Outdoor swim guide | The Coast Halifax

Outdoor swim guide

Thanks to the sewage, you can’t swim in the Harbour. No biggie, there are still plenty of ways to cool off. So wade in and get your toes wet with The Coast’s guide to Metro Halifax’s finest lakes and ponds.


Getting there: Turn right after crossing the Macdonald Bridge to Dartmouth, then left up Thistle Street past Dartmouth High until Maple Street. Turn right, then left onto Ochterloney, which becomes Prince Albert Road. Turn left on Hawthorn, and then make a sharp right onto Banook Avenue, which ends up behind the clubhouse. Bus 54, 62.

What to do: Dip your kayak or canoe in. Watch a regatta. Or park your towel on the beaten-down grass between tree roots and swim with the pre-teens and other car-free adults, recalling the local swimming hole equivalent in your hometown. Buy an ice cream and celebrate a real city swim.

Lake condition: By mid-summer, the water's murky, kid-crowded and warmed. But eminently preferable to Sullivan's Pond next door: only ducks and breadcrumbs swim there, not humans.

Cool stuff: Wander back out Banook Avenue and up Crichton Avenue until you encounter Birch Cove Park. Sandwiched between suburban crescents, it also drops down to the lake.

The Coast says: Bring a Frisbee and hide your wallet in your shoe, like Dad did.

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Getting there: Take Herring Cove Road. Park after the first crosswalk alongside the tennis courts. It's a short path to Halifax's smallest sandy beach, surrounded by leafy neighbourhood trees. Lay your towel down among the hordes of children and feel like you're part of the family. Bus 14, 15, 20, 32. But it's an easy walk.

What to do: Chocolate Lake is not quite as Willy Wonka wonderful as it sounds. Although you can launch a canoe, the lake's small size doesn't make for a very challenging paddle. But it is entirely swimmable: you can swim across to the newly renovated Chocolate Lake Hotel. Float in the middle on a hot afternoon and ponder the delightful ice-cracking sound this same water makes in March.

Lake condition: Sandy. Unlike most of Halifax's other lakes, there's a lifeguard on duty here for July and August. But dip in and out a little faster in August and shower as soon as possible.

Cool stuff: Named for a chocolate factory, one of many light industries that used to dot this little lake's shores. Apparently the lake formed after the locals quarried the rock.

The Coast says: Voted "Halifax's Best Lake" by Coast readers.

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Getting there: Take Herring Cove Road to Spryfield. Turn left onto Pinegrove Drive—just before Tim Hortons and the traffic light. (If you see South Centre Mall, you've missed the turn.) Then turn left onto Theakston Avenue, which dead-ends beside an oversized sign "Governor's Brook Subdivision." Park and walk around the aluminum guardrail and down into the woods. Bear to the right to get to the lake. Fifteen-minute walk in. Bus 14, 20, 32.

What to do: Colpitt Lake is privately owned and, sadly, its shores are slated for an 800-house development, which means massive soil erosion will destroy plants and animals living in the lake. So grab some peace while you can. Portage a canoe or kayak in. Swim with the fish. Sit on a rock.

Lake condition: Pristine, probably because it takes some effort to approach. Upstream from the better-known Williams Lake.

Cool stuff: An American bald eagle has been spotted near the lake this spring—a good omen: as a protected species, its presence is the only thing that could actually halt the bulldozers in their tracks.

The Coast says: For a little added fun, first turn left to a car mausoleum before heading down to the lake.

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Getting there: Head up St. Margaret's Bay Road. Roughly halfway between the first two sets of lights, look for a section of old pipe fence as trailhead marker. There's an official parking lot farther up the road, but this is overflow—for sweaty swimmers keen on a five-minute walk through the woods to the north shore. If you're on bicycle, take your bike in. Bus 23.

What to do: The path will take you right to the water. Head to the right for your spot on the big rock, or left for smaller perches—especially when the sun is falling. Swim out to the little one-tree island, or even further.

Lake condition: Cool in the morning. Bear in mind that Long Lake Provincial Park was also one of very few off-leash areas for dogs after Hurricane Juan, and a lot of dog-owners still prefer it.

Cool stuff: Long Lake is big. If you're heading for the other end of it, bring your canoe. Or next time, go to Spryfield at the junction of Northwest Arm Drive and Old Sambro Road, by the old dam that made Long Lake this big.

The Coast says: A refreshing lake that's easy to get to if you have wheels. Nice hide-out.

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Getting there: Driving through the rotary, turn up Herring Cove Road and then left onto Purcells Cove Road. Continue for just over 6kms to Battery Drive and Pottery Lane on the left—a good place to park to access the trailhead across the street. Bus 15.

What to do: Hike the steep eroding road opposite Purcells Cove up to Tea Lake. A fraction the size of even Chocolate Lake, this pond is less about boating or even swimming than it is about hiking: Tea Lake is one entry point into the Herring Cove Backlands, an area which also includes Flat Lake and Duck Pond, that the Nova Scotia Public Lands Coalition is trying to protect.

Lake condition: Refreshing but warm, possibly because of its heat-absorbing tannen colour.

Cool stuff: On a hot summer's day, dropping into this water-filled old quarry is like bathing in tea.

The Coast says: It gained some notoriety last summer when visiting Toronto filmmaker Roberto Ariganello had a heart attack and died in Tea Lake. Remember him fondly.

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Getting there: Turn up Herring Cove Road and then turn left onto Purcells Cove Road. Continue for about 4kms. (If you see the Purcells Cove Marina, you've gone too far.) On the right-hand side of the road, a couple of wide paths drop down into the woods. After less than five minutes of walking, you'll see the lake. If you're biking, hide your bike in the woods well away from the path. Bus 15.

What to do: Turn either right for a quick dip off one of a half-dozen rocks before ending up in someone's backyard, or proceed straight ahead to the dam. Park yourself or drop your canoe in here, or keep walking—various paths wind around the lake. One about 15-minutes in ends up at a popular four-metre high cliff, but be sure to figure out where the rocks are before you start diving.

Lake condition: A cool, clear lake, especially in the first part of summer. Loons. Watch your step getting in: slippery rocks.

Cool stuff: The farther in you walk, the fewer people. And, in July, the more blueberries you'll encounter. An hour's walk will eventually take you to Colpitt Lake. But plan it and bring a map and a flashlight, just in case. And even a tent.

The Coast says: A small yet impressive lake to bring out-of-towners. A moderately difficult bike trip.

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Although Nova Scotia islands aren’t prone to moving around, they’re frequently the object of hot pursuit. Not just because they’re advertised internationally as some of the most affordable, exclusive properties in the world: the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi purchased George and Piscatqui Islands off Canso and renamed them the North American Islands of World Peace.

Lucky for you, Nova Scotia islands are also the renewed object of desire for the province. Recent acquisitions include Mahone Bay’s Backman and Covey Islands and St. Margaret’s Bay’s Micou Island, all co-purchased through the fundraising of local environmental groups for a whopping $1 million each. Grab your map and kayak—although Micou is walkable at low tide—and explore.