Saint John, New Brunswick is home to the first UNESCO Geopark in Canada, called Stonehammer. If you think geology is boring this site and its wide variety of activities will change your mind.
When I was growing up in Saint John, New Brunswick, I took the landscape for granted. I didn’t give our rugged coastline, impenetrable forests, and lush river valleys more than a passing thought, much less consider the ground beneath my feet.
I wasn’t alone. Most Saint Johners could tell you a bit about our Reversing Rapids when the Bay of Fundy’s relentless high tides pushes the gushing St. John River back upstream. But few of us considered the geology around those rapids – that is until UNESCO came to town.
UNESCO is most known for its catalogue of World Heritage Sites but, in addition to preserving culture and human history, the organization also brings awareness to diverse ecosystems and landscapes. The UNESCO Global Geopark system focuses on the ground beneath our feet and the eons of history our geology represents.
Like most locals, I had no idea our geology was anything special; certainly, nothing that would warrant becoming the first UNESCO Global Geopark in Canada. But exploring the Stonehammer site and its many activities opened my eyes to the mysteries and wonders that have been here long before Canada was a blip on the geological map.
How to Explore Stonehammer Geopark
Explaining what Stonehammer is and why it’s so significant is challenging. So your first stop on a Stonehammer discovery tour should be the New Brunswick Museum in Uptown Saint John. The museum is the current hub of information about the Geopark (although a dedicated site is in the works).
Here you learn how Stonehammer is not one specific place, but rather 2,500 square kilometres of New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy region from the village of Saint Martin’s to the east, the towns of Norton and Hampton to the northeast, the Kingston Peninsula to the northwest, and Lepreau Falls to the southwest. Within this area are more than 60 sites of geological significance from every geological period from the Proterozoic to the Quaternary except for the Jurassic (but geologists believe they’ll discover that here too.)
The New Brunswick Museum’s interactive exhibits break these diverse geological periods down and demonstrate their significance to Saint John’s landscape. There are also some incredible fossil findings on display and hands-on activities for kids (and kids at heart).
Once you’ve learned a bit about what Stonehammer Geopark is, it’s time to get out and explore. The real magic of Stonehammer is that there is an activity for absolutely everyone; whether you enjoy fast-paced, adrenalin-inducing activities, quiet moments in nature, heart-pumping hikes, or leisurely cruises. You can even relax at a spa or eat a Stonehammer-themed meal.
Stonehammer for Active Travellers
If you think exploring a Geopark is all standing around and looking at rocks, you’re in for a surprise at Stonehammer. There are plenty of activities for adrenaline-junkies and those who enjoy a workout with their travels.
- Dangle over the Reversing Rapids on the Saint John Adventures zip line, a series of 5 lines zooming you out over the rapids. Challenge a friend to a race on the dual line at the end of the trip.
- Just across the water, you can test your fear of heights at the Reversing Falls Restaurant’s Skywalk. This glass-floored open-air boardwalk juts out over the rapids affording an incredible view (if you can open your eyes!) While you’re there, don’t miss a look up at the cliffs where you can see the Caledonia Faultline. The stones on one side of the fault were once part of South America, while the rocks on the other side came all the way from Africa.
- If you enjoy kayaking, there are plenty of sites to dip your paddles within Stonehammer. Head to Martin’s to paddle through the sea caves created by our world-famous high tides. Or sign up for the River Relics Kayak Adventure with GoFundy Events. This tour takes you up the St. John River from Dominion Park to view some incredible fossils only visible from the water. This trip was one of my favourite Stonehammer adventures.
Stonehammer for Nature-Lovers
In Saint John and the surrounding areas, we are spoiled for choice when someone suggests a walk in the park.
- A great place to begin exploring the nature of Saint John is Rockwood Park, an 890-hectare green oasis in the middle of the city. You can explore the 55 walking trails on your own, or better yet, sign up for a guide from Inside Out Nature Centre located in the park’s Lily Lake Pavilion. Inside Out also has an indoor climbing wall, but for a Stonehammer-themed adventure, they’ll take you rappelling beside the Caledonia Faultline which also runs right through Rockwood.
- My favourite place in all of the Saint John region is the Irving Nature Park, located on Taylors Island. Enjoy some beachcombing on Saints Rest Beach or explore the kilometres of hiking trails within the park. The circuit of the island offers breathtaking coastal views where you’re sure to encounter some of the local bird and wildlife.
- The Fundy Trail Parkway is another of my favourite places in Southern New Brunswick, and like Stonehammer itself, there are multiple ways to explore it. The Parkway is fully accessible by vehicle (we even took our RV there), bicycle, or hikers. There are great places to canoe and kayak, and the park is home to some of the prettiest beaches in the province.
Stonehammer for Families
The Stonehammer Geopark prides itself on accessibility to all ages and physical abilities, and there are plenty of activities every member of the family can enjoy together.
- For a scenic cruise through one of the region’s waterways, head to the town of Hampton and visit Zelda’s River Adventures. You’ll set sail on an eco-friendly pontoon boat while learning about the geology and wildlife along the river.
- For a slightly more active boating adventure, Osprey Adventures offers trips in an authentic voyager canoe. You’ll follow one of the First Nation’s traditional routes while learning about the flora, fauna, and geology of the area.
- Back on dry land, you can take a drive to Lepreau Falls, a gushing waterfall just off the highway to St. Stephen. It’s an excellent spot for a picnic on a sunny day.
If you take part in even a few of the many things to do within Stonehammer’s borders you’re going to work up an appetite. Head over to Lily’s, the restaurant inside the Lily Lake Pavillion at Rockwood Park and enjoy their Stonehammer Menu. The summer terrace overlooking the lake is one of the city’s hotspots, and the restaurant is a registered non-profit with proceeds going back into the community.
If you need a little relaxation in your vacation, indulge in the Stonehammer hot rock massage at Pangea Wellness Spa, next door to Lily’s. Your tired muscles will thank you.
This just scratches the surface of the many things to do within Stonehammer Geopark. With more activities being added each year, there’s no time like the present to plan your visit – because you’ll definitely want to come back again.
Want more? Here are some of the best things to do in New Brunswick.
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