We’re always on the lookout for a good adventure, but weren’t sure what we would find in Nova Scotia. As soon as we landed at the Halifax airport, I noticed a brochure for something called Tidal Bore Rafting. I had absolutely no idea what the heck tidal bore rafting was, but I knew it was something we absolutely had to do while roaming around Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia is home to the powerful force of nature that is the Bay of Fundy. This body of water is known to have the most extreme tidal changes in the world! We had witnessed this first hand when we visited a local harbor. At Hall’s Harbour the tides drop so low that boats lay on the bottom of the harbor floor. We witnessed that feat only to return a mere five hours later and find they were all afloat. While we were away, 40 feet (12 meters) of water had gradually moved on in.
We grew completely fascinated with this incredible force of nature. But we were done witnessing it. We wanted to experience it. So what better way to feel the biggest tides in the world than to literally get in them. Tidal bore rafting would give us that opportunity!
Tidal Bore Rafting Nova Scotia
This post spills all about the awesome adventure of tidal bore rafting. But first, here’s a quick video to whet your whistle.
What Is a Tidal Bore and Tidal Bore Rafting?
While the Bay of Fundy tides steadily filled the harbor we had visited, the tidal flow is otherwise not-so-gradual when it reaches rivers. There are about 60 known places in the world where the phenomena of a tidal bore occurs. Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie River is one of them.
Rivers in this region flow into the bay, just as most rivers in the world flow outward into the sea. But here in the Bay of Fundy, that all changes soon after low tide. The extreme tides rise in the Bay of Fundy and eventually begin to flow into the river. As the approaching water reaches the river, the rising tide is squeezed into an increasingly narrow space in the river. As the tide moves inward, it momentarily changes the course of the river to flow upstream. During this process, waves and rapids are temporarily formed atop the sandbars. This is the tidal bore!
Some evil genius decided it would be a fun idea to go rafting on the surging tidal bore. Hence, tidal bore rafting was born!
The Shubenacadie River near Maitland, Nova Scotia, is exactly where the extreme tide gets squeezed upstream to form the wild ride. There are a handful of rafting operators plying the river during the tide change. We jumped in the boat with Shubenacadie River Runners to experience this incredible phenomenon firsthand.
Getting Ready for Tidal Bore Rafting in Nova Scotia
The extremity of the rapids is dependent on the tides, which is dictated by the moon phases. There are three different levels of tidal bore intensity during the moon phase. We had purposely planned to do our tidal bore rafting trip during one of the more intense days. But what we didn’t realize was exactly how extreme our particular day would be!
Upon arriving, we met our rafting mates. A young girl joining us from the local area explained that she goes tidal bore rafting once every summer, but she only goes on the most extreme tidal day of the year. She had done her research and carefully scrutinized the tidal charts. In doing so, she determined today was that day. We asked our rafting guide about this hearsay and she chuckled. “Oh, you didn’t know? Today should be the biggest tidal bore of the year!”
Apparently the strongest surges occur just after the full moons, but at certain times of the year the tidal bore is even more powerful. This was apparently one of those days – yikes! Yet we were growing excited for the thrill ahead!
After getting fitted with rain gear and contemplating our impending doom, we strolled down onto the floor of the drained Shubenacadie River to jump in the Zodiac. The river was still trickling out towards the Bay of Fundy and it was so shallow that we could barely motor along at parts. We puttered upstream to a sandbar to wait for the extreme tidal bore to change the river’s direction.
Suddenly the Tidal Bore Swept In!
We didn’t have to wait long. You could see a line of water approaching. There wasn’t a single big wave that moved up the river. Instead it was a noticeable surge that was moving quickly for us.
I was trying to capture video of this mind-boggling phenomenon when I heard our rafting guide shout for us. “C’mon, c’mon, get back in the raft!”
The sandbar had quickly vanished beneath our feet and the rapids were beginning to form. We were in the tidal bore!
So we hopped back into the raft as fast as we could so we could begin our wild ride on the Shubenacadie. Then we motored against the tidal bore to position ourselves to go over the first set of rapids that had quickly formed right over the very same sandbar we were just standing on only one minute ago. Mind blown!
What It’s Like To Go Tidal Bore Rafting Nova Scotia
What was dry moments ago had suddenly become the equivalent of Class-V whitewater rapids. Our guide charged the raft directly for them.
After sizing up these monster waves, she yelled, “lean forward!” We weren’t going over, so we held on for dear life as we rocketed up the lip of a rapid only to slam down on the other side. We were being tossed around like loose rags in a turbulent washing machine.
