New Brunswick is rich in hands-on experiences with natural wonders and beauty along the shores of the Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy tides are the highest on the planet at 53 feet vertical in the Minas Basin at the closed end of the bay. They are an unspoiled, marine wonder with more water flowing in and out each day than the combined daily flow of all the rivers that empty into the world’s oceans.
The highs and lows of Fundy tides are caused by the narrowing and shallowing of the bay which forces the tidal water to pile up higher against the shore. As well, the Fundy tides are in perfect synchronization with the Atlantic tides causing an oscillation effect. The Atlantic tides push them higher just like pushing a playground swing repeatedly makes it go higher.
Our trip along the Fundy shore included four great places to experience tidal phenomena. They are the tidal bore in Moncton, Hopewell Rocks, Cape Enrage and the St. Martin Sea Caves.
Moncton Tidal Bore
In Moncton, we parked our motorhome in the free parking lot at Riverfront Park near downtown Moncton. It was a great spot to spend the day at no cost and enjoy the Petitcodiac River waterfront. There is an extensive trail system for kilometres in both directions along the river, great for hiking, biking, dog walking and nature observation along the river. I was riding my bike along this trail with our dog, a Brittany spaniel, trotting along in front of me. She slammed to a stop and went rigid as a statue pointing to the weeds at the edge of the trail. Out of the weeds at our feet flew up a beautiful ring necked pheasant, trailing its extravagantly long tail feathers.
But the greatest feature of the waterfront is the tidal bore that moves up the river as tide water moves into the Bay of Fundy into which the Petitcodiac River dumps. Tide water coming upstream collides with the river water flowing downstream producing a tall standing wave that marches relentlessly up stream. On high tides, adventurous types can surf the wave as it spills and tumbles its way upstream.
Our timing didn’t coincide with a full moon and the highest tide, but the tidal bore was still impressive to us. If you want to see the greatest tidal effects time your visit to the Bay of Fundy area with a full moon.
The timing of high and low tide each day can be found here. You can enter the location you will be visiting in the site window on this web page. There are only six hours and thirteen minutes between high and low tide each day so you can do other things nearby while waiting for a low or high tide.
Because we stayed so long enjoying the riverfront and downtown Moncton, we didn’t feel like looking for an RV park for the night. We opted to dry camp in a nearby Wal-Mart parking lot. We are normally ok with Wal-Mart’s but the Moncton store has a lot of busy roads nearby with all night traffic so it was too noisy for us. Learn from us and get a campsite nearby if you are staying overnight near Moncton.
About an hour south of Moncton is Hopewell Rocks Park – the iconic New Brunswick tourist site. These unique rock formations on the ocean floor. carved by the tidal water moving in and out twice a day are worth seeing. Coordinate your visit with low tide so you can walk on the ocean floor among the towering, flowerpot shaped rocks. Or you can spend the better part of a day there and explore hiking trails, lookouts, sandy beaches, a restaurant and the interpretive centre while you wait for the tide to go out. Then descend the stairs to the sea bottom. Park staff remain on site to answer questions and clear the waterfront when the tide comes back in. A shuttle included in your admission will to take you down to the waterfront from the interpretive centre or you can walk a paved trail down if you want some exercise. There is a guided sea kayak tour also if you want to paddle among the giant flowerpots at high tide.
While the Hopewell Rocks site is impressive, it is highly regulated as to how far you can explore on your own. Cape Enrage, the next stop on the tidal wonder tour allowed for personal adventure and discovery on a broad scale.
Cape Enrage is likely a mispronunciation of the original French name ‘Cap Enrage’. This point of land is known for turbulent, raging water caused by a shallow shoal stretching out nearly a kilometre off shore. The shallow water at half tide combined with strong tidal currents and opposing winds create large breakers and rough seas.
A scenic and twisty secondary road got us there in several hours from Hopewell Rocks. The road comes down a big hill to a beautiful vista of Barn Marsh Beach. Here we parked the RV and explored an expansive shore line of smooth flat rocks. As the tide receded before our eyes it exposed a lovely beach of soft sand. It was a great spot to explore sea life and checkout an immense variety of sea polished stones and shells while surrounded by towering rocky cliffs. The gentle grade of the sea bottom makes it a fine place to see the horizontal effect of the Fundy tides as two hundred meters of sandy beach are exposed at low tide.
A five minute drive from there up a steep switchback road brought us to the cliff top interpretive centre, lighthouse and restaurant at Cape Enrage. At low tide we descended down a long stair case bolted to the cliff face to the exposed sea bed. This is the wildest and most unregulated walk on the seafloor you can experience. The rocky beach is five kilometres long so you can explore as much or a little as you can handle. It’s a rare and thrilling experience to stand on the sea floor at the base of 40 metre cliffs towering above you.
Although nothing can be removed, it is a beachcombers delight to look for and observe small sea life and shells in the tidal pools. Fossils are common also in the rocks that have fallen off the cliffs or are still embedded in the cliff face itself. If you hike the beach any distance from the stair case make note of when the tide will return because the stairs are the only way off the beach before high tide floods it again.
