In Canada’s smallest province, a long walk with big delights is taking travelers by storm. The Island Walk is a 435-mile hike that hugs the beaches, trails, and fields of Prince Edward Island. The route is divided into 32 segments, but there’s no designated starting or finishing point. You can explore any way you want, from embarking on a month-long odyssey to enjoying a few shorter treks, which is exactly what I did in the summer of 2021. Now I’m planning to do several segments this summer and I’m motivated by the opportunity to discover more of Prince Edward Island’s adorable villages.
Having grown up “next door” in the nearby province of Nova Scotia, I’m no stranger to PEI’s many charms. It’s nicknamed “The Gentle Island,” and I can’t imagine a better place to challenge myself with some serious hikes by day and then enjoy PEI’s many rewards come night — the wonderful food, fun, and company that’s become a hallmark of the island’s communities. And while I love that the Island Walk goes through the cities of Summerside and Charlottetown, you can’t beat the homey vibes of PEI’s villages. Here are some of my favorite destinations across the island.
1. North Rustico
Island Walkers adore North Rustico, and the feeling is mutual. I traded emails with Kenneth from Outside Expeditions (which offers kayak tours, bike rentals, and other avenues for outdoor fun) and he reported that they love the Island Walkers and are looking forward to connecting with them more as the route grows in popularity. He reports that visitors can expect to hear music (including the Spoons!) see folks jumping off the wharf for a refreshing dip, and enjoy incredible meals with matching views. He says: “North Rustico is amazing. Sunsets on the bay at some amazing restaurants! Seafood harvesters working, people jumping off the ‘range light,’ PEI Spoon guy likely playing in the background. Sand dunes and red cliff. We enjoy watching it all in from a sea kayak!”
Pro Tip: On the practical side of things, North Rustico has a grocery store, pharmacy, hardware store, and several other amenities including bakeries, restaurants, and gift shops. If you need to adjust your gear or pick up some new supplies, this is a good place to do so (and if “supplies” happen to include the homemade raisin bread and cinnamon buns at the Olde Village Bakery, so be it.)
I hate to play favorites, but I’m tempted to say that if you just have time to visit one village in PEI, it should be Victoria-by-the-Sea. True, its legendary chocolate shop, Island Chocolates, might play a factor in my recommendation, as might the Landmark Oyster House’s baked Brie. But this colorful community of about 200 residents is much more than a delicious foodie destination. It’s a haven for artists and is home to a theatre, an art gallery, and a pottery shop. The Orient Hotel is a nice spot for tired hikers to enjoy a little pampering in the form of ensuite rooms and homemade breakfasts.
Pro Tip: The community is only 30 minutes from Charlottetown, making this a lovely base for someone who wants all the tranquillity of a seaside hamlet but the ease of access to city amenities.
Wellington is proof that a PEI village doesn’t have to be next to the ocean to be full of charm. Visitors to this tiny community can expect to see pretty front lawns and gardens, lots of bilingual signs (a nod to the area’s French-speaking Acadian residents), and plenty of amenities for Island Walkers. The Island Walk trail goes right through the heart of the village, proof that this route really is integrated with the Island. Wellington is home to a grocery store, pharmacy, bank, and a few eateries.
Pro Tip: Randy’s Pizza is a great place to grab a hearty sub sandwich, wrap, or even poutine for lunch.
If you’re driving through Kensington, you might not think it to be that worthy of inclusion on a list of PEI’s prettiest villages, but Island Walkers know different. Their route along the Confederation Trail takes them through a side of the community that most motorists never see. The old Kensington train station is directly on the path. A combination of national historic site and pub (the Island Stone Pub is located inside, serving up local brews, burgers, and treats like fish tacos), this is an idyllic spot for a restful break. Further down the trail is the Haunted Mansion. This gorgeous Tudor-style home is a spooky house attraction that is open throughout the summer and fall. It may just be the most outlandish thing you see in your entire trip!
Pro Tip: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Frosty Treat Dairy Bar, where hungry hikers can enjoy deep-fried Mars bars, banana splits, and homemade ice cream sandwiches.
5. St. Peters Bay
For tired, hungry hikers, St. Peters Bay is an incredibly welcome sight. You emerge from forested paths to the gorgeous vista of the bay and the ocean not far beyond it. You might like it so much you’re convinced to stay a few days. There’s a good assortment of accommodations, activities (including productions at the Courthouse Theatre), and services (like Confederation Trail Bike Rentals).
The community is home to the shops at St. Peters Landing, a destination I know and love. Just when you think you can’t hike any further, everything you need to refuel your stomach and stamina is here. I’ve relied on it for breakfast burritos, lattes, muffins (strawberry-basil flavored!), lemonade, and chocolate (in other words, all the standard hiking staples).
Jessica Fritz of Fritz Foods (which owns many of the businesses) knows the restorative powers of this special stop first hand. She suggests visitors do the following: “Start your afternoon with a stroll through the shops at the St. Peters Landing. The artsy vibes of Freckles & Porcelain are a must. Then grab a bite, treat or coffee at our Black & White Cafe & Bakery and head on over for a serene walk at Greenwich National Park. We love the boardwalk through the woods and over the waters, especially shortly before dusk.”
Anyone hiking to Elmira deserves some serious accolades. This cute little collection of homes is just a short distance from East Point, the Island’s easternmost tip and home to a pretty lighthouse. But even if it didn’t have such a notable neighbor, Elmira would still be a highlight for any hiker. This tiny spot is home to the Elmira Railway Museum. Decades ago, when PEI had train service, this was the easternmost terminal and, as such, it’s also the endpoint of the Confederation Trail (which transformed abandoned rail lines into the paths hikers use today). Once upon a time, this was a bustling spot and a crucial transit link for eastern Islanders. Today, farming is the main industry (including wind farms, which you can spot in the distance).
Pro Tip: One Tuna Cafe, on the north end of Elmira Road, offers up poke bowls, burgers, and pizza, along with fresh seafood to cook at home.
7. New London
The charms of New London sneak up on you. At first, the community looks like just a collection of houses by the road, but then you notice just how gorgeous these stately, old-fashioned farmhouses really are. A lovely church, mature trees, and distant ocean views catch your eye before you sneak a look at all the interesting attractions that call this little village home. The birthplace of author L.M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame) is now a small museum. Village Pottery, the oldest pottery shop in the province, offers stunning ceramics along with local arts and crafts. Next door, Potter’s Parlour serves up gourmet coffees, baked goods, and ice cream (all in Village Pottery dishes and mugs, of course).
Pro Tip: Just down the road is Sou’West Restaurant, one of my favorite eateries in PEI and a great place to enjoy a water view, drink a local beer, and inhale large platters of burgers and fried fish.
I think I had driven through Montague numerous times before I really saw it. As the last real destination before you hit the ferry terminal that connects PEI and Nova Scotia, its main streets are filled with a number of chain restaurants and prosaic amenities. But on my last visit, I was craving breakfast and not in the mood for greasy fast food. I now owe my fussy stomach a debt of gratitude for making me look beyond the big-name logos to see what an incredible spot Montague really is. For one thing, it’s a great dining destination! It’s filled with cozy, quirky restaurants (including my choice, the Lucky Bean Cafe, which serves up gourmet coffee, breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast, and yummy baked goods like giant blueberry cinnamon buns). The harbor views and public parks are just lovely and the Garden of the Gulf Museum (the oldest community museum on the Island) is in a stately old building that once served as a post office and customs house.