Sipping Tea and Timing Tides in New Brunswick, Canada
Atlantic Canada is a treasure-trove for RVers, with gems to fill an entire summer, as my husband, Robert, and I discovered while touring in our 22-foot Sprinter motorhome. In New Brunswick, we encountered historic sites, the world’s highest tidal range, a bustling city and a dramatic coastline worth lingering to explore.
We leave Lubec, Maine, via the toll-free Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge and breeze across the border in minutes. We’ve decided to begin our adventures on 8.7-mile-long Campobello Island, named in 1770 to honor Lord William Campbell, Britain’s governor of Nova Scotia.
Spruce trees and shady campsites await a few miles away at Herring Cove Provincial Park. With a nine-hole golf course, restaurant, and dark sand Bay of Fundy beach, this resort-like park makes a great base for our island weekend. After changing our watches to Atlantic Time, we stroll to the beach and dip our toes into the bay’s icy water before turning in.
Always willing to be lured by a lighthouse, we drive the next morning through gray fog and a fine mist to the island’s far northeastern end. East Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Passamaquoddy Bay was built in 1829 and sports a distinctive red St. George’s Cross daymark.
Here, we learn a key fact: Tide times may impact your adventures. The wooden lighthouse is accessible only during the four hours surrounding low tide, and yes, we still can buy $5 tickets and walk out to it. But after watching other visitors navigate wet, mossy rocks and climb a steep, ladder-like staircase to reach it, we’re content to admire the lighthouse from afar.
We head for the 2,800-acre Roosevelt Campobello International Park, jointly administered by the Canadian and U.S. governments. At the visitor center we learn that “Tea With Eleanor” is about to begin and the last two free tickets are available. A helpful guide hustles us down the sidewalk to a cottage where 18 other visitors are already eating homemade lemon cookies and sipping tea from dainty flowered porcelain cups.
The small audience listens intently to stories three guides tell from the remarkable life of FDR’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, America’s longest-serving first lady. A
controversial early activist for civil rights and the status of women, she ultimately became one of the most-admired Americans of the 20th century
We study Mrs. Roosevelt’s framed newspaper columns and family photographs and then walk to see her family’s summer “cottage.” Despite having 34 rooms, it feels cozy and lived-in, as if the family will return any minute from a day at the beach. A floorplan in the self-guided tour folder notes the second-floor bedroom where Roosevelt slept until he was paralyzed by polio, at age 39, in 1921 during that summer’s vacation.
Deer Island and The “Old Sow”
The next morning we’re leaving Campobello for the New Brunswick mainland. It’s a warm, sunny day and rather than backtrack through Maine, we can save 50 miles of driving and enjoy two scenic mini-cruises of the Bay of Fundy on the way. A car ferry operates from Campobello to Deer Island every hour and a second, free, government ferry continues from Deer Island to the mainland. Both can easily accommodate large motorhomes.
As the first ferry approaches Deer Island, we notice a cluster of RVs next to a white lighthouse and decide to investigate. We maneuver up a rough road and discover that Deer Island Point Park not only has a lighthouse and campground, it’s also the best spot to view the “Old Sow” whirlpool.
Fierce currents in this narrow stretch of Passamaquoddy Bay create the largest whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere and one of the five largest in the world. Entire sailboats and their occupants have disappeared into these swirling depths during flood tides. But all is calm this Sunday morning; the Old Sow, named for its snorting sounds, is best seen two or three hours before high tide. That’s still six hours away, so we vow to camp here next time and leave to drive to our second ferry’s dock.
New river and Saint John
Once on the mainland, we join Highway 1 and arrive at New River Beach Provincial Park, popular with campers and day visitors. We select a level site with a nook to one side for a picnic table and fire ring. Just 30 minutes away from Saint John, this woodsy park has hiking trails and an
expansive sand beach, and makes a good overnight stopping place before we explore the city.
Next morning in Saint John, we easily find a van-size parking space in an hourly open lot just a block from the Market Square Exhibition Centre. Incorporating the brick facades of old waterfront warehouses, the indoor-outdoor square houses the New Brunswick Museum, shops and restaurants.