Unlike whitewater rafting, you don’t paddle during tidal bore rafting. A small motor on the raft delivers you to each set of rapids. But the raft goes with the flow of the tidal bore once you get into the raging waters. Despite not paddling, you still exert a lot of energy grasping at the rope in an effort to stay firmly in the raft. We clutched our knuckles tightly as we went over each thrilling drop.
Some of the waves were reminiscent of big, rolling deep-ocean swells. Others acted more like powerful choppy river rapids. Sometimes it would feel as if the rapids were smoothing out. Then a rapid would smack you right in the face! There were moments that it felt like a choreographed theme park ride. But instead this was an extreme force of nature providing the thrills.
After completing each section of rapids, we would return to run them a second or third time. It was crazy how each run we shot through the waves, it was a completely different ride. Some of the subsequent runs were more intense than the first. Other times, you could feel that the rapids were mellowing out as the river was becoming deeper.
During some of the more intense runs, the raft began to take on water to points where it seemed like we’d be going down. But such a fate was impossible as the raft is built with self-draining mechanisms that thankfully kept us all afloat. It’s a strange feeling to be floating on the river surface yet full of water.
While motoring to the next series of rapids, we wrung out our clothes and emptied the water that had collected in our boots. What a pointless pursuit that was! Each subsequent section of tidal bore rapids continued to soak us more and more.
We soon learned that these short stints cruising over flat water were better spent looking up in the trees for bald eagles. Yes, there are bald eagles here on the Shubenacadie River! We caught a few glimpses of these majestic birds in between all the rapid running madness.
Yet ultimately we would end up back in those turbulent murky waters for more awesome tidal bore thrills and spills!
The few hours that we spent tidal bore rafting on the Shubenacadie River flew by as quickly as the water flowed upstream. But eventually all the excitement was over.
We motored back towards where we began. And it was completely amazing to see the water lever had risen nearly forty feet up the high banks of the river.
Seeing this first hand is truly mind-blowing. It’s like magic. We cruised past the initial sandbar we were standing just a few hours earlier. Minutes later that sandbar had changed into raging rapids. Now it was a calm, deep river. Insane!
Shubenacadie River Runners: Review
We give Shubenacadie River Runners a great review! Our guide was competent, fun, professional, knowledgeable and friendly. The raft was in great condition to handle the intense tidal bore with ease. It was all a flawless experience and such a fun half-day adventure in Nova Scotia!
At the time of writing, River Runners holds the #1 rating on Tripadvisor and they pride themselves on being Nova Scotia’s premium tidal rafting operation. You can read more about why they’re awesome on their About Page.
We also appreciated how River Runners was able to complete the entire rafting trip in 3 hours, while other operators take 4 hours to cover the same sections of the river. The difference in time is partly due to River Runner’s location at the mouth of the Shubenacadie River.
Overall, we had a great time with Shubenacadie River Runners and definitely recommend them!
How To Book
You can book by completing their online request form or calling Shubenacadie River Runners at 1-800-856-5061.
Departure days and times are entirely dependent on the tides, which change daily. So be sure to review their tidal calendar before booking. Prices also vary based on the calendar, but rates for the 3-hour trip that we took are $80-$90 for adults.
How to Go Tidal Bore Rafting from Halifax
To get to Shubenacadie River Runners from Halifax, it takes slightly more than an hour to drive from downtown Halifax. There isn’t any public transportation. If you don’t have a car, we suggest simply renting one for the day. Most of the big car rental agencies have locations in downtown Halifax, making it convenient to pick up a car. That’s what we did and we found the best rental car prices in Halifax by searching through Priceline.
Side note: If you are visiting Halifax, be sure to check out our travel guide on the Top 20 Things to Do in Halifax on a Budget!
Tips To Know Before You Go Tidal Bore Rafting
Review the calendar to have a more or less extreme run. If you want an extreme run like we had, plan accordingly. If you desire a more gentle adventure, go when the bore isn’t so intense. Tidal bore rafting is only possible during the summer months, May-September. Check the calendar to see the intensity level by date.
Don’t wear white. The Shubenacadie River isn’t polluted. But all that turbulent water stirs up sediment that turns the river brown. If you go tidal bore rafting in a white bathing suit, don’t expect it to stay that way. So don’t wear white or any light colors, as they may become stained by the murky river water.
