3 Amazing Coastal Drives in Prince Edward Island
Just the mere mention of Prince Edward Island immediately conjures up images of dramatic red cliffs, rolling green fields and a spunky heroine named Anne. Canada’s smallest island delivers charm in spades and offers visitors countless opportunities to relax and rejuvenate.
Summertime on the island is spectacular. We love lazily watching the tide come in on one of the many stunning beaches, indulging in seafood caught that morning and spending time on a patio in lively Charlottetown. But one of the easiest ways to explore the beauty of this small province is through its three amazing coastal drives that take you around the whole island.
The drives are divided geographically: The North Cape Coastal Route explores the west side of the island; the Points East Coastal Route takes you along the coast of the eastern part of the island; and, unsurprisingly, the Central Coastal Route fills in the parts in between. Read on for full details of what you can expect to see on each drive and some not-to-be-missed stops along the way.
Related: Want to get out of the car and explore on foot or by bicycle? Read our post about the new Island Walk, a trail that circumnavigates PEI.
North Cape Coastal Drive
If you cross into PEI along the Confederation Bridge, head west towards Summerside, the province’s second-largest city and the perfect jumping-off point to begin your exploration.
The North Cape Coastal Drive is a 350-km route that takes you up one side of the island from Summerside to the North Cape and then back to Summerside along the other side of the island. You’ll explore the coastal outline of the entire west side of Prince Edward Island. You can choose your direction (up the south side of the island and down the north, or vice versa) and this might depend on where you are staying. You can do the drive in a day, but spending a night along the way will give you more time to explore and stop for scenic walks. And if you love oysters, be sure to schedule in a few stops to enjoy these fresh — the North Cape area is known as Canada’s Oyster Coast!
Don’t miss these highlights on the North Cape Coastal Drive:
Take time to sightsee in Summerside: take a historic walking tour to see the pretty architecture, visit Spinnakers’ Landing for some waterfront shopping and dining or explore the various art galleries.
Experience The Bottle Houses
The Bottle Houses (Les Maisons de Bouteilles) started as a recycling project for discarded bottles and grew to include several structures made entirely of old glass. There is a house, tavern, chapel and gift shop to explore. This is one of those places that is even cooler than it sounds. If you visit on a sunny day, you’ll love the way the light filters through the various glass colours. Open seasonally (May-September)
Stretch Your Legs on a Nature Trail
Take a hike on one of these scenic trails: The Black Marsh Nature Trail right at North Cape (5.5 km return trek with bilingual interpretive panels that teach about the area’s ecology); Trout River Nature Trail in Coleman (2.5 km linear walk follows the river and has lots of birdwatching opportunities); Summerside Baywalk Boardwalk (6.5 km scenic trail along the city’s waterfront).
Learn about Mi’kmaq culture
Stop in beautiful Lennox Island at the Mi’kmaq Cultural Centre to learn about the history, culture, language and spirituality of the Mi’kmaq people who have called PEI home for 12,000 years. The centre has interpretive displays, artifacts, photographs and educational programming. While on the island, you’ll find plenty of other opportunities for meaningful cultural engagement, including learning about quill work, creating a traditional hand drum or taking part in baking bannock.
Get Sandy at the Perfect Beach
No visit to PEI is complete without a beach trip and one of the nicest on this drive has to be Jacques Cartier Provincial Park, which has a soft sandy beach and rolling waves as far as the eye can see.
Related: If you’re travelling to the East Coast and in search of great beaches, we’ve got a round up of the best in Nova Scotia.
See Lighthouses Galore
Visit a lighthouse…or several. The route will take you to some of the most scenic lighthouses on the island. Take time to explore at least one of them (or all, if you love lighthouses as much as we do). The iconic black and white stripes of the West Point Lighthouse are particularly scenic. Built in 1875, the lighthouse is the tallest on the island (69 feet!) and houses a museum as well as an inn.
Central Coastal Drive
This incredible coastal drive takes you from the Red Sands Shore in the south to the Green Gables Shore in the north, providing you with some of the most iconic Prince Edward Island scenery.
As you cross over the Confederation Bridge, you’ll find yourself already on the Central Coastal route. For 253 km, the road travels by white-sand beaches, sprawling farmland and charming fishing communities. You could easily spend your entire holiday in Prince Edward Island just getting lost in the dreamy landscape of the Green Gables Shore (we especially love the North Rustico area) but there’s so much more to discover on this beautiful drive.
