When a new adventure is about to begin, I’m always emotionally on edge. It starts a few days, sometimes even weeks, beforehand and doesn’t subside until we are wheels to the highway in the direction of our first destination. Even then some anxiety lingers until we have settled into our first campsite, content that nothing was forgotten and no surprises awaited us.
Our month long Maritimes adventure, aside from simply being big, involved two wildcards that had me especially stressed. One was my lack of familiarity with this area of Canada, having only visited it briefly once before, sixteen or so years ago. Second was our use of a twenty year old travel trailer that had sat unused in my parents’ backyard since 2015. Let’s just say that my assorted sphincters were getting an exhaustive workout as we prepared for departure on this long-awaited trip. Thankfully, our first destination was so exceptionally wonderful that my worries melted away within the first day.
Of course, my worries weren’t the only things melting away to start our trip. We left our Southern Ontario staging base in the midst of a heatwave. One of those hot and humid types that everyone now living in Alberta says they don’t miss. We outran it for one day of driving but it quickly caught us as we set up camp along the Fundy coast of New Brunswick at Chignecto campground in Fundy National Park. I love the mixed forest back east, but even the grandest of shade trees won’t keep you from wilting when the humidex pushes into the forties.
Undaunted, we set about enjoying the first stop on our trip and were presented an early learning experience thanks to the weather I just mentioned. Chignecto campground is located about four kilometres inland from the Fundy shoreline, gaining elevation the entire distance. It was hot and muggy at our campsite but make your way down to the shore and it was easily several degrees colder, not to mention windy and less humid. The change was quite dramatic and you could even see it happen on the exterior temperature gauge in our SUV. Our visit to Point Wolfe Beach revealed the most dramatic example of this “Fundy Effect” as we went from hot and sweaty to chilly and wishing we’d brought windbreakers in the span of a ten minute hike. For landlocked Prairie dwellers, it was a formidable lesson in the climate influencing power of oceans.
It was also a persuasive incentive to go hiking into the lower elevations of the park, something you absolutely must do at Fundy National Park. Hiking, that is. We did two short hikes and they were both wonderful. Living in Calgary, with the Prairies to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west, hiking is plentiful and visually rewarding. It’s also different than what I grew up with in Ontario. I soon found myself giddy with nostalgia as we walked the meandering, hilly trails next to ocean-bound brooks tumbling melodically beneath the sheltering deciduous canopy.
Our first such hike was to Kinnie Brook. One of two trailheads for this short hike (2.8km return) is located right at the edge of Chignecto campground and makes for a delightful walk down into a valley, terminating at Kinnie Brook. The trail is dirt, through the woods, with a series of wooden stairs over the final decent. On a hot day like we were experiencing, the cold waters of Kinnie Brook were a welcome reward at the terminus of the trail. We took off our boots and socks and stepped into the shallow waters to cool down. I highly recommend you do this because not only is the water refreshing but the views downstream are quite pretty and worth any discomfort the water or stony brookbed might cause.
Our second hike was the 1.5km roundtrip to Dickson Falls. This hike through the forest follows Dickson Brook over much of its length and in doing so offers many appealing visuals of moss-covered rocks and cascading rapids. Most of the trail alongside the brook is boardwalk which, though not natural, created an almost shire-like atmosphere.
Regularly along the trail you encounter placards teaching passersby about the local flora, fauna, or geology of the park. I enjoy these informative displays and wish more parks had them and kept them legible. Eventually you reach Dickson Falls, a delightful waterfall that is a testament that waterfalls needn’t be high to be attractive.
The Dickson Falls trail is part of the elaborate trail and amenities development in the heart of the park main entrance area. It is therefore easily accessible and thus fairly busy. You will not be alone on this trail and will have to be patient for that perfect snapshot beside the falls.
There are many other trails radiating out into the greater park. Some are of substantial length and make for great day hikes or backcountry camping excursions. We had neither the time nor energy to enjoy any of those, unfortunately, but we hear from reliable sources that they too are very scenic and gratifying. Laverty Falls, in particular, is a 5km return trip we will likely regret not having done.
I guess we took went on a third hike of sorts, that being the short trek down to Point Wolfe Beach near the southern end of the park. The trailhead is accessible by road and there is a parking lot with toilets there as well as the entrance to Point Wolfe campground. The dirt trail winds downward to a large, rocky beach along the western shore of a small inlet from the bay. We spent an hour or so beachcombing and cooling off thanks to the cool air coming off the ocean. The kids loved hunting down the perfect skipping stones while I clamored over piles of ancient boulders at the southern terminus of the beach taking pictures of fishing vessels passing by.