Don’t go out drinking the night before. Some of these waves are tall and rolling. You’re going to bob up and down, just as you would out at sea. Our guide told us people rarely get seasick out here, but warned us that drinking the night before a tidal bore rafting trip is not a good idea.
Eat before you go. Since the tidal bore rafting times are entirely dependent on the tide, you may find yourself rafting during a mealtime. Be sure to eat before you go, or at least have a snack. You don’t want to get hungry out on the river. About 500 meters up the street from from River Runners is the Frieze and Roy General Store, said to be Canada’s oldest General Store. They have snacks, pre-made sandwiches, and a little in-store cafe that serves hot food too.
Arrive 1-hour early. Whatever your scheduled time of rafting is, you need to show-up about one hour beforehand to sign waivers, make payment, meet your guide, and get your gear on. Don’t miss the boat!
Go for the longer trip. River Runners offers a 2-hour and 3-hour version of the tidal bore rafting trip. The 2-hour version only covers half the rapids, while the 3-hour version covers all of them. It only costs a little bit more, so we say it’s worth it to do the entire 3-hour version for double the fun!
Know where to sit. It’s a different experience to sit in the front and the back of the raft. We recommend trying both angles throughout the adventure. The guides will allow you to switch positions in between rapids. We thought it felt like a much more intense experience in the front. So thrill-seekers definitely should position themselves towards the bow, while those who are more timid should sit towards the back. But know that you won’t escape getting soaked in any location.
Wear closed toed-shoes. No flip-flops allowed.
Not from Canada, eh? You need travel insurance! While River Runners has a fantastic safety record, accidents can occur whether out on the river, in the car ride there, or anywhere in Canada. If you’re visiting Canada from the US, be sure you have medical coverage while within the country. You won’t be covered by Canada’s health care system, so medical costs would be outrageous should an unforeseen accident occur. That medical coverage is a must, but travel insurance will also cover other mishaps like trip cancelation and lost luggage, which can also be assuring to have.
For Americans visiting Canada, we like World Nomads travel insurance which contains the medical coverage you need to have while traveling in Canada. Of note: rafting is a covered activity under their standard plan. Get a quick quote for your travel dates.
What To Pack for Tidal Bore Rafting
River Runners provides all of the rain gear to help keep you dry. So just arrive wearing a bathing suit and they’ll take care of the rest. Here’s a checklist of some things you may want to consider bringing.
Wear a bathing suit and dry wicking shirt. Don’t wear anything cotton, as that’ll retain the water and the cold. Come wearing breathable, quick-dry clothing.
Shoes that can get wet – Wearing a pair of closed-toed water shoes is a good idea. Get a pair like these for men, or these for women. Or consider an old pair of sneakers. If you don’t have anything else, River Runners will lend you a pair of water boots.
A waterproof camera – Want to document this unique thrill? If you have a camera that is waterproof and can be secured to your body, they’ll allow you to bring it. GoPros are a great option, but they run upwards of $400. We used this less expensive action cam to record the video and all the photos you see in this article – and it’s only $50 on Amazon and comes with loads of accessories! Just be sure you also have an attachment to secure it. We used this GoPole Floating Hand Grip but you may want to consider a head strap attachment like this so that you can be hands-free to hang on tight during the big rapids.
Sunscreen – Apply some waterproof sunscreen before you head out on the water.
Change of clothes – River Runners has hot showers at their facilities, so you can clean up and slip into dry clothes.
Towel and toiletries – River Runners provides the hot water, but you’ll need your own towel and toiletries. We love this lightweight dry wicking towel, which is perfect for travel.
More travel packing tips – For more travel packing tips, check out our Ultimate Travel Pack List.
Tidal Bore Rafting Nova Scotia
Tidal bore rafting was our favorite adventure activity throughout all of Nova Scotia. It’s crazy good fun and such a thrill! Rafting in the most extreme tides in the world is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Nowhere else on earth can you experience such a feat.
It’s mind-blowing to witness the incredible force of nature of these extreme tidal changes. But actually rafting through it, takes things to the next level!
Looks like a blast. Nova Scotia is such an awesome province. Might half to check this out. Thanks for posting.
John Widmer says
Very awesome indeed. We loved our time roaming around Nova Scotia! If you come over that way, it’s definitely worth checking out.
This is the first time I am hearing about tidal bore rafting. Its quite similar to shooting the rapids here in the Philippines. It looks a lot of fun too! Thanks for sharing your experience!
