- Laura Hawkins
Nova Scotia has no shortage of wonderful full-service campgrounds dotting the province, but did you know that it's possible to camp in Halifax's wilderness areas?
While camping in Halifax's wilderness areas is not for the unprepared or ill-equipped, it can be legal provided you follow the provincial crown land camping rules, and can be a lot of fun if you're seeking a new outdoor experience without needing to drive hours outside of town.
It's important to note that the locations listed here are not conventional campsites—they are wilderness areas, which demand the utmost respect. That means leaving no trace and treading carefully as not to disturb the flora and fauna you're sharing the space with. It also means being prepared as you head out to these isolated spots, as they are all accessed via hiking or paddling, and you won't have typical campground luxuries like tap water, electrical hookups and facilities. While most trails in these areas are well-established, campers must research exactly where to go ahead of time and have access to navigational tools. For campfires, check online before camping to ensure there is no fire ban. If the coast is clear, you may have controlled fires in existing rings or by using a fire pan or box.
Before heading out on any wilderness camping adventure, consult the detailed information about Nova Scotia's protected areas and the standards for camping and campfires in the Keep It Wild—A Guide For Low Impact Recreation and Keep It Wild—Wilderness Area Standards brochures, the Nova Scotia Protected Area FAQs, and the order on camping and lighting of fires issued by the minister of environment. These include all of the no-trace camping principles to follow, advice on how to pack and be prepared, and up-to-date information about campfires.
The Bluff Wilderness Trail
The Bluff Wilderness Trail is comprised of four stacked loops and is best known for its scenic lakes, look-offs and granite barrens. There are at least three designated camping sites in this wilderness area—two on the north leg of the Mi'kmaq Hill Loop, where Frederick and the Bluff Loop intersect, and the third is at the cross-section of the Bluff Loop—all on flat rock surfaces. Camping in this area demands preparation and navigational skill as it requires hiking or canoeing a significant distance to get to the sites.
Within a stone's throw of downtown Halifax is McNabs Island, home to a network of trails perfect for walking and biking, beaches and incredible views of the cityscape. There's also a designated camping area located near Garrison Pier and The Teahouse. Note that campers must first register to camp on the island by contacting the department of natural resources in Waverley during weekday office hours (902-861-2560).
The trail head to Susies Lake is right behind Kent in Bayers Lake (yes, really) and leads to stunning lakefront and a spectacular look-off. Right before the look-off is a place to pitch a tent and a fire pit. By canoe or kayak (or by wading waist-deep in a couple of metres of water), it's also possible to get to the nearest island where there is space to pitch a tent. Note that the Kent store does not appreciate hikers using its parking lot— there are plenty of spots to park in the area where you won't be infringing on any businesses.
While there are plenty of spaces you could pitch a tent throughout the Kearney Lake Trail System thanks to the many level granite outcrops in the area, one of the most ideal spots is at Fox Lake where there is a clear, flat space at the base of the lake. It's possible to get directly to Fox Lake, but if you have more time and are seeking a nice hike, Fox Lake is on the Hobson Lake Loop which takes you past Ash Lake and Hobson Lake, as well.
Outdoor enthusiasts who call Halifax home have proximity to beautiful, immersive wilderness experiences within a short drive of the core of the city. While camping without traditional amenities requires planning and preparation, it can be a rewarding adventure.
Help keep these special places wild by following the guidelines (and even consider bringing gloves and an extra garbage bag)—and we'll all be happy campers!