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Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

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Nebo, NC
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Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

Autumn 2012, my sisters and I (seniors) plan to do a scenic drive out from Portland, ME. Elevated vistas, quaint villages, and natural attractions are what we seek, not large cities or shopping--and eating is only a necessity, not a focus. Perhaps one natural history museum would fit in. We'll be on an efficient schedule that should go something like this:

1. Arrive and stay Portland

2. Interstate to reach Acadia N/P, lunch in Bar Harbor, drive the eastern loop & Cadillac Mtn., then stay in Ellsworth.

3. Highway #1 along Maine coast into New Brunswick--Hopewell Rocks, the Gorge at St. George, Carlton Martello Tower--stay in St. John, NB.

4. Ferry to Digby, NS, drive east on #101 to Wolfville and Cobequid Bay, Burncoat Head for tides, continue to Halifax for night.

5. Museum, Peggy's Cove until mid-afternoon. Pickup highways #102 and #104 around Bay of Fundy. Best place to overnight between Truro to Amherst? Prefer chain hotel.

6. Most interesting route back to St. John, NB--Fundy N/P (west from Hwy. 2 or drop down from Hwy. 1) then through St. Martins?

7. Return to Bar Harbor and stay Ellsworth.

8. Back to Portland, ME.

9. Depart.

Would appreciate any insider's suggestions for unique scenery along this course as well as routing to maximize the access to best attractions.

Regarding Hopewell Rocks--if we go after it closes on Oct. 8, how long/difficult is the way to the beach on foot, and where do you find the access?

Is Fundy N/P worth the detour in terms of easy access to waterfalls, etc. or do most features require long hikes?

We really need to cut this down to 8 days, but not sure what to give up, so would like to hear from readers about that, too. (Realize it will be slow going on the 2-lane coutry roads.)

Also posted in Halifax, NS, forum.

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1. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

Hi NC!

I'm glad to offer some comments!

1) On your way from Portland ME to Acadia National Park, take Ex. 174 and follow ME-69 to Winterport and then Penobscot Narrows Bridge. This bridge has an observation deck at the top for a spectacular view of Penobscot Bay (on a clear day).

Rt 69 takes you no longer than US-1A through Bangor and Brewer, avoids city traffic, and the route is more rustic.

By the way, although you can pay lots for a bed in Bar Harbor if you wish to, there are also lots of moderately priced places to overnight near Acadia National Park. You don't have to stay in Ellsworth if you don't wish to. That way, you could drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain for the first sunrise in the United States (in the unlikely event you get a clear morning!).

2) Want to save a little time and see charming rustic Maine scenery? US-1 from Ellsworth to Calais and the Canadian border is over-rated in my view. You rarely see the water, just a number of small towns and plenty of slow traffic.

Instead, take ME-179 north from Ellsworth and ME-9 to Calais. This is the fastest, most direct, most rustic and most scenic route. Route 9 features a highly rustic slice of far eastern rural Washington County that looks very different from the touristy things you see everywhere else. We love it, and we aren't even Americans!

A few miles east of Aurora on Rt 9, you'll pass the Whaleback, a glacial esker high above the surrounding marsh. It's a picture-perfect vista of a Maine brook and meadow with small mountains in the distance. There's a paved lay-by on the left (north) side of Rt. 9. Be sure to pull in and look!

3) Burntcoat Head, Nova Scotia, is not the best place for observing the Fundy tides. It's far out of the way. Although technically this is the point with the highest of the highest tides, there is actually little differnce in water height compared with other places, and nothing that a casual observer would not see better from other spots. I'll attach an article I wrote about the Fundy tides elsewhere in these forums to show you what I mean.

4) If you go to St. Martins, NB you'll get the opportunity to see some of the Fundy Trail Parkway, a series of sparkling lookoffs high up on cliffs. You drive along a paved park road, with numerous short spurs down to the lookoffs. It's less than 5 miles east of St. Martins.

