After our cat, Stella, got sick in New Brunswick, we decided we had no choice but to slow our pace down and try to reduce some of the day-to-day stresses of traveling full time (they have ‘island time’ here too!). Prince Edward Island has been absolutely fantastic for that. Not only is the lifestyle here wonderfully laid back, but there are so many great places to just stop and enjoy an afternoon by the beach or in a park. It was peak tourism season while we were here and it seemed that near the main attractions, every third vehicle on the road was either an RV or towing a trailer, and there were few PEI license plates to be seen. As soon as we got out of the city, even just a little ways, it was easy to find a quiet, stunning red sand beach that had, at most, only a handful of other people on it. The landscape and scenery here is as idyllic as LM Montgomery describes it. The red-cliff coastline, the rolling green fields full of potato blossoms and barley, and the sandy beaches really do make PEI the picturesque escape they pride their reputation on. The people are warm and friendly, the culture is relaxed and you really can’t help but feel at home when you make your way off of the Confederation Bridge…even if you are ‘from away’.
Since the PEI is quite small (taking less than 4 hours to drive from end to end), our route was filled with lots of loops and back-tracking based on the activities we had planned or where we’d be spending the night. We’ve organized this post by island areas instead of our usual itinerary, so hopefully it makes for a more organized (and enjoyable) read and gives a better idea the layout of this incredibly pretty island.
Northumberland Provincial Park
East Woods, Point Prim and East Point Lighthouses
PEI National Park (Greenwich Park)
Charlottetown, Summerside and Stratford
PEI National Park (Cavendish Campground) & Cavendish
Bar None Brewing (Bredalbane)
The Bottle Houses (Wellington)
Moth Lane Brewing (Ellerslie)
North Cape Scenic Drive
Northumberland Provincial Park:
We are have been trying to keep our campground stays to a minimum, but with Stella (our cat) still recovering from her interstitial cystitis, we thought a couple of days of relaxation in one place would be the best option. We visited A LOT of PEI’s provincial parks during our almost two week stay, but this one may have been our favourite. It’s a small park and on the Saturday we arrived, it was pretty busy. But by 11 am on Sunday, there were less than 10 other sites in use for most of the day. The sites are small and for the most part don’t offer much privacy, except for the water-front, walk-in tent sites. Any of the provincial parks we visited allowed dogs on the beach, which we always appreciate, and the beach here was gorgeous, not too rocky and a fantastic size for the size of the park. The dogs got the chance to splash in the waves, chase shells in the water and run free along the beach which was a great substitute for exercise in a park didn’t have many options for hiking.
Woods Island, Point Prim and the East Point Light Houses:
You can’t go far on PEI without finding a lighthouse – it actually has the highest concentration of light houses of any state or province in North America. The Woods Island Light House is right past the dock for the ferry to Nova Scotia. It’s a pretty spot with a lovely view, tons of rose hip bushes, a second smaller lighthouse and a mini play town for kids. They offer tours for a small fee which take you through a small museum and allows you access to the top of the lighthouse. Just a stones throw (and a really pretty drive) from the East Woods light house, was the Point Prim Light House. A simple brick tower clad in white shingles, it is the oldest light house on the island dating back to decades before Confederation. The East Point light house was another lovely red and white design and also housed a little café and gift shop with some gorgeous pottery (if only we had more storage space!). The best part of this spot though was getting to watch about a dozen or so seals swimming off in the distance, popping their heads up in choppy waters and floating on the waves.
After finding the provincial park we were hoping to stay at full, we were scrambling a little to find a place to stay for a night. There are no free camping sites in the north eastern point of PEI and only a handful of campgrounds and this was the first time we had encountered a park with no vacancies. So we found a small campground 10 km across the island called Campbell Cove Campground, which from the look of it, had at one time been a government run provincial park. Another small park, only 50 sites or so, this quirky family run spot was also on a beautiful stretch of red sand beach with the quintessential cliff edges we’ve come to love in PEI. Our site was a little small, but we had greenery on two sides and an empty site beside us, so we had tons of space and a pretty nice view of the ocean. We’ve started to trust to our gut when we get a good feeling for a place and this was one of those times it told us to enjoy the sun, surf and ocean breeze for another day. We listened.
Charlottetown and Summerside
We don’t tend to spend a lot of time in big cities as driving the van in really busy traffic can be a bit of a pain. So it does limit what type of exploring we can do in some places and in PEI, we did miss out on Charlottetown. We drove through it a little and stayed overnight at the Walmart, but unfortunately that was our extent of what we really saw.
We got to see a bit more of Summerside and found that even though it is still definitely a city, it has a bit of a ‘small town’ feel. It has everything you could possibly need and is pretty compact, easy and quick to navigate through. At the edge of town, there is a harbor area called Spinnaker’s Landing, but we didn’t end up exploring as it seemed a bit too touristy (souvenir shops and restaurants). The Walmart there was in a really great spot (we stayed there on two different nights) and it had a great little coffee hut (called Joe Mamas) in the parking lot that made a great maple cinnamon latte.
PEI National Park (Cavendish Campground) & Cavendish
The PEI National Park is another fantastic national park, geared to beach-goers, mountain bikers and hikers alike. The campsites were decent, not a ton of privacy, but by far not the worst we’ve stayed at. The beach is beautiful with huge sand dunes and a boardwalk trail. This is a VERY busy park during the tourist season and Cavendish Beach is probably the busiest beach in the province. Talking to native islanders, apparently very few locals go there. Instead most tend to have their favourite smaller beaches they frequent, usually unmarked or at the provincial parks. We hiked the two trails that originated just outside of the Cavendish Campground – The Cavendish Dunes and The Homestead. Cavendish Dunes was an easy flat trail that follows along the outside edge of the park towards the beach. As we’re finding with many of the national parks in Canada this year, it seems to be a big year for upgrades and that prevented us from walking the boardwalk trail along the dunes, which was a bit of a disappointment. The Homestead trail was a stacked loop trail that meandered through some wooded areas, along some farmed fields and through a marshy area with a really pretty stream. We hiked the 6.2 km loop and headed out early to beat the heat, but still found the trail busier than we expected. The rest of the park had great services, updated and clean bathrooms and showers and even had yoga on the beach throughout the week. Our favourite thing about this National Park was watching the sun set over Cavendish Beach. The view and the colors were absolutely stunning and it was neat to see almost half the campers come and watch the sun disappear over the ocean together.
We were chatting with an islander who described Cavendish as “PEI’s version of Niagara Falls” and we felt that was a pretty accurate description. Cavendish has all the main sites PEI is known for – Green Gables, LM Montgomery’s Home and the themed-village of Avonlea – and as such, it has been built up to capitalize on the tourists coming to the area for these draws. There are amusement parks, souvenir shops, restaurants, laser tag and mini-golf. We appreciate the need for the area to thrive especially when the tourism season is only two months long, but it just felt so out of place when you consider all of this has been built around a story based on a much simpler time and town. Needless to say, we didn’t spend a lot of time here.
The Green Gables site itself was neat to visit, especially after just reading Anne of Green Gables. It’s always fun to visit places you’ve read or seen on film, it makes story come to life a bit more. The gardens outside the house are beautiful and the house is surprisingly bigger than it seems from the outside. Full of antiques and restored to the descriptions LM Montgomery detailed in her books, it’s a walk into the past and into the pages of any of the Anne stories. Green Gables is a site we’d recommend visiting as early as possible, especially if you’re interested in taking any pictures or if you are at all claustrophobic (the hallways in the house are narrow and it’s a constant line of people going through). After exploring the house, we took the dogs and walked the Haunted Wood trail around the site which has interpretive signs throughout talking about some of the author’s inspirations and her connections with the site and to Cavendish. We were going to walk the Lover’s Lane trail but by the time we set out, the 4 tour bus had shown up and the site was pretty packed.
A local favourite and not fully discovered by tourists yet, Thundercove is still ‘off-the-beaten-track’ enough that for as beautiful as it is, it wasn’t insanely busy or crowded, even on a gorgeous and sunny day. At the end of a dirt road and with no signs or real designated parking, this stunning stretch of red sand beach is also home to numerous small sea caves and Tea Cup Rock. Similar to the Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick, ‘The Tea Cup’ is a remnant of eroded coastline that wind and the waves have chipped away at, leaving behind this oddly shaped rock formation. It’s another cool spot that emphasizes the effects of both nature and time and that will eventually disappear as time wears on.
