This Gorgeous Red-Sand Island Is Even Better in the Fall
Goats, ghosts, and crimson leaves add to the autumnal vibes.
Canada’s Prince Edward Island isn’t exactly off the beaten track. When Canadians want to escape to the east coast, they’ll probably head to this teeny-tiny island province, with its cute-as-hell Anne of Green Gables history, colorful mansions, and beaches with natural arches cut out of sandstone cliffs.
But the thing is, PEI’s peak season is from June to August. In the shoulder season, like, say, September through November, you basically get the 120-mile-long island to yourself—and that’s not even the only reason why it’s the best time to visit.
You get to see colorful leaves fluttering down red dirt roads, you can dig into incredible farm-fresh food like lobster rolls and oysters at the Fall Flavours festival, or get spooked by ghosts in a haunted mansion. Plus, if or when you visit in the fall, all those adorable lighthouse-like cottages are actually available to book. Damn, I might’ve just talked myself into going back for another trip.
How to get to Prince Edward Island
PEI had some of the toughest pandemic restrictions in Canada, but it has since opened to international travelers (along with the rest of the country) and is clambering to revive its tourist industry. If you choose to fly in (the closest airports are in Charlottetown, Moncton, and Halifax), you’ll need to follow Canada’s travel restrictions including being fully vaccinated, plus getting a Covid test ahead of time, and filling out the online ArriveCAN form.
If you drive (easy for you Mainers, but it’s about 10 hours from Boston, if that puts it in perspective), keep in mind that you’ll need to cross the 8-mile Confederation Bridge, which costs $48.50 CDN ($37.85 USD) round-trip for a normal car, paid when you leave.
Either way, you’ll also need to register for a PEI Pass, regardless of how you get in.
Go leaf peeping and hiking
PEI is stunning, and the drifting crimson, green, and neon-yellow maple leaves in fall take it to another level. Drive down tree-shaded roads where the iron-infused dirt has oxidized red, or cruise along the Atlantic Ocean for a lovely coastal drive.Tourism PEI even has a helpful map.
But the best way to experience PEI is on your own two feet. The Greenwich Dunes Trail, part of Prince Edward National Park, is a 2.7-mile jaunt that takes you through a marsh, past huge sand dunes, and ends at the beach. Other fun hikes include the 15-mile network of trails along the river in Bonshaw Hills Provincial Park and the path behind the Anne of Green Gables Museum known as the Balsam Hollow Trail —and I’m not just recommending it because it’s my last name.
Can’t decide on which hiking trail to take? Circumvent the entire island with the freshly-signposted Island Walk, a 32-day, 434-mile walk inspired by Spain’s Camino de Santiago. Or hop on a bike and do the 180-mile Confederation Trail on former railway lines.
Explore PEI’s red-sand beaches
PEI is known for its white and red-sand beaches flanked by sandstone cliffs. Don’t let the usually not-too-cold fall weather deter you. Beaches are pretty much everywhere in PEI, but some of the most popular are Brackley Beach, which is closest to the capital, Charlottetown, and Cavendish Beach. If in doubt, drive down any road that leads to the sea and find your own secret beach. Whatever floats your goat!
Did I just say goat? You can frolic with the lovable, bearded mammals on a beach every Saturday (up until October 24) at Beach Goats. Trust me, this is not your average petting zoo.
Creep yourself out (on purpose)
Let’s face it, PEI’s historic buildings are beautiful, but they’re also pretty spooky if you think about all the people who lived and died in them. Fortunately, the province embraces its creepy side during Halloween season with the Scarecrows in the City festival in Charlottetown, which features ghost walks, wagon rides, and mystics in the park.
Other spine-shivering adventures include exploring abandoned theme park The Great Island Science & Adventure park, the Haunted Mansion in Kensington, and the terrifying Route 6 Motel.
For some fall fun that doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, there’s pumpkin and apple picking at farms all across the island.
Feast on the harvest
Prince Edward Island prides itself on being “Canada’s Food Island,” and harvest season is undoubtedly one of the best times to cash in. The Fall Flavours festival running from September through to October 14 has tons of mouth-watering—and cleverly named—events like Oystoberfest, and Clammin’ and Jammin’. If land-born meat is more what you’re after, September’s Burger Love festival features buns stuffed with a truly unhealthy (but tasty) amount of stuff, like Thirsty Chef’s “Whole Shebang,” with beef, steak, pickles, cheddar, bacon, cremini mushrooms, veggies, and sauces.
Just want a great meal? Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico is popular for a reason—try the lobster thermidor and seafood chowder. Over in Victoria, Lobster Barn gives you that quintessential wharf experience with lobster rolls and fries made from PEI potatoes.
PEI might be small, but it has a surprising number of craft breweries, distilleries, cideries, and wineries. Among them are Upstreet Brewing in Charlottetown, Rossignol Estate Winery, Riverdale Orchard & Cidery, and Deep Roots Distillery for its absinthe—October seems like an appropriate month to chase a green fairy.
But no trip to PEI is complete without taking in a local music show, and the place to do that is at Trailside Music Hall, which serves up hardy meals in front of top-class Canadian musicians—Séan McCann of Great Big Sea and Joel Plaskett have performed recently.
Where to stay on Prince Edward Island
PEI hosts some of Canada’s prettiest and most historical hotels and B&Bs —but they’re usually full in summer. You should have better luck in the fall though, and some fun places to stay include West Point Lighthouse Inn, which was built in 1875 and has a pretty spooky vibe. Other unique spots are Around The Sea, a hotel that rotates 360 degrees throughout the day for egalitarian views of the ocean, and Dalvay By The Sea, a Canadian National Historic Site that’s extra special for Anne of Green Gables fans, as it’s featured in several movie adaptations.