1. Balancing Rock Trail, Tiverton
“Hey Mom, hey Dad, how does that rock DO that?!” Your kids will be amazed by the nine metres tall basalt-rock sea stack (a column of rock formed by erosion) that seems to teeter on the edge of St. Mary’s Bay with a stunning ocean backdrop. The two and a half kilometre, easy gravel trail (with a boardwalk over the wetland sections) cuts through the forest and ends with a well-built steep staircase. Challenge the kids to count the 235 steps down to the water’s edge so you can get a good look at this rocky riddle.
Go hiking: Hwy 17, Tiverton 902-245-4046 Free novascotia.com>
2. The Wanderer’s Experience, Joggins
Calling all fossil hunters! This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a treasure trove of life from 300 million years ago. After a 30 minute guided tour of the beach your family can explore for several kilometres on either side of the fossil centre. You’ll find tiny footprints from reptiles that were the dinosaur’s early ancestors, petrified trees and more. At low tide the beach is exposed and you can walk along the sand and rocky beach in search of fossil fragments, with the rugged coastal cliffs as a backdrop.
Go hiking: Joggins Fossil Cliffs, UNESCO World Heritage Site 10 Main St., Joggins 1-888-932-9766. $10.50 per person jogginsfossilcliffs.net>
3. Skyline Trail, Cape Breton National Park
Good news: you don’t have to climb to see the beautiful views from the top of French Mountain. Drive up to the trailhead for this seven and a half kilometre, T-shaped loop hike that features plenty of boardwalks and viewing platforms. From your high-in-the-sky vantage point you can see tiny cars driving on the Cabot Trail, endless views of craggy cliffs and crashing water, and perhaps even grey seals and minke, humpback, fin or pilot whales playing in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
Go hiking: Hwy 312, Ingonish Beach 902-224-2306. Family day pass $19.60 www.pc.gc.ca>
4. Leif Erikson Trail, Cape Forchu
First things first: stop in at the original Cape Forchu Lightstation’s Mug Up Tea Room for a homemade pumpkin chocolate chip muffin, cold lobster sandwich or bread pudding with caramel sauce (“mug up” is a longtime local phrase for a snack). Enjoy it in the cozy dining room or take it as a picnic on your walk along the approximately one kilometre Leif Erikson Trail, which just opened in 2014. Kids will love the view of the ocean and watching the fishing boats and ferries on the move in Yarmouth harbour. There are a number of picnic sites, benches and randomly placed trail-side rocks to keep the kids intrigued.
Go hiking: Cape Forchu Lightstation Hwy 304, Cape Forchu 902-742-4522 Free (modest prices for café) capeforchulight.com>
5. Lake Martha Trail, Mount Uniacke
The grounds of the Uniacke estate, a summer-house built for a wealthy Nova Scotian attorney-general in 1816, has eight walking trails to choose from. Drive past the huge oak trees that were planted by the original owner and park at the trailhead, which has washrooms and picnic tables. Opt for Lake Martha Trail, which is just off the parking lot. The 0.9 kilometre loop is suitable for strollers and takes you through the woods to the shores of Lake Martha. You can easily add on the Hothouse Hill loop (0.9 kilometres, with remnants of stone walls) or the Drumlin Field Trail (2.1 kilometres, offering a panoramic view of the house). When the walking is done, pick up a light snack at the tea room, found in the basement kitchen of the estate….Hello Downton Abbey!
Go hiking: Uniacke Estate Museum Park 758 Hwy 1, Mt. Uniacke 1-902-866-0032 Adult $3.90, children free uniacke.novascotia.ca>
6. Inverness Beach Boardwalk, Inverness
Sandcastles, ocean breezes, running over the sand…happy sigh. Make some memories with a family beach walk over one and a half kilometres of soft sand, or stroll (and stroller!) on the two kilometres boardwalk which curves through the dunes and leads to the small town of Inverness. The beach has change rooms and a lifeguard in the summer, and your water babies will love the shallower waters, which are considered among the warmest on the island. Be sure to pick up a round of ice cream cones at the canteen, and on a clear day take a look to the west to see if you can spot Prince Edward Island.
Go hiking: 158 Beach Road, Inverness Free nsls.ns.ca>