Barnone Brewery and Hop Farm (Bredalbane)
This little brewery was on our radar because they are the only one on the island that grows some of their own hops, which we thought was impressive. We love the idea of ‘farm to table’, but ‘farm to glass’ is just as important. It’s located in a tiny town in the middle of a farming area, in behind what we think was the owner’s house. The brewery is still pretty small and only had three beers on tap, but their seating area outside has an amazing view of the hills. A food truck and a couple sets of washer toss are all setup beside the growing hop plants. It’s a beautiful spot to sit back and watch the sunset over the fields and while enjoying a cold beer on a warm night.
Victoria-by-the-Sea was definitely more along the lines of what we expected for little harbor towns in PEI. Small and quaint, with pretty streets lined with shops featuring local artisans, charming cafés and waterfront food stands. This little town was buzzing as they were getting ready for their Pride Parade and so many of the locals were out to show support, waving Pride flags and dressed in rainbow attire. It was wonderful to see this kind of turnout and support in such a small community. After wandering through town, we stopped at Island Chocolates for a couple of dark chocolate bars and almond milk lattes and headed down the road to walk the beach at yet another awesome PEI provincial park just up the road.
The Bottle Houses (Cap-Egmont)
The Bottle Houses were the innovation of the late Edouard Arsenault who, in the 1980’s long before recycling was a concern, used thousands of bottles to construct three buildings – The Chapel, The Six-Gabled House and The Tavern. Each with a different design and layout, the houses were built with a variety of glass types and colors which is emphasized when the sun hits the walls at just the right angle. Edouard was also the last resident keeper of the Cap-Egmont Lighthouse (not far from the Bottle Houses) and a replica of the lighthouse can be found tucked away on the grounds, overlooking the ocean. Even though these structures are the main reason to visit, the gardens and ponds on the grounds were equally impressive and beautiful, full of some absolutely stunning plants and flowers, along with a traditional Acadian Vegetable patch.
Moth Lane Brewing (Ellerslie)
We love going out of our way for interesting spots (especially if it includes food, beer or coffee) and we’ve been having a great time tracking down places well off the beaten path. Moth Lane Brewing is one of those fantastic spots that if you’re not actually looking for it, chances are you’d never find it. It’s been set up in a converted house, down a red dirt road and surrounded by private residences. But the inside has been converted to a 7 barrel craft brewery with a cozy tasting bar downstairs and a sitting area and patio on the upper level. For a brewery that still relatively new, the beer they’re making is pretty fantastic, especially their IPA called ‘The Answer’. We had an incredibly fun Friday night here chatting with the bartender and his wife, and a couple of regulars that stopped in for a pint or to refill their growlers. They really made us feel like locals for the night and gave us a ton of great suggestions and recommendations to make the most of the time we had left in this fantastic and friendly province.
On our way to the North Cape, we passed through O’Leary and stopped at the Canadian Potato Museum. To be honest, it’s hard to know what to expect from a museum devoted to potatoes, but it was really interesting. The building is far larger than you’d expect and the exhibits cover everything from how potatoes are planted and harvested, as well as its history through different areas of the world and how it became such a widely utilized food. They even have an entire area devoted to growing issues and diseases that impact crops – a room lined with teeny, tiny coffins each with a potato that ‘died’ from some infestation or infection (not kidding, it actually exists). There is also a large addition that houses antique farm equipment, but there wasn’t a ton of information or descriptions with each piece, so it felt more like a warehouse than a museum. They did have a cute little gift shop and a restaurant onsite that smelled pretty good, but we were visiting right after breakfast and it seemed to be a bit early for poutine.
O’Leary’s Potato Blossom Festival was also wrapping up the weekend we drove through and the town was busy with the events of the day. There was a potato-peeling contest, a pancake breakfast, and a potato cooking competition and finally their grand parade that, like most small town festivals, drew quite the crowd into the streets and onto their front lawns to watch.
