I don’t imagine “national park nova scotia interior” is a common phrase entered into online search engines. The knowledge that you would receive an accurate hit is likely even less common, save for those actually living in Nova Scotia. Let’s face it, inland recreation is not the first thing, or tenth, that comes to mind when planning a Maritime vacation. It’s all about the ocean when people thing about the East Coast.
Parks Canada obviously thinks likewise. How else to explain them tacking a tract of coastal land onto the otherwise inland bound Kejimkujik National Park in southern Nova Scotia. These two parts of the same park are separated by ninety kilometers and have nothing in common. Each could easily be individual national parks. Instead, eighteen years after the interior portion was designated a national park, the coastal part was added, not unlike a fresh coat of paint to sell a neglected home. It smacks of a marketing ploy.
Which isn’t to say the original Kejimkujik National Park is a dump; far from it. It just doesn’t have the sex appeal of the other East Coast national parks, all of which are located on the coast and sport renowned, postcard-worthy, views. That’s what drew me to the place once I learned of it. It was so anomalous, I had to see what this peculiar park was all about.
Situated nearly dead centre in the southern half of Nova Scotia, Kejimkujik looks like a printing error when viewed on maps. As though blob of green ink accidentally dropped at the triangulation point between Annapolis Royal, Yarmouth, and Liverpool (no Beatles at this one). For us, it represented the perfect staging area for our exploration of the famous Annapolis Valley before moving on to Halifax. And though we had never heard of it nor did we expect much of it, Kejimkujik turned out to be quite a nice park.
Encompassing dense, mixed forest and dark lakes speckled with islands, Kejimkujik National Park reminded me a lot of cottage country in Ontario and bore a similar look and feel to Algonquin Provincial Park. It has been a long time since I set foot in Algonquin so hopefully my comparing the two isn’t entirely off base. Regardless, Kejimkujik stirred my memories of “home” while providing us an opportunity to experience something a little different than rest of our coastal-focused camping trip.
Camping comes in two flavours at Kejimkujik; chocolate and vanilla. No, wait, that’s cake. Front country and backcountry. Normally I give no more than a passing acknowledgement of backcountry camping in these reviews. It’s not something we do (yet) and so I feel entirely ill-equipped to comment on it. I’d like to deviate from that norm just a little bit here.
According to the official park website, there are 52 different backcountry campsites (plus three with rustic cabins) spread out across an area encompassing 82% of Kejimkujik. All are accessible by foot or by canoe. When we rented a canoe for a paddle one day we saw several families loading up their gear on canoes, preparing for multi-day stays out “there” in the wild. It looked like a thrilling yet peaceful adventure, completely isolated from modern conveniences and distractions. I think I was envious. At the very least, a fuse was lit that has me thinking about doing something similar in the nearer future now that our kids are reaching ages of being helpful rather than hindering. Yeah, I said that.
Our canoe trip, by contrast, was but an hour in length and while incredibly enjoyable only enabled us to explore a small portion of Kejimkujik Lake. We rented our 17’ canoe, paddles, and life jackets from Keji Outfitters located at Jake’s Landing near the mouth of the Mersey River. It cost us $15 for one hour which struck us as a hell of a good deal. Plenty of boats were available on the weekday morning we showed up but they do go fast. If you know the time you want to canoe, and it’s likely to be a busy day, you can reserve a boat at the rental office. That’s likely a wise move on busy weekends in the summer. You can reach Jake’s Landing by trail directly from Jeremy’s Bay campground or, like most, you can get there by a longer drive that takes you back towards the entrance then down to the landing.
We paddled around the lake, past lilypads and reeds in the shallows of the pitch black water. There are some very shallow parts to the lake, towards the shores but also jutting out from points, so it’s important to pay attention to where you’re going. Cutting corners could leave you grounded.
Besides the pleasing scenery, we saw large frogs sitting in the water, a dear eating on shore, and a family of loons out for a swim. Taking pictures in a bobbing canoe is not a skill I’ve mastered but some of the pics at least turned out okay. We would have loved to spend more time out there just coasting around the gorgeous lake, but we had registered for another park program and didn’t wish to miss it. Those backcountry campers sure have the right idea on how to enjoy this park.
One important piece of advice to share with you. Do not trust the hours of operation provided by Google regarding the rental business at Jake’s Landing. Doing so cost us an evening canoe trip and resulted in a very disappointed young boy. Nothing pop and chips couldn’t fix, but easily avoidable had we bothered to just go to the landing and see for ourselves if it was open after supper.
