungry.  We were lucky that we have a dry pitch tent so that we could set up our tent without getting everything wet.  We got into the driest clothes we had, ate some food and passed out pretty early.

The next morning, the rain had mostly stopped, thank goodness.  We packed up for the last time and headed out early for our last and most challenging 12 kms of the loop. There are two major hills to deal with on this leg of the loop, one to get out of Refugee Cove and one to get out of Mill Brook.

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Hiking out to Refugee Cove beach.
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A foggy day at Refugee Cove.
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Campsites are in behind the beach at Refugee Cove.

The park doesn’t make use of switchbacks nearly as much as we would have liked.  Most of its major hills are straight up.  In fact, Mill Brook hill is so long, there are two benches for resting along the way.  In between these two hills and after Mill Brook, you find yourself hiking through a beautiful old growth forest.  Lush with ferns and with a well groomed and easy-to-follow trail, this was one of my favourite parts of the hike.

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Hiking through the old growth forest, on our way back to Red Rocks.

When you get closer to Red Rocks (the finish line!), you have the choice of taking the main trail back or descending to the beach for the rest of the hike.  If you time it right with low tide and you take the beach, it knocks off about 1.5 km from the hike.  At this point, we were all for this so down to the beach we went.  It was actually the perfect way to end the hike, walking on the floor of the Bay of Fundy, with cliffs towering above us and waves crashing to our right.

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Last 1.5 km on the beach back to Red Rocks.

Even with the heavy rain, we still very much enjoyed this hike.  Even when we were soaked completely through, we could still appreciate the incredible beauty right in our back yards.

Here are a few of my take-aways of the hike:

  1.  This is a stunning hike.  With so much of the hike following the coast of the Bay of Fundy, with numerous little coves, red cliffs and 100 ft waterfalls, it’s well worth the sore feet and tight calves that it costs to do.
  2. If the forecast calls for 15 or more mm of rain, I would recommend renting a cabin or bunkhouse, if available.  They’re well built, with bunks for at least 8 people and a furnace or heater for those cool nights (or if you get soaked and need to dry out!).
  3. Take your time.  We only allotted two nights on the trails so each day was full of hiking and there wasn’t much time for checking out lookouts or stopping to admire the views. We plan to go back next summer and rent three bunkhouses/cabins and really take our time with the hike.
  4. While there are some tough hills along the trail, most of it is pretty moderate, making this loop a great introduction to backpacking, for those interested in testing the waters.  If it’s going to be your first outing though, I would recommend taking at least three nights on the trail, so you don’t overwhelm yourself the first time out.
  5. Hiking poles are highly recommended.  There were some pretty swampy areas of the trail between Big Bald Rock and Refugee Cove and many brook crossings along the way.  Poles really helped us getting around these areas and provided balance when crossing swollen brooks.
  6. Have fun!  The right attitude is key.  You are going to have ups and downs and times when you doubt whether you can keep going but it’s really important that you realize that nothing lasts forever, even Mill Brook hill.

And we highly recommend checking out the Wild Caraway Restaurant in Advocate Harbour, after your hike.  You’ll surely be hungry and this place has amazing eats that are going to satisfy that post-hike hunger.  They even have two rooms upstairs for rent, in case you want to get a shower ASAP.

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Finally get to take off those packs and boots!
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