Taking your RV to the Canadian Maritimes
Traveling in the Canadian Maritimes
By Stephanie Bernhagen and Jim Cook
Ah, what magical provinces New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland are! A large part of the magic comes from the scenic beauty and the outgoing friendliness of the people. This is to be savored!
A trip to the Maritime Provinces can give you a real appreciation for the good roads and campgrounds that we take for granted here in the U.S. But don't let this article discourage you from visiting the Maritimes, you would be cheating yourself out of a wonderful trip!
After a long, tough day of driving by waterfalls, green forests and breath-taking shorelines, you finally pull into a campground. Setting up, you approach the utility post with your 50-amp plug in your hand when you discover there is only 15 amp electric service available. “What? How un-American!” Then you remember, “Oh yeah, this is a foreign country,” as you dig out the 15 to 50 amp adapter.
You climb into your rig and casually flip on the water heater. From the kitchen corner where the voltmeter lives you hear a faint, “Help! Help!” One hundred lousy volts! The red low-voltage light glows menacingly, warning of an impending appliance meltdown.
Hah! you say as you switch the water heater, refrigerator and everything else that you can to propane. “Who needs all that power? We're roughing it! Yes, sir! We're camping!”
The good news about camping in Canada is the campgrounds are very affordable! The most expensive was under $20 US, while most were around $10 US.
Learning as we travel is one of the joys of RVing. For instance, we learned a new expression: “gravel pit camping.” Sounds appealing…no? However, gravel pit camping turns out to be a pretty good deal.
When the Newfoundlanders need gravel to build a new road, they dig a pit close by instead of hauling gravel from miles away. When the road is complete, the gravel pit is left behind, leaving an open, level area perfect for parking a RV.
Operating a campground in Newfoundland is not exactly the way to get rich quick. Campgrounds have a very short season. They are often found closed for good, not where you want one, or not large enough to accommodate a big rig. That's when “gravel pit camping” comes in handy.
When we asked a merchant for permission to park in their parking lot, we were welcomed with open arms. They were aware that campgrounds are in short supply. Just be sure to ask permission and use boondocking courtesy so RVers will be welcome for years to come.
We hiked a trail at Kings Point, Newfoundland and discovered an RV dump at the trailhead. We left word for two other couples who later tried this camping spot. They were unable to hike the trail though, because they were too busy entertaining the town mayor, the tourism director, the local dogcatcher and everybody else who came out to welcome them to the area.
One night we parked in a grocery store lot. We must have stood out like a palm tree in a snowstorm, because as soon as we set up, a friendly Newfoundlander (Newfie) came by to answer any questions we might have about that region. The people and their kindness are part of the Newfoundland magic!
Unless you have an enormous set of water wings, the only way to get your RV to Newfoundland is by ferryboat. There are two options, either a five-hour ferry trip to Channel-Port aux Basques or a 15-hour ferry ride to Argentia. Both trips depart and return to North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
These ferries are huge, with two decks to park cars, RVs and semis. There is plenty of height clearance for RVs and adequate space between vehicles once parked on the ferry. Once on board, you can chow down at the cafeteria, lounge in the lounge, or recline in a recliner. And just like Delta Airlines, they even show movies.
These ferries are fully booked July through September, so plan ahead. If you are traveling overnight you may want to reserve a cabin. They are limited, so call well in advance.
If Fido is along, you may be able to use one of the ferry's kennels. Most people leave their pets in their RVs, since that is where they are most comfortable. On the long ferry you may return to your RV about every three hours to care for your pet. It is highly unlikely Fido will make use of the car deck when you take him for a walk. Somehow the vibrating steel deck just doesn't communicate the same message to a dog as a grassy field does.
The road conditions in the Maritimes aren't something the tourist bureaus brag much about, and for good reason. The Trans-Canadian Highway is generally good, but if you venture beyond this highway in the Maritimes, you are likely in for a rough ride. Between the winter weather and the small tax base, Canada is just not able to keep all the roads in top-notch condition. These rough roads should be experienced, however, as they expose the beauty and uniqueness of the Maritimes.
Most roads are passable at 20 to 30 mph, so allow enough time to travel at this pace. Consider the skid marks you see on the road an Early Warning System for rough pavement ahead.
On your side trip to see Bonavista, Newfoundland, stay on Route 230. If you choose Routes 233 or 234 they will thoroughly test your RV's suspension system and your ability to pack things snugly away.
Prince Edward Island easily won our “Worst Roads in the Eastern Provinces” competition. There were so many patches in the road it was like driving over an asphalt quilt.
Everybody likes surprises, that is, unless the surprise is a series of 15 percent grades on the highway ahead.
We were totally caught off guard in Newfoundland and had no warning about the grades between St. Bride's and Placentia. Picture six charming communities wedged between seven scenic mountains with approximately a mile of steep road in and out of each community.
Cape St. Mary's is for the birds. This little bird village, south of St. Bride's, is home to seven different species of cliff-dwelling birds. They leave even those of us with no interest in birds in awe. Find a place to leave your rig in Placentia and make a day trip to Cape St. Mary's.
Arriving back in Nova Scotia we checked with the friendly folks at the tourist bureau and asked whether we should drive the rig over the Cabot Trail. “RV's do it all the time,” they responded casually. Sure they do…but that doesn't mean they should!
Using the elevation signs and our odometer, we calculated an average grade of almost 11 percent on some sections of the Trail. Yes, I can hear you saying “Horsefeathers! Why all this fuss over 11 percent? I can drive that with a full blackwater tank.” Well, that was the average grade. When you throw in a few flat spots, some of the grades must have approached 20 percent. Toss in a few hairpin turns, including one long motorhomes have trouble making, and you have a very interesting road. At least the pavement was smooth. A day trip around the Cabot Trail in the toad is the way to see this area.
The Maritime Provinces are indeed magical! Keep in mind, difficult road conditions are often accompanied by spectacular views. Work with the camping and road challenges and you too can experience the magic!
New Brunswick (800) 561-0123
Newfoundland (800) 563-6353
Nova Scotia (800) 565-0000
Prince Edward Island (888) PEI-PLAY (734-7529)
Ferry between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland:
Marine Atlantic, PO Box 250, North Sydney, NS B2A 3M3 (800) 341-7981
Jim Cook and his wife Cindy were in their fifth year of full-timing at the time of this trip. Jim enjoys writing on the lighter side. When he's not writing, he flies R/C planes and kites.
The Bernhagens and Cooks took this trip in 1999. The Web sites are current. Find additional information below.
by Jaimie Hall Bruzenak
- Verizon has a North American plan which includes calls from Canada. There is also a Verizon Canada plan.
- Satellite Internet: Starband does have a satellite which receives signals. Check with them. For Hughes, you need G3C, 95W which works in Canada and Alaska
- Propane is expensive. Go in with a full tank.
- There is a Costco in St. Johns.
- Have all your prescription medications for the full time you'll be there.
- Know what you can take in and out of Canada. No houseplants, dirt or root vegetables into Nova Scotia. Get information at the Canadian customs Web site before going.