I don’t imagine much swimming happens at Point Wolfe. You’d need to be pretty ballsy (or balls-less?) to swim in water that cold. But for a few hours of exploration or, sure, even sunbathing, it’s a lovely little spot. And depending on time of day and week you go, it can be wonderfully void of people too. We passed a couple coming out as we were going in and there was another couple down on the beach when we arrived, but for the most part we had run of the place.
The road to Point Wolfe begins near the park office and takes you past the three venues of interest, four if you include the trailheads to Dickson Falls. There is the eighteen hole golf course, the swimming pool, and one of several covered bridges. I’ll let you decide the appropriateness of golf courses in national parks. It looked like a nice course to play though few golfers were visible when we passed. The swimming pool, which we did not use, is a fully functioning, large, in-ground, saltwater pool with two depth areas (for kids and adults), changerooms and lots of swimmers. Obviously I’m not the only person who thinks the Bay of Fundy is too cold to swim in, not to mention dangerous. Something about tides, I believe? Do keep in mind that the pool is relatively close to shore and cold winds can easily blow across the deck. Thus, even on hot, sunny days, the pool could be a chilly area. And finally, the covered bridge, sadly a modern reproduction, once again had me pining for days of yore, having grown up near another, authentic, covered bridge in West Montrose, Ontario.
The park office has all the answers to your questions along with a gift shop and a lounge for sitting, reading, writing, and catching up on social media as there is free Wi-Fi there but nowhere else in the park. Park staff can help you with anything and everything you might wish to do in the park and thanks to its location by the main, eastern entrance, it’s likely the first stop most first-time visitors make. We, however, came from the west and entered the park via the back way. As such, we found the campground and our site first and only made our way to the office on day three.
You’ll note there is no store at the Visitor Centre (nor is there one at the campground). There aren’t even snacks unless you include the obligatory, overpriced maple syrup treats sold in the gift shop. Fear not, the town of Alma is located immediately outside the park’s main entrance and there you will find gasoline, restaurants, ice creams shops, and gift shops all in a quaint Maritime village complete with working lobster boats coming and going from the wharf. For more elaborate shopping, the cities of Moncton and St. John are both less than an hour away in opposite directions. Despite the sense of isolation when entering from the west, Fundy National Park is not remote and is undoubtedly a popular spot for New Brunswickers.
Now, if my writing has properly conveyed my love for this park, you should be wondering where you can stay when you visit it. Several options are available in addition to the camping we did. There’s the town of Alma which in addition to all of the above has motels and resort condo units for rent.
Much less expected, there is actually a motel in the park itself. Fundy Highlands Inn and Chalets is located between the Visitor Centre and Chignecto Campground and provides everything you’d expect from a motel and chalet operation outside the park. It even has its own little playground for the kiddies. How it got inside the park is unknown to me, but if you’re interested in motel/cabin accommodations without the need to drive in and out of the park, this is the place you’re looking for.
Or you might prefer the two rustic cabins accessible via Maple Grove Trail with views of the bay that you can rent through the park. Yurts and these weird, teardrop Goutte d’O things are also available at Headquarters and Point Wolfe campgrounds respectively. Both offer a little something more than tent camping without the need to bring your own recreational vehicle. And of course, several oTENTik sites are available at all campgrounds in the park except for Cannontown.
We, of course, were camping and Fundy NP has plenty of options for likewise travelers. There are four separate front country campgrounds in Fundy: Chignecto, Cannontown, Headquarters, and Point Wolfe. Point Wolfe has 154 sites of which only 24 have any services and is located at the southern end of the park. Headquarters, as you might expect, is located right in the hub of the main entrance and Visitor Centre area. It has 30 full service sites, 25 with power and water, and 47 un-serviced. Cannontown is the smallest of the four, and newest, and is located by the by the golf course and Salt & Fir Centre, just up the road from the pool. It only has 30 full service sites, ideal for campers with trailers or motorhomes.
Chignecto, where we stayed, is the biggest campground, with 261 sites, 171 of which have power and water. This is the primary family campground for the park and is located 4km up the road (and up the hill) from all the main park facilities. It is every bit the major campground we’ve come to expect at Canada’s national parks and made for a comfortable first stop on our summer adventure.
