Prince Edward Island was made for hiking. Canada’s smallest province boasts photogenic red dirt roads (thanks to a high content of iron-oxide), gorgeous beachside paths, wetlands, boardwalks, and forest trails. It would be no exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of trails on the island — maybe even thousands if you count all the unofficial paths and side trails. As such, there really is something for everyone, whether you’re looking to spend a few minutes in the woods by a storybook home or a few weeks doing an epic island-wide journey.
These are some of my favorite routes to explore on Prince Edward Island, some discovered all the way back in my childhood and others more recently on a press trip. I think you’ll love them as much as I do!
The Confederation Trail isn’t so much a single route as it is an incredible journey. This 280-mile trail runs through the heart of Prince Edward Island, starting in Tignish in the west and meandering to Elmira in the east (the main trail at 170 miles) with several junctions heading to the coast and different communities, including one that goes through the center of Charlottetown. One of the best things about this trail is its incredible diversity. It’s built on decommissioned railway lines, and covers a huge array of towns and communities, along with miles of unspoiled nature. This is a gentle hike and gradients remain under 2 percent, making it a nice choice for novice hikers; or those who are a bit more experienced but prefer to stroll along — hey, we exist! Nothing wrong with easy hikes that allow you to drink your coffee as you go.
The Confederation Trail is also a fun, interactive experience. There are more than 1,600 geocaches along the route, as well as nearly 250 interpretive panels, covering everything from German U-boat activity in World War II to rare aquatic herbs. Helpful trail signs also make note of nearby accommodations, restaurants, even bicycle repair shops, and phone numbers are usually listed directly on the signs. That way, you can call from the trail to reserve yourself a bed and breakfast spot, and, should they happen to be booked, you won’t waste any energy trekking into town. As someone who has hiked a small part of the trail, I can say firsthand how wonderfully welcoming these simple signs are. It feels like the communities are looking out for you.
The Trans-Canada Trail
Surprise! This is a bit of a trick entry because Prince Edward Island’s section of the Trans-Canada Trail (also known as the Great Trail) is essentially the main route of the Confederation Trail, running from Tignish to Elmira. Yep, the two routes overlap. So if you’re planning to hike the Confederation Trail, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re also on your way to completing the Trans-Canada Trail! Just under 15,000 miles to go.
The Island Walk
While the Confederation Trail essentially slices through the center of PEI, with junctions running down to the coast, the Island Walk takes a different approach. This 435-mile route circumnavigates the island, covering everything from coastal paths and shoreline to community walks and even a trek into Charlottetown. While some segments use the same paths as the Confederation Trail, others are far away from it. Though the majority of the Island Walk’s segments are ranked “easy” (though a few are “moderate”), the sheer scale of this journey has already been compared to another epic hike — Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago. The Island Walk’s tagline is “Come Back Different,” an appropriate nod to the kind of personal reflection that takes place on a hike of this scale. But even doing a small section or two is hugely rewarding, as I’ve experienced it myself.
The Green Gables Trails
By now, you might be thinking that PEI is nothing but epic hikes of gargantuan proportions but that’s not the case at all! Most PEI hikers just do small sections of the Confederation Trail and Island Walk — or they come to places like Green Gables to enjoy the short hikes on the property. Yes, I’m talking about Green Gables Heritage Place, home to one fictional orphan by the name of Anne Shirley. This lovely farmhouse isn’t just the setting for one of the most popular children’s books of all time. It’s also home to two wonderful short hikes. The Haunted Woods, which is named because Anne herself found it eerie at night, does have an otherworldly beauty to it. You may just hear the low, ghostly wail of two trees scraping together in the breeze as I did. The route is an easy 0.6-mile loop that passes through the Green Gables Golf Course and connects to the Cavendish cemetery (where Anne of Green Gables author L.M. Montgomery is buried) and the site of Montgomery’s Cavendish home.
Along the way, there’s an interpretive panel explaining where the old village school once stood and you can still walk down the path to see where it used to be. Naturally, I immediately took off on a very narrow, faint path that led from the sign and into the woods only to discover… nothing. It just stopped. It was only when I walked a little bit further down the main route of the Haunted Woods that I saw a proper signpost for the real path to the former school site, along with other attractions. My mistake!
The second Green Gables trail is the Balsam Hollow Trail, which begins as the short “Lovers Lane” of Anne-fame. This half-mile path follows a brook and there are many interpretive panels about the local plant life. I’m happy to report that I did not wander off the trail here but you’ll notice that there are a few side paths to Green Gables Golf Course along the way.
The Trails Of Prince Edward Island National Park
Prince Edward Island National Park is home to a dozen hiking trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. Some, such as Clark’s Lane Trail, are short and sweet. Weighing in at half a mile, it’s a sunny loop that’s an easy way to get in a little dose of nature even if you’re normally keener on urban experiences. Even tiny hikes are real hikes! Meanwhile, the Robertson Island Trail System (sometimes called RITS) is a stacked loop system of trails, the longest clocking in at 3.1 miles, and is great for birdwatching and mountain biking.
Another good option is the Farm Lands and Bubbling Springs Trails. Really two trails in one, both the Farm Lands Trail and the Bubbling Springs Trail have their own individual loops not far from the trailhead. You can choose either or do both for a total of about 2.8 miles. Yes, there really are bubbling springs to see on the Bubbling Springs Trail, along with scenic lookouts over the lake. The historic pioneer Stanhope Cemetery, whose first burial dates to 1790, is located by the trailhead.
However, if I had to choose just one national park trail to choose, it would be Greenwich Dunes, which is about 3 miles long. You will go over farmland, forest trails, and even a floating boardwalk until you emerge at the Atlantic Ocean. Those two bright red chairs you see are a hallmark of Parks Canada’s most scenic vistas, designed for travelers to stop and sit awhile to admire the view.
The Devil’s Punchbowl Trail
When you see a trail named “The Devil’s Punchbowl,” there’s no way you can resist investigating. Alas, for better or worse, there’s nothing fiery about this pretty trail (just under a mile) that’s dotted with wildflowers. Located within the Granville Creek Watershed, a local not-for-profit organization is working hard to restore native trees, shrubs, and aquatic habitats in the area, making this trail both a short and easy hiking route but also a chance to see habitat rebuilding in action.
Bonshaw Hills Provincial Park
At times, It might feel that PEI’s trails are either wild, epic adventures (like tackling the entirety of the Island Walk) or short and sweet jaunts of 20 minutes or so. If you’re looking for something that’s somewhere in the middle, Bonshaw Hills Provincial Park will suffice nicely. It has over 11 miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult. It’s enough of a challenge to keep you thoroughly occupied for a bracing afternoon of adventure but still make it home for dinner (though there are no guarantees you won’t be sore afterward!)
While you’re in the area, the Deep Roots Distillery is only 13 minutes away on the drive towards Charlottetown. It offers absinthe, vodka, gin, maple liqueur, and more, all of which would be great souvenirs from your trip — or perhaps help you relax after a day on the trails.
Pro Tip: Sensitive Ecosystems
All hikers know to live by the creed of taking nothing but photos and leaving nothing but footprints. But PEI’s ecosystem is especially sensitive and includes sand dunes and nesting birds like Piping Plover. Heed warnings to stay on the marked path!
After your hikes, take in other attractions on the island: