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- Difficulty: Easy – Difficult (distance/terrain/navigation).
- Facilities: Parking, toilet, bike racks, paddling launch & equipment rentals.
- Signage: Minimal. Mostly along the Lakeview Trail.
- Habitat: Wild Raisin | Bunchberry | Indian Pipe | More…
- Categories: #Biking, #Bird-Watching, #Bus-Accessible, #Dog-Friendly, #Family-Friendly, #Fishing, #Lake, #Loop, #Paddling, #Park, #Skating, #Snowshoeing, #Swimming, #Wetlands, #Wheelchair-Accessible.
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 geographic diversity include interesting geology, lakeside views, beaver dams, big trees, and wildlife you wouldn’t expect from its urban surroundings.
Long Lake is the new go-to place for all kinds of outdoor adventures. 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, at Long Lake, you can get a feel for the current Halifax vibe with each visit. Though visitor numbers continue to increase, there are plenty of spots to call your own. Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll, an adventurous hike, paddle, bike ride, or swim, Long Lake is a great place for it.
Parking Lots & Access Points
Nestled in mainland Halifax, Long Lake Provincial Park is one of a few #bus-accessible parks along various public transit routes. There are 3 parking lots each located on St. Margarets Bay Road, Dunbrack Street, and Old Sambro Road respectively. There are other access points to the park with limited or no parking, many of which I have marked on my map. It’s best to carpool when going as a large group. Space can be limited at all parking lots during peak times. Do not leave any valuables in your car. Keep all items hidden out of sight as ‘smash and grab’ thieves frequent all of these lots.
The parking lot with the amplest amount of room is at the main entrance to the park off of Dunbrack Street. The lot has enough room for 40-50 cars, but even this can be full at absolute peak times (summer weekends). This entrance is also the trailhead for the park’s most popular attraction; the Lakeview Trail. There is a seasonally serviced toilet next to the parking lot, alongside a park map and trail information. This lot is gated off in winter. You can park along the small area in front of the gate, but not block it. These gates were most recently lifted on Easter weekend (dates for other provincial parks vary) and typically close in mid-October.
The second most popular entry point is off of St. Margaret’s Bay Road. This small parking lot is limited to around 20 cars. You’ll see cars filling every inch of the overflow areas along the road during peak times. Another last-ditch option would be parking at a nearby carpool lot, but this requires a 400m walk across and along very busy roads with no sidewalks, only a painted bike lane on the road shoulder. The St. Margaret’s Bay Road lot is not gated in winter, but it is also not usually plowed or maintained in any way.
The small parking area off of Old Sambro Road is intended for paddling access and is the location of on-site rentals. Space in this lot is extremely limited, more so than any of the other lots. It’s tough to get a spot here during peak times so you’ll have to plan around that. There are a couple of spots reserved for 15-minute drop-offs in front of the rentals. A gate blocks access to this parking lot in winter making it unusable in the offseason.
The lake has become one of the best places for paddling (non-motorized boats only) thanks to the new paddling launch area off of Old Sambro Road. A new paddleboard and kayak rental kiosk supply visitors with kayaks and paddleboards from early June to late September. The paddling launch parking lot is often full on nice days. Thankfully, it has 2 reserved (15-minute max) spots for quick drop-offs. This area is also a busy swimming spot on hot days.
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. These islands are popular destinations during peak times, so be respectful of other visitors by keeping things clean & quiet. If you see litter please safely bring it back with you if you can. Long Lake is 3.5km long (7km return). It’s roughly 1hour and 30minutes to paddle from one end to the other in good conditions (a 3-hour return trip).
You can swim in Long Lake all summer long. Some lakes have been plagued by dangerous cyanobacteria from blue-green algae blooms that are becoming more frequent throughout the city & the province, but Long Lake has not made that growing list thus far (let’s keep it that way by Leaving No Trace). This lake used to be part of the city’s water supply until the mid-1970s, so it was largely spared from the ill-considered urban sprawl that has endangered the water quality of other lakes & watersheds in the municipality. Long lake is not supervised by lifeguards or subject to regular water quality monitoring like other places in the city.
Once you stray from the main paths you are rewarded with all kinds of great places to explore along the shoreline. Though it’s very popular on a hot day, the lake is large enough that you can always find an ideal spot to chill along its shores.
One of the most popular entry points for swimming is from the St. Margaret’s Bay Road end of the lake. Another popular spot is at the other end of the lake in a sheltered cove, an area you can reach directly off of the Old Sambro Road trail. This cove has a popular sandy spot known as Blueberry Beach as well as other sandy areas on its shorelines. No matter your entry point you don’t have to go far to find a decent spot to hop in.
Be mindful of leeches along with some parts of the shore by doing regular checks of your legs and feet and know how to remove one. Water shoes are great for places like this for the purpose of keeping leeches off and protecting your feet from sharp rocks or glass.
