Not so long ago, taking a Bay of Fundy road trip along its north shore couldn’t be done in a straight line. The undeveloped section of the province between St. Martins and Alma had no through roads. Visiting the St. Martins sea caves and Fundy Trail Parkway meant doubling back and driving around to get to Fundy National Park. It’s a beautiful part of the world, but this wasn’t especially convenient.
Road trippers, rejoice! It’s now much easier to drive across the Bay of Fundy’s New Brunswick side. Thanks to some new roads that were completed over the past few summers, it’s possible to drive from St. Andrews straight through to Moncton. In fact, once you’re east of Saint John, you won’t need to use Highway 1 at all.
The Bay of Fundy lets you explore the effects of the highest tides in the world by car, hike, sea kayak, and more. Read on to find out how to make the most of this newly opened route.
2022 Lincoln Nautilus
We took this road trip during the summer of 2022 in a Lincoln Nautilus. Ford had announced by then that its Oakville assembly plant was going to be retooled to built electric vehicles. Since the Ford Edge and Lincoln Nautilus have been built there for years, many experts assumed those nameplates were doomed, including us.
We’ve since learned there will be a 2024 Lincoln Nautilus that will be built in and imported from China. But if you’d rather grab an Oakville-built Nautilus while you can, come explore it with us. The 2022 Nautilus offers respectable value at its lower price points.
Arriving to your Fundy road trip
The majority of visitors who drive to New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy coast will arrive from the west. From within Canada, you’ll likely reach the province via the Trans-Canada Highway. Take NB Highway 3 south to Saint Andrews to start this drive. From the U.S., the most direct route is the border crossing at Calais, Maine, which will put you 30 minutes away from Saint Andrews. (You could also cross at Lubec, ME, to Campobello Island. This lets you visit the Fundy islands and take ferries to reach the mainland. We’ll save the details of that route for a future story.)
If you’re coming into the area by air, we recommend flying into Moncton and approaching this drive from the east. In this case, you’ll take this drive in the reverse order of that shown here.
What’s so special about the Bay of Fundy?
The Bay of Fundy is home to the most dramatic change of tides in the world. In some places, the change in the water level can be as much as 16 metres or more than 50 feet from low to high tide. The exact amount of tidal range on a given day depends on the position of the moon and the sun, which influence the gravitational forces on the water.
The shape of the bay, which is much like a funnel, which creates a tidal resonance. If you picture water sloshing back and forth in a bathtub, you’ll have an idea of how water moves and collects in the Bay of Fundy. This shifting water is so powerful that it even affects the rivers that feed into the bay. Many of them have water forced back into them as the tide comes in, a phenomenon known as tidal bore.
Water shifts in and out of the bay every 6 hours and 13 minutes. This means it takes just under 12 and a half hours for the Bay of Fundy’s waters to go from low tide to high tide and back to low tide again. Nearly all of the attractions found on the bay are affected by this. Sea kayaking can only take place at high tide, while sites that require you to travel on the floor of the bay can only be accessed at low tide.
Schedules on the bay are therefore determined by the tides. You’ll need to know the timing of the tides during your visit as this will be important for planning your itinerary. Parks New Brunswick maintains a tide table for Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park during its season. This same tide table applies to other sites along the Fundy coast. Find the Parks NB tide table here >
Saint Andrews By-the-Sea
At the westernmost and widest point of the Bay of Fundy, you’ll find the historic town of Saint Andrews By-the-Sea. This is as quintessential a resort town as you can hope to find anywhere. Seaside restaurants, coffee shops, candy stores, ice cream stands, and gift shops line the main street. Here, you can level up your stay with whale watching tours that leave from the end of the pier.
You can also drive across the ocean floor to a part-time island! Ministers Island was the summer home of Sir William Van Horne. He was an American businessman who headed the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was clearly rewarded handsomely for it: the island’s estate is a sight to behold.
Ministers Island is only accessible for five hours per day. When the tide is high, it’s a true island. At low tide, a natural sandbar emerges from the sea and connects the island to the mainland. When the sandbar to Ministers Island is exposed, you can drive across it and access the island by car. This is truly a unique and fascinating road trip experience!