Sprawling throughout the mixed forest, Chignecto contains multiple loops within loops offering lovely individual back-in campsites. One loop contains pull-through sites. The sites are mostly private and well shaded, but some are small. Pay close attention to the trailer dimensions acceptable when reserving a site. We chose a site well within our length parameters but found that the slope of the entry to the site made for a surprisingly shallow pad on which to set up our trailer. Our 21’ unit barely fit and our trailer tongue was nearly touching the ground after leveling.
Otherwise, the sites are very nice with gravel pads extending out to an accompanying firepit surrounded by a bit of grass and then the woods. The firepits are small, rectangular units with a liftable grill on top. I wasn’t too fond of these pits. They are okay for cooking over, I guess, but they don’t allow for good campfire viewing by larger groups of people. Just the four of us had a hard time setting up our lawn chairs in a convenient orientation to see the fire. You also get a picnic table.
You’ll be building those campfires with wood you purchase at the campground entrance, a separate building not to be confused with the main park office. You cannot bring in your own firewood due to invasive and destructive insect concerns, so prepare to pony up some cash to have a fire. I was expecting to be able to buy a daily fire permit enabling us to use as much wood as we wished, as is the tradition in the national parks near our home. I wrongly assumed this was common practice in national parks in Canada. I mean, it’s not as if there is a shortage of wood in New Brunswick judging from the endless forest we travelled through from the Quebec border to the Nova Scotia border.
That is not the case, however, and you will buy plastic bags of kiln-dried wood costing $6.90 per bag (2018 prices). These bags are smaller than the burlap sacks of wood available at provincial parks in Alberta. Those cost more, of course, but I estimate that the price of wood at Fundy is no savings. Granted this is better wood, containing some hardwood species and it’s guaranteed to be dry so you won’t be struggling to start a fire. On the other hand, the amount of plastic used for these bags of wood is rather startling and out of step with the pro-nature mandate of a national park system
And though there is no store in the kiosk entrance to Chignecto, you are able to buy ice there saving you a trip into town when a heat wave settles in and your beer needs a fresh, cool, comforting embrace.
The majority of sites have water, but for those that don’t there are many potable water spigots throughout the entire campground. You can also fill up your trailer with fresh water at the dump station. That dump station resides just outside the campground entrance kiosk and has two stations. It is free to use for registered campers.
Not that you need to use your trailer facilities here if you don’t want to. The bathrooms at Chignecto are really quite something. With showers, flush toilets and sinks they are fully modern personal hygiene complexes. The sinks have hot water which is welcome for shaving. They even have regular taps enabling you to adjust the water temperature to your pleasure. The showers, however, while free, use those frustrating push button do-hickeys that don’t allow bathers any control over temperature. These ones are also very short in duration per push, so you’ll want to remain focused on the location of that button so you can keep pushing it while your eyes are shut as soap cascades down from your head. The handicap accessible shower stall had a detachable wand but it was old and refused to remain upright when hooked onto the wall making for a tricky rinsing experience.
At the front of each bathroom/shower house building, in a separate room, is a single, coin-op washer and dryer ($3 per load – loonies only). Each bathroom complex has one of these and it’s a great idea in my opinion. Rather than one, large laundry facility at a solitary location in the campground (or park), this offers convenient access for each loop of campers. It was our first stop on our trip so we obviously didn’t need to use these facilities, but knowing we would be doing laundry in the future, I hoped this unique layout was common to all the Maritime national parks. It wasn’t.
Moving out of the bathrooms, a neighbouring building contained a classy, fully-enclosed picnic shelter. Looking more like a cottage than a shelter, inside were picnic tables and sinks with running water, concrete floors, ample windows, and even decorative stonework. These were easily the most aesthetically pleasing picnic shelters we’ve yet come across.
Immediately outside the picnic shelter is a covered dishwashing facility with two large, stainless steel sinks. And completing this impressive complex is a smallish but modern playground. There is even waist level lighting along the pathways leading to this bathroom complex. Not so great if you’re camping in a tent beside these pathways, but a boon for early morning urinaters. Seriously, aside from sleeping, you really could spend your entire vacation at the bathroom and not be any bit disappointed for doing so.
Not all the bathrooms have these additional facilities, mind you. It was pure luck that the one nearest our site did and it was a dream. Are you starting to understand why my worries melted away so quickly upon our arrival? Nonetheless, the other bathrooms facilities throughout the campground are just as functional they simply don’t all have the playground and picnic shelter combo.
