Top beach experiences in Eastern PEI
By Darcy Rhyno
Chirp, chirp, chirp go my feet as I scuff along the beach at Basin Head Provincial Park on PEI’s eastern coast. It’s an infectious sound. I’m up on the dry sand away from the water where the magic of the singing sands works best. It’s a long beach, so I can scuff along, singing with my feet for hundreds of metres, enjoying the soundtrack to this gentle seaside scenery.
Heading back, I splash along in the shallows of the warmest ocean waters north of the Carolinas. When I reach the outflow from Basin Head Harbour that divides the beach, I find the water too deep to wade across. This narrow stream of super warm seawater nicknamed The Run is a favourite swimming spot among locals. I jump in, joining a half dozen happy people already splashing about.
After my swim, I cross the attractive little arch bridge over The Run back up the hill to the park grounds. The view from here next to the cedar shingled buildings is of the beach and across the gentle waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence all the way to Cape Breton.
Up here, there are changing rooms and showers, the Basin Head Fisheries Museum, the Pirates Basin takeout and restaurant, and a lovely set of gardens. A family in high spirits passes me, heading down to the beach with paddleboards from East Coast Paddle Adventures (ECPA) under their arms. The ways to have fun at Basin Head seem pretty much endless.
Exploring Points East
Scuffing along the singing sands, swimming The Run and paddle-boarding with ECPA at Basin Head are among the dozens of activities, experiences and adventures to be had on the 50 or more beaches along PEI’s Points East Coastal Drive. Home base for ECPA is just 14 kilometres southwest of here at Souris Beach Provincial Park along the causeway into the town of Souris.
The protected waters on the landward side of the causeway make for great paddle-boarding and kayaking. But they aren’t the only attraction here. On the town side of the beach, a cluster of retail huts is home to a fun collection of mini shops for ice cream, lobster, fine art and even sea glass jewellery and art.
Between Souris and Basin Head, birdwatchers will want to check out the Black Pond Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The coastal drive passes one side of the sanctuary, so it’s possible to spot lots of birdlife right from the road. There’s also access from Little Harbour Beach, the kilometre-long stretch of sand that separates the pond from the sea. At times, thousands of waterfowl like ring-necked duck, pintails, teal and American wigeon congregate here. The best time of the year to see these birds in number is September to November. Flocks of black ducks stick around until the pond freezes over. Even in winter, buffleheads, mergansers and goldeneyes hang out where waters remain open year-round.
Parabolic dunes, a rare beach phenomenon, await discovery at the far northwestern end of the Points East Coastal Drive. They’re in PEI National Park at Greenwich on St. Peter’s Bay. Due to the interplay between erosion and anchoring plant life, these large dunes slowly migrate and take on a particular form. The 4.4-kilometre Greenwich Dunes Trail crosses a pond on a floating boardwalk before rising for views over the parabolic dune system.
Back on the east coast, I track down the secluded and quiet Sally’s Beach Provincial Day Park. The kilometre-long strip of sand is bookended by red bluffs. Bordering the northern section of the beach at Spry Cove is Little Pond. Even nestled between peninsulas of farmland, it seems a wild place. Some spots along the strand are a bit rocky, so I’m glad for the shoes in my hands that I can slip off and on.
From time to time, a glimmer catches my eye: bits of sea glass worn smooth over many years of washing about in the sand are common here. Relaxing on the beach, I watch the fishing boats come and go around Spry Point to and from the Annandale wharf.
Further south, the beach along the causeway to Panmure Island was once voted the best in Atlantic Canada. This supervised beach has some impressive dunes of its own on the ocean side. These are complemented on the bay side by red sandy shores and warm waters. Many visitors stay at the fully serviced provincial park campground and take a tour at historic Panmure Island Lighthouse. The Indigenous presence here goes back at least 10,000 years, so some plan their visits to coincide with the annual First Nations powwow in August.
For one last beach experience, I arrive a few hours early to catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia. I park the car in the queue to reserve my place and walk the few hundred metres to Wood Islands Provincial Park at the harbour mouth. Kids are splashing about in the warm waters while their parents look on from the picnic area near the seafood takeout. Others are checking out the lighthouse. I relax on the red sand beach, soaking up the last of the island sun.
Eventually, the ferry from Caribou comes into sight. I watch it pass the breakwater, passengers waving cheerily from the upper deck, looking forward to their own PEI Points East beach vacation.
Places to stay and eat
- Inn at Bay Fortune
- Rodd Brudenell River Resort, Brudenell
- Lady Slipper Cafe, Montague
- Famous Peppers, Montague
- Johnson Shore Inn, Hermanville
- Shipwreck Point Cafe, Naufrage
- St. Peter’s Bayview Suites and Restaurant