Photograph by V. J. Matthew, Shutterstock
Location: Prince Edward Island
Date Established: 1937
Size: 5,440 acres
Prince Edward Island National Park spans a spectacular stretch of land encompassing sand dunes, salt marshes, remnants of an Acadian forest, coastal headlands, beaches, and sandstone cliffs. This is the land that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and prompted an oil tycoon to build an elegant Victorian home. Both Green Gables and Dalvay-by-the Sea are national treasures and showcased within the park.
• Rocky Past Approximately 285 million years ago, a mountain chain existed in this region. Over time, its rivers deposited gravel, silt, and sand into a low-lying basin, forming sandstone bedrock. As the glaciers retreated, Prince Edward Island gradually took shape.
• Scope for Imagination Situated on the central north shore of Prince Edward Island, the park faces the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where sunsets are storybook perfect. Although one of the smallest parks in Canada, it’s a popular destination, with famous beaches and outstanding coastal landscapes. Many visitors are drawn to the area for its setting of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables.
• Island Life The park’s ecosystems support a variety of animal species and 400 different species of plants. Although there are no deer or moose on the island, coyotes, red foxes, raccoons, beavers, mink, and weasels are common. With more than 300 species of birds, including the endangered piping plover, the park plays a significant role in shorebird migration in spring and fall.
• Deep Roots In 1998, the park expanded to include 990 acres on the Greenwich Peninsula, where rare, u-shaped dunes—known as parabolic dunes—are located. This is also the region where archaeological digs revealed that Paleo-Indians lived here 10,000 years ago. Evidence indicates that the Mi’kmaq, French, Acadians, Scots, Irish, and English were also early settlers here.
• Local Color The park is bordered by a number of traditional farming and fishing communities, which adds to the cultural fabric of the island and enhances the visitor’s experience.
How to Get There
A number of airlines fly into Charlottetown, the island’s capital. Direct service is available from Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa, with seasonal direct service from Boston, Detroit, and New York. Connecting service is available every day from Halifax International Airport.
If you are driving, there are two ways to approach the island. One is to take the eight-mile bridge—the longest bridge over ice-covered water in the world—from Cape Jourimain in New Brunswick to Borden-Carleton on Prince Edward Island. The other is to board Northumberland Ferries (www.peiferry.com) for a 75-minute sail from Caribou, Nova Scotia, over to Wood Islands.
When to Go
Beach lovers and families will want to visit during July and August, when daytime temperatures range from 64º to 75ºF and nights are warm. Park activities run full tilt during the operational season (late June to September).
If you prefer solitude, spring and fall are the best seasons for hiking, kayaking, cycling, and bird-watching. Average daytime temperatures in both spring and fall range from 48º to 64ºF during the day and 41º to 50ºF at night. The fall tends to be balmy and quite warm until mid-October.
Birders have lots to observe in the park year-round; highlights include migration and nesting seasons. Seasonal dates determined by the migratory habits of most birds are: mid-March to late May (northerly migration), early June to mid-August (nesting season), and mid-August to mid-December (southerly migration).
If you are interested in adding culinary travel to your park experience, the island hops with a special food festival called Fall Flavours during the month of September. The annual Fall Frolic hosted by the Parks and People Association features pumpkin carving and is fun for all ages.
During the winter, many trails are kept open and maintained. A pair of skis or snowshoes is all you will need to disappear into a unique wonderland. Access to facilities such as washrooms and visitor services may be limited outside the summer season.
How to Visit
There are three distinct segments of the park: Cavendish, Brackley-Dalvay, and Greenwich, each with its own unique characteristics. You’ll need a vehicle to get from one to another. Once you have arrived, however, the best way to enjoy the park is by foot or bike.
Visitors to the Cavendish and Brackley-Dalvay sectors of the park will find supervised beaches, campgrounds, and a number of trails of easy to moderate difficulty adapted to both hiking and cycling.
Both Cavendish and Stanhope have full-service campgrounds; organized groups can contact the park to arrange for group camping at a unique campsite and day-use area. There is no camping offered at Greenwich, but private accommodations are located close by and it’s only a 30- to 40-minute drive to Stanhope or Brackley. Natural and cultural history really come alive at evening campfire activities held at Cavendish and Stanhope Campgrounds, where interpreters present the park’s heritage through storytelling and skits with the aid of costumes and music.
Along with your camp gear, consider bringing a kite. With all the wide-open spaces and gentle breezes, kite flying is a snap. Field glasses are also a good thing to have along, as there’s always something that you’ll want to see up close and personal. Tracking animals is especially fun.
In-park interpretive activities such as guided walks, geocaching programs, and evening campfire presentations are listed in the visitor guide and posted throughout the park during the summer peak season. All activities are presented in both French and English and are delivered by experienced and engaging interpreters. Programs and activities change on a daily basis.
The key is to talk with park personnel. Find one of the many uniformed staff persons and ask for suggestions of things to do and places to go. They always have great ideas. Don’t be surprised if one of the staff invites you to come along and see a hidden treasure or shares with you a favorite place. Known to be friendly, islanders are also a good source of information.
Guided walks along trails in Cavendish and Greenwich are always a big hit. The focus is usually on wildlife, ecology, and other natural features of protected coastal areas, as well as the rich cultural history of Prince Edward Island’s north shore.
Interpretive signage throughout the park enhances self-guided hikes and provides insights into the natural and cultural significance of each area.
—Text adapted from the 2011 National Geographic book Guide to the National Parks of Canada