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Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

Oak Park, Illinois
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Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

We are going to be driving on a Saturday morning from Bar Harbor to Saint John, NB to (hopefully) catch the noon ferry over to Nova Scotia. Most map apps say its a 4.5 hour drive. Does that take into account the time change after you cross the border? I'm really nervous that we're not going to make the ferry! What time should we plan to leave Bar Harbor in order to get to Saint John by 11 or so (taking into account the time change)? Also, how long does it usually take to get through the border crossing at Calais?


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1. Re: Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

Atlantic Canada is an hour ahead of Maine. So, if it is 11 am in Maine, it is 12 noon in St. John, Canada.

If you leave Bar Harbor at 6 am and drive 4.5 hours, you will be in Canada at 11:30 am (10:30 in Maine).

I haven't crossed the border in Calais in many years so I don't know how long it takes nowadays. I will leave that for another person to answer.

Nova Scotia
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2. Re: Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

The question of length of time at the border is pretty hard to answer, as you never know how many other cars are lined up ahead of you. But, there are now 3 border crossings between the two countries in Calais. The first one you will come to say 'all commercial traffic to Canada' . You can still use this one. It is the newest and largest and connects directly to the Transcanada highway for the route to Saint John.

The second crossing is a little out of the way and hard to find, unless you see the sign for Milltown NB.

Crossing # 3 is in the downtown area of Calais and takes you into the town of St. Stephen, and through, where you will eventually see the exit for the highway. We just crossed a week ago there, and we were the only car there in the early morning. Like you, we always tried to allow a little extra time for line ups.

We allow the following for our drive times:

St.Stephen to Saint John - 1 hour.

We allow 1 1/2 hr from Bangor to Calais via route 9

Bar Harbor to Bangor - 1 hour. Are they doing construction on the road between Bar Harbor and Ellsworth? That may slow you down, if they are.

As mentioned, there is a time change at the border. I assume you have already made your reservations for the ferry? Keep in mind that although they say be there 1 hr before sailing, we have seen lots of cars pull up within 20 minutes of sailing. Keep the phone number of the terminal in Saint John handy, and if you feel you are cutting it close, call them and let them know you are on the way.

Bar Harbor, Maine
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3. Re: Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

The construction between Bar Harbor and Ellsworth is now finished. One doesn't have to go all the way to Bangor to pick up Route 9. Highway 179 out of Ellsworth angles up to Route 9.

Oak Park, Illinois
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4. Re: Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

Thanks everyone for the info. I think we'll try to leave by 5:30 and hope for a smooth crossing at the border!

Lunenburg, Canada
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for Saint John, Foz do Iguacu, Iguazu National Park
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5. Re: Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

Hi IL!

Four hours is about right from Bar Harbor to St. John, New Brunswick. Add one hour for the time change, so that's about 5 hours on your watches under optimum conditions. Let's break it down. Say you were to leave Bar Harbor at 7 a.m. Eastern Time:

- Bar Harbor to Ellsworth, on the mainland: one-half hour. You'll likely have some morning traffic in Ellsworth.

- Ellsworth to Calais via Route 179 and Route 9 is 92 miles. It would take me about 1:35 to 1:40. The speed limit on Route 9 is nominally