At the tourist office, we find just what we need: this year’s daily tide tables! Fundy tides are semidiurnal, with two highs and two lows daily, and the cycles take about 12 hours: six hours in, six hours out. High tide – affected by the cycles of the moon – raises the water level roughly 25 to 55 feet along much of this coastline depending on location and date.
Pondering a steep climb up King Street, we’re happy to learn that Uptown Saint John is connected by an indoor pedway system. We ascend on multiple
escalators linking blocks of hotels, office buildings and shopping centers until we pop out at Canada’s oldest continuing farmers market. The vintage brick City Market has a ceiling like an inverted boat hull above stalls with produce, meat, seafood and crafts.
Outside, we duck into King’s Square to relax on a shady park bench and admire the two-level King Edward VII Memorial Bandstand. Pathways radiate from this point to form a British Union Jack; it’s a reminder, along with the Old Burial Ground nearby, that thousands of British loyalists fled America following the Revolutionary War to become Saint John’s primary early settlers.
The Fundy Trail Parkway
Less than an hour’s drive from the city is St. Martins, where fishing boats sit on the mud awaiting a tidal change before they can float. We drive through a covered bridge with a 13-foot-tall center clearance and park to explore red rock sea caves carved by Fundy’s force.
The village is the gateway to a fine RV experience, driving the 10-mile Fundy Trail Parkway. Since its 1998 debut, this formerly inaccessible stretch of rugged coastal wilderness is now open to motorists, hikers and cyclists. With some easy-to-handle hairpin turns, the paved road winds through forests and fields dotted with wildflowers, and provides ample parking at a dozen scenic lookouts.
Tooling along at the parkway’s speed limit, 25 mph, we stop often to peer down at the “chocolate river” close to the shoreline, a contrast to the blue-green deeper bay. As water rushes across the mud flats near shore and mixes with sandstone silt, it turns brown as chocolate milk.
We climb down a cable ladder to admire Fuller Falls, eat a picnic lunch with a view, and visit the parkway’s Big Salmon River Interpretive Centre and working
sawmill to learn about the area’s logging and ship-building history.
Guides there explain that the nonprofit Fundy Trail Development Authority hopes to complete the trail 12 miles eastward by 2017, linking it to Fundy
National Park. Until then, park-bound visitors like us must backtrack to St. Martins and leave the coast for 70 miles.
Fundy National Park and Cape Enrage
We slowly bounce down a rough road that smoothes out as we enter the park’s lush spruce forests, and drive to Chignecto North Campground for a site. This park holds surprises: hiking trails to waterfalls, a heated saltwater swimming pool and a nine-hole golf course. The nearby fishing town of Alma provides conveniences: a grocery store, post office, fish market, gas station and bakery with excellent sticky buns.
The next morning, we drive to Point Wolfe, site of a coastal sawmill settlement in the 1800s, and stop to admire a red wooden covered bridge, a contender for the park’s most-photographed element. It’s a 1992 replica of the original accidentally destroyed by a 1990 engineering project. We hike the easy Shiphaven Trail to read interpretive panels about the park’s heritage and wildlife.
A lighthouse is just 10 miles east of the park entrance, so we drive down to Cape Enrage, a rugged point on a cliff in the Upper Bay of Fundy’s Chignecto Bay. We find lots of RV-size parking available and walk up to the hilltop lighthouse, first built in 1840 and replaced 30 years later. It sends out a green flash every six seconds – visible for 11 nautical miles – and a loud horn triggered automatically by fog.
We join a group forming around a guide who explains that the name comes from wild waters that churn over a reef pointing south. On sparkling days like today, there’s a view of the rocky shore, mighty bay and Nova Scotia in the distance, along with opportunities for zip lining, rappelling or rock climbing.
At our final stop, people can walk on the ocean floor around and beneath reddish-brown monoliths sculpted by thousands of years of rushing water. At high tide, Hopewell’s towering sandstone “flowerpot rocks” turn into islands complete with trees and shrubs.
A sign warns, “To avoid being trapped by the rising tide YOU MUST return to the stairs by the time shown here.” We can walk on the sea bottom for three hours before low tide until three hours after. But after 4:30 p.m. today, Fundy waters will rush in, traveling at 6 to 8 vertical feet per hour.
We walk a 15-minute trail and scamper down a multi-level wooden staircase to the damp sea bottom. Wandering
the beach for an hour, we stare up at the rocks, walk under arches and peer into caves. At around 7 p.m. tonight, our footprints will be covered by more than 40 feet of brown water.