And you needn’t worry about your kids only being able to play next to a bathroom. Centrally located with a parking lot for those unable or unwilling to walk from the furthest reaches of the campground, the campground’s primary playground is a modern, metal wonder. Presenting an aquatic theme, the multiple parts of this expansive playground represent pirate ships and a number of sea creatures all decked out in orange and blue. It’s really quite the ensemble and quite new considering the current Google Maps street view still shows an older version of playground in this location. That said, I do think that it’s better suited for a younger crowd. The tweens in your family might find it too childish but the younger ones will love it.
If your family likes to cycle, there is a wide, packed gravel trail encircling the campground. This is a fine trail and we walked a portion of it thinking we were on the Kinnie Brook trail which I mentioned early starts at the edge of Chignecto campground. There’s even a sign at the entrance to the bike trail saying you are entering Kinnie Brook trail. Except you aren’t. We ended up walking all the way back to the campground entrance before retreating to our camper to have an earlier than expected lunch and vent some frustration.
Poor signage is my only gripe regarding Fundy National Park. We encountered similarly confusing signs trying to get to Point Wolfe Beach. In the parking lot several large signs have arrows pointing to the right stating that the trail entrance to go to the beach is at the south end of the parking lot. When you get to that entrance a smaller sign is pinned to a post telling you to go the complete opposite direction. We circled around like morons for a good ten minutes before another couple came out of the trail and told us the signs are wrong. The trails themselves are terrific but Parks Canada really needs to address the misleading signage.
Immediately across the main roadway from Chignecto Campground is the newly created Chignecto Recreational Area. This area reportedly has assorted mountain bike trails and obstacle courses and it really sounded like an awesome idea even if we didn’t have our bikes along. Renting was always an option. But when I first investigated the area, I couldn’t find much of anything resembling a bicycle course, let alone a recreational area. The whole place looked like a construction site with a large, brand new building surrounded by building and landscaping materials.
I would later learn that this whole campus is just being built. The building, in fact, had only opened three days prior to our arrival. When it is all finished, I am quite sure it will be an excellent addition to the campground and park, but for now it remains no more than an enticing dream (circa 2018).
Fundy National Park offers many daily and evening programs all over the park and suitable for myriad ages and interests. As I sound like a broken record, our time was limited so we only attended one of these programs; star-gazing. It was held, oddly enough, at the aforementioned brand new facility in the recreation area. We arrived along with dozens of other guests and were treated to a twenty minute presentation about our solar system and the night skies we would be looking at once the sun set. After the slide show, we all walked a hundred meters or so across the way to a viewing area; basically a large field with a storage building. The park staff set up two large, refracting telescopes and went about pointing them at various cosmic objects. We saw Saturn and its rings as well as Jupiter and four of its moons. The larger the crowd the longer the wait at each scope and that can leave the kids a bit fidgety and bored. But the few moments when your eye is peering into the scope at these wonders of our universe is well worth the wait. Unfortunately, soon after viewing these two planets the clouds rolled in and eventually it rained, putting a sooner than expected end to a promising and enjoyable evening. I really liked this program and all four of us loved seeing the planets “in real life”. If the other park programs are as well presented and enjoyable, you won’t regret any of them.
The park extends many kilometres inland, so your activities aren’t necessarily limited to the areas between Chignecto and the bay. There are the many hiking trails, of course, but you can also go canoeing or kayaking on Bennett Lake and Wolf Lake, the latter of which is at the north-western entrance to the campground (where we came in). You can rent canoes at these lakes or bring your own. We took a quick look at Bennett Lake but only drove past Wolf Lake.
You can also swim at either of these lakes, though neither has a beach. The water was clear but the lake bottom was rocky. The water may warm up later in summer but in early July it was still fairly chilly. There are day use facilities as well for those looking to have a picnic. A few other day use picnic areas can be found within the park along the roads, including one a kilometre further up the road from Chignecto Campground.
I was about to say “I could go on” but I already have judging by the word count I’m viewing just now. Let’s just say I really loved Fundy National Park. Stupid signage aside, this was a terrific national park with lots to do for people of all flavours. It’s a great family vacation spot and Chignecto is a perfect family friendly campground. You are surrounded by the beauty of nature, nestled beside one of the natural wonders of the world, with all the conveniences and attractions of two Maritime cities a short drive away. One could easily spend a week or longer here. Without hesitation I give Fundy National Park and Chignecto Campground 5 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. Oh how I wish we lived closer!