John Widmer says
It is loads of fun! 🙂
Pilot Mark says
Fantastic post! I´m definitely a thrill seeker – I love adventure travel and getting my hands dirty. I´ve been rafting in New Zealand and Jamaica which were very different experiences, but I have to say that New Zealand smashed it on the whitewater rafting front. Would love to try this too!
John Widmer says
We also went whitewater rafting in New Zealand so definitely have to agree that it’s pretty incredible! Although this was a bit different than whitewater rafting we did in NZ and elsewhere. The tidal surge here added an entirely ‘nother dimension to this adventure!
sara | belly rumbles says
Oh wow, I have never heard of tidal bore rafting before. It looks quite scary but so much fun. Thank goodness the rafts have built in draining systems, you seriously look like you are about to sink! Isn’t nature amazing and deadly forceful at times.
John Widmer says
We hadn’t heard of it either but had so much fun with it! And I don’t know how the heck the draining works, but all the water would somehow manage to find it’s way out in about 10 seconds or so. I think through the back. So strange to be completely afloat with all that water in the raft!
Paige W says
I’ve never heard of Tidal Bore Rafting, let alone motorized rafting in general! It looks like quite the adventure though! I’ve been whitewater rafting but this seems like a step up from that because you get to just “sit back” and enjoy! It looks like so much fun! When I make it up there I’ll be sure to check this out!
John Widmer says
It was loads of fun and we hope you get a chance to do it when you get up here! 🙂 We’ve never been rafting with a motor either, so that was a completely different experience for us too. Although the motor was primarily used to get to each set of rapids rather than to motor through them. Was nice to be able to just sit back but we still feel like we got quite the work out just hanging on, lol!
Megan Jerrard says
I like to think I’m a keen adventurer, though I’d never heard of Tidal Bore Rafting either! This looks like INCREDIBLE fun though, and obviously the Bay of Fundy tides are the place to do it. Clever to do a little research and specifically plan your trip for the most intense tide days – I wouldn’t have thought of that! I loved whitewater rafting, but total bonus that you don’t actually paddle in this version lol! Looks like you’re just sitting on top of the water in some of those shots – how insane! Thanks for the tip to book with Shubenacadie River Runners – will definitely give them a call!
John Widmer says
Hope you get over here and give tidal bore rafting a go! 🙂 We were determined to go during one of the more extreme days but we didn’t realize that we were going on the single most extreme day of the year. That was pretty wild and we loved every adreneline-fueled moment of it!
This looks like the perfect adventure! Thanks for all the practical tips, especially the travel insurance piece. Thanks for sharing
John Widmer says
It is definitely quite the adventure! Yeah the travel insurance with medical coverage is something I think a lot of people don’t think about when traveling to Canada. But it’s so important to have coverage when crossing the border.
Elaine J. Masters says
I just heard about this recently. Such a cool phenomenon. Amazing too that it comes and goes so quickly. I’d love to experience it one day.
John Widmer says
Yes, we’re so fascinated with how quickly all that water just rolls on in. Hope you get over to Nova Scotia to experience this one day! 🙂
Dear lord! I love me some adventure travel, but this looks like a LOT. I mean, amazing too… but a LOT. Also looks like you had a ton of fun 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
John Widmer says
It was a LOT! But also a LOT of fun, haha!
Sarah Elliott says
Wow! We have been to PEI and to Newfoundland but not Nova Scotia. It is actually on our wish list. I will have to add the title bore to our list. That would be an amazing experience! I also appreciate all the tips of what to pack and how to prepare!
Emma McKay says
So cool! I had no idea you could go rafting in Nova Scotia, I visited when I was a kid but definitely need to go back. Looks really fun – thanks for such a detailed post!
John Widmer says
Yes, it was lots of fun! There are a few places you can go rafting in Nova Scotia, but this was unique because it’s on a tidal bore! 🙂
Jane M says
I’ve never heard of tidal bore rafting until today – always surprises me when I discover a completely new activity! Anyway, it sounds like an amazingly fun day out. I wonder if there are other places in the world that offer it or if it’s unique to Nova Scotia?
John Widmer says
We had never heard of tidal bore rafting either. So much fun! We were also wondering if there’s anywhere else in the world that does tidal bore rafting. I know there are at least 60 other tidal bores throughout the world. Some of them people even go surfing on! I did some quick internet sleuthing and I couldn’t find any other tidal bore rafting. So it could exist elsewhere, but I think it may be unique to Nova Scotia. Am going to try and dig more to find out! 🙂