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Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult (Navigation/Terrain).
Setting: Lake, granite outcrops, wooded trails.
Un-marked trails, part of the #Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area.
Authentic wilderness experience minutes from downtown.
The #Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Wilderness Area is Halifax’s most extensive wilderness protection project. It is also (potentially) Canada’s largest urban park. It is still stuck in the early stages of being fully protected and properly maintained. There are a few entry points into this large area, one of which is behind Kent Building Supplies in Bayers Lake, leading to Susies Lake.
Susies Lake is best accessed behind the Bayers Lake Industrial Park. Kent Building Supplies aren’t fond of people using their parking lot so I can’t recommend you park there, but if you look around you will find spots to park where you won’t be infringing on any businesses.
As soon as you enter the main trailhead you will wonder if you’re trespassing or going the wrong way, as is the case with a lot of great hiking spots in Nova Scotia. Look for the bright yellow “Wilderness Area” signs that are posted on trees as an indication you are on a trail. Once you’re acclimated, it’s not too difficult to figure out where the trail is.
The map on this page shows the easiest routes to follow and doesn’t require a compass or GPS. I have taken some wrong turns trying to get to the Susies Lake lookoff before, so you do have to pay attention to where you’re going and I wouldn’t recommend it for complete novices.
Sunsets viewed from the look-off are breathtaking. Barring any wrong turns, it’s possible to get back to the parking lot before it’s pitch black with a 15-minute hike (always pack a headlamp). If you are new to the area or unsure of your navigation skills I’d advise against staying for a sunset as it’s extremely easy to get lost in the dark even if you know where to go (speaking from experience).
There are a few well-trafficked trails and many smaller wildlife trails that can lead you off in the wrong direction. Exploring these trails do require some basic navigation skills (my free maps are intended to be opened with your phone’s Google Maps app for a real-time GPS reference).
The many lakes, rolling hills, #old-growth trees and rock outcrops that make up the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Wilderness Area allow for new discoveries with every outing. It never ceases to amaze me that this place, akin to Kejimkujik National Park exists directly behind a bustling business park well within city limits.
Like Kejimkujik, there is a great paddling route through its chain of lakes (as seen on my map), though the current lack of good access points makes it a logistical challenge. The poor access is an aspect that will be sure to change when (if) this area gets protected, as has been promised for decades.
This guide is meant to offer an entry point to a couple of the most trafficked trails, but please keep in mind that this is undeveloped nature, meant to be rugged, wild and preserved as is (despite being encroached upon by development).
If you’re interested in the protection of this area, check out this blog post and my open letter to HRM countil on the subject. You can also join the Facebook Group for the newly formed “Friends Of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes”, a volunteer group who aim to make this urban wilderness park a reality.
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