Updated: Apr 11, 2022
The Hopewell Rocks is the most-visited tourist attraction in New Brunswick and one of the busiest in all of eastern Canada.
Though it’s not perfect, the provincial park has been taking steps to make itself more accessible to people with disabilities in recent years, and if you come at just the right time, I can even teach you a way to break in for free.
The Hopewell Rocks are in Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick, situated on the Bay of Fundy which separates the province from neighbouring Nova Scotia.
The bay is famous for having the highest tides in the world which can rise 13 metres (43 ft) in just six hours.
Over a 12-hour tide cycle, about 100 billion tonnes of water will flow into the bay. That’s about as much as all the rivers in the world combined over the same period!
What it all means is that you can walk on the ocean floor at low tide, and later in the day the same spot is under water. There’s even a kayak company at the Rocks that will take you paddling where you were walking just a few hours before.
The power of all that water sloshing in and out of the bay has steadily eroded the cliffs in this area, and have carved out the spectacular rock formations that draw thousands of visitors every year.
It's a beautiful natural landscape teaming with wildlife.The Rocks are about 40-70 feet tall and still have trees on the top, which is why they’re sometimes called the Flower Pot Rocks.
I live about three hours away from Hopewell Cape, but this is the small community where my stepdad grew up,
so I’m pretty familiar with it. We still have a cottage in the area which we recently fixed up and now rent as an airbnb accommodation in the spring, summer and fall.
Anybody who uses wheelchairs and walkers to get around knows how difficult it can be to get out and about in natural and rural areas, so I never really went to the Rocks, though I always wanted to.
The great news is that last year they installed a new ramp down to the beach. Previously, if you had a disability, you could only really see the attraction from the viewing platform at the top of the cliff. Now you can get down to the ocean floor, just like everybody else, though you can’t see the rocks themselves from here.
Of course, it’s a ramp to a beach, so once you’re at the bottom all that sand makes it pretty much impossible to roll much further. As of 2020 there were no accessible beach chairs available (you don’t want to swim here, the water in the Bay of Fundy is always freezing, plus those tides make swimming dangerous).
I can walk with a little help, but for a person with little mobility it would be hard to do much on the beach independently, so I would recommend bringing someone to help you.
Before the ramp was built, you had to walk down, and then back up, a pretty serious twisting staircase, so the new ramp is a much-welcomed addition even if your knees are just a little creaky.
While getting to the rock formations further down the beach is a challenge for people using wheelchairs and walkers, the good news is the rest of the park is accessible.
There’s walking trails all around that are paved and good for rolling, and the gift shop and interpretive centre are barrier free. There’s also a shuttle for people with mobility challenges, a kind of go cart that will take you from the top parking lot down to the viewing platform.
The Break In
Between May and October, the park costs $14 per adult, $8 for kids between 8 and 19 and $35 for a family of four (children under four are free). Tickets are good for 24 hours, so you can be sure to see the site at low and high tide, even if it’s the next day. Be sure to check the tide table, as it changes slightly each day.
To get in without paying, you simply need to come in the off-season.
On the access road, instead of turning right and going up the hill to the main parking lot, you can keep driving straight and go to the lower parking lot nearer the rock formations. This was the main entrance about 20 years ago.
From here, you’ll need to walk around, or roll under, a gate, which is pretty simple if you have help. This gives you access to both the beach ramp and the upper viewing platform. The only difference is the gift shop, interpretive centre, restaurants and snack shops aren’t open.
This is completely legal to do, and you will probably have the entire place to yourself. In fact, many people in the local area remember when entry was completely free and resent the fact there’s a charge now. Some of them will tell you they haven’t been to the park themselves in decades!
These are the highest - and the most powerful - tides in the world. So you have to be careful, especially if you’re going off-season with no park staff to help you if you get in trouble. It’s strictly at your own risk.
Certain areas near the cliffs and caves are roped off to protect you from falling rocks, and you need to know the timing of the tides to visit safely.
You’re allowed on the beach 3.5 hours before and 3.5 hours after low tide. The water comes in fast and if you’re not off the beach by the proper time, you risk getting trapped. The good news is there’s a platform at the far end of the beach where late travellers can climb up and wait out the high water (it will take about 12 hours for the water to fall far enough for safety, so bring a lunch).
If you are looking for somewhere with lots of history and if you are able to walk a short distance then the Albert County Museum is the right place for you .
It’s an old site and not accessible for wheelchair users because they don’t have a ramp and there are some very small spaces so I would not recommend it. But if you’re able-bodied or you can walk a short distance, even with a support person, I would definitely recommend it.
Here you can learn about the history of the area, including the ship building, mining and lumber industries. You can also visit the county jail from the 1800s, site of the last hanging in New Brunswick’s history (kind of morbid, but it’s fun).
This area also produced a prime minister of Canada. R.B. Bennet was born just down the road in Hopewell Hill. The 11th prime minister held office during the Great Depression, helping to establish the CBC and the Bank of Canada.
Admission starts at $10 with discounts for seniors and children along with family rates.
If you like the outdoors then Fundy National Park, about a half hour drive away, is a great place with hiking, camping, kayaking and much more. It has a few accessible, and spectacular look off points like the start of the Dixon Falls trail, and even a few short hiking trails that are wheelchair friendly
If you go to Fundy Park, you can’t leave the small fishing town of Alma without a stop. This is another great place to see the tides. When the water is high the boats are floating at the wharf, but when the water is low they’re sitting on the mud and the water is a mile away. Here you can pick up fresh lobster, scallops, mussels and fish, sample some local beer and stock up on snacks.
My favourite spot here is the Fundy Takeout, which sells all kinds of different fried seafood you can scarf down on a picnic table beside a little river that -- surprise -- rises and fall with the tide.
Stay at Our Place
If you need a place to stay, there’s plenty of hotels and bed and breakfasts around. I highly recommend our aibnb rental which we stripped down and totally renovated a few years ago.
Down the Road Guest House is more than 150 years old, so not wheelchair friendly, but if you’re like me and can walk a few steps this is the perfect place for you to stay.
It’s a five-minute drive from the Hopewell Rocks and has five bedrooms that can sleep up to nine people with one accessible bedroom downstairs plus an accessible washroom with a walk-in shower and a seat.
I really hope you visit this great Canadian adventure and enjoy your stay in New Brunswick.