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Exploring Kejimkujik National Park Seaside

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The ferry pulled out of the Portland, Maine, harbor, turning toward the blue-sky horizon to begin the 6.5-hour journey to Nova Scotia. Though I lived in Maine for most of my life, I had never made the trek to our Canadian cousin to the east, a region home to an impressive history of fishing in the Atlantic Ocean as well as beautiful natural landscapes. My brother, sister, parents, and I would spend the rest of the next day exploring the Nova Scotia coastline, including a major item on my bucket list: Kejimkujik National Park Seaside.

The national park area comprises 22 kilometers of rugged, undeveloped coastline on the eastern side of Nova Scotia. I had seen a few photos and knew it was gorgeous, but purposefully skimped on the research to allow that feeling of discovery to wash over me as we pulled into the parking lot.

My siblings and I are “grown up,” and only my brother remains at my parents’ house as he finishes up college in California. As adults, we have less and less time to spend as a “traditional” nuclear family. We used to take vacations all the time, from a road trip down to Washington, D.C., to an expedition to Turks and Caicos, a visit to the Grand Canyon, and more. I remember all our trips vividly as a time when we could all be our goofy selves, tell jokes, take pictures, and make the memories that we then discussed on subsequent family trips. Kejimkujik represented another opportunity to explore a new place together, and as we hopped out of the car, we really didn’t know what to expect.

At first, I was a little wary. The parking lot had at least a dozen cars parked in the dirt, and most people were busy hoisting backpacks to their shoulders and filling up water bottles at the fountain near the restrooms. They looked like they were going on serious hiking trips, while we were dressed for more general sightseeing (including sandals and flip-flops). According to the map at the information kiosk, the park is well-known for its hiking trails, including the 5.2-kilometer Harbour Rock Trail and 8.7-kilometer Port Joli Head Trail. We opted for the former.

Park trails lead down to the beaches through forests acclimated to the salty air/Erika Zambello

The path began in the woods, climbing slightly to emerge on a bush-filled plateau with a view of the ocean. Pine trees dotted the vista here and there, while blooming pitcher plants lined the trail. It was breathtaking, the viewshed’s general flatness stretching to the horizon before sharply plunging to the rocky coastline and beaches below. We followed my brother to a slightly higher rock for an even better view. From our new vantage point, we couldn’t see other visitors and for a moment felt alone in a great Canadian wilderness.

We found the hikers again as we descended toward a small, crescent-shaped beach. Others had gathered here, resting on the sand, swimming in the cool waters, or exploring the shoreline rock formations. The rising stone in deeper water played perch for cormorants and seals, all resting in the sunshine. Rafts of eiders bobbed up and down on the waves, and signs illustrated the protected piping plover nesting grounds nearby.

As we explored, we came across two red Adirondack chairs facing the clear water below. As we watched the seaweed wave back and forth, we read that the chairs are part of a unique Canadian national park program. Chairs are placed in special locations, and the “[s]ites are all about taking time to connect with nature and with each other. They offer a place to rest, relax, and reflect on the place you’ve discovered and the journey you took to get there.”

My family of five sat in those chairs and on surrounding rocks for a long time, surveying the scenery. In modern American life, many families become spread out across the country. Though my parents and sister live in Maine, my brother spends most of the year in California, and I live full-time in the Florida Panhandle. Moments where we are all under the same roof used to be common, but now are both rare and wonderful.

The benefits of vacations and expeditions like ours to Kejimkujik National Park Seaside are well-studied. At Purdue University, Xinran Lehto and his team found that “family vacations contribute positively to family bonding, communication, and solidarity.” Shared experience creates connections that span geographical distance, and “family memories and time spent together isolated from ordinary everyday activities (school, work, and so on) help to promote these positive ties.”

The afternoon sun began to creep closer to the ocean, so we rose to walk back to the parking area. As we hiked, we discussed a return trip, allotting enough time to explore both trails with an extra half-hour for swimming. National parks like Kejimkujik and others throughout the United States and the world offer perfect locations for family vacations, and are often free or inexpensive. To me, such family experiences are priceless, and I look forward to more adventures in the future!

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