Roadtripping: Crowdsourcing a route from Ottawa to PEI and back

by DaniGirl on May 9, 2014 · 12 comments

in Ottawa to PEI 2014

I love that it’s finally May so I can say NEXT MONTH we are going to PEI. *insert happy dance here* It will be late next month, true, but it makes it seem so much more immediate now than it was six months ago when we booked the cottage rental for our first ever trip to Canada’s most lovely province.

I’ve been trying to get a big blog post out with all of our plans, but my busy schedule utter inability to focus on more than a paragraph at a time dictates that I parcel this out into smaller bites. And I am so paralyzed by all the possible route choices to and from PEI that I can’t get past them to think about the actual PEI part!

So, let’s talk about driving to and from PEI, shall we? This is my working route so far, but I would love your input.

I know it’s theoretically possible to drive Ottawa to PEI in one day and have a few friends who have done it. If it were just Beloved and me in the car, I’d do that for sure. The boys, although they are pretty good road-trippers, I think need that little bit of a break, so we’ll push as far as Woodstock, NB on day one, which is 9.5 hours, and then do the final 5.5 hours to the cottage on day two, leaving us plenty of time to explore PEI as we arrive. That part is pretty much locked down, but I am open to your suggestions. We stopped at Grand Sault when we drove out to Nova Scotia a few years ago, but I wanted to push just a little farther down the road for our first day of driving.

It’s the trip home that has me stymied. I hate to backtrack on the best of days, and we love exploring, and the Trans Canada drive is b-o-r-i-n-g, so we thought we’d shake it up by driving back through the United States. This is where you come in. I need your suggestions and advice, especially if you’re familiar with the New Brunswick-Maine-New Hampshire part of the drive.

Currently, if for nothing else than to put a pin in my endless dithering, I’ve got us booked at a place near Berlin, New Hampshire on the last night of the trip, so we drive 10.5 or 11 hours from PEI through NB, across Maine and into New Hampshire on the first day, and then home on the second day. Google Maps suggest I follow the Trans Canada past Fredericton and enter the US at Houlton, Maine but that seems like it’s superhighway all the way. Great for efficiency, lousy for scenic. My instinct is to dip down and go through Saint John. It only seems a difference of a few minutes but looks like a more straight and less super-highway route.

When we drove out to Bar Harbor in 2007, we followed Route 2 the whole way, which is pretty much Main Street of every little town in Maine. We loved it, but it was the opposite of efficient. I was thinking about doing it again, but then feared it might be the equivalent of driving from here to Windsor on Highway 2 so you could avoid the 401 – you could do it in theory, but why on earth would you torture yourself like that? So maybe we’ll pick up the I-95 and follow that around, which is longer but faster because you don’t stop every 10 minutes for a red light or duck crossing. Your thoughts on i-95 versus Route 2 straight across?

I’ve also been agonizing on places to stop in the US on that last night. I seriously considered Bangor, Maine as it is more or less half way. Okay, truth, I actually considered Bangor mostly so we could revisit the stalking of Stephen King. Mea culpla. Bangor’s also nice because we don’t have to haul ass quite so quickly out of PEI and can meander a bit on our way, but it leaves us with hella drive from Bangor to Manotick on the last day. I’ve tentatively settled on staying in New Hampshire largely because the hotel had a nice family suite with a pull-out couch as well as a couple of queen beds, not to mention an outdoor pool and a bouncy caste, and we’ll put the lion’s share of the drive behind us on the first day driving out of PEI, but I’m open to the idea of stopping earlier in Bangor or Augusta or just about anywhere else loosely on the route. Thoughts?

And as if those weren’t enough choices, on the final day I still have to decide whether we follow the Google Maps advice and head home via Montreal, which seems about the equivalent of stabbing a hot poker into your eye, or take the longer way and ramble up through upstate New York and cross at Cornwall. My instinct says avoid Montreal at all costs. Nancy or Angela, you got thoughts on that?

I have a sneaking suspicion that I am making this far harder than it has to be. I love the car and driving but have no particular love for “the slab” as the bikers call it, so I’m amenable to a scenic route – but adding hours on to the trip doesn’t seem fair to the kids.

Any experience here? Would love to hear your favourite routes to PEI and back, or any amazing places you might have stayed anywhere between Lake Champlain and Bar Harbor. Would you stick to the slab or put up with the stop lights on Main Street every couple miles down the highway? And stay tuned for more about planning for PEI, including one 15th anniversary and one 150th anniversary and a whole boatload of Anne of Green Gables!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jody May 9, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Last summer we drove TO PEI from Acadia in Maine via Saint John and Halifax, and we drove FROM PEI to Portland ME via Fredericton and Houlton. And 10 months later, I don’t remember that there’s so much difference in the routes, as far as scenery goes. Now, this may a have something to do with our regular road trips involving many hours on the US interstates through Indiana and Illinois. After that many hours of cornfields, the Canadian highways are almost certainly going to seem more varied. But also, and especially on the return journey, I was not that invested in the scenery. I only cared about the fastest route.

And yet — I95 from Houlton was pretty. It was really, really pretty, if memory has not failed me. And in my recollection, going the non-highway route from Acadia to the Canadian border mostly just involved more towns, none of which were especially scenic in itself. Until we reached Saint Andrews in NB and went whale-watching: that was delightful. But the point is, these are interstates through forests. They are mostly only different from the state roads in being faster and better maintained. And both of those factors are benefits at the end of a trip, right?