Next trip, we’ll linger to watch that happen. Maybe we’ll even paddle a kayak around the top of the rocks at high tide, ride the Cape Enrage zip line and find another covered bridge to photograph. There’s always more to do on New Brunswick’s Fabulous Fundy Coast.
Crossing the Border
Since there are more than 100 ports of entry between the United States and Canada, each traveler’s experience will be different. With a little advance preparation, most RVers report a painless crossing that takes just a few minutes.
Before your trip, be sure your passport(s) will be valid beyond your planned length of stay, and consult each country’s website. You’ll find links about border locations and wait times, and laws about limitations on transporting food, alcohol, plants, animals, firearms and more.
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for entering Canada: www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/visit-eng.html
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for returning to the United States: www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/
If you plan to bring along your dog or cat, be sure you have a valid rabies certificate in case you are asked to produce it. For rules on what makes it valid go to
www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals. As you approach the border, the driver should have passports handy to present when the border agent requests identification. Seasoned RV travelers suggest removing hat and sunglasses so your face is visible. Allow the agent to take the lead and, to save time, avoid volunteering
unnecessary information. Answer all questions truthfully, and be ready to accurately report verbally on the goods you have in your RV during the short interview.
You will probably be asked your planned length of stay, purpose of your trip, and a few additional questions. Small amounts of wine, beer, liquor and cigarettes for personal use, as outlined on the website, are permitted and should
be declared along with any meats, fruits, vegetables, plants, animals or animal products. You may be required to surrender a food product, but this can vary depending on the province you are entering. Unopened packages of items labeled as produced in the U.S. or Canada are usually allowed.
To avoid hassles, many motorhome travelers prefer to leave weapons at home, but if you have a firearm, you’ll need to obtain a form available online, declare it in writing, provide documentation and pay a fee. As is the case with air travel, agents may perform random searches, so have keys for all external RV compartments available. Be aware that the U.S. and Canada exchange biographical information on people crossing their borders. If you, or anyone traveling with you, have a criminal record, you may not be admitted.
Once happily across the border, you’ll find that camping in Canada is quite similar to what you’ve experienced in the U.S. Canada has abundant private, provincial and national park campgrounds, often with “serviced” or “semi-serviced” sites (some combination of water, sewer and electricity, though not always 50-amp service). Most take reservations, which may be advisable for summer weekends and Canadian
Diesel fuel and gasoline are readily available, but expect to pay approximately $1 more per gallon than in the U.S. after calculating your purchase converted from liters to U.S. gallons. You’ll find large stations that can easily handle big rigs, especially along the Trans-Canada Highway and other major routes, just as in the U.S. For directions, download Canadian routes onto your GPS unit via computer before leaving home, and request maps and campground guides from provincial tourism offices online.
Laws regarding motor vehicles vary from province to province, as they do from state to state, so if you have concerns about dinghy towing or other road issues, check with the transportation department website for each province you plan to visit. You may also want to talk with your insurance providers about your plans.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Canada for fuel, food and often for campgrounds. (To save on international currency fees tacked on to each transaction, it may be worth your while to apply for an additional card from a fee-free company like Capital One.) Still, it’s a good idea to get Canadian currency from a bank or bank machine soon after arriving to use for small purchases and places where credit cards are not accepted. Away from border towns, U.S. dollars will not be so useful.
When returning to the U.S., prepare again for your border crossing in reverse, this time with a record of any major purchases you may have made, in case you are asked. Citrus is usually confiscated before you enter, so enjoy a fruit salad with your final breakfast in Canada. – C.G.
For More Information
East Coast Ferries Ltd.
877-747-2159 | www.eastcoastferriesltd.com
Fundy Trail Parkway
866-386-3987 | www.fundytrailparkway.com
Fundy’s Cape Enrage
877-734-3429 | www.thehopewellrocks.ca
New Brunswick Provincial Parks Reservation Service
800-561-0123 | https://parcsnbparks.ca
Roosevelt Campobello International Park
Christine Goodier is a freelance writer and editor who lives on the North Carolina coast and travels with her husband, photographer Bob Goodier, in a Class B Sprinter motorhome.