Long Lake Provincial Park

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Long Lake Provincial Park in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Long Lake Provincial Park Guide

    Long Lake Provincial Park stands apart from most parks in Halifax with its assortment of recreational opportunities, extensive wilderness, and location; a 15-minute drive from downtown.  The large size and subsequent diversity quickly envelop you with interesting geology, lakeside views, streams, rivers, vegetation, beaver dams, birds, and wildlife you wouldn’t expect to see amidst an urban area.  A very popular park, that’s always busy during summer months, it’s large enough that everyone can find their own spot to enjoy.

Parking Lots & Access Points

    Nestled in the heart of mainland Halifax, there are multiple access points, ranging from St. Margarets Bay Road, Dunbrack Street, Old Sambro Road to Prospect Road.  The two main access points with parking areas are off of St. Margarets Bay Road (small, full during peak times, open year-round) and the much larger parking lot off of Dunbrack Street (gate closed in winter, with limited parking outside of it).

     A small parking area off of Old Sambro Road offers (non-powered) boat access and rentals.  A couple of spots in this lot are reserved for quick 15-minute drop-offs, but the rest of the lot is full during peak times.  A gate blocks access to the Old Samrbo Road lot during the off-season. These gates are lifted when most provincial parks re-open which is around Victoria Day in May (official opening date info for many NS provincial parks is convoluted).  Be sure to not leave anything valuable in your car, and keep things out of sight as ‘smash and grab’ thieves frequent all of these lots.

The Lakeview Trail (3.5km, ~1hr)

photos of long lake provincial park in halifax, nova scotia

     Unlike the St. Margaret’s Bay Road lot, the large parking lot for the Lakeview Trail off of Dunbrack Street has ample room.  Also unlike the St. Margaret’s Bay Road lot, it is gated in winter.  Like all Nova Scotia Provincial Parks, the best access to this one is frustratingly closed in the off-season.  You are still allowed to access the park in the offseason, and there’s a small area to park before the gate but you must not block it.  Nova Scotia provincial parks re-open for the season in late May (on, or after Victoria Day).

    In April 2016, a large, wide, gravel and packed sand trail was constructed aimed at making the park #accessible to everyone.  Named the “Lakeview Trail”, it consists of a 3.5km loop around Witherod Lake.  Similar to what you would see in Point Pleasant Park, this trail is well constructed with benches at regular intervals.  Inconspicuous pathways off the main trail can lead to  scenic nooks along Witherod Lake.  From the trail, there is one  access point to Long Lake, complete with a bike rack to secure your bike.

     The wide trail has plenty of room for walkers, bikers and joggers alike.  If you plan on biking this trail, keep in mind it is busy during peak times and a bicycle bell is a must.  The trail doesn’t have any significant hills, with only small dips and inclines throughout as seen in this elevation profile.  Expect just over an hour of walking to complete the loop on foot or about 30 mins by bike.

The Pipeline Trail Loop (3km, ~1-2hrs)

     The popular 3km “Pipeline Loop” trail is accessible via a parking area off of St. Margaret’s Bay.  This under-built lot is almost always full during peak times.  A considerably worse option is to park at the nearby carpool lot off of Prospect Road and walk alongside the busy roadway toward the parking area on St. Margaret’s Bay Road.

     This trail falls into the “wilderness trail” category as it is unmarked, unmaintained, narrow, wet, and rugged.  The trail is often full of puddles, mud and slippery tree roots, so waterproof footwear is a must.  Being properly prepared with high-cut waterproof footwear (even rubber boots in Spring) will also help minimize the trail braiding happening here that is gradually widening the trail, creating lots of damage.  The trail can be very icy in winter and early spring, where hiking spikes can spare you a serious injury while making your hike much easier and more enjoyable.  In spring and early summer, there will be plenty of bugs around the wet areas, so don’t forget to pack some protection.

     Formerly an off-leash area, this trail is now on-leash only, though many disregard the rules.  Don’t contribute to the amount of poop bags that accumulate here which can reach ungodly amounts by the spring thaw.  To easily store used bags bring an empty peanut butter container or one of these handy bag holder leash attachments, and always follow basic Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.  There are a couple of often overflowing garbage cans near the parking lot that you’ll want to plug your nose when walking by.

     A short walk in from the St. Margaret’s Bay Road parking lot will bring you to the lake and an area that’s popular for a mid-summer swim.  Be mindful of leeches along with some parts of the shore.  To avoid leeches, minimize how much contact you make with the bottom, or wear water shoes.

long lake provincial park photos

     For the purpose of this guide, I’ll be doing this loop in a counter-clockwise direction.  Continuing along the trail as it skirts the lake it is rough and eroding.  Keeping to the right,  the trail continues for 800m until you’ll eventually head into a dense forest.  You’ll see occasional evidence of the trail’s namesake pipeline protruding from the ground, specifically a big rusty valve near where the trail meets a small river.  A few feet before you come to this river is an important 90° left-hand turn where the trail loops down toward the lake, following alongside the river most of the way.

     It’s very easy to miss this turn and continue straight along the pipeline.  Initially, after incorrectly crossing the river, the trail looks the same as what you have been following until you discover that it is progressively more overgrown and difficult to follow until it pretty much disappears altogether.  The pipeline ventures into an impassable, remote area of the park that eventually connects to Spruce Hill Lake, 4km away.

     After taking the correct 90° left-hand turn, the trail becomes considerably more narrow, rugged, and harder to follow (you shouldn’t be venturing too far away from the river on your right).  Along this section of trail are plenty of great spots that access the river.  Take care to stay on the established trail to minimize damage.  You’ll notice a lot of tree roots being laid bare by human-caused soil erosion.