I don’t think, in the end, it matters terribly, but given the relative emptiness of Maine and the lack of difference between highways and interstates, I voted for the Houlton crossing myself. So….

(We never did any real travel in NH so I can’t advise on that. I do vote for driving as far as possible on the first day, though. My kids are always SO DONE with travel by the return journey. I’ve learned not to expect them to want to do anything but get home by the fastest possible route.)

2 TD May 9, 2014 at 1:20 pm

We went to PEI last summer. We actually did 3 days in NH, 3 days in Moncton and then 7 nights in PEI before stopping in Edmuston on the way home. We used the new highway to bypass Montreal going down to the US and also on the way home from PEI. It is slightly longer but much less stressful. The bridge does have a toll, but it was around 1.50 each way last summer.

When we drove from North Conway, NH to Moncton, NB,we took I95 and I think Hwy 9, crossing in St Stephen. We took the Trans Canada route through NB (going through St John) to Moncton. We then drove the tourist route to the bridge, stopping in Shediac to hang out with the Lobster. Coming back from PEI, after we crossed the bridge to NB we stopped at a park called Cape Jouriman National Wildlife are to eat lunch and do a trail walk. It is a huge area, but we only stayed for an hour before we continued to Edmuston (stopping though to take in the Covered Bridge potato chip factory tour) for the night. We then returned through QC, again taking the new highway instead of going through Montreal. (basic did the trip in the opposite way that you are doing it.) Only part of the trip that was the same was the first two hours and the last two hours of the whole thing. Other than that it was a loop

3 kev May 9, 2014 at 1:33 pm

WRT to transit via Montreal:

Highway 30.

Highway 30.

Highway 30.

That is all.

4 DaniGirl May 9, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Oh oh oh, such good comments already! Thank you! Will review in detail later with Beloved.

There’s a new highway through Montreal??? I do not go east nearly often enough! This is the Highway 30 of which Kev speaks? So Montreal is no longer to be avoided at all costs?

5 smothermother May 9, 2014 at 1:52 pm

the 30 is AWESOME!! so totally worth the $2 toll. we take it when we drive home all the time now.

cant’ wait to read all the posts about PEI. then I won’t have to do so much interweb hunting for my trip in august. πŸ˜‰

6 TD May 9, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Yes, HWY 30 is the highway I am talking about up above. Well worth the cost for avoiding Montreal traffic. It does not necessarily save time, but it saves stress.

We had not updated the maps on our GPS last summer, and the kids thought it was hilarius to see us driving through water. We had the same issues in NB last summer as the transcanada when we crossed from Maine to NB was newly realigned and widened. The same was going on in QC last year when we crossed from NB to QC (it was being widened from 2 lanes to a 4 lane divided highway).

7 Susan B May 9, 2014 at 3:30 pm

OK, here’s my thoughts:

Definitely avoid Mtl. Even on the way out East – take the ferry across from Hudson to the North Shore and bypass the island. There may still be construction and slow spots, but it’s better than being on the island. We take that route right to Quebec city and cross to the South shore there. There are more towns and more options for stopping when you need to.

As for going through the states, we now always go up and cross at Houlton rather than St. Stephen/Calais. The road is divided all the way. I’m not too keen on those East Coast 2 lane highways. I was also finding the poverty we’d see along the road from Calais to Bangor a bit depressing.

I would also suggest stopping in NH vs Bangor. NH is so beautiful, it will be a much nicer setting. (You can always stop in Bangor and stalk earlier in the day…) We have been returning home through the states for years now but we go further South to do some outlet shopping in Freeport and Kittery before heading back through NH. And there’s another idea…

8 DaniGirl May 10, 2014 at 7:28 am

Thanks Susan, it never occurred to me to try that route on the north shore – will check it out! And yes, the prevailing opinion seems to favour both entering the US at Houlton and outlet shopping. Hmmm, maybe we will need one more day of travel…. πŸ˜‰

9 Sarah McCormack May 10, 2014 at 7:28 am

Yes, what Kevin said! new highway so you can avoid driving through Montreal…… we did that last summer and it was a super easy drive πŸ™‚ I highly recommend.. at least for the trip down!

10 Dan Timon May 10, 2014 at 8:16 pm

My two cents, Go through maine, stop in NH and see White MOuntain, stop in Vermont and see the Ben and Jerry’s Factory, stop in Ausable and slid down the natural waterslide.

11 Steve May 12, 2014 at 9:00 am

The new highway is a toll, however the toll is 2.00$ and you go under and around MTL. You. Must. Do. This!


12 Jen Hughes May 21, 2014 at 12:35 pm

I could talk at length about PEI and the trip back and forth. We go every year, often twice. I went out and back for the May long weekend, doing the drive all at once both ways. Stopping for the night when you’re travelling with kids is definitely recommended, but we do always try to get as far as possible that first day, for the sake of making the second day short and getting there early in the day.

We often take the route along the north shore as well, which means a scenic drive through Hudson, a fun (short, also scenic) ferry ride, and a stop at the Oka cheese factory on the far side. But we also don’t mind the Montreal route if need be. We’re used to it.

It’s been a long time since we’ve gone through the States. We just like to maximize our PEI time and get the driving over with. Which means a rambling route with lots of scenery is low on our priorities. However, if you do go the Saint John route, make sure you stop in St. Andrews.

Feel free to pick my brain for PEI recommendations. I’m practically a local. πŸ˜‰

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