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- Difficulty: Moderate (rugged terrain). Up to 2km (~1hr) return trip.
- Facilities: Parking, Benches, Garbage Cans.
- Signage: None.
- Biodiversity: Ericaceae | Wintergreen | Coastal Barrens | More…
- Categories: #Coastal, #Short, #Lookoff, #Nature-Reserve, #Park.
Herring Cove Provincial Park Reserve
Herring Cove Lookoff
Herring Cove Provincial Park is less than a 30-minute drive from downtown Halifax along scenic Purcells Cove Road. The park entrance is an unassuming pull-off area on the side of John Brackett Drive (an extension of Purcells Cove Road). “The lookoff” as it’s known has always been a popular spot for an easily accessible ocean view right from the parking lot.
Directly adjacent to the lot are 3 benches with fantastic views. A newly built memorial also provides a great place to sit and enjoy the views. You need not travel any further than a few feet from the parking lot to take in Herring Cove in all its coastal glory. Those looking to explore further can hike along the shoreline for a short, up-and-back return trip of 2km in total.
Coastal Hiking Trail
Herring Cove Provincial Park Reserve is first and foremost a nature reserve. This means strict adherence to Leave No Trace principles. Trails are unmanaged and not intended for large volumes of traffic. Stick to well-defined trails and opt to travel along the rocks where possible. Keep dogs on leash and pack everything out with you (there are garbage cans at the parking lot). Open fires in nature reserves are a big no-no.
The trail is 2km up and back, requiring under an hour’s worth of hiking. The trailhead starts a short distance from the parking lot, heading into a wooded area along rugged terrain. Right away you’ll get an idea of what the rest of the hike is like. In short stretches, the trail is narrow, muddy, rocky, and lined with foot-snagging roots. Puddle jumping is to be expected, so wear appropriate hiking footwear.
Much of the trail is along the shoreline of undulating granite. Depending on ocean conditions, these views can be calm and quiet or powerfully exhilarating, sometimes the opposite of what you may expect from current weather conditions. Be very cautious along these rocks as they can be slippery and cause some steep, extremely dangerous falls. Stay well away from crashing surf as the waves can be very unpredictable.
Most of the hike is steadily uphill until you reach a high point of 112m above sea level near the end of the trail. Keep in mind that this is an up-and-back trail as going any further from the end leads onto private property.
The coastal views here are as good as anywhere in the province. It is a typical “coastal barren” landscape, similar to Peggy’s Cove or Duncan’s Cove. During warmer months, it’s anything but barren as lush greens and colourful wildflowers lay claim to every inch of rocky soil. With its all-encompassing scenery, wave watching atop these elevated bluffs as shipping traffic comes and goes from Halifax Harbour makes for a zen experience.
You’re sure to make plenty of stops to take in the photo-friendly views, so don’t let the trail’s short length fool you when you’re budgeting your time. It’s a place you can spend many hours just sitting and enjoying the views.
The crescendo of the hike is the high point near the end of the trail. This spot has 2 piles of boulders that are out of place even amongst the rocky coastline. A man-made creation, these boulders are what’s left of a monument to Herring Cove local George Brown. An Olympian and a member of Nova Scotia’s Sports Hall of Fame, Brown became a World Champion oarsman in 1874.
Recently Designated Provincial Park
This area was recently officially designated a provincial park (2021). It was left in limbo for many years as its confusing informal designation as a provincial park didn’t match its legal protection status. Owls Head Provincial Park was the most prominent example of public parks that are thought to be legally protected, not being so. With only 5% of our coastlines protected, and over 200 other properties awaiting legal protection, “Canada’s Ocean Playground” has very limited public coastal access. Luckily, this ocean view is legally protected and easily accessible to everyone in Halifax with only a 20-minute drive from downtown.
Its designation as “Provincial Park Reserve” indicates that this area has been protected to preserve its natural features. This means there are no official trails, signage, or services of any kind. Strict Leave No Trace outdoor ethics are very important in such nature reserves. That means dogs on leash, pack out what you take in, no open fires, travel on hard surfaces, and stay on the most well-used trail.
My Herring Cove Provincial Park Photos
There are no trail signs or markings, but the pathways are fairly easy to follow, as it never diverges far from the coastline. As with any coastal hike, be prepared for sudden changes in temperature, windy conditions, and weather that can differ greatly from current conditions. It’s always wise to pack an extra layer to anticipate a season’s worth of temperature change that can come at any moment.
The rocky terrain makes for some great places to sit and enjoy the view, but you’re smart to bring something to cushion the experience. Anticipate very rugged terrain, mud & puddle jumping, so wear appropriate footwear.
You don’t have to venture far to find a comfy place for meditative contemplation, taking great photos (tag yours on social media: @halifaxtrails.ca) or catching up on a good book. Herring Cove Provincial Park is a great place to take in fantastic coastal views with minimal travel and hiking time. It’s my go-to place for a quick #coastal getaway from the city.