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Difficulty: Moderate (Terrain/Distance).
Setting: Coastal barrens.
Facilities: Minimal parking.
Features: Part of West Dover Provincial Park. One of the most scenic Coastal hikes in Halifax. Rugged, unmaintained, unmarked & ecologically sensitive (tread lightly).
Polly’s Cove will encompass you with memorably striking scenery while filling your lungs with invigoratingly fresh coastal air. By the time you leave, you’ll wish you could bottle the experience to take home. Immensely calming when its shoreline is booming with powerful surf, or when it’s subdued, quiet and veiled in fog alike.
As with any #coastal hiking trail, the scenery and atmosphere change drastically with the weather. Awe-inspiring year-round, there’s always a new perspective with every visit. During the warm months of June-October, the landscape is considerably more colourful with a carpet of green shrubs and wildflowers. The colder months are not without their own uniquely stark, barren, monochromatic beauty. Rich in biodiversity (tread lightly), it’s a great place for coastal #bird-watching as its adjacent islands are home to many seabirds. Check out my curated shop for the best local bird guide books.
Trailhead & Parking
The trailhead is situated 2km away from the entrance to world-famous Peggy’s Cove, just after West Dover on the left side of the road if coming via Prospect Road. It is easy to miss since there are no signs, and the gravel parking areas are only big enough for a few cars (the province’s budget for these eco-tourism gems is highly inadequate). The only indication of the trailhead may be the other cars already parked there.
If the main parking area is full, there is another one a little further down on the opposite side of the road (see the trail map). If both are full, as a ‘plan B’, I recommend checking out West Dover Provincial Park’s Long Lake trails a short distance down the road, with a much larger parking area.
Peggy’s Cove’s Lesser-Known Neighbour
Most people head out to this way only to visit Peggy’s Cove. There are plenty of much less visited destinations within a short distance. On top of the Peggy’s Cove preservation area, I recommend visiting the solemnly beautiful Swissair disaster memorial and the vast, wild West Dover Provincial Park for an all-encompassing day-trip.
The wilderness park stretches for over 1000 acres with Polly’s Cove encompassing much of its coastline. The best place to explore the rugged coastline of this area, Polly’s Cove is full of expansive coastal views.
From various points you’ll have a unique perspective on famous Peggy’s Point lighthouse and the village of Peggy’s Cove in the distance. Sunsets are especially beautiful here as they cast a soft glow over the landscape before setting with Peggy’s Cove in the foreground.
The landscape is dotted with huge glacial erratic, boulders deposited thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers. Perched atop a high point, distantly inland, you may notice an especially distinct one, which you can visit up close with my previously mentioned West Dover Provincial Park guide.
Polly’s Cove is much less well known than Peggy’s Cove, so it’s not as crowded with tourists. Its “hidden gem” designation has been let out of the bag in recent years, so the parking areas can be full during peak times. The coastal barrens landscape, full of monolithic granite makes for a fun hike with rock scampering and climbing opportunities.
Rugged Hiking Trails
While the trails are not overly difficult, they are not ideal for inexperienced hikers. All trails are completely unmarked, narrow and naturally rugged. You will often find yourself jumping over mud, wading through the brush, or losing traction on the rocky terrain. There are many trails that can turn into a maze, but the high traffic main trails are usually easily distinguishable from wildlife paths and other off-trail no-go zones. It’s a good idea to periodically stop to look at your route ahead to avoid venturing off the main trails and into bad spots, for your own sake and that of the delicate ecosystem.
The main trail leading from the main parking lot will eventually come to a fork. The right side will take you towards Peggy’s Cove on a much less-trafficked and less well-defined loop around a small pond and boggy area (Yellow on the trail map). Heading left off of the main trail (Blue on the trail map) will take you along an easier route towards Polly’s Cove proper, by the foundation of a former radar station and onto the amazing views at “Barbara Basin” and Burns Cove.
It’s largely pointless to offer much more advice beyond those points as free exploration is part of what makes Polly’s Cove such a fun hike. Just be sure to not make your own paths to keep disturbances to a minimum.
Some routes can involve climbing uneven terrain, dangerously slippery rocks and boggy areas. Coastal weather conditions change rapidly with fog, wind and big temperature swings. Even when setting out in favourable conditions, packing a waterproof windbreaker and extra insulating layer is always wise. Expect breezy or windy conditions as the norm.
Be advised that it’s very easy to spend far more time than planned when visiting Polly’s Cove, so leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy it. For full enjoyment of break time with snacks & an insulated beverage, bring a sitting pad to cushion your butt on the hard granite surfaces, and of course, LEAVE NO TRACE. If you see any litter that you can safely pack out with you, please do so us responsible hikers will outnumber the thoughtless ones.