5) By the way, the country roads are not excessively slow in Atlantic Canada. The speed limit outside built-up areas is usually 50 mph and you'll have no difficulty keeping up. The freeway is posted as 70 mph.

Happy travels!

David

capetien10@gmail.com

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2. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

Here's that article on the Fundy tides I wrote. I've edited it for you, and I apologize to those who may already have read it.

The Fundy tides manifest themselves in many ways.

The tides do not simply come sweeping in as a thundering wave that instantly fills up the coast, the way you see in the cartoons. The procedure takes several hours, with about three and 1/2 hours of the strongest incoming tide, three hours of high tide, 3 1/2 hours of ebbing tide and three hours of low water when the water moves only slightly.

There's no one best way to see them. Let me show you:

A) If you camp at a place along the water, such as Five Islands Provincial Park, about an hour drive west of Truro, NS you'll be able to observe the vast expanse of exposed mud flats gradually disappearing until the water is nearly up to your campsite. It takes hours, though.

If you stand in the bay during incoming tide, the water does perceptibly inch up your leg if the sea is calm. Even small waves, though, will drown out the effect of the tide, since the ripples of waves are always considerably stronger than the advancing tide. (The tide keeps relentlessly coming, though, while wavelets move at random.) To see the tide advancing, most any accommodation that's not on a cliff will do nicely.

B) There are a few places where you can actually see the water streaming up the bay in the form of a current and eddies. One is Cape Split, the hooked peninsula of land northeast of Kentville. Beware, though, that Cape Split is a minimum 3-hour hike (1 1/2 hours in each direction) for those in good physical condition. It's not rugged, and the trail is easy to follow, but there is no suitable vehicle road to the cape.

C) Rivers flowing into the bay get a "tidal bore" about every 13 hours, in which the incoming tide overcomes the sluggish waters flowing into the sea and rushes upstream in the form of a wave. (It's not a big wave, like surfers crave, and some who have seen it mutter that this must be the reason they call it a tidal "bore.") Behind the wave, though, the incoming water rises fast, much faster than in the open bay itself, flooding the river up to its banks. The best known and most accessible location is at Truro, where the old Palliser Motel (now closed down) is located, just below Exit 14 off Route 102 freeway. It is essential to look on the internet for tidal bore tables, since this is a momentary event happening only two times a day.

D) A place like Halls Harbor, 50 miles east of Digby and 75 miles from Halifax, looks like any old fishing village at high water. Then the water goes out at low tide and the boats are beached, still tied to their wharves by long ropes. This effect is best seen in before-and-after views. Numerous Fundy coast fishing ports are good for this. They make for remarkable photos.

E) Sometimes, islands are accessible at low tide but not when the tide is in. The best one I know of is at Bar Harbor, Maine. St. Andrews, New Brunswick has one too. If you're in town at low tide, you can walk, or even drive, to an island out in the harbor.

F) Brown-water rafting. When the tide flows up a river, it creates a sufficiently powerful flow that one can raft up the river in a rubber boat. There are companies that do this on the Shubenacadie River, southwest of Truro. I've never done it, but those who did told me they were impressed.

It's called brown water rafting because the incoming tidal bore churns up the river bottom, creating a muddy (but not polluted) flow. You can find more on the internet, I'm sure, or other writers may be able to help. There should also be info and perhaps ads in the "Doers and Dreamers Guide," the several-hundred-page travel book distributed by the Nova Scotia government that they'll send you for free, or you can pick up a copy at no charge from Nova Scotia Welcome Centers.

G) There's Reversing Falls, at St. John, New Brunswick. This is where the St. John River flows through its final gorge into the harbor. It's well-marked and easy to find.

The bridge from which you watch is on NB-100, crossing the St. John River. Take Ex. 107 off the Route 1 freeway to get to it. Reversing Falls includes a couple of restaurants, stairs going down to the water, and a jet boat ride.

