This page is a description of a very-under-reported bit of scenic trail in the scenic oceanside province of Nova Scotia: The Cape Split Trail. The Cape Split Trail is in a sleepy, seldom-visited little corner of the province, and leads to a spectacular viewpoint hundreds of feet above the tide-tortured waters of the Bay of Fundy and the Minas Basin. When I was attending nearby Acadia University, I came and explored this area many times.
This Cape Split hike was part of a larger trip to the Maritime provinces that Jenn and I took in July of 2008. If you'd like to read about that trip, complete with many pictures and maps, please click here
Cape Split itself is a neat bit of geography and geology: On a map, it is the very distinct little curved-horn like protrusion that flicks up into the Bay of Fundy. It guards the entrance to the Minas Basin, a sub-basin of the Bay of Fundy. As you may already know, the Bay of Fundy is home to the world's highest tides (and in particular, a spot in the Minas Basin is on record as having the very biggest tides in the Bay of Fundy). So, as you might imagine of such a place, staggering amounts of water slosh in and out past Cape Split each and every day -- in fact, twice each and every day. Geologically speaking, Cape Split is part of the long, long North Mountain and is mostly composed of thick layers of dark basalt volcanic rock.
To get to the Cape Split trailhead, you must drive north from the eastern end of the Annapolis Valley near New Minas, NS. Take NS highway 358, and this will lead scenically across the Annapolis Valley, up the southern-facing escarpment of North Mountain (and past the scenic 'lookoff') and across to quiet and lonely Scots Bay. At the very end of the highway, turn left on a patchy paved road to it's very end, where a small parking area awaits right next to the black, basalt coastline. The trailhead is clearly visible in the trees just to the west, leading out the parking lot.
Cape Split trail
The Cape Split trail is for the most part quite flat. It starts at just 30 or so feet above sea level, and at it's maximum elevation is only at about 450 feet (125m) or so above sea level. There are only a couple of spots where there is any sort of meaningful grade.
The trail first starts off in a slightly rough fashion, soon following the edge of an old farmer's field (and where it seems all of the uneven boulders from this field have been placed at the margins, precisely where the trail is). The trail makes a sharp right as it rounds the corner of the field, and then soon after this veers off left, away from the field and away from rough footing. From here until the end of the trail at Cape Split, the trail is remarkably smooth, with few rocks or roots.
The total distance of the hike, one-way, is about 6.5 kilometres. The first half of the trail is in a mixed forest with a lot of fir trees. Then, the trail swings north for a short while, crossing the approximately 1km wide narrow peninsula upon which Cape Split is located. As it does so, it gradually rises (This section of the peninsula tilts southward, with the highest elevation on the north side, high above the ocean).
Upon reaching the north side of the peninsula, the trail climbs one final time as it swings back west, then mostly levels off. The forest here is dramatically different than before, with a beautiful sea of open, almost completely deciduous forest. The understory is beautiful, too, with not much underbrush and a lot of gentle-looking ferns and such. As you walk, you can sense and sometimes glimpse the big dropoff and ocean to your right, as you follow the high edge of the peninsula. The trail continues to be gentle, wide and easy.
Channel through the trees
After several more kilometres of pleasant and easy walking (along with a few up-and-down undulations), one starts to reach a point where the peninsula starts to dramatically narrow towards the point of Cape Split. The trail winds through forest that is less open and more brushy here. Also, there is a slight bit of elevation loss as one nears Cape Split (the split's elevation is lower than the high point of the trail).
The erosionary forces that are always acting on the Cape are further along in their processes here. A major indication of this is a huge and dramatic gully that the trail suddenly comes upon not far from the split. The gully plunges down several hundred feet and you can clearly see the ocean far below. The trail skirts the head of this gully and continues on.
Just minutes after the gully, the trail emerges into a wide, grassy open area, and a beautiful vista open out before you. There are no more trees: just open grass, sky, and ocean. The gentle grassy top of a detached sea stack is directly in front of you (although it does not look detached from this initial view, when you get closer it is plainly obvious that it is separated from you by a 300-foot high gap).
There is ocean on three sides: ahead and to the left stretches the Bay of Fundy. To the right is the Minal Channel (leading in to the Minas Basin). Across in the distance to the right is the Chignecto shore of Nova Scotia. To the left, the long, long stretch of North Mountain fades off to the southwest.
There are several semi-distinct grassy pathways that criss-cross the open bit of land at the split. By going downwards (to the south), you encounter the head of another steep gully. This one is less steep than the one encountered earlier, but is still quite steep. IT is plainly obvious that people have used this gully as an access route to the shoreline below. In my opinion, it is doable, but you need to be comfortable and competent with this sort of steep scrambling. Also, this access is of no use if the tide is high or near high, since the coastline below is completely underwater. Please also remember that here, in the place of the world's highest tides, the change in water level can be quick and large.
Also on the southern side of the grassy area are cliff-edge views that include the distinctive fingers of rock that stretch out from Cape Split. These rocks can't be seen when you first emerge from the forest at Cape Split, because they are obscured by the larger, main sea stack. Only when you come around to the south do you get a nice view of them. When the tide is rushing in or out, plumes of churning sea-water stream by these finger-like pinnacles of rock. The tide-generated current at these times has been clocked at an impressive 16km/hr (about 8 knots or so).
The way back is to retrace your steps along the trail you came in on.
Scenic Scots Bay Coastline
Elevation over Distance and Time
One final note about this wonderful little hike. The shoreline near the trailhead is a fun place to rock-hop and explore, assuming the tide is low enough. There are several faint herd-paths that lead down to the shoreline immediately from the trailhead or along the first little bit of trail.
Interactive Trackmap & Photo Points - Click link below to expand
Hike Data - Cape Split Hike (One Way)
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet