Grand Manan En Route to the Puffins

Grand Manan sits in the Bay of Fundy and is known for wildlife, including migratory seabirds and whales, coastal hiking, and tidal beaches. It’s a fairly small island with a size of 21 miles x 11 miles. Thus, you could definitely do this in a day trip, although given the time you’ll spend on the ferry crossing, an overnight might make more sense. We decided to adventure to Grand Manan to do a puffin tour with SeaWatch Tours. They travel to Machias Seal Island where thousands of Atlantic puffins nest. 

Machias Seal Island is a tricky place to travel. Only two companies, Bold Coast Charters out of Cutler, Maine and SeaWatch Tours out of Grand Manan have permission to bring guests to the island. Each is only permitted 15 guests per day, so these trips are coveted and sell out quickly. We already had the privilege of traveling there with Bold Coast Charters which was amazing and you can read about here. SeaWatch opened an additional week in August, so we jumped at the chance to travel back to see the glorious puffins. If you are planning to travel with SeaWatch, note that your trip does require an overnight stay either before or after your excursion. If your tour departs early in the morning, you must stay the night before due to the ferry timing. For an afternoon tour, it is also recommended to plan an overnight stay post tour as you’d be cutting it close to make the last ferry off island after your tour.

Summer lodging in Grand Manan is very popular, so it is best to book early. There are a few motels and bed-and-breakfasts on the island, as well as rentals. We stayed at a delightful new cottage on the water located centrally on the island called The Tide House had two bedrooms, a kitchen, and bathroom. It also had a deck overlooking the water with a grill. You can book it here

Take the Ferry from Blacks Harbour

Getting to Grand Manan is fairly straightforward. There is a ferry that departs out of Black’s Harbour in New Brunswick. The crossing takes approximately 90 minutes and there are multiple departures each day. They add additional crossings in the summer months. We paid approximately 65 CAD for two passengers and a vehicle roundtrip. We arrived 45 minutes before departure as recommended. The ferry has a small restaurant onboard as well as restrooms, and a small gift shop. They are known for their fish chowder, which my husband can highly recommend.

Eating on Grand Manan and Dulse

There are a handful of restaurants on the islands. We prepared our dinners, but we did try a few spots for lunch. Plan to dine early as restaurants close around seven. We dined at Trapped which has a very limited menu. They are most known for their lobster dips and rolls. They have a cute outdoor patio and themed cottages in which you can dine. We also had a bite to eat for lunch at The Old Well House Cafe. Their menu has nachos, sandwiches, and salads. It is very close to the ferry, so a great spot to grab something to eat while waiting to board the ferry. Throughout the island, there are also some small shops selling mostly souvenirs and handmade items such as soaps and rugs.

Probably the most famous export is dulse which is an edible seaweed. This is, of course, in addition to their thriving fishing industry, where they also export, lobster, scallops, and salmon. Some “dulsers” can pick as many as 70 pounds per day. It can be eaten like chips, placed in seafood chowder as flakes, or fried up like a bacon for sandwiches.

We had 3 main activities in mind when we planned this trip, hiking, whale watching, and visiting puffins. Unfortunately, we struck out on two of the three. Our puffin tour was canceled due to high winds. The unfortunate part of this is that due to the popularity of the trip, there is no joining a tour on a future date. We were pretty disappointed, as that was the main reason we had chosen to visit Grand Manan. We also ventured out on a zodiac whale watching tour with Lambert Family Adventures. We failed to spy any whales during our two hour excursion. This was through no fault of the captain, who earnestly tried to find whales, probably even extending the time of the tour a bit in some choppy seas. Their zodiac is brand new and gets out to the popular whale sites quickly. We’ve been on many wildlife tours, and of course you can’t control the viewing. They incredibly kindly refunded guests when we didn’t see whales which was very generous.

Finding a Perfect Sunset Spot and The Hole in the Wall

Left with hiking as our main activity, we hit up most of the popular trails on island. Probably the most famous is The Hole in the Wall. There is a short trail to this rocky formation which is located on a campground’s land. There is a charge of 5 CAD to enter and use the trails. There are also a few short roads or hikes to two more viewpoints where you can look out across the bay and spy one of the many seals that frequent the area. Other popular hiking areas to visit include Dark Harbour which has a long, coastal trail on the west coast and The Whistle Lighthouse which has a short trail on the northern side of the island and is a popular sunset viewing location. The other great sunset spot is at the southern portion of the island where you can visit Southwest Head and do a hiking trail called Flock of Sheep. If you are a bit more adventurous, you can time the tides and journey over to Ross Island. Within two hours before and after low tide, you can make the crossing from Grand Manan to this to this uninhabited island, which is full of migratory seabirds.

For some shorter easy walks walks There are a few bird sanctuary’s and marshes you can do including Castalia Provincial Park and Anchorage Provincial Park. There are also many coves and beacheswhere finding sea glass is a popular activity on island. Finally, no visit to Grand Manan would be complete without a visit to the Swallowtail Lighthouse. This is a frequently photographed lighthouse that sits on the northern side of the island near where the ferry arrives. Unfortunately, for us this picturesque lighthouse was being repaired during the summer of 2023, and we were unable to see it. I would recommend picking up a copy of the road and trail map for Grand Manan Island aboard the ferry as it lists these hikes. There are also more detailed trail maps available if needed.

Grand Manan was a relaxing little island in the Bay of Fundy. While the hiking was beautiful, we could more highly recommend this adventure if the wildlife had cooperated a bit more!

Minor Indulgence

The splurge on this trip would have been the cost of the puffin tour itself, though at only approximately 200 CAD, it is still fairly reasonable.

Major Buzz

Climate change is making dulse harder to grow, if you want to taste this famous “seafood” now is the time. 

Open Rhode Insider Tips

  1. For either of the puffin tours, either with Bold Coast Charters or SeaWatch, you must book early. They sell out very quickly!
  2. Also book early for any lodging in Grand Manan.
  3. While the ferry did not seem very busy, it is recommended to have reservations for your vehicle in the busier summer months.
  4. Although the island is small, there is a grocery store, gas station, and several ATMs so not to worry if you forget any items.

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