If you're there when the tide is about halfway in, the river very gradually, I repeat, VERY gradually reverses direction and begins to flow up stream, creating eddies and a current. It's not a sudden event, and the name "Reversing Falls" is not really an accurate description of what you'll see. Still, it's a remarkable phenomenon. Sitting down in the restaurant for an hour will be necessary to appreciate what is happening.

H) The St. Martins Sea Caves at St. Martins, New Brunswick about 20 miles east of St. John on Route 111. The caves are half-submerged at high water, but accessible at low tide. You have a few hours to go down and explore inside (so long as you leave on time, of course!).

I) The Flower Pot Rocks of Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick. They're on Route 114, about 20 miles south of Moncton. You can either drive Route 114 clockwise from Moncton, or counter-clockwise starting at Sussex (Ex. 211 off Route 1) and first go through Fundy National Park.

At high tide, the rocks are tiny islands with a few evergreen trees growing on them. When the tide goes out, however, the rocks turn out to have tall red stone stems, sticking up 50 feet above the beach.

You can descend to the beach at low tide and walk around the rocky stems. (The treed caps are not accessible, except perhaps in a boat at high water.)

This beach is very muddy. Bring rubber boots in your trunk. Don't wear your walking shoes unless you fancy them permanently discolored by Fundy red mud.

As the adage goes, time and tide wait for no man. All Fundy tidal phenomena are time-sensitive: the St. Martins Sea Caves and Hopewell Rocks within a couple hours of low tide, and Reversing Falls at the incoming tide within a couple hours of the halfway point between low and high water. Check tide tables on the internet well in advance. Be sure you have 2012 (times are different each year) and that the times are in Atlantic Daylight Time (through November 3, 2012). ADT is one hour ahead of Atlantic Standard Time and one hour ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. The time change takes place at the Maine-New Brunswick border.

By the way, be mindful that the Fundy tides are found only in the Bay of Fundy and its adjacent waters, like Minas Basin and Chignecto Bay. There is absolutely no tidal scenery on the Atlantic-facing coast, like Halifax, or on Prince Edward Island, and you'll see no no hint of the dramatic Fundy tides there. The tidal difference on the Atlantic-facing coast is only a few feet a day.

Happy travels, and let me know if I can help further!

David

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3. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

An asker wondered which is better: St. John, NB or Digby NS:

St. John, New Brunswick is the bigger city. It offers more places for you to get down to the water for see the effects of the Fundy tides, including Reversing Falls, Irving Nature Park, St. Martins Sea Cave, and Fundy Trail Parkway. Around two hours further afield to the east from St. John are Fundy National Park and the Flower Pot Rocks. An hour west is the quaint seaside town of St. Andrews.

Digby is a much smaller town and more charming. Naturally, the selection of hotels and restaurants is smaller too. A few miles around Annapolis Basin to the southeast, the long sheltered bay where the mouth of the Annapolis River is forced to go around the North Mountain, you'll find a pleasing view of the gap where the bay opens into the Bay of Fundy itself.

To the east are Annapolis Royal and Port Royal, the first lasting French settlement in the Americas dating back to 1605 (and also, less well known, the now-forgotten first Scottish colony anywhere, harking back to 1629).

West of Digby is a long peninsula. About 30 miles west from Digby at the end of this peninsula is a ferry, then in 10 miles another ferry, until you sail to Brier Island, a remarkable place to visit, stuck out in the Bay of Fundy. Brier Island contains a small forest of extraordinary basalt columns which those who have seen both say resembles the Giants Causeway of Northern Ireland. It's also the top whale-watching port in Nova Scotia.

Which do you think more appeals to you?

Happy travels!

David

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4. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

You can walk down to the water's edge at St, Martins, a bit under an hour's drive east of St. John, New Brunswick, or at Irving Nature Park, about ten minutes drive west of downtown across the harbor bridge.

