How to Visit Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick (In Less Than 24 Hours)

Look, I’ll never tell you that you shouldn’t spend at least a handful of days on Grand Manan, but I also realize that with so many beautiful things to see and do in New Brunswick, you might only have 24 hours or less to visit Grand Manan Island.

And you know what? That’s better than not experiencing it at all.

I recently took to Instagram to ask what kind of tips and travel itineraries you’d love to see before the summer’s end and several of you reached out about visiting Grand Manan in a day or less.

What are the MUST see destinations? Where MUST you stop to eat? What MUST you do before you board the ferry home?

Well, my friends, if you call upon the shell phone, the ocean—ahem, me, the mermaid—shall answer. 😉

Now, I realize that “Grand Manan in a Day” can be different for everyone.

For some of you, that might mean only staying one night, while for others that might mean crossing over in the morning and coming back home in the same day. If you’re interested in either option then you’re in luck because I’ve crafted this post to include options for both.

Love that journey for you.

Getting to Grand Manan Island

Whether you’re a morning person or not, if you’ve only got a day on the island, I need you to wake up early, get caffeinated, and get on the road so that you can catch an early ferry crossing. The ferry ride in itself is 1.5 hours and you have to check-in at the ferry terminal 45 minutes before your sail.

Which means at least 2 hours and 15 minutes of your day will be spent with the ferry. (Double that if you’re coming back the same day.) But don’t sweat it, the ferry is awesome.

Crystal Richard enjoying the ferry during a Visit to Grand Manan

Ferry reservations are strongly recommended and you can go ahead and do that here.

And to get the most out of your day, I highly suggest you shoot for the 9:30 am ferry. Yes, even if that means leaving Moncton at 6:30 am or Saint John at 8:00 am to arrive at 8:45 am for check in.

It’s about $60 for a couple and you will only pay for your return crossing.

Come Sail Away, Come Sail Away

Did I just get the Styx song stuck in your head? You’re welcome. Fun fact: we entered our wedding reception to that song with our wedding party and it was pretty epic. And it was arguably the most perfect grand entrance for a coastal wedding, if I say so myself!

OK, back to your adventure to Grand Manan.

I want you to make the most out of your crossing. The ferry ride is easily one of my favourite parts of any trip to Grand Manan Island. You’ll likely see sea birds, seals—and yes, even whales. Which means if you were bummed about not having enough time to squeeze in whale watching while you’re on the island, you might just get lucky on the ferry ride over.

If you’re on the 9:30 am crossing, you might be hankering for breakfast and let me tell you, the breakfast on board is pretty legendary. (As is the ferry chowder—it’s a thing and it’s awesome.) So if you’re hungry, plan to grab your meal in the first half hour and snag a window seat with a view. If you’re going to see whales, it’ll likely be mid-crossing or closer to Grand Manan, so fill up your tummy when you get on board.

Lastly, you’ll want to have your camera ready as you approach the island to snap the perfect shot of the majestic Swallowtail Lighthouse. It’s arguably one of the most photographed lighthouses in Canada and with good reason. It still takes my breath away when sailing in.

Welcome to Grand Manan Island!

Alright friends, it’s 11:00 am and you have just arrived on one of the most magical islands around. There’s so much to do, but so little time, so let the adventure begin!

You just met Swallowtail Lighthouse on the ferry, so now is actually the perfect time to get a closer look before lunch. Take a drive up to the lighthouse by hanging a right when you get off the ferry. Just follow the signs, you can’t miss it.

Crystal Richard standing in front of the iconic Swallowtail Lighthouse on Grand Manan.

When you arrive at the parking lot, if you head right down the stairs, bridge and trail to the lighthouse (a light to moderate trek for most but the stairs can be a doozy on the return), your timing should be perfect to snap the quintessential photo of the 11:30 am ferry leaving the island with the lighthouse in the picture.

This photo is best taken from the helipad at Swallowtail (yes, there’s a helipad) so just follow the signs up to get the iconic shot.

I recommend spending a good 45 minutes to an hour at Swallowtail and while you’re there, keep an eye out for whales swimming by and friendly seals playing the herring nets below.

Take a Little Seaglass Break

By now, it’s probably 12:00 pm or shortly there after. I firmly believe you can’t go to Grand Manan Island without hunting for a little bit of seaglass, so when leaving Swallowtail lighthouse, make sure to stop by Pettes Cove for easy access and seaglass a plenty.

