To Love That Well (Gaff Point, NS)

Just when we were all ready to put in our stress leave applications, winter finally released its grasp. Storm warning forecasts turned to a week of sun and warmth. Social media feeds lit up with the news. We were a people liberated from our cold, invading oppressor.

All that remained was to decide which trail I was going to hit on Sunday. I got out a few times over the winter for some snowshoeing and winter hiking, but unless the trail and trees are decorated with freshly fallen beauty, frankly, it's just not the same outdoor experience.

Gaff Point is one of Nova Scotia's lesser known coastal trails. About 90 minutes drive from the city, past Lunenburg on the South Shore. I found it last year in a Google search, and after visiting, added it to my list of favourites.

Old roads lead you through colourful fishing villages and tiny graveyards until you reach the (sizeable) parking lot at Hirtle's Beach. Hirtle's is emblematic of most of the stunning South Shore beaches ... miles and miles of sand that make you wonder why anyone would ever go South.

Indeed your journey starts with a 1.5k walk on the beach (head right, not left), until you reach the trail head. I timed my arrival to an hour before low tide, so I could walk on sand instead of beach rock. I did this successfully twice last year. It's such a beautiful reward after the trail hike to saunter back to the parking lot aside the gently lapping surf.

Imagine my surprise when I dismounted the weathered beach stairs to see this.

When I expected this.

Literally took my phone out and rechecked the tide tables. Nope. It was low tide. So that's the difference seasons can make on a beach.

The result was a much tougher 1.5K slog over beach rock. I love coastal hikes but beach rock is by far my least favourite terrain. IT'S ROUND for godsake, and constantly shifting under your feet. So yes, 1.5K over giant marbles.

Stop at the large boulder at the end of the beach and look up and to your right, and you should see the trail head map sign. The trail itself is 3.5K with a short linear section leading you to a loop, and varies from coastal spruce to craggy coastline, with several spectacular look-offs to the ocean below. There are points which wander quite close to significant drops, so keep your four-legged companions on leash, and children under close eye.

Although my fear of heights prevents it, not far into the trail start (before the loop) there is a spur trail to your right which leads to Sandy Cove (Secret Beach). At one time there were ropes here which allowed explorers to rappel down to the beach (last summer they were gone and I didn't check this trip). Golden Rule is to never trust ropes that are not your own, so I mention this because it is a bit of a trail "Easter Egg", but with all due caution.

The loop pinnacles, predictably, at Gaff Point, with its expansive Atlantic views. Stop here and rest, enjoy your snack or lunch, before completing the return loop which is fairly exclusively inland (though you can hear the ocean still, close by).

Your journey will end, too soon, and you will be back at the beach to retrace your steps to the parking lot. On a good summer day this will be a sweet walk through warm sand next to the ocean. On this day I looked at the 1.5K of marbles and wondered, briefly, if the water was really *that* deep or *that* cold.

More reading:

Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nova Scotia: Gaff Point

How to get there:


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