Fall for Nova Scotia’s autumn magic

ABOVE: The orchards at Willowbank U-pick Farm, Port Williams, Nova Scotia.

by Shelley Cameron-McCarron 

Infinite inspiration? Or just plain fun? There’s no wrong answer when you’re standing on a Nova Scotia mountaintop, by a monument to one of the province’s last great Gaelic bards, breathing in fresh, crisp air and gazing out over lush countryside alive in colour, a joyous symphony of red, green and golden leaves as far as the eye can see. That’s the scene, standing high in a forest clearing on Keppoch Mountain near Antigonish, a one-time alpine ski hill transformed into one of Nova Scotia’s top year-round outdoor destinations for biking, bouldering, hiking, cross-country skiing, and roaming free on over 40 kilometres of multi-use trails through mature climax forest, young hardwood, hemlock groves and by a few brooks. 

Ah, fall in Nova Scotia. 

Experiencing autumn in ‘Canada’s Ocean Playground’ is a sensory delight—a place to breathe, to dream—with sweet coastal breeze scenting the air as maples and ash, birches and oak paint catch-your-breath-vistas over hills, valleys and headlands. Along with ample hiking adventures (from the urban oasis of Truro’s Victoria Park to climbing the peaks at Cape Chignecto Coastal Loop), the Maritime province is packed with pumpkin patches, farmers markets groaning under the bounty of harvest season, intricate corn mazes, apple picking, and city and country getaways.

Days can be spent discovering the whimsy of Kentville’s adored Pumpkin People Festival, marveling at the personality-packed ‘gourds’ spotted around town each October, paddling pristine waterways, or planning your own personal chowder crawl. Just think—a quest to sample the best from swish restaurants and roadside stops. No one can stop at just one bowl! 

ABOVE: Explore Georges Island National Historic Site in the heart of Halifax Harbour, the place the Mi’kmaq called Kjipuktuk or “The Great Harbour.” 

Drinking up Nova Scotia’s burgeoning winery scene is a definite. Winemaking here dates to the 1600s, and in early fall, when grapes are ripening on the vine and wine makers and wineries are already seeing what next year's vintage will be like, it’s a perfect time to dip into this history, venturing into vineyards across the province, taking in tours and tastings, and visiting boutique and estate wineries (some in rustic barns and a former church). 

Be sure to raise a glass of Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia’s first appellation wine, a delicious white, born of a terroir that pairs so, so well with local seafood. 

New this year, guests can even overnight at Nova Scotia’s oldest farm winery Domaine de Grand Pré, in the fertile agricultural heartland of the Annapolis Valley. The Stutz family have opened The Inn at the Winery in their former farmhouse, putting out the welcome mat to accommodations and intimate wine-paired dining. 

Fall is always a little extra special in Nova Scotia—including road trips. With 13,000 kilometres of coastline, the province is primed for discovery. The Sunrise Trail itself serves 300-plus kilometres of serenity from Cape Breton Island to the New Brunswick border. 

Stop to feel sand between your toes at glorious warm water beaches like Melmerby, Caribou-Munroes, Rushton’s, and Blue Sea, and admire pastoral landscapes and the Cobequid Mountains, basking under a golden glow. Consider the route passport to foodie paradise, home to Jost Vineyards, Nova Scotia’s first winery, craft beer makers, restaurants, chocolatiers, and a must-have maple brunch at Sugar Moon Farm on a working maple farm in Earltown. Revel in fall’s glory at onsite trails or the nearby Butter Trail in Tatamagouche. 

No visit is complete without a stay in Halifax, Nova Scotia’s sophisticated, seafaring capital. 

Why you’ll love it? Halifax has all the amenities you’d want, yet rocks a smalltown, friendly vibe. It’s blessed with a walkable downtown, a gorgeous 4.4 km harbourwalk (with sea views, swaying hammocks, shops, services and sun-dabbled patios), museums, marine heritage, green spaces, robust shopping and dining, and a $2.75 ferry ride to Dartmouth—making for a terrific harbour cruise. For atmospheric fun, book the Halifax Citadel Ghost Tour, leaning into folklore from the centuries as you walk the fort’s tunnels and ramparts. Later, see the city in a new way, brushing up on history at Georges Island National Historic Site in Halifax’s harbour. 

Take the Lighthouse Route to Lunenburg, a UNESCO world heritage site and home to the iconic sailing schooner, the Bluenose II, and you’ll be congratulating yourself on a brilliant outing. 

ABOVE: Spirit Reins Ranch’s Horseback Tidal Floor and Fossil Tour. 

Also fun? Riding the waves. If you’ve never heard of surfing in Nova Scotia, know it’s world-class. Take a lesson at popular Lawrencetown, and plan to discover the swells along the Eastern Shore. Adventure lovers can giddy up too with Spirit Reins Ranch’s Horseback Tidal Floor & Fossils Tour, crossing the renowned Bay of Fundy’s ocean-floor (home to the earth’s highest tides) to see ancient fossils, then later continue the learning and fun at the Cliffs of Fundy UNESCO Geopark.

Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site is a beautiful fall destination, with the colours of the red maple flood plain spectacular in reds, oranges, and yellows. Plus, there’s paddling, biking, picnicking, dark sky viewing and hiking. See over 300-year-old hemlocks on the popular Hemlocks and Hardwoods trail, and explore by foot or bike the newest trail, Ukme’k, a 6.3 km shared-use path connecting the campground with popular day-use areas and gateway to Mi’kmaw cultural landscape, twisting along Mersey River. 

ABOVE: Yarmouth & Acadian Shores Deep Sky Eye Observatroy is North America’s first starlight tourist destination!

Looking to the heavens comes naturally in Nova Scotia and with darkness falling earlier in autumn, there’s no need to stay up past bedtime. Prime locales abound, like dark-sky preserve, Kejimkujik National Park, secluded shorelines with stars and moon shimmering over water, university observatories, and accommodations with stargazing packages. In the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores region (known for its stargazing), guided tours and overnight stays are offered at Deep Sky Eye Observatory and Trout Point Lodge, the world’s first certified Starlight Hotel, and Canada’s only member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. 

Visit www.novascotia.com to begin planning your fall getaway today!