Nova Scotia is known for its beautiful sandy beaches and Waterside Beach Provincial Park is no exception. Located along the Northumberland Straight, this beach is one of the warmest in Nova Scotia. In late summer, it’s waters can reach 22°C!
In August, I stayed with some friends just outside of this beautiful provincial park. We spent most of our time at Waterside Beach basking in the sun, swimming in the waves, and watching beautiful sunsets. It felt like a little slice of undiscovered paradise.
Getting There and Park Amenities
Waterside Beach Provincial Park is located at 649 R Grant Road, Waterside. It’s a 12 minute drive from the nearest town, Pictou. The area has cell phone reception, making it easy to find using a GPS.
The park is free to access and there is ample parking located a short walk from the beach. Boardwalks lead you to the ocean passing over a salt marsh and dunes. You’ll see change rooms and water faucets along the way. There are also two outhouses tucked away further down the boardwalk.
Waterside Beach Provincial Park
Waterside Beach is known to be quiet. When we visited, there were only a handful of people there. The beach stretches for over a kilometre, so it’s easy to find a spot all to yourself. Most of the people we saw were passing through on a walk with their dogs.
The sand at Waterside Beach is a beautiful red colour due to the iron-rich minerals in the area. The colour carries over into the shallow waters. On windy days, the small waves take up the red colour of the sand while also appearing a bluish-aqua colour.
Know that the tides rise and fall pretty drastically in Nova Scotia. Park yourself a couple of meters from the beach grass and you won’t have to flee an incoming tide.
Once you’re settled in, take a moment to look around. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of some Atlantic grey seals. They are known to bask on the sandbars. But, more likely, you’ll encounter some sea birds, the Atlantic rock crab, and a few hopping crustaceans. Far on the horizon, you can also see the ferries travelling to and from Prince Edward Island.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Waterside Beach is in August. By this time, the shallow ocean waters of the Northumberland Straight have warmed from the summer sun. Not only are the beaches along the Straight some of the warmest in Nova Scotia, but all of Canada!
September is also a warm water month, but the air will have cooled significantly. Some locals are known to swim into the month of October!
In June, the temperatures are tolerable, but jellyfish pepper the water making swimming tricky. Lion’s mane jellies have been recorded in the area and they can pack a nasty sting. While stings are mostly painful inconveniences, they can cause allergic reactions in some people.
As for time of day, the beach is most brilliant at low tide. You can check the tide forecast here.
Staying Warm in the Atlantic
While the Northumberland Straight is known for it’s warm waters, we weren’t so lucky. On our second and third days, strong offshore winds led to deeper and colder waters mixing with the warm surface waters. It wasn’t the frigid ocean that I grew up with on the Acadian Shore, but still uncomfortably cold.
Some Nova Scotians take pride in their ability to withstand the cold waters. “It’s not so bad! Once you get in, your body becomes numb,” my friend shouted at me from the water. It was only on the last day that I built up the courage to take the plunge.
If polar dips aren’t your thing, a 3/2 – 2mm springsuit or full wetsuit will keep your body warm on these cold days. You’ll also thank yourself if you bring a warm towel and sweater for warming up on those cool days.
While the wind might be a bummer to some beachgoers, we were entertained by a pair of windsurfers riding the breeze and waves. Other popular beach activities are sea kayaking, beachcombing, picnicking, and birdwatching.
If you’re a bird nerd like me, I recommend bringing binoculars. While we didn’t do much birdwatching, we saw ring-billed gulls, sandpipers, ducks, and yellow warblers. Check out this list on eBird for recent observations.
The surrounding area is also home to many cold and salt hardy plants like rose, marram grass, sea sandwort, Irish moss, and hoary mugwort. Further from the beach, you’ll find ragged fringed orchid, bittersweet nightshade, chokecherry, goldenrod, aster, lupine, annual fleabane, purple crownvetch and others. iNaturalist has several species recorded for the area.
Surrounding Area and Places of Interest
If you are visiting the area for the first time, go for a drive around Caribou Island at sunrise or sunset – it’s very beautiful! If you want to check out another beach, I recommend Caribou Island Beach. It’ll be a bit busier than Waterside, but it’s gorgeous.
Looking to camp? Check out Caribou/Munroes Island Provincial Park. They offer serviced and unserviced campsites that are a close walk to the beach. They also have four wooded walk in campsites.
Pictou is a small drive away with roofed accommodations, restaurants, and museums. Walk along Caladh Avenue for views of Pictou Harbour. Want an even better view? You can book boat tours at Nova Scotia Family Fun Boat Tours. Try a romantic sunset dinner cruise or an afternoon meeting Atlantic seals!
I highly recommend ice cream from Cherry on Top. Try the moon mist and grapefruit ice creams, they are delicious and invented in Nova Scotia!
The Northumberland Fisheries Museum is opened seasonally for the summer. It will teach you all about the rich sea heritage and culture along the Northumberland Strait.
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Want to see more of Waterside Beach Provincial Park? Check out my Instagram highlight ‘Waterside.’