If you’re looking for a moderately challenging Nova Scotia backcountry hike that offers fantastic views, Cape Split is definitely the place to go!
Cape Split Provincial Park Reserve is a 447-hectare protected area near Scots Bay in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. This volcanic basalt headland is the oceanward tip of Nova Scotia’s North Mountain. On a map, Cape Split resembles a crooked finger curving into the ocean at the point where Minas Basin meets the Bay of Fundy. Cape Split experiences some of the world’s highest tides and is a Nova Scotia scenic icon.
A popular 16-kilometre backcountry hiking trail (return) traces the spine of Cape Split. It leads hikers through softwood, mixed-wood and hardwood forest then onto grassland at the tip of the headland. Spectacular views of precipitous cliffs and offshore rock stacks and spires are the top attractions on this hike. During summer, forest songbirds and nesting seabirds are added bonuses.
Cape Split, Nova Scotia (©Magi Nams)
Vilis and I hiked Cape Split for the first time last summer. In mid-July, we made the three-hour drive from our home near Tatamagouche to the trailhead just beyond Scots Bay.
As we slathered on sunscreen, I heard the voices of white-throated and song sparrows, a winter wren, black-throated green warbler, American goldfinch and Swainson’s thrush. A trail sign warned, “STAY ON TRAIL…CAUTION: High cliffs, falling rock and strong tides…Do not approach cliffs. They are actively eroding and unstable.”
The first section of trail led us uphill on an old woods road, through primarily coniferous forest. A red squirrel chattered, and we were serenaded by more songbirds: hermit thrush, golden-crowned kinglet and black and white warbler.
As we climbed to the top of the ridge that forms the cape’s spine, evergreens gave way to mixed-wood forest and then to open hardwood forest. We followed the sun-dappled trail, enjoying the shade cast by the forest. Eastern chipmunks scurried over the forest floor. I heard the voices of a northern parula, red-eyed vireo and rose-breasted grosbeak.
Where the trail passed near the cape’s edge, we had spectacular views of plunging cliffs. The reason for the warnings on the trail sign became abundantly clear.
As we approached the tip of the cape, woodland gave way abruptly to an exposed grassy meadow and one of the most stunning views in Nova Scotia. It’s no wonder hikers speak of Cape Split with near-reverance in their voices.
Beyond the meadow, sheer cliffs dropped to the ocean. Craggy spires of rock thrust out of the water. Beyond the rocks, turbulence on the ocean surface indicated where waters of Minas Basin and the Bay of Fundy swirled into each other’s embrace.
Great black-backed gulls winged over the grassy tops of lichen-encrusted rock stacks just off shore. I spotted nesting great black-backed gulls and double-crested cormorants atop the stacks, and herring gulls lower down on the cliffs.
Vilis and I explored the rocky promontory and ate our bag lunches in the shade of a spruce tree. Then we headed back into the forest for the return hike. I told Vilis that I want to hike Cape Split again, in autumn, when temperatures are cooler and the hardwoods are aflame with fall colours.