The lake even has buoys marking an open water swim course. This marked grid provides courses ranging from 1 to 2.5km (see map). The course spans from the paddling launch area near the dam at the Old Sambro Rd. end of the lake, to Goat Island near the middle of the lake. Keep in mind that there are no lifeguards or safety monitoring of any kind so be extremely cautious & use a lifejacket or swim buoy if you plan on getting into open water swimming.
The Lakeview Trail (3.5km, ~1hr)
The Lakeview Trail is a 3.5km loop around Witherod Lake, with a linear 600m section joining the loop to the parking lot on Dunbrack Street. There is also a section of trail that leads from the Stanley Park/Dunbrack Street intersection, allowing easy access from that area on foot, or by bicycle.
This 2m wide built-up, gravel-based, packed-sand trail was constructed in 2016 to be an #accessible trail for most. The trail is easy to follow, drains well, and is soft on the feet. There are plenty of benches placed roughly every 200m apart or less, so you’ll have no shortage of places to stop for a sit.
Expect just over an hour of walking to complete the loop on foot or about 30 mins by bike. There aren’t any significant hills, with small dips and inclines throughout as seen in my recorded elevation profile of the trail. There are a couple of different intersection points which may be a little disorienting on your first visit, but a quick reference to my map or a nearby posted one will keep you headed in your intended direction.
From the Dunbrack Street parking lot and heading to the left, this built-up trail extends toward Old Sambro Road as far as the dam. Keeping along the Lakeview Trail (heading to your right from the parking lot) you will spot a few different inconspicuous, but well-traveled pathways that lead off the main trail lead to scenic nooks and vantage points along Witherod Lake. There is one access point off of the trail that brings you to the shoreline of Long Lake, complete with a rack to secure your bike if you want to head in for a swim. There are also bike racks at the parking lot and various other points along the trail.
The wide trail has plenty of room for walkers, bikers, and joggers alike. Despite the wide berth, if you plan on biking this trail, you should try to do so at off-peak times. Just as at Point Pleasant Park, this trail can be very high traffic with an array of families, joggers, dogs & bicyclists. Be courteous by giving a “ding” from your bicycle bell before passing, and keep your ears tuned for “dings” from others. Don’t hog the trail by keeping to the right-hand side to let joggers and bikers pass safely. Dogs must be kept on a leash throughout the park.
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, but 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 often overflowing, nose-plug-worthy garbage cans near the parking lot.
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. From here, facing the lake you’ll head to the right-hand side to begin the pipeline trail loop. 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. After incorrectly crossing the river, the trail looks the same as what you’ve been following. You’ll soon discover that it gets progressively more overgrown and difficult to follow until it disappears altogether. The pipeline leads into an impassable remote area of the park that 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 for 500m near the shoreline of Long Lake will close out the loop. This brings you 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 also walk along much of the shoreline instead of the trail. Note that some sections of the shoreline will be much more difficult footing.
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.
Cranberry Pond & Unmarked Wilderness Trails
Another popular entry spot is off of Dunbrack St. where you will often see lots of cars parked on the shoulder. This entry point is far from ideal and space is very limited. You have to pull well over onto the shoulder and be considerate by leaving room for others who are sure to arrive. It’s a very busy location next to high-speed traffic that is not safe for small children or off-leash pets. Be careful pulling in and out, and don’t even attempt it if there is too much traffic. You can still get to this area via St. Margarets Bay Road or the parking lot off Dunbrack Street, via the Lakeview Trail but you’ll be adding a few extra kilometers to your trip.
The trailhead on the side of the road leads to unmarked wilderness trails around Cranberry Pond, and onward to Long Lake. The simple loop around Cranberry Lake is along well-established trails, but there are numerous forks leading in various different directions. These trails are not for inexperienced hikers as there are no signage, maps, or trail markers. Come prepared with basic safety gear & let someone know your plans, as it is possible to get lost in remote wilderness areas in this park with a few wrong turns.
The shortest loop around Cranberry Pond is 2km and takes roughly 40 minutes of hiking time. There are another 7km worth of trails extending in a web all around this area, so you can spend a lot longer exploring the area if you want. The terrain is very rugged, rocky, and can be muddy in wet conditions. Proper footwear is a must.
The pond is a good spot for #birdwatching, as half of it is a biodiverse wetland marsh. Osprey especially seem to like this area. There are a few spots to stop along the trail with decent views of the pond to break out your binoculars. At the West end of the lake, you have to cross at a narrow point. This crossing also requires a fairly steep decline to get to the narrow point. You can use the wooden bridge at your own risk, or cross adjacent to it if the water is low.
The second half of the loop has a large old-growth white pine tree and a couple of nice views of the marsh. There are more side trails and forks that can be a little confusing, so you will have to pay attention to where you’re going. This side of the pond can be muddy during wet conditions.