The program we stopped our canoe trip for was a petroglyphs tour at Merrymakedge. Merrymakedge is a multi-function area further along the road from Jake’s Landing. It’s part day use area, with a beach and canteen etc., as well as a cultural spot for the Mi’kmaw. Many First Nations related tours and information sessions, not to mention school programs and summer camps, are conducted here. There is also a monument to the Mi’kmaw people along with a restricted indigenous burial site. We were at Merrymakedge for the petroglyphs tour.
All of Kejimkujik is a traditional gathering area for the Mi’kmaw people. Ongoing anthropologic research in the park has uncovered artifacts documenting over 4000 years of indigenous presence. Some of that history has been recorded with petroglyphs carved into the soft slates exposed along the shore of Kejimkujik Lake. Our tour, presented by an elder Mi’kmaw woman, and park anthropologist, offered us a look at Mi’kmaw history in the area culminating with a chance to look at some petroglyphs.
This tour started out well but as it went along I really started to question it. It was interesting and thankfully free. And our guide was obviously knowledgeable and certainly well qualified, being both an anthropologist and Mi’kmaw herself. The reproductions of native artifacts that she allowed us to view and handle were an excellent supplement to the talk. Much better than the arm waving and props-less descriptions we endured at Kouchibouguac.
But it wasn’t all roses. Our guide responded rather sharply, almost pompously, to some legitimate questions one of the guests asked. That took me by surprise, especially the second and third times she did so. It was as if genuine curiosity was unwelcome from those with European ancestry. She even made some not-so-subtle comments about Parks Canada and the Federal Government. Now I’m not one to beat the nationalist drum and demand respect to institutions, but this felt inappropriate at a family-oriented informational program.
Then there were the petroglyphs, or what was left of them. Talk about a disappointment. For starters, the rocks in which these ancient petroglyphs were carved have endured decades of additional, non-indigenous carving as well. They are covered with dates and names and hearts; an etched version of the spray-painted rock walls found along mountain highways. They are also terribly weathered and some, in fact, are completely gone now. It took an inordinate amount of goodwill to accept that certain vague markings were intentional, let alone a specific petroglyph representing an identifiable item. I can only assume we were given a tour of the least important of the park’s multiple petroglyph sites.
I’ve been to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in Alberta and there the petroglyphs, while weathered, are still visible and you can generally decipher the images presented. They are also protected behind fencing and other obstacles to prevent, or at least limit, vandalism. The petroglyphs at Kejimkujik were left to the elements and the whims of vandals, save for a rope with buoys in the lake telling boaters to stay away. There appears to be zero effort at preservation and even our guide seemed resigned to them all eventually eroding away. This left me disappointed but also sad and even a bit cynical. I had hoped for a more impressive culmination to this program.
That was the extent of our in-park entertainment. Aside from camping, that is. We spent a day touring the sites of Annapolis Royal for which Kejimkujik is an ideal spot for camping and doing just that. I loved the old homes in the town and the Historical Gardens were gorgeous, well worth a visit. We also enjoyed the historic sites of Port Royal and Fort Anne, both of which provided a wonderful, interactive look back at the early days of this country, the Acadian peoples, and the (eventual) British conquerors.
Camping at Kejimkujik, the front country kind, was delightful. The park has one, large, sprawling campground, Jeremy’s Bay, with over 300 sites found in three large loops; Meadow, Slapfoot, and Jim Charles. A fourth area, isolated from the other three, houses a group site and, as is commonplace out east, that means tents only as these group sites are mostly walk-in and not accessible to trailers.
There are two oTENTik villages erected at water’s edge, one is located in the group site area and the other is accessed from the Jim Charles loop. I’ve never stayed in one of these oTENTiks but I’m growing fond of this village idea. It’s kind of cute having them in their own little agglomeration rather than simply converting a few regular campsites. There are a couple yurts available to rent by Jake’s Landing.
Jeremy’s Bay has everything. Well, almost. There are un-serviced sites and sites with power, but none of the sites in any of the loops have water or sewer. That could be problematic with potentially 300 trailers trying to empty their tanks on a Sunday morning as the weekend campers clear out. Thankfully, Jeremy’s Bay has the greatest dump station / water filling station I’ve ever seen at a campground.
Comprising three tiers down a slope to the side of the road, Jeremy’s Bay dump station has a total of six receptacles. It may not prevent lineups on the busiest exit days, but it should keep the line moving with some regularity.
What’s more impressive is the water filling station. These I’ve never seen before. Usually there is potable water taps a few feet beyond the dump station. That’s convenient, sure, but kind of gross when you think hard about it. It also requires that trailers block the dump stations while filling with water.
At Jeremy’s Bay the water station is an entirely different stretch of road. It’s located in the same tiered area as the dump station, but you won’t be blocking any dumpers. Furthermore, you won’t need to dig out your camping water hose to fill up! The two water stations come complete with their own retractable hose that coils up into a big real mounted on a post. You simply pull the hose to your trailer inlet, turn on the tap, and voila, you start filling up without opening a single compartment door or removing a single tote box. I thought this was bloody fantastic. I know … small pleasures.
Speaking of drinking water, if you don’t fill up at the fancy filling station there are plenty of taps spaced throughout the campground loops. We used these to fill our water bottles regularly.
The campground itself is heavily forested. I’m serious; this is the densest forest we’ve camped under in a long while. It almost feels like we were on Vancouver Island, though the trees aren’t as towering. It’s mixed forest but there are patches where specific species dominate. Where our campsite was situated, Eastern Hemlock was king and we didn’t see but a speck of sunshine from our site. Airy beneath the canopy, with a forest floor covered in oak leaves, I loved our site. It was also comfortably cool on hot, sunny days without being muggy. Other areas are less murky as the oaks and maples fight back against the conifers.
Sites vary in size with everything from deep single sites for large trailers to what appear to be double sites to small sites suitable for tents only. All are widely spaced and surrounded by forest giving you a non-congested spot to call home for a few nights. Squirrels and chipmunks will visit you and the woods around your campsite offer plenty of exploration opportunity for kids.
Many of the campsites have elevated, gravel pads on which to setup your trailer. They are immediately surrounded by the forest floor. Some even have fencing around portions of the site to prevent falls. One site near us even had a small flight of stairs leading from the gravel pad down into a mysterious, grass area in the woods. This was certainly a unique little window in the otherwise impenetrable forest canopy.
Campsites are level and each has a firepit and picnic table. The pits are raised, rectangular abominations with a flip top grill. Picnic tables are heavy wooden structures, some of which come with a long, metal staff on which to hang a lantern. I haven’t seen such contraptions elsewhere and though we don’t typically use a lantern, it’s a thoughtful addition to a campsite.
Living in the thick woods like these, mosquitoes are a pest. Likewise, the black flies and deer flies, neither of which we’ve had much exposure to back in Alberta. None of these pests were so bad as to chase us indoors. We still enjoyed our campfire and the kids happily played outside but they did worsen as the sun set and the air cooled. We needed proper protection, so don’t leave home without your assorted sprays.
Bathrooms with flush toilets and sinks are found in several convenient spots around all the campground loops. They are admittedly dated and rely on natural lighting much of the day, which in a dense forest is a little problematic. I found them dark inside. Not black, but noticeably dim especially in the toilet stalls. There are a couple of pit toilets sporadically located as well, but you really aren’t far from any of the flush toilets so I’m not sure why you would use them. Attached to each bathroom is a dishwashing station with the obligatory stainless steel sinks for cleaning up after meals.
For showers you will have to travel to the shower house located across from the dump station, outside of all three camping loops. It is walkable but that’s a long walk from some of the further reaches of the loops. For showers you might prefer to drive or cycle. Inside you will find an impressive wall of ten shower stalls plus a small bathroom. We had some misadventure with the shower stalls. One was offering only ice cold water while another had the hot and cold directions reversed. We eventually found properly working showers, but prepare for some shenanigans. There is also no mirror in front of the sink which poses a problem if you wish to shave. I had to return to the bathrooms in the campground to do that, which I found annoying. It’s a shower house and men shave. Seems like a no brainer to me that mirrors would be included.
The shower house is part of an interesting accumulation of facilities. For one, there is a playground just outside the shower building. I guess this gives the kids something to play on while mom and dad shower. There is also an ice cream shop in a small building next door as well. It offers ice cream and slushies and that’s it. The selection is limited and it seems a waste not having more snacks available.
You can get free Wi-Fi here, compliments of a charity that runs the ice cream shop. It was useless. I literally sat right outside the building and though I could connect to the server, I couldn’t see or surf or download anything. Even email hung. The park is remote, I understand, but this was painful. Most people’s cell service will be better.
Inside the ice cream shop was a small bookshelf filled with English and French children’s books and some novels and non-fiction selections. It was a free library for campers which I thought was nifty and unique.
With the large campground and all the backcountry camping, not to mention this big showering facility, I expected there to be a laundromat as well. But there wasn’t one to be found anywhere in Kejimkujik. Considering every other campground we’d visited had some sort of laundering capacity on site, this struck me as an oversite. You’ll have to head to town, likely Annapolis Royal, to do any laundry.
Beyond the shower parking lot and playground is a soccer field and a gravel basketball court. Neither is mentioned on park maps or websites. Both are not typically something you see in parks like this. There were a couple teens shooting hoops and someone else fussing about the soccer field. I think this isn’t the worse addition to a large campground as the older kids who have outgrown playgrounds might enjoy the opportunity to kick a ball around or shoot some hoops. Telling people these facilities exist might help, though.