Pettes Cove is one of my favourite spots to find perfectly tumbled and frosted mermaid tears. On my last visit in May, I actually found two pieces of red there! It’s also an excellent place to snap another beautiful photo of Swallowtail. Best part? High tide or low tide, you can find some gems pretty easily.

Crystal Richard hunting for seaglass in Pettes Cove on Grand Manan holding a coffee cup in one hand and seaglass in the other.

If you’re in the mood for a little hike, follow the trail signs for Net Point Trail just past the garbage cans at the parking spot. You might feel like you’re walking through islander’s properties but the locals have actually encouraged this trail so visitors can see some of the most scenic lookouts on the island.

And of course, make sure to stop by Pettes Cove Arts gift shop when you leave. They have some lovely gift items to take home to remember your trip and feature gifts from dozens of other artists on the island.

Did Someone Say Lunch?

At this point on your Grand Manan Island adventure, your ferry breakfast might be starting to fade. Lucky for you, there are so many magical places on the island for you to grab lunch while you explore.

I could never pick a favourite, but the island has a handful of delightful cafes that are perfect for sit down or lunch to go. If you’re starving in North Head, make sure you to visit the Old Well House Cafe right near the ferry landing. The atmosphere is lovely, their lattes are divine and their food is amazing.

Lovely atmosphere of Old Well House Cafe near the ferry landing with a handful of tables and chairs where Crystal Richard gets her latte's on Grand Manan.
Old Well House Cafe, North Head

If you head to Grand Harbour, about 10 minutes from North Head, you can have lunch at my husband’s favourite cafe, Newtons Mercantile & Café. It doubles as an adorable gift shop for island gifts too. And they have a beautiful new outdoor patio with ocean views!

You can also swing Trapped to experience the most unbelievable hot lobster dip on the planet. They also serve a hot spinach dip, homemade salsa & chips, lobster roll, and nachos. They’re patio only so this option is best on a sunny day. And hey, if you’re planning to stay the night, you might just want to swing by here later for a late afternoon drink and dip or evening snack.

And if you’re still stuffed from that epic ferry breakfast but want something to snack on, stop at the newly opened North Head Bakery to grab some donuts, incredible homemade sweets and coffee to fuel you on the road.

Cruise the Island to the Southern Head Cliffs

The island only takes about 30 minutes to drive from one end to the other, so there’s no excuse not to see it in its entirety, even if you’re only there for the day.

After lunch (by now it should be about 2:00 pm) head south towards the end of the island. Along the drive, you’ll get great views of the shoreline and the various communities across the island.

Definitely make a stop in Seal Cove to snap some photos of their beautiful smoke sheds and the gorgeous sandy beach. There is also a fantastic playground for little island visitors right by the beach.

Southern Head Cliffs and Southwest Head Lighthouse

Once you get to the end of the island, make sure to get out to explore the Southern Head Cliffs. Trust me, you do not want to miss these.

They are otherworldly and simply one of the most picturesque points on the island. Make sure to follow the little man-made trails along the edge to both the right and left to experience the best views from each side.

And keep your eyes peeled! You might even see some whales swimming by and on a very clear day, you can see Machias Island, known for its puffins from the end of June to the end of July.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Captain’s log predicts at this point, it’s probably about 3:30 pm or closer to 4:00 pm, depending on how you like to adventure. (Also whales. If you spot a whale from the Southern Head Cliffs, there’s no telling when you’ll be able to pry your eyes away to get back in the car.)

If you’re only on the island for the day, chances are that you’re heading back home on the 5:30 pm ferry out of North Head. Which means you’ll need to be in-line to check in for your reservation by 4:45pm. If that’s the case, you’ll want to start making your way back to North Head to get in line for the ferry.

And hey, if you’re heading back already, turn that frown upside down. The island will be there for you to explore again in the future and you know what’s the best way to end a whirlwind day on the island? Ferry chowder! (Or their deep fried pickles or onion rings—they’re pretty epic too.) And of course, don’t forget to watch for whales on the sailing home.

Staying the night? Well, let’s keep this coastal party going!

Cruise Down to Dark Harbour

Once you leave the Southern Head Cliffs, it’s worth taking a cruise to Dark Harbour. After all, you’re staying the night and you are officially on island time.

Along the way, I highly recommend pulling over to see Deep Cove. You only need 10-15 minutes here if you’re pressed for time but it’s a breathtaking beach at both low and high tide. The sign is easy to miss but it’s about 4 minutes or 3.5 km from the cliffs.

