Waterside Beach Provincial Park, Nova Scotia

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, its 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 the beach basking in the sun, swimming in the waves, and watching beautiful sunsets. It felt like a 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.

There are no entrance fees and parking is free. From the parking lot, you take a boardwalk to the beach. Along the boardwalk, there are change rooms and water faucets, and two outhouses tucked away further along.

Waterside Beach Provincial Park

The boardwalk passes over a salt marsh and sand dunes, helping protect these fragile ecosystems from erosion. It also protects bare feet from sharp marram grass. Watch for birds as you cross the boardwalk, the seagrass beds provide crucial nursery and feeding grounds for a number of avian species.

Waterside Beach is rarely crowded. When we visited, there were only a handful of others around. The beach stretches for over a kilometre, so it’s easy to find a spot all to yourself. It’s such a peaceful place to unwind and enjoy the ocean.

The sand here is a beautiful red colour from iron-rich minerals in the area. The colour carries over into the shallow waters and, on windy days, something magical happens: the small waves carry that reddish tint from the sand and also take on a beautiful bluish-aqua shade. It’s mesmerizing to watch the colours dance together.

Speaking of waves, know that the tides in Nova Scotia rise and fall pretty drastically. 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’re known to bask on the sandbars. 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.

While you may not see them, the Northumberland Strait is known for its biodiversity, hosting an impressive variety of fish species, including Atlantic cod, herring, mackerel, smelt, winter skate, and flounder. These waters also support populations of lobster, jellyfish, sponges, anemones, and occasionally, whales. In addition, the strait’s intertidal zones are teeming with clams, mussels, snails, and crabs. 

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Waterside Beach is in August once the waters have warmed. September is also a warm water month, but the air will have cooled significantly. If you are feeling really brave, some locals swim into the month of October!

In June, the temperatures are tolerable, but jellyfish often 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 may 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

You can thank the Northumberland Straight for the warm August waters at Waterside Beach. The straight is known for its relatively shallow depths, which allows the cold Atlantic waters to heat up. But, don’t be surprised if you visit and the waters are still frigid, it can be hit or miss depending on the winds and weather conditions. When we were there, strong offshore winds caused the deeper and colder waters to mix with the warm surface waters. It was 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, 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.

Popular Beach Activities

Besides swimming and relaxing on the beach, sea kayaking, windsurfing, beachcombing, and birdwatching are popular activities. During our visit, we were entertained by a pair of windsurfers riding the waves.

If you’re a bird nerd, bring your binoculars! The intertidal habitats along the Northumberland Straight are important feeding grounds for migratory shorebirds during their annual journeys. Keep an eye out for sandpipers, plovers, and other avian species that rely on the strait’s rich resources. Check out this list on eBird for recent observations.

Plants

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 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 forested 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.

Other Posts You May Enjoy

Want to see more of Waterside Beach Provincial Park? Check out my Instagram highlight ‘Waterside.’

Sand Dunes and Their Ecological Importance

Ring-Billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis)

Celebrating Atlantic Canada’s Wetlands

References

Natalie Asselin. 2018. “Trawling the seafloor: the Northumberland Strait multi-species survey.” Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

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