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 adventurous and experienced hikers, check out the “Old Coach Road” and the bisecting “Scar Road”. Both trails 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 completed and now sits like a deep “scar” down the middle of the park’s landmass. The lake’s use as Halifax’s water supply ended in 1980. Its past is still evident in 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. 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. 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 you should have prior wilderness hiking experience and basic survival gear.
At the opposite end of the lake from the St. Margaret’s Bay entrance is a large dam extending for 350m parallel to Old Sambro Road. The dam is fun to explore but not safe/easy to navigate near the spillway. 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 though there is no parking nearby.
The parking lots at Long Lake are frequented by smash and grab thieves on a regular basis. It’s important to not leave anything of value in your car. Hide all items to avoid being an enticing window-smashing target. On the topic of parking lots; the one off of Dunbrack is your best bet to get a spot during peak times. The St. Margaret’s Bay Road lot is quite popular, small & often overflowing onto the street. The lot off of Old Sambro Road at the paddling launch point is even smaller. Don’t plan on being able to get a spot in the Old Sambro Road during peak times.
Dogs Must Be On-Leash
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, and there is periodic enforcement. The park remains #dog-friendly, though waste disposal is entirely your responsibility as there are very few garbage cans, if any, so plan accordingly by bringing a bag holder & something to store used bags.
Paddling rentals are available from June 5th until the end of September via the Old Sambro Rd. parking lot. Though this lot is often full, there are reserved spots near the rental kiosk designated for 15-minute drop-offs if you have your own paddling equipment.
The lake can be windy at times, and you’ll most often face a headwind when starting from the paddling launch point off of Old Sambro Rd. The wind conditions are fairly predictable, usually in line with the current weather in Halifax. Keep in mind that conditions can change between the time you set out and the time you head back. The majority of the lake from the launch point to Goat island is open and exposed. There aren’t many breaks from the wind until you get to the island and beyond.
If you plan on biking the Lakeview Trail, you should do so during off-peak times as this trail can be crowded with a wide array of visitors. A helmet and bicycle bell are must-haves for all of our local trails. Biking elsewhere in the park is strictly for experienced off-road explorers with proper equipment.
Hiking anywhere other than the Lakeview Trail is recommended only for experienced hikers. Most trails are unmarked, with no signage or maps. The further you go into the park, the more untamed things get. Do not venture into these remote areas without basic safety equipment and making someone aware of your intended plan. You should be experienced with #backcrountry hikes on unmarked trails if you venture into the wilderness.
If you’re going for a swim, keep in mind there can be leeches in some spots (as with most lakes), so water shoes are a good choice. You can avoid them by doing regular checks of your feet and lower legs and you should know how to properly remove one. A packable quick-dry towel is a good investment so you don’t have to try to stuff a big beach towel into your backpack. I’d also advise bringing something to sit on to save your butt from the rocky shoreline if you’re planning on staying a while.
Leave No Trace
The park is day-use only, so there is no camping or overnight stays allowed. Strict Leave-No-Trace outdoor ethics should be followed here. There is very limited garbage disposal. Make sure you pack out what you take in including dog waste. Carelessly discarded used dog poop bags that have plagued this park for years. There are no open fires allowed, so you’ll have to opt for a backpacking stove instead.
Make it a habit to pack a garbage bag on your outdoor adventures so you can help keep things pristine. Visible litter subconsciously encourages other litterers. Our parks & trails have limited garbage disposal infrastructure so let’s all pitch in to bring the garbage where it belongs. Discarded dog poop bags are a plague on this park. Please don’t add to the problem by always being prepared to pack out used poop bags with you. Bring a used poop bag carrier for your leash, pack a ziplock bag, or empty peanut butter container to store them. It’s good practice to make this a habit.
Bugs can be bad in spring, so you’ll definitely want to pack some bug protection for May-June. Ticks are a reality throughout Nova Scotia. At Long Lake, they are less of a concern unless you’re venturing into unmanaged areas or bushwacking (which you shouldn’t). You should always make regular tick checks a habit for all of your outdoor adventures. Ticks are only out when temperatures are above freezing and are most active in Spring and Fall.
There is no winter maintenance. You’ll be using the park entirely at your own risk during the offseason. This means no garbage services at all, so you’ll have to pack everything out with you. There is no trail maintenance, so ice cleats are highly recommended for icy conditions. Check out my guides of parks with #winter-maintenance if you’re looking for something more easily accessible.
The gate at the main parking lot off of Dunbrack Street is closed all winter. You’re allowed to park in the limited area in front of the gate, but not block it. This limited area can fill up quickly on a popular day. The gate to the Old Sambro Road paddling launch parking lot is also closed, and there is no immediate alternative for this area. The parking lot off of St. Margaret’s Bay Road is open during winter, but there is no snow clearing or garbage removal.