     300m along the trail (after taking the 90° turn) you’ll come to a scenic area straight out of a storybook.  With rock outcropping, river cascading, and a memorial bench to sit and enjoy it all.  A  footbridge crosses the river here, one that I didn’t cross due to my balance and trust issues when it comes to sketchy footbridges.  I advise you to use a similar abundance of caution.

     A further 130m along the trail will bring you to a huge old-growth hemlock tree that leans out over the river.  From here, the river meets Long Lake with a scenic cascade (during warm, wet weather).  This scenic inflow area makes a nice place to stop and enjoy the lake.

     Continuing another 500m near the shoreline of Long Lake will close out the loop and bring you back onto the main trail leading back to the St. Margaret’s Bay Road parking area.   There are plenty of places to leave the trail and head onto the shoreline, but take care not to create even more unnecessary paths.  You can walk along much of the shoreline instead of the trail, though some sections are much more difficult footing than others.

     Though the Pipeline Loop is a popular, short trail, don’t take it lightly.  Always tell someone your plans, and pack basic safety gear as you should on all hikes.  Give yourself plenty of time before sunset, as darkness makes following unmarked wilderness trails nearly impossible.  Allow yourself a minimum of 2 hours if it’s your first time doing this trail.

My Long Lake Photos:

Old Coach Road & Scar Road

     The rest of the park is largely unmarked, which is a good thing for adventuresome hikers, as there are plenty of rugged ‘off-path’ exploration opportunities.  This kind of wilderness exploration isn’t for the inexperienced.  The unmarked trails can lead in many different directions, sometimes ending in remote areas.  These trails are un-maintained remnants from decades or even centuries past, so expect some very rugged terrain.

     For the very adventurous and experienced hikers, check out the “Old Coach Road” and the bisecting “Scar Road”, both with their own interesting history.  The scar road dates to a more recent past when the park was used as the city’s water supply.  The road was never fully completed and now sits as a deep “scar” running down the middle of the park’s landmass.  The lake’s use as Halifax’s water supply ended in 1980 but its past is still evident by the dams and waterworks still visible today.  The “Old Coach Road”, dating back prior to 1800 contains hints of an old farm settlement and other aspects of its storied past, best laid out by this great free walking guide by the Five Bridges Wilderness Heritage Trust.

     Both trails are accessible via Old Sambro Road, but the “Old Coach Road” access is the only one with small areas to park at its trailheads.  Extreme caution should be used in exploring this remote area of the park, and you should expect sections of heavy flooding depending on recent weather.  As with any backroads left alone to nature for decades, they can contain every manner of terrain.  If you head into these remote areas of the park, don’t do so without prior wilderness hiking experience and basic safety precautions.

Paddling & Swimming

canoe, kayak, paddling long lake halifax      The lake has become one of the best places for paddling (non-motorized boats only) thanks to the new boat launch area off of Old Sambro Road.  A new paddleboard and kayak rental kiosk supply visitors with kayaks and paddleboards.  The boat launch parking lot is often full on nice days but has 2 reserved (15-minute max) spots for boat drop-offs.

     The two main islands on the lake make for ideal paddling destinations.  The smaller of the two, known as “Goat Island“, is only a 1km (20-30min) paddle from the boat launch area.  With a few sandy areas, big rock formations, and a sheltered area in the center of the island.  Well-visited by kayakers and swimmers alike, it’s a popular destination.

     Please take out more trash than you brought so we can outnumber the careless people.  Un-controlled fires in provincial parks are a no-no, and there are far too many poorly planned fire pits at Long Lake.  A camp stove is a more responsible option.  Before lighting a fire anywhere in Nova Scotia, always check burning restrictions and follow basic Leave No Trace principles.

     There are plenty of great places to go for a swim, with small sandy coves dotted all along the shoreline.  The lake even has buoys marking an open water swim course ranging from 1 to 2.5km from the paddling launch area to Goat Island.  At the opposite end of the lake, entering via the St. Margaret’s Bay Road parking lot, there are plenty more popular swimming areas.  Be aware that there is the occasional leech, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying the lake.  Besides being gross nightmare fuel, leeches are painless and harmless if you remove them properly.  As well as regularly checking your feet, water shoes can help keep them off.

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The Dam & Other Scenic Areas

 Long Lake Provincial Park Halifax    The trails off of the parking lot on St. Margarets Bay road are popular with people and their dogs as it used to be an #off-leash area.  You can now be fined if your dog isn’t leashed, but it remains a #dog-friendly area.  Once you stray from the main paths you are rewarded with all kinds of great places to explore along the shoreline.  One of the best places for #swimming in Halifax,  and often very busy during peak times.  However, the lake is large enough that you can always find an ideal spot to chill along its shores.

     At the opposite end of the lake from the St. Margaret’s Bay entrance is a large dam which follows parallel to Old Sambro Road.  The dam is fun to explore but not safe/easy to navigate near the outlet.  A scenic sitting area at this end of the lake is a great place to watch a Summer sunset.  More scenic paths and shoreline exploration can be had at the far end of the dam, but the best access to this area is via a gated gravel pathway off of Old Sambro Road.

Halifax Outdoor Activity Hub

     Long Lake is the new go-to place for all kinds of outdoor adventures without having to leave the city.  It grows more popular every year as accessibility improvements have made the park welcoming to a diverse crowd.  Much like Point Pleasant Park and Shubie Park, you’ll be able to feel the current mood of Halifax with every visit.  Though visitor numbers continue to increase, there’s plenty of space to explore.  Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll, an adventurous hike, paddle, bike ride, or swim, Long Lake is a great place for it.

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