The Central Coastal region stretches west from Charlottetown to Summerside (where it connects to the North Cape Coastal Route) and contains the entire middle of the province, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Northumberland Strait. This is the region where you’ll discover towering red cliffs and soft sandy beaches, the rolling green hills that became so famous in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel (and the movie adaptations), Anne of Green Gables.
Don’t miss these highlights on the Central Coastal Drive:
Combine a Beach Trip with Amazing Views
We love seeing the impressive Confederation Bridge stretched out over the water. If you do too, head to Chelton Beach Provincial Park to relax on the sandy red shore while having an unobstructed view of the bridge.
Enjoy some Anne on the Green Gables Shore
Fans from all over the world flock to PEI every year to see the place that inspired the Anne of Green Gables series. There are a few key places to visit if you love Anne as much as we do. The Anne of Green Gables Museum is located in Park Corner and centred around a home of the family — including the parlour where LM Montgomery was married. In Cavendish, explore the Green Gables Heritage Place and take a guided tour of the site of the author’s home.
Spend a few days in historic Charlottetown
Charlottetown is easy to explore and full of delightful places to eat, drink and shop. You’ll enjoy strolling along the Victorian streets and exploring some of the green spaces in Victoria Park. Take a walking tour to learn about the city’s history and don’t leave without having at least one ice cream cone from Cows.
Related: See our list of Amazing Places to Eat in Charlottetown for suggestions on where to dine in 2022.
Slow down in North Rustico
Known to locals as ‘the Crick’, North Rustico is a picturesque fishing village where time seems to stand still. It was founded at the end of the 18th century around a tiny natural harbour of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Today it is home to about 600 residents but on summer evenings it is flooded by people coming out to enjoy the town’s waterfront boardwalk and seaside restaurants. Stop in for a stroll or enjoy a day at the public beach.
Visit Prince Edward Island National Park
Facing the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the beautiful Prince Edward Island National Park has broad sandy beaches, extensive walking trails and spectacular scenery. For a list of all the amazing reasons to visit this park, read our guide to exploring Prince Edward Island National Park.
Points East Coastal Drive
Pack your camera and your bathing suit when heading out on the 475-km Points East Coastal Route — you’ll use both constantly. This drive around the eastern side of Prince Edward Island is packed with beaches, each seemingly more stunning than the last. You’ll also find sandstone cliffs, rolling farmland and pretty harbours.
Dotted with small towns, artisan shops and fishing villages, Points East is a spectacular region to explore. You can take a day to check out all the main attractions or spend a week getting to know the region and never be bored — unless of course you don’t like walking on secluded sandy beaches, eating fresh seafood on waterside patios and learning about the lively local culture.
Don’t miss these highlights on the Points East Coastal Drive:
Visit historic Point Prim Lighthouse
Yes there are lots of lighthouses on Prince Edward Island, but Point Prim has the distinction of being the oldest! Built in 1845, the lighthouse is classified as a National Heritage site. You can climb to the top, where you’ll be 60 feet above sea level, for stunning views over the Northumberland Strait and Hillsborough Bay. Guided tours, a museum and a gift shop are available onsite seasonally.
Step back in time at the Roma at Three Rivers
If you’re a history buff, you will enjoy a visit to the Roma at Three Rivers National Historic Site. Located at the top of Brudenell Point, this site contains the remains of the 18th-century settlement of Jean-Pierre Roma, a Frenchman who was trying to enhance French presence on PEI. You can walk the property and enjoy the scenic views over the water and experience what life was like in the early-to-mid 1700s. The site hosts events throughout the season.
Stretch out at the beach at Panmure Island Provincial Park
There are countless gorgeous beaches on this side of PEI — 50 in fact! — and one of the loveliest is the long, white sand beach at Panmure Island Provincial Park. It is located on a thin and long causeway that connects PEI to Panmure Island and therefore has water on both sides — St. Mary’s Bay on the one and the Northumberland Strait on the other. There’s a scenic viewing tower you can climb for amazing views over the water.
Beach hop to experience the different colour beaches
Prince Edward Island is made of sandstone, a rock that is high in iron and gives the sand on the island that distinctive red colour. But sandy beaches around the island vary in colour, which some having white sand while others are a deep red. Head out to Basin Head Provincial Park for a white-sand beach experience and then hop to the Point Prim Lighthouse mentioned above (about an hour away) to see sand in the reddest shade. One of the best ways to spend time on this coastal drive is to stop at beaches along the route — there are plenty — to look at the different shades of sand and enjoy the stunning landscapes.