(The asker wondered whether there are "exit horns" to get people away from the water as the tide comes in.) There are no exit horns for the Fundy tides. You've been watching too many cartoons!

The Fundy tides don't come roaring in as a huge wave, the way sometimes depicted in the cartoons. The water does rise as much as 25 vertical feet at St. John, but not in a single wave. There's about 6 1/2 hours between high tide and low tide. Most of the rise happens during a 3 1/2 hour corridor. Twenty-five feet divided by 3 1/2 hours equals about 7 feet per hour, which is barely one vertical inch per minute.

You can easily walk far faster than the water rises. There's no need for emergency warnings. If somehow a person became stranded, say on a submergable islet, the water would eventually cover you and rescue might be needed, but this would never happen to anyone who is alert and knows that the the Fundy tide rises 25 feet.

Here is what you can do. The beaches near St. John and along the Fundy coast are not sandy beaches. They're mostly stony, such as at St. Martins, or mud flats.

At St. Martins, we like to walk down to the water's edge during the time of the fastest incoming tide. To a casual observer, you can't even tell that the tide is rising. The water level seems static. Even the tiniest waves appear to swamp any rising tide.

If you stay put for even a minute, though, it will be clear that as each wavelet retreats, the water hasn't gone out as far as it did behind the previous. In a minute or two, the water will start to lap over the spot where you're standing, and you must retreat or get your feet wet. You can do your King Canute imitation to impress friends!

Happy travels, and let me know if I can help further!

David

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5. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

What about Fundy Trail Parkway?

This is a parkway in the literal meaning, a paved two-lane way through a park, not a synonym for expressway. It’s about 45 minutes drive, one-way, east from downtown St. John, NB.

Most of the drive, on Route 111, will be unremarkable suburban streets. You’ll think you made a mistake. There’s no ocean scenery until suddenly you come out at the village of West Quaco, on the Fundy shore. You’ll now be amid the seaside charm you hoped for.

The road passes several small restaurants and B&Bs, then turn to cross a river next to a quaint covered bridge for the final section to St. Martins. This is where you find the sea caves, large ocean-wrought holes in the rock beside a stony tidal beach. During the three hours when the tide is out, you can walk down to the water’s edge and even enter the caves. It’s safe, but be mindful of the gradually returning tide.

During the 3 ½ hours when the tide is coming in (or when it is going out), stand on the beach. Mark with a stone a spot where the water now reaches, check your watch, then see what happens over the next few minutes. In just seconds, you should notice that the tide is advancing. You’ll be surprised how far the water has moved in just a short time. It’s not dangerous, as you will easily see, but fascinating. The tide will rise as much as 25 vertical feet in four hours, but it comes in a lot slower than you can walk.

Drive east to Fundy Trail Parkway, now about 8 miles long. It’s a paved road of steep hills and vistas, punctuated by about a dozen or so parking lots from which you can walk down to cliffs and look-offs over the water. It’s rewarding. You could go down, but these are steep hikes. Or you could just stay at the top and enjoy the views. You'll have many choices.

At the end is a walkway to the Hearst Lodge, a “chalet” (more like a 20-room mansion) built in the days before air conditioning as a summer place by publisher and Congressman William Randolph Hearst, who ran for mayor and governor of New York several times in the early 20th century. You can have tea there.

Nature walks are offered from the lodge, but for most, the only practical way you can see the park is with wheels. (Hikers with all day free could do it on foot, but it’s demanding because of all the hills.)

David

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6. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

Here's an article I wrote for an asker who wondered about walking on the sea floor near the Flower Pot Rocks at Hopewell Cape, NB:

You won't have any problem walking on the ocean floor, at least not from a tidal standpoint if you're there between three hours before the time of low water and three hours after, when they close the ocean floor.

All low tides at Hopewell Rocks are go out sufficiently far for you to walk on the sea floor, and stay out for several hours.

Fundy tides flow like a sine curve: about 1 1/2 hours before and after low tide, and before and after high tide, there's very little water movement. Most of the ebb and flow is compressed into the 3.5 -hour corridors halfway between low and high water.