On the other side of the soccer field is the parking lot and entrance to the amphitheatre and group fire circle. Back past the canteen is yet another interesting gathering spot; the sky circle. This is a cool, elevated wooden platform with a circle of benches in a clearing where you can sky gaze at night. Kejimkujik National Park is a dark sky preserve but with the thick forest in the campground you won’t see much from your campsite. This is a great little area for viewing what must be a spectacular sky on clear nights.
If you aren’t interesting in looking up at the fires in the sky, you can enjoy one at your campsite. Once again, those dreaded plastic bags of kiln dried firewood dominate the campfire scene except the cost is now $7.50 (2018 prices) per bag. It’s amazing the differentials in pricing for the exact same product offered by the exact same park authority at campgrounds all a few hundred kilometers from each other. And don’t try bringing your own; they’re extremely strict about invasive bugs here too.
You can purchase your firewood at the campground entrance kiosk. That’s located a few kilometers from the actual campground so you will want to buy some upon entry, or you will need to drive back as it’s too far for all but the strongest to walk.
Playgrounds are plentiful at Jeremy’s Bay Campground, with all loops having two. Even the group area has its own playground. They are smaller than the big, centralized playgrounds typically found in campgrounds these days. They are also very vintage playgrounds, with only swing sets, teeter totters, slides, and sometimes a basic iron climbing apparatus. Your kids may or may not find this kind of equipment fun but you can at least tell them this was all that their parents/grandparents had to play on when they were kids. Overall, aside from the nostalgia factor, the playgrounds are dated and unimpressive.
Swimming is another popular option at the campground. In addition to the public beach at Merrymakedge, two of the campground loops plus the group area have their own “private” beaches. Meadows Beach, Slapfoot Beach and Kedge Beach are all connected by the Slapfoot trail which winds along the lakeshore eventually all the way to Jake’s Landing.
The beaches are nice and sandy with some stones. The breadth of beach is greater than often found at lakes like this. Lots of space for people to sit or play. We didn’t swim. There are racks to hold canoes or kayaks, for those coming from other parts of the park or, I’m guessing, for campers bringing their own equipment. The gentle slope into the water makes for easy canoe launching so you won’t necessarily need to drive all the way to Jake’s Landing to launch your boat.
Hiking is also something you can do in a far more serious manner than simply strolling between campground loops. An extensive trail system reaches all corners of the park. You can do half-day or full-day hikes if you wish. Serious hikers can spend days in the park thanks to the robust trail and backcountry camping network.
For those not quite so adventurous, there are numerous scenic lookouts located along the main park roadways. Most have turnouts to park your vehicle and require very short, if any, walking to have a peak. On the way back from our petroglyph tour we stopped at one of these lookouts with a modest viewing tower. Information on the glacial geology of the area, some of it manually interactive, was built into the walkway up the tower. It made for a nice little stop. Small waterfalls and other natural points of interest await at other stops.
You can also spend some time in the Visitor Centre at the main park office right near the park entrance. This is a long way from the campground and day use facilities. You won’t be walking here from your campsite. It’s even a long trip for cyclists. In addition to the park office, the building houses a small gift shop and some displays highlighting the local history, plants and animals, and First Nations of the park. It’s not as comprehensive as other Visitor Centres, but it’ll pique your curiosity for a few minutes. A large birch bark canoe is on display and the park offers classes on building these beautiful boats. Serious outdoorsy types will love this.
There is no store at Kejimkujik; not at the Visitor’s Centre or anywhere else in the park. It’s imperative to bring everything you need with you or you’ll be making a longish drive into neighbouring towns for supplies. Heading west to Annapolis Royal, there really isn’t anything of note for shopping until you get to the city 45 minutes away. Heading east there are some larger towns along the way, but none are right next door. It’s hard to call Kejimkujik isolated but you are somewhat insulated here in the middle of wild Nova Scotia.
Our stay at Kejimkujik was a delight. It wasn’t perfect but it made for a lovely family camping adventure. Jeremy’s Bay Campground is excellent despite the antiquated playgrounds and lack of water service to any of the sites. Those are small complaints. We loved our canoe trip and I have no doubt the backcountry hiking/boating is fantastic. The program guides could use some better manners but at the same time, having actual scientists giving presentations is appreciated. It may not offer the impressive seaside views of its siblings around the Atlantic Provinces, but Kejimkujik National Park provides an excellent family camping experience in a cottage country-esque setting. I recommend a visit if you’re in the area and I give Kejimkujik 4 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. There is life between the coastlines in the Maritimes, folks!