Exploring Prince Edward Island National Park
It may be small, but Prince Edward Island National Park delivers big experiences for visitors looking to soak in the stunning Maritime landscape. Located along PEI’s scenic north coast, overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence, this national park has everything you want in a seaside retreat: miles of sandy beaches, great trails for cycling along the coast and breathtaking views at every turn.
If you’re looking for an oceanfront camping adventure, this delightful park should be on your list.
Why Visit Prince Edward Island National Park?
Stretching 40 km in a narrow strip along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Prince Edward Island National Park contains a ton of diverse landscapes. On first look, visitors could be forgiven for thinking of the park as simply a beach-goers paradise (which it absolutely is) but it also contains some fragile ecosystems that are important to the health of the island .
Here you will find the biggest sand dunes in PEI, wetlands that house rare plant species, spectacular vistas over inland ponds and stretches of secluded wooded areas that hold the remnants of Acadian forests.
The park is divided into three separate sections and while they are within easy drive of one another, they are not directly connected. Each area offers something different for the visitor:
On the westernmost part of the park is Cavendish-North Rustico, where visitors can stroll along beautiful sand beaches, marvel at the glory of PEI’s rugged sandstone cliffs and get a glimpse into the world of famous Anne Shirley as this part of the park features the Green Gables Heritage Place and the home of author L.M. Montgomery.
Day-trippers will love to visit Cavendish Grove, a picnic area that protect a large stand of sugar maple trees — a rare sight on the island. Once home to an amusement park, the land has now been turned into green space for families and friends looking to enjoy a day by the sea.
With stunning beaches and easy access from Charlottetown, it is no wonder that the Brackley-Dalvay section of the PEI National Park gets so busy during the hot summer months. The fine sand beaches are worth the crowds but if you are looking for a quieter experience, try one of the small beaches located throughout the park.
Be sure to stop in at the Dalvay-by-the-Sea National historic Site, an architectural gem that sits along a beautiful stretch of coastline. Once owned by an oil tycoon, the grand estate is an exquisite example of Queen Anne Revival-style with gables, dormers and a grand central hall. Anne Shirley fans will recognize this historic home as the White Sands hotel from the classic 1985 film Anne of Green Gables.
Located in the eastern side of the national park is the Greenwich section, which houses PEI’s largest sand dunes. This part of the park is vital not only for its extensive and fragile coastal dune system but for the significance it holds for Mi’Kmaq and Acadian communities. Visit the Greenwich Interpretive Centre to learn about the rich natural and cultural history of the area. You’ll get to see artifacts found on-site and trace the history of Indigenous people back for 10,000 years.
Things to do at Prince Edward Island National Park
From camping by the ocean to hiking secluded trails, we are breaking down for you all the things to do at this fabulous park.
Camping at PEI National Park:
If you’ve been dreaming of waking up in your tent or trailer with a view of the ocean, Prince Edward Island National Park has got you covered. Campsites (both serviced and unserviced) are available at two campgrounds in the park.
At Cavendish campground, the larger of the two, you’ll find more than 200 sites suitable for tents and RVs. The campground has showers, flush toilets, laundry, kitchen shelters, and offers sites with accessible features. Those looking for roofed accommodations will find those here as well, with both oTENTik and Bunkie camping available.
This campground has a playground and an exclusive beach that is supervised by a lifeguard during the summer months, making it an ideal location for families.
Stanhope campground is quieter with only 100 sites, but also comes with a mix of unserviced and serviced spots that are great for both tent and RV campers. The campground is located along a 10-km seaside trail that is perfect for walking or cycling and the pretty Stanhope beach is just 1 km away.
This beach also has summer supervision by a surfguard as well as an accessible ramp, mobility maps and beach wheelchairs available.
Sun, Sand and Surf at PEI National Park:
The pristine beaches that line the coast of Prince Edward Island National Park are what beach-going dreams are made of — picture miles of sandy beaches, unbelievable red cliffs and the sparkling waters of the ocean. Take your family and friends to the coast and enjoy a day in the sun. You can take a stroll or bask in the sun, jump over incoming waves or head out further to surf them. Beach conditions are posted daily on the Parks Canada site.
The parks supervised beaches include Cavendish Beach, the Cavendish Campground Beach (for campers only), Brackley Beach, Stanhope Beach, Ross Lane Beach and Greenwich Beach. If you are looking for accessible beaches, head to either Cavendish, Brackley or Stanhope. The park has two different beach wheelchairs to borrow — sand wheelchairs made to navigate around sand surfaces and buoyant wheelchairs designed to go into the water. You can make reservations in advance by calling 902-672-6350.
Hiking around the Park:
Each section of Prince Edward Island National Park offers a variety of trails, from easy to more challenging. Birdwatching is very popular in the park and many of the trails offer opportunities to observe some of the dozens of species that call this park home. Don’t forget to stop and sit on the iconic red chairs placed in particularly scenic spots along the trails!
You really can’t go wrong on any of these stunning hikes but here are some favourites:
- Greenwich Dunes: at just shy of 5 km, this trail is rated moderate. It goes across fields and through some wooded areas before crossing over Bowley Pond a floating boardwalk. There are interpretive panels along the way and plenty of pretty vistas, including a glimpse of the incredible Greenwich dunes.
- Cavendish Dunelands: this easy trail has a floating boardwalk, stunning views of sand dunes and freshwater ponds and a lookout over the ocean. It is 2.3 km one way.
- Gulf Shore Way East: this paved 10-km long trail (one way) stretches from Brackley to Dalvay with beautiful views of salt marshes, forests and sand dunes.
If you are looking for more hiking trails in Prince Edward Island, please check out this post we wrote about the PEI’s newest trail system that circumnavigates the whole island!
Cycling and Mountain Biking:
Cycling is available on many of the trails around the park. If you want to do a scenic ride along the coast, try the Gulf Shore Way East trail which goes over the top of red sandstone cliffs with magnificent views of the ocean. Mountain bikers will love the Robinsons Island Trail System (R.I.T.S) which was developed specifically with cyclists in mind (although hikers will love it too). Here you’ll find packed gravel paths, gentle slopes, exposed roots and a series of technical features suitable for beginner to intermediate mountain bikers. A fun spot to spend some time exploring.
Paddling and fishing at PEI National Park:
Whether you’re looking to head out in a sea kayak or do some paddling in a canoe, Prince Edward Island National Park has options for you. Motorized boats are not allowed within the park, which makes inland ponds and waterways perfect for kayaking, canoeing or standup paddle boarding. Heading out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence is also an option for experienced paddlers.
If you’d like to try your hand at fishing in the freshwater ponds, streams and rivers, a national park fishing license is needed. Call Parks Canada at 902-672-6350 to ask about local regulations. Fishing on the Gulf of St. Lawrence falls under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Is Prince Edward Island National Park open year round?
Although best known as a summer destination, Prince Edward Island National Park is stunning during the winter, with picturesque views over fields of pristine snow and the icy waters of the Gulf. Parks Canada and Tourism Cavendish Beach maintain a few groomed winter trails for hiking, fat biking and snowshoeing (rentals available).