Because access to Ministers Island depends on the tides, opening hours change daily. You can learn when the island will be accessible during your stay by visiting its website >
The city of Saint John is beautiful and vibrant as it is. But with changes in the works such as revitalizing the downtown waterfront, it will only get better.
Near the cruise ship port area, the new Waterfront Container Village houses satellite shops from local merchants. This is a great place to explore local flavours and buy from artisans during the summer months.
Speaking of local flavours, they’re excellent and diverse. Cuisines range from Italian to Thai, Indian, and seafood. There are several great spots along the water at Market Square, but it’s absolutely worth venturing into the city as well. Don’t miss the chance to wander through stands of the Saint John City Market, the oldest market of its kind in Canada.
To see the tides in action again, hop in your car and drive to the Reversing Falls Rapids. Located roughly 10 minutes from downtown, this is an example of a tidal bore. As the tide goes out, the Saint John River flows into the bay and the rapids run in the same direction. When the tide comes back in, the bay’s water is forced back upriver and the rapids flow in reverse.
This cycle takes roughly six hours to complete. If you have the patience, you can settle in here for the full duration. If you’d prefer to make the best use of your time, stop in for a look at low tide and then come back six hours later to see the transformation.
One idea for passing the time is a visit to Carleton Martello Tower National Historic Site. It’s located just up the hill from the rapids. A Martello tower is a type of military defence structure built by the British in the early 1800s. This tower is one of nine Martello towers left in Canada. The interior has under renovation for some time and will continue to be until sometime in 2024. In the meantime, visitors can watch a short film and tour an exhibit explaining the tower’s history. Since this is a Parks Canada location, kids can complete activities and receive an Xplorers medal to take home.
With the rest of the time in between, you can find beaches and lighthouses within a quick drive. Irving Nature Park is a short distance away. You could also head back into Saint John to continue exploring the city.
Saint Martins and the Sea Caves
Between the village of Saint Martins and the village of Alma, New Brunswick boasts the longest undeveloped section of coastline that remains on North America’s eastern seaboard. This area is home to two overlapping UNESCO sites: Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark and UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Region.
To begin exploring this region’s natural beauty, start by spending a fully day in Saint Martins. This will allow you to see the famous Saint Martins sea caves from two different perspectives.
At whatever point in the day the tide is lowest—that might be the morning or afternoon, depending on the day—you can walk on the sea floor and approach the sea caves on foot. Parking is free next to the Caves Restaurant. Be careful and wear good shoes: the rocks spend enough time under water to become very slippery.
Then, when the tide is higher, head out on a sea kayaking tour. The guides at Bay of Fundy Adventures will lead you out of the village’s harbour to paddle into the very same sea caves. They even bring snacks along to enjoy on a beach that becomes private when the water rises. These experiences, just hours apart, offer a great way to experience the Bay of Fundy’s amazing tides in action.
Fundy Trail Parkway
Here’s the part where the new roads really add to the Bay of Fundy road trip experience.
As you head east from Saint Martins, you’ll reach the Fundy Trail Parkway. This 30-kilometre stretch of road traces the shoreline with 21 lookouts, five beaches, and four waterfalls. It also offers plenty of hiking, including the 61-kilometre Fundy Footpath that goes all the way to Fundy National Park.
When the parkway opened in 1998, the 10-kilometre route finished at a dead end. This meant visitors had to pull a U-turn, retrace their path, and then drive north to carry on to Fundy National Park. More than 20 years later in May 2020, the Parkway’s east gate opened. In 2021, a fully paved connector road opened between the Parkway and the entrance to Fundy National Park.
This means visitors can now visit the Fundy Trail Parkway and continue to the east without doubling back and making a massive detour. It makes this drive route much more appealing. And that’s great news for us road trippers because the parkway makes for a spectacular drive. It takes 45 minutes to pass straight through the Fundy Trail Parkway at the posted speed limit. However, we recommend planning to spend the better part of a day here to get the most out of your experience.
