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!