Crystal Richard in a flowing dress walking by the waves in Deep Harbour on a visit to Grand Manan Island.
Deep Cove, Grand Manan Island

Next, keep traveling about 25 minutes (or 23.4 km) to Dark Harbour. The road is windy and at some points, you might think, ‘where is she sending me?‘ But Dark Harbour is one of the most unique communities on the island. With no power, it’s completely off the grid and the cottages and homes located there are powered by generators.

Dark Harbour at low tide on Grand Manan Island with boats along the shore and houses in the trees across the distance.
Dark Harbour at Low Tide

It’s incredibly picturesque and late in the day or early evening light is my favourite way to experience it. I’ve also heard it’s a magical place to watch the sunset!

What Next? The Island is Your Oyster

By now, I’m guessing it’s probably close to or shortly after 5:00 pm. You had a late lunch, so you might want to explore a little bit more before dinner. Or you might want to check in at your motel or Airbnb.

If you’re only on the island for one night, look no further than the Surfside Motel that offers nightly rates and just so happens to be situated on one of the best seaglass beaches on the island: Stanley Beach. And I love that you can watch the ferry come and go all day long.

The ferry coming in on the water viewed from Surfside Motel on Grand Manan.

I’ve been staying there for the past twenty years and it’s definitely a home away from home.

If you want to make like a mermaid, I would check in, pour a glass of wine, and stroll the beach to unwind while looking for seaglass before dinner.

But if you’re looking to chill on a patio with a drink and maybe a hot lobster dip, this is an excellent time to swing by Trapped. Or visit the Old Well House Cafe for drinks on their patio that offers dreamy views of the North Head Wharf and the boats arriving.

Where to Dine?

Once you have had a chance to unwind, find more seaglass, or explore a bit more of the island, you’ll want to grab supper before catching the sunset.

Again, I couldn’t possibly choose but a few of our favourite dinner options on the island include a visit to Sunrise Seafood for one of their EPIC lobster rolls or seafood platters. Their clams and chips is pretty epic too.

Crystal Richard holding a lobster roll from Sunrise Seafood with piles of seaglass in the background.

And of course, you can always swing by Trapped for more of our favourite island fares. If you plan in advance, you can also make a reservation for the Compass Rose Inn’s evening dinner which is absolutely divine!

End Your Day With the Sunset

The best part about spending the night on Grand Manan Island? You get to enjoy one of the most epic sunsets around.

A stunning blue, purple, pink and orange sunset in Grand Manan over the water.

You’ll want to head down to the Whistle for sunset, which offers two fantastic spots to watch the sunset. You can choose from a beautiful new platform beside the Long Eddy Point Lighthouse or at Arthur’s Bench—my personal fave—where many locals will join you. You’re in for a treat 😉

Both spots are perfect for spotting whales cruising by too, which just makes any sunset even better.

To get there from North Head, take Whistle Road all the way until the very end. You will see the lighthouse first (option one) or keep going to access Arthur’s Bench. You can park anywhere along the road, just be mindful not to block anyone’s driveway.

Good Morning, Grand Manan Island

If you stayed the night, you’re likely planning to head back home on one of several morning ferries. If you’re leaving on the 7:30 am, safe travels and fair seas, my friend. Also, ferry breakfast. Trust me on this one.

If you’re leaving Grand Manan Island on the 9:30 am or 11:30 am ferries, you still have some time to explore before saying farewell.

Depending on the day of the week, you can grab coffee and breakfast at the Old Well House Cafe (opens at 8:00 am), the Seaquel (opens at 7:00 am) or Newtons Mercantile (opens at 10:00 am).

Crystal Richard enjoying a coffee while walking down the steps towards the lighthouse.

Personally, I always start my day with a seaglass stroll on the beach but if it’s a magically clear morning, I LOVE recommending a morning visit to Swallowtail Lighthouse one last time before setting sail. It’s easily my favourite time of day to visit as everything is usually calm and quiet. It’s also a great time to spot whales.

Farewell to the Island

Saying goodbye is never easy. I get teary eyed every time we leave and I’ve officially lost count of how many times I’ve been to the island at this point. Let’s just say I’ve been countless times in the last twenty years. And yes, I still cry when I leave.

If you let it, it will snatch a piece of heart. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

I can’t wait to hear all about your island adventures so don’t hesitate to send me virtual postcards or tag me in your posts so I can be excited for you!

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