A few things to note: the Fundy Trail Parkway is not a 24-hour road. Daily operating hours vary throughout the season. There is a small fee to enter, and the gates are closed from mid to late October to mid-May. Check the Fundy Trail Parkway website for more details >
Fundy National Park
Fundy National Park is one of the most family-friendly national parks anywhere in Canada. From Ontario and anywhere to its east, the park is reachable via a relatively easy drive. Activities range from hiking and mountain biking trails to canoe and kayak rentals, a fantastic playground, and a nine-hole golf course. Because the tides make swimming unpredictable, there’s also a beautiful swimming pool on site that overlooks the bay. In the Point Wolfe section, you’ll find the only covered bridge located within a Canadian national park.
When my daughter was young, one of our favourite activities was to visit the beach in Alma. She placed a stick in the sand, and then we headed for dinner. On the way back, we checked it on to see how much the tide had changed. What a great way to demonstrate science for kids!
And, of course, there’s Parks Canada’s Xplorers program. Kids can complete a series of activities and receive a small collectible reward to take home.
Fundy National Park offers a variety of accommodation experiences. If you like to camp, you can stay at one of the park’s campgrounds and cook over a propane stove. If you prefer a bed, there are privately owned cabins available, or you can stay in the village. Alma makes a great home base: you’ll enjoy comfortable accommodations and great seafood restaurants in between exploring the park.
Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park
Hopewell Rocks is one of the most remarkable formations of sea stacks and sea caves anywhere in the world. It’s also the most photographed location anywhere in New Brunswick. Clearly, it makes an impression on visitors!
But if you just show up briefly to take a few photos, you can’t fully appreciate this site. Plan to spend a full day at Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park to get the most out of the experience.
This is another location where your plan for the day is going to depend entirely on the timing of the tides. You’ll be able to either walk or kayak among the rocks in the morning. Most likely, you’ll be able to break for lunch at the cafeteria on site and then do the other activity in the afternoon.
At low tide, you can walk down the staircase onto the ocean floor. (There’s a ramp further from the visitor centre for those who need one for accessibility.) Note the sea floor is always muddy and slippery regardless of the tides, so wear good shoes. As the tide begins to come in, you’ll notice the water levels change quickly. There’s no need to worry, though. Park staff sweep the area as the tide approaches to make sure everyone gets back up the stairs safely.
When high tide approaches, the sand and rocks disappear. Within hours, the rocks become filled in with 30 feet or more of sea water. At this point in the day, you can explore the rocks with a sea kayaking tour by Baymount Outdoor Adventures. By paddling through the caves and around the tops of the same sea stacks, you’ll explore the same rocks from an entirely different perspective.
Even if you’ve visited Hopewell Rocks or gone sea kayaking before, we highly recommend taking in this full-day itinerary. It’s one of the best natural experiences you’ll find anywhere in Canada.
To the end of the bay
You can end your tour of the north shore of the Bay of Fundy by curving around Hopewell Cape. Here, New Brunswick Route 114 follows the Petitcodiac River until it reaches Moncton. The city provides direct access to the Trans-Canada Highway and an easy route toward home.
If you’d like, you can extend your Bay of Fundy tour a little further. A pair of historic sites worth checking out can be found within an easy drive of Moncton.
Monument-Lefebvre National Historic Site is roughly half an hour from Moncton in the village of Memramcook. This community centre houses a museum where you can learn about the expulsion of the Acadian people. It took place beginning in 1755 when the British gained a foothold in the region. They deported thousands of Acadians who refused to pledge allegiance to their king. An hour is plenty of time to explore the site, and if there are kids in your group they can complete Xplorers activities and pick up a badge within that time.
More importantly, Monument-Lefebvre provides great context for a visit to Fort Beausejour-Fort Cumberland National Historic Site. It’s located another half an hour down the road in Aulac, right on New Brunswick’s border with Nova Scotia. The fort is on the Isthmus of Chignecto, the narrowest point of land between these two Atlantic provinces. It’s also on the point where the Bay of Fundy ends.
There’s a reason this site has two names. The French originally built this fortification and named it Fort Beausejour. The British attacked and defeated it in 1755 and renamed it to Fort Cumberland. They then used it as a holding area for the Acadians who were awaiting deportation. The site is historically important, but it’s also extremely beautiful. It makes a great spot for a picnic lunch, or you can try its unique equipped camping experience!
From here, it’s easy to continue on to Nova Scotia, cross the isthmus toward Prince Edward Island, or head home.