The Cape House Restaurant offers fine dining with a beautiful view of the rocky seascape from the deck and from inside tables. The menu has a variety of unique and appealing dishes which makes it quite popular for locals and day-trippers as well as out of town tourists.
The lighthouse at the Cape is not open to the public for an inside tour as it is a working unit. The original lighthouse was completed in 1840 because the waters off Cape Enrage were a treacherous place on a busy shipping route in the age of sail with many shipwrecks recorded.
Fog is a frequent occurrence here also and there is a working fog horn which activates at the first hint of fog. The horn is more of an electronic tone than a blast from a literal air horn. After several minutes it became white noise to us. We did not find it bothersome or painful to our ears unless we walked right up to the lighthouse.
The gift shop is well stocked with souvenirs and quality, practical wares. My wife, who is often cool, bought a hooded pullover sweater to keep the breeze and dampness out. She wears it frequently and it has served her well showing little sign of wear nine months later.
There is a six hundred foot zip-line at the site for anyone who thinks it might be cool to soar over the Fundy coast. If that’s too tame for you there is also rappelling on ropes down the forty meter cliff face. These adventures are available from mid-June to early September.
There are tent camping sites available at the park accessed by a hiking trail but no serviced RV sites. When evening came we weren’t ready to leave and there were no RV campgrounds nearby. We hoped to see the sunrise over the bay in the morning. So I asked if I could dry camp overnight in the parking lot and pay the tent camping fee. The staff were pleased to allow this. We had a spacious parking lot to ourselves. At some time in the night the fog horn came on but it didn’t wake us or disturb our sleep. We woke at a normal time for us after a day activity in the fresh sea air.
The morning fog obscured the sunrise, but as sun intensified and the fog diminished the shore was bathed in a mystical light that made it all worth seeing all over again.
St. Martin Sea Caves
The picturesque seaside village of St. Martin is about a half hour out of St. John on good secondary roads. The sea caves there can only be explored at low tide, so time your visit according to the tide table. They are impressive up close and worth the hike across the seabed to see them. We found the area had a full day of activities to explore before low tide which occurred late in the afternoon on our visit.
The Fundy Parkway which begins ten kilometres east of St. Martins is a sixteen kilometre stretch of silky smooth, winding asphalt along the Fundy Coast that was a joy to drive in our motorhome. Along it there are numerous lookouts for dramatic views of the rocky coastline sculpted by the extreme tides. I also took advantage of well-maintained hiking trails along the parkway. I biked on them with our dog trotting along under a cool canopy of sun dappled leaves which would periodically open up into sun-drenched vistas of blue sky, white capped waters and jagged shorelines stretching off in the distance.
For a break on the parkway, stop at the Big Salmon River Interpretive Centre. Take in the displays and the live presentation about the local logging and ship building heritage of the area. Then hike over the suspension bridge across the river.
The historian in your group will love the Quaco museum on Main St. in St. Martins. The unpretentious building holds well done and fascinating displays of the local ship building heritage. Ship building was the major industry and brought great wealth to the area in the age of sail. Over five hundred ships were built and launched here over the years. It was amazing for me to see the skill, craftsmanship and knowledge that went into shipbuilding and launching all by patient workmen using hand tools.
The Quaco lighthouse just ten minutes from St. Martins has a tremendous scenic view and is a great spot for a short rest or picnic. The town harbour merits a good walk around at low tide. Here you will see the vertical effect of the Fundy tides as the fishing fleet rests on the muddy seafloor fifteen feet or more below the dock level awaiting high tide to float it again. Near the harbour is a historic wooden covered bridge. It’s not open to traffic but well worth a look.
There was plenty to do while waiting for low tide to hike out to the sea caves. When the time came, we could park free along the road near the sea caves and there is no charge to walk out to them. It’s a great value. Just put on sturdy footwear and go. They are massive caves carved out of sandstone cliffs by the daily tides. You will not get a true impression of their size and the power of the tides from the road. Make the hike. It’s worth it. Take your time and beachcomb along the way if you like.
As we approached the caves there was an ankle deep freshwater creek flowing by in front of them. People remove their shoes to cross the creek or wear footwear they don’t mind getting wet and then proceed into the depths of the caves. It is truly a profound and unique experience to stand in a massive cave with seawater dripping off the rock around you and realize that in less than six hours it will be filled up with churning water again.
There is a great spot to eat near the caves also. The Caves Restaurant boasts award winning chowder. We wanted to try it but the line up for a table was right out the door and down the sidewalk. Fortunately they made up take out as well, so in ten minutes we were enjoying our chowder on the beach in our lawn chairs. It was a warm evening with a refreshing sea breeze. In front of us on the beach, pet dogs frolicked, kids hunted for seashells and sea glass and couples walked hand in hand in the gentle evening light. It was a great end to a full day of exploration.
If you want to overnight at St. Martins, there are three RV campgrounds nearby. We liked the Fundy Shores Campground and Cottages for its nicely wooded setting. The sites were spacious, private and well serviced.
The Bay of Fundy is pristine, powerful, rugged nature. It’s 280 kilometres of craggy cliffs doing its best to contain 160 billion tons of seawater that flows in and out of twice a day. From tidal bores to cliffs, caves, beaches and sea going lore, it’s anything but a bore.