I believe the policy they follow at Hopewell Rocks is to open the steps from three hours before the time of low tide to three hours after low tide. That gives six full open hours for each low tide. It's not dangerous, and the authorities see that everyone is back up at the proper time when it's time to close.

You can wander around the base of the 50-foot-tall flower pot rocks. Climbing them is not allowed and indeed not practical, because the islets perched atop the stony stems are wider at the top than at the base.

Bring cruddy clothes and rubber boots, or at least things you don't mind getting permanently discolored. The red Fundy mud will stain your clothes and especially your shoes. There is no way to walk on the sea floor except in the red mud.

David

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7. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

WOW, what great information to work with! Lots to organize into our itinerary. Love the suggestion to exit the interstate before Bangor and get to the Penobscot Bay overlook.

One thing I still am curious about--if we get to Hopewell Rocks after it is closed on Oct. 8th, where/how do we get to the bay floor? (Glad you mentioned the mud--and bringing rubber boots!)

I'm sure I'll have more questions and you are my new 'go-to' source. Thanks!

Waterside, Canada
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8. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

Hi northwoodsorbust

David has given you a lot of good information. My concern is about driving times and backtracking. For instance the drive from Ellsworth to the border crossing at Calais via ME9 is at least 1 hour. And then there is lost time at the border crossing. And then you lose an hour when you cross the border from Maine to New Brunswick. The drive from St. Stephen, NB to the Hopewell Rocks is about 4 hours. Then the drive back to Saint John is about 2 hours. So you have at least 7 hours driving that day without allowing any time for stopping or exploring.

May I suggest removing Hopewell Rocks from your item 3. Your visit to the Rocks could then be added to your item 6 on your return trip. The drive from Truro to the Hopewell Rocks is just a little over 2 hours. After visiting the Rocks you could move down to Alma and visit Fundy Park. There are several easy hikes available in the Park that include waterfalls and fantastic vistas overlooking the Bay of Fundy. You could then overnight in this area.

From Alma the drive back to Ellsworth is just over 4 hours and you gain an hour when you cross back into Maine. This would allow you plenty of time to return via St. Martin's and make your visit to the Fundy Trail part of your item 7.

You also asked about access to the beach at Hopewell Rocks after October 8th. The stairs down to the beach remain in place for up to a week after closing depending on when the work crews get to winterize the site. Even if the stairs are removed there is easy access to the beach from the eastern end of the lower parking lot but you have to time your visit with the tides. While visitation is not discouraged in the off-season, visitors need to be aware of the risks. There will not be any park staff or interpreters and visitors who visit do so entirely at their own risk and under their own responsibility. For instance, visitors should not visit alone and may want to have a cell phone with them, should an emergency arise.

Hope this is helpful and enjoy your visit to this area.

Nebo, NC
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9. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

ejohn80, I confess, I was clueless about where Hopewell was. Somehow I had the idea it was between the Canadian border and Saint John. Now that I have a handle on it, I can see how right you are--it definitely belongs on the return loop after we leave Halifax.

Thanks, too, for the heads-up about the time change--I hadn't even thought about that!

Getting an idea of travel times is probably the biggest help of all since we will have to be very tight with our schedule.

I must say here that the quality of my travels has grown ten-fold since I joined T/A. I really appreciate all the time and effort everyone puts into sharing their experiences!

Waterside, Canada
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10. Re: Portland, ME, to Halifax, NS, VIA Saint John, NB

Hi northwoodsorbust

In your message you say you have to compress your trip into 8 days but not sure when the count starts. From your itinerary I see 8 nights as follows: Portland, Ellsworth, Saint John, Halifax, Truro or Amherst, Saint John, Ellsworth and Portland. Is this all the time you will have for this trip?

I may have some further suggestions that could eliminate backtracking and give you opportunities to vist more locations.

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