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Setting: Saltwater marsh, harbour, former railway.
Facilities: Parking, Toilets, Benches, Dog Bags, Garbage Cans.
Signage: Information kiosks at trailheads, interpretive panels, and other signage.
Features: 9km section of an extensive #Rails-To-Trails route. Unique salt marsh habitat is a #Bird-Watching favourite. Well maintained and patrolled by Cole Harbour Parks & Trails Association volunteers.
The Salt Marsh Trail
Cole Harbour’s Salt Marsh Trail is perhaps the most popular trail in the region. It is a very well maintained multi-use, former railway that has been transformed into a recreational asset. The province is lined with similarly converted #rails-to-trails systems. The trail system is a 9km section of the nationwide “Great Trail“, which continues onto the Atlantic View Trail in one direction, and the Shearwater Flyer in the other direction.
The most common starting point is from the main parking lot off of Bissett Road. This lot is often full during peak times. Another lot across the street for the Shearwater Flyer trail is often full during peak times as well. An overflow lot 250m around the corner from the main lot on Bissett Road is a great backup plan. This overflow lot connects to a trail which leads 300m to the Salt Marsh Trail, and Cole Harbour Heritage Park just over 1km in the other direction.
While the linear trail is not a #loop, it’s still very enjoyable to walk any distance up and back. With plenty of scenery that’s worth taking in from the opposite direction on your way back, and the flat, compacted crusher dust base, it’s an #accessible trail for most wheels.
The trail is well suited for #hiking, #biking and #bird watching alike. If walking the trail, the most common route is to go across the 4 bridges and turn back at the end of the causeway (4km each way) which takes roughly 1hr 45min of moving time (breaks not included). Biking the same route takes around 40min. You’ll also want to consider making it part of a longer 25km (one way) biking route which incorporates the Shearwater Flyer and Atlantic View Trails which are extensions of the Salt Marsh Trail. This 25km route takes roughly 2 hours of peddling one way (breaks not included).
Points Of Interest
Starting from the main parking area, you’ll make your way through 600m of wooded trail until you reach the water, and the first scenic stopping point known as Rosemary’s Way. A couple of waterfront benches set tucked away from the main trail provide a quiet place to enjoy the scenery.
A few feet beyond the kiosk area is a memorial and the first, known as the Bald Eagle Bridge. Another 300m brings you to the next bridge, known as the Canada Goose Bridge which sits amidst a marshy area, often busy with waterfowl.
From the Canada Goose Bridge, you’ll begin a long 1.3km stretch of trail. This stretch is full of great scenery as it extends directly through the marsh. 200m from the Canada Goose Bridge is an ultra-scenic bench and “Treasured Wetlands” designation by Ducks Unlimited. Include the #TreasuredWetlands tag on your photos taken here (also share your adventures with my #halifaxtrails tag).
1.3km from the previous, Canada Goose bridge, you’ll come to Ready Aye Ready Bridge with fast-flowing current running under the bridge. 750m beyond this bridge is the fourth and final bridge known as the Conrad Brothers Bridge.
At the end of this over water section of trail is a bench with a great view of the trail. The Trail then passes by some sheltered coves and a bench with a view of a small wetland area. The trail then heads inland through a 1.7km stretch of sheltered woodlands before opening up and crossing one more small section of water before it then becomes the Atlantic View Trail on Lawrencetown Road. Popular Lawrencetown Beach is only 1.5km beyond this point and is well worth a visit.
The trail is part of a Provincial Park (The Cole Harbour– Lawrencetown Coastal Heritage Park system) and is very well marked and maintained. It is monitored by a very friendly and helpful volunteer trail patrol courtesy of the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association who keep the trail clean and safe for everyone (thank them by donating). The association has placed helpful distance markers in both directions as well as regularly spaced information panels. These panels are great for learning about the surrounding habitat and history of the area as you progress down the trail.
As this trail can be busy at times, proper trail etiquette is a must. Pets must be on a leash, walkers should stay to one side, and cyclists should use a bicycle bell to alert people when passing (good advice for all of the rails-to-trails). If you’re doing the entire trail from the Salt Marsh Trail parking lot to the end of the trail in Lawrencetown and back by bicycle you can expect it to take between 1.5 to 2hrs of moving time. Walking the entire length of the trail up and back takes 3.5 to 4hrs of moving time (breaks not included). If you opt for the more common route of crossing the 4 bridges to the end of the causeway and back, you can cut the previously mentioned times in half (the same applies for a one-way trip).
Come prepared with an extra, wind-resistant layer of clothing as it can be quite windy when on the open marsh area of the trail. If you’re a photographer or bird enthusiast, you’ll have a literal field day here, so bring your best equipment. Pack your camera gear, binoculars & a good local bird guide book as there’s always plenty to see. This geographically rare salt marsh #wetland habitat is a great place to view a diverse array of waterfowl, plants and mammals. 90 bird, 12 mammal, and 6 reptile species have been recorded here.
With all of the intriguing wildlife, some of your time is best spent sitting on one of the numerous benches to enjoy the view. The exceptionally high level of safety, care, and popularity of this trail makes it a great destination for anyone looking for a scenic walk, jog, bike ride, or just a peaceful getaway. The Salt Marsh Trail has rapidly been transformed from an industrial railway to one of Halifax’s most revered nature destinations. Its natural beauty and ecological importance combined with hard work by volunteers, and the building of a grassroots community have culminated into something truly wonderful.