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Duncan’s Cove: The Local City-Escape

Date Posted: September 9, 2016Reading time: 7 minutes

by Jill MacCannell

If You Only Knew… Nova Scotia

If You Only Knew Nova Scotia is a weekly look at some of the wonderful things to do around our province. From Yarmouth to Meat Cove and Canso to Advocate Harbour, Tramps will be reporting on many of the famous and not so famous sites, events and highlights of Canada’s Ocean Playground. 

Labour Day has always been a tricky one for me. As a kid growing up, it meant the beginning of a new school year, which came with both dread and excitement all at once. Nowadays, it means a long weekend, which appeals to the workaholic in me, yet the symbolism of the end of summer always leaves me feeling conflicted.


Duncan’s Cove – Photo: claireandlinda

This year, with no camping or cottage plans, the Labour Day long weekend was shaping up to be nearly irrelevant. As someone who enjoys spending time outdoors, I usually have a great city-escape planned for each long weekend in the calendar year, but between a heavy work schedule and moving into a new apartment, my Labour Day plans this year seemed to fall by the wayside — that is, until I remembered the great hike that is Duncan’s Cove.

The city-escape within the city, Duncan’s Cove is one of the top coastal hikes (and arguably the best) in the HRM. Only about a 30-minute drive from downtown Halifax, this vast nature reserve is a great place to work up a sweat while taking in the Atlantic Ocean from atop seaside cliffs.


The Hali Deli – Photo: Hali Deli

As it had been a few years since I’d last hiked Duncan’s Cove, I was delighted when a friend suggested we head out there on Monday morning. After a tasty brunch at Hali Deli, a local favourite, we grabbed a quick coffee to go at Lion & Bright and set out for the coast.

When we arrived at Duncan’s Cove Road, we were shocked to see how busy it was. I suppose we weren’t the only ones in the HRM without major Labour Day plans! But, as great minds think alike, we figured we were in good company, so we found a parking spot on the side of the road and walked down to where the trail begins.

Starting out on a gravel path, one might think they were in for an easy hike. With memory serving me well, however, I knew that this part was to be savoured, as it wouldn’t be long before we were one with the rough terrain. In fact, that’s what I like so much about this hike; it takes you out of the everyday, makes you vulnerable and challenges you to find your way through nature. It has that unique ability to make you feel small, powerless and merely human as you trek through unmarked trails, brushing up against the bushes and marvelling at the vast sea below.

As we continued on, the trail began to narrow and we were left to navigate ourselves through the terrain, constantly asking each other: “This way, or that way?” With multiple options and many ‘sort of’ pathways, hiking through Duncan’s felt like an exciting childhood game, with the adventurous challenge of real-life trailblazing. There were indeed a few times when we decided we had chosen the wrong path and turned back to choose another. Some might call this getting lost, but for us, this was all a part of the adventure.

About 20 minutes into our hike, history came alive as we stumbled upon a couple of bunkers from the Second World War era. Pausing to take this in, we were met by a young mother, her two kids and their golden retriever, all with an energetic step and friendly demeanour. Funny, how times have changed since these bunkers were built, I thought, taking a moment to be grateful for all the sacrifices that came before us.


View from a bunker

As we continued onwards, we made our way towards the seaside trail, with stunning views of the Atlantic. Here, the terrain turned from mainly mud and bush to mainly rock, upping the ante from our previous trailblazing challenges. Now, we were testing our balance regularly as we navigated the rocks and the changes in altitude along the coast.

The views here are among the best I’ve seen in the HRM, with sparkling waters and waves crashing up onto the rocks below. As we took one of several pauses to appreciate the scenery, we were met by a group of young males who we quickly identified as Dalhousie students, given that two of the four were wearing Dalhousie-branded clothing. They spoke of starting school the next day, and I remembered that old feeling of Labour Day all over again as if it were yesterday. In fact, I still remember researching Nova Scotia’s many reputable universities from my home in Ontario, deciding whether I would attend Dalhousie, St. FX, Saint Mary’s or Mount Saint Vincent. UBC was also in the running, but I am incredibly grateful that I chose to carry out my university experience on the east coast. After all, you just can’t get a good Donair in Vancouver!

Though it was great to see students taking advantage of Nova Scotia’s accessible nature, I was also glad to see many along the trail who were not from here, speaking in German, Mandarin and Spanish. I am always excited when tourists find the local gems that Nova Scotia has to offer, beyond the obvious attractions in the Halifax area like the Seaport Farmers’ Market, Peggy’s Cove, Alexander Keith’s Brewery, Pier 21, Citadel Hill, Public Gardens and the Halifax waterfront.

After taking one last break to admire the beautiful sea below, we made our way back towards the car. With the trail turning to gravel, we knew we were only a few minutes away. Finally, seeing the car and realizing its symbolic meaning of ‘back to reality’, we floated down from our cloud and began our short drive back to downtown Halifax.

Thanks to Duncan’s Cove, my Labour Day long weekend was not lost, or irrelevant. When you’re used to planning long weekends away, it’s easy to forget all of the amazing options right here in the HRM, but last weekend was a great reminder that whether hiking, paddling or beaching, the world really is your oyster in Halifax.

Fast Facts



Jill MacCannell

Jill is a converted Haligonian and loyal east coast enthusiast. A Dalhousie grad, Jill grew her communications career in Toronto before making her way back to Halifax, and has been proud to call Nova Scotia home ever since. Jill’s love for the Maritimes is perhaps best described in her original hit-among-friends single, “Home in Nova Scotia”, which she enjoys playing on guitar at campfires, on porches and best of all, at seaside.


Cover photo by Valerie at novascotiahiking.wordpress.com