The North Cape
The Northern Cape scenic drive is yet another route in PEI that is full of beautiful coastal views and charming small towns. We drove from Cedar Dunes Provincial Park up highway 1, through dozens of lovely small communities to the northernmost tip of the island. Here you’ll find the North Cape Wind Energy Center. Part of the large wind farm that run in this region, the Wind Energy Center has been designed to educate visitors about wind energy, the importance of renewable resources and the physics and general mechanics behind the large turbines. The center itself has a museum of sorts, an interactive interpretive center focusing on alternative energy, with the emphasis on wind power. Outside there is a great walking trail that winds through parts of the wind farm and then runs along the northern coast leading you to the most northern point Prince Edward Island, which provides more incredible views and gives you quite the ‘end of the earth’ kind of feeling. Along the coast we also got to watch seaweed farmers harvesting Irish moss, which is used to create carageenen (a common food stabilizer that’s found in a multitude of different foods and household products). It’s surprisingly a simple process to harvest seaweed. We sat and watched as they lowered a large bucket down to the workers on the beach who then raked the seaweed into it and then it was lifted back up and dumped in the back of a truck…no fuss, no muss – just a ton of fresh seaweed.
The provincial parks in PEI are an absolute dream for van-lifers! The majority of the parks we stopped at (more than a dozen) had clean bathrooms, change rooms, picnic areas and covered kitchen shelters. Any of the parks that were on a beach also had showers – which if you’re living full-time in a van and on a tight budget – is like winning the lottery. Access to a shower that isn’t in a campground or part of a paid-use park is a rare find, but in PEI they’re everywhere! These have been great when we’ve have a couple of ‘free-camping’ or Walmart nights. We didn’t find the same access in New Brunswick, but we didn’t spend nearly as much time in provincial parks as we did in PEI. We’re curious to see if we’ll have the same luck in Nova Scotia.
The Speed Bumps
Knox Dam in Montague
This was a frustration. It’s listed as a main draw for the town of Montague on tourism sites and on Tripadvisor, but there are no signs directing you to it and even though it’s supposed to have historical significance, there’s no mention of it on any maps as a heritage site. We found some vague information on where to access a trail to hike and see it, but the ‘trail head’ is at the end of a road, with no signage, specified parking or markers of any kind. We didn’t feel comfortable parking the campervan on what looked to have been someone’s property to take a chance on a trail that might lead us to the dam that we still weren’t sure would be at the end of it. So we skipped it. On the upside though, heading through Montague allowed us to meet up with a friend of ours who moved out to PEI years ago and opened a fantastic bed and breakfast called Small Town Bound B & B, a beautiful property in the heart of the town. It was wonderful to catch up and to hear from yet another Ontarian who has fallen in love with everything about PEI and has no intention of ever living anywhere else.
What we’re Enjoying (aka. What’s keeping us sane in less than 100 sq feet):
Our bumper sticker collection – Since everything we own has to fit in this campervan, we don’t have the luxury of picking up many souvenirs along the way. So instead, we decided to start collecting bumper stickers for the states, provinces and interesting places we go. Slowly we’re filling up the back of the van and eventually they’ll have to start migrating up the sides as this trip goes on.
Anne of Green Gables – by LM Montgomery – Cally: I never read these books growing up (or anything by LM Montgomery for that matter) so knowing we’d be visiting the Green Gables heritage site seemed like the perfect time to tuck into the series. It really is a heart-warming read and it’s easy to understand why it’s become a Canadian classic.
Fresh Start Fauxmage – For our food blog (twohappyrabbits.com) we got a chance to sit down with the lovely Julain, owner of Fresh Start Fauxmage (and actress in Anne of Green Gables – the Musical). She brought us a couple of her dairy-free cheeses that she’s developed and we chatted about her products and how she got into making vegan ‘cheeses’. She left us with her Baked-Feta Style (great texture and really tasty) and Extra Creamy Herb (like a cream cheese and loaded with fresh dill and chives) and we’re having a blast experimenting with them. Currently, these are only available in PEI but she is planning an online expansion in the fall, so be sure to keep an eye out for them – they are delicious!
WHERE TO NEXT: Nova Scotia