Story and photography by Darcy Rhyno
From the door of my oTENTik—a furnished tent/A-frame cabin hybrid, at the edge of Headquarters Campground in Fundy National Park, I can see my destination for dinner through the trees and across the river—the fishing village of Alma where the seafood restaurants are abundant and the world’s widest tide swings strand boats on their bellies.
Headquarters comes by its name honestly—it’s tucked in behind the main entrance and interpretive station at the park and is therefore within easy walking distance not just of many park attractions and activities like hiking trails and the outdoor theatre, but also of Alma and the Bay of Fundy itself. Headquarters is wooded and quiet with comfortable camping options in the form of five yurts and ten oTENTiks among the total of 154 sites.
There are so many extraordinary camping locations on the East Coast, it’s difficult to recommend just a few, but Headquarters is a true standout, as is New River Beach Provincial Park. It’s also on the Fundy coast a couple of hours drive south toward the US border from here. This is one of the best campgrounds for families on the East Coast because of the wide beach, big playground, on-site restaurant and fun special events and organized activities like the annual Sand Sculpture Competition in late July. My favourite activity here is hiking the meandering coastal trail with interpretive signs, tiny, hidden beaches and rocky outcrops. The vistas onto the Bay of Fundy are captivating, but I prefer a tranquil, fog-shrouded morning when the sounds of seabirds and small boats just out of sight lend to the mystique.
Across the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, choosing the top campgrounds is no easier, but those on the open Atlantic Ocean are most enticing. Murphy’s Camping on the Ocean on the eastern Shore and the Ovens Natural Park on the South Shore are two of the best private campgrounds in Eastern Canada. Murphy’s is fronted by a vast ocean wilderness area said to include 100 wild islands, making for fantastic sea kayaking. For those who prefer a sturdier craft for exploring, owner Brian Murphy offers tours aboard his traditional Nova Scotia fishing boat to see the islands and to gather wild mussels. He boils the mussels over a communal campfire in the evenings and regales campers with his true and tall tales. Paddlers and boat tour participants will likely spot seals, osprey, eagles and lots of seabirds that live on and around the islands.
While it’s the sea caves or “ovens” that attract many visitors to Ovens Natural Park (and these are fun to climb down to or paddle into for a look) my favourite pastime here is panning for gold on the beach. This area was the site of a small gold rush in 1861 and the park makes the most of it with a small museum display and the rental of gold panning kits. For those who prefer a comfortable camping experience, the park has nine rustic cabins with varying levels of furnishings and amenities.
Comfort in a wilderness setting is also the attraction at Malady Head Campground in Newfoundland’s Terra Nova National Park. This is the park’s smaller, quieter campground with three distinct sections, one of which is dedicated entirely to oTENTiks. This section leads directly onto the Malady Head Trail. It’s a largely unserviced campground next to a bird sanctuary, but there are creature comforts like showers and a central playground for the kids.
On the western coast of the island is one of the most spectacular settings on the planet, let alone in Atlantic Canada. Gros Morne National Park has a choice of campgrounds, all of them recommendable. Berry Hill is my favourite. It’s the largest in the park—the only one with water and electrical hookups—so it’s got all the conveniences, including six rustic cabins, a set of oTENTiks and laundry facilities. As in most National Park campgrounds, the tent sites are roomy with solid picnic tables and fireplaces. Several short hiking trails run directly off the campground, and it’s close to major park attractions like Lobster Cove and Western Brook Pond. It’s also the closest campground to the town of Rocky Harbour for supplies.
Like Gros Morne, it’s the national park in PEI that provides the best camping.Located along the northern beaches of the island, the park offers a choice of two campgrounds. Take your pick between the larger, busier Cavendish and the smaller, quieter Stanhope. Both are well equipped, included playgrounds for the kids, and provide easy access to all the beach anyone could ever want. What surprises many is that PEI National Park offers much more than just sand and surf. Cyclists and hikers on the coastal woodland trails might spot red fox and other wildlife.
Many of PEI’s provincial parks could make any best-of list for great camping experiences. Although Red Point is best suited to those who enjoy seaside, open field camping, it makes this best-of list because of its location on the eastern edge of the island. It’s within a short drive of the charming little town of Souris, the great Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival grounds and the East Point Lighthouse, and it’s sandwiched between the Black Pond Bird Sanctuary and the “singing sands” of Basin Head Provincial Park where the beach squeaks with each step.
From my oTENTik in Fundy National Park, I make my way down the hill toward Alma, stopping on the bridge to take photos. In town, I find a table at An Octopus’ Garden Café. Their menu is loaded with delicious regular dishes and specials that vary widely from Tacos al Pastor and Korean Ramen to Flank Steak and house made Scallop Pasta. I choose the Surf and Turf Burger made with local lobster and beef with hollandaise sauce. It’s messy and succulent, just the way I like it. While it’s not burgers on the campfire, dinner in town speaks to the variety of camping experiences in Atlantic Canada and complements this stay in my comfy oTENTik.
Campground picks with fees, seasons and contact info.
Campground Season Fee Contact Info
Headquarters May 15-Oct 28 $20.40 - $115.00 reservation.parkscanada.gc.ca or 877-737-3783
New River Beach May 17-Oct 13 $17.00 - $43.00 parcsnbparks.ca or 800-561-0123
Berry Hill May 31-Sept 30 $25.50 - $120.00 reservation.parkscanada.gc.ca or 877-737-3783
Malady Head June 12-Sept 21 $14.10 - $120.00 reservation.parkscanada.gc.ca or 877-737-3783
Murphy’s May 15-Oct 15 $30.00 - $89.00 murphyscamping.ca or 902-772-2700
Ovens May 10-Sept 30 $35.00 - $190.00 ovenspark.com or 902-766-4621
Red Point June 7-Sept 22 $28.00 - $37.00 tourismpei.com/provincial-park/red-point or 877-445-493
PEI National Park June 5-Sept 29 $22.00 - $120.00 reservation.parkscanada.gc.ca or 877-737-3783
Header no caption
Intro caption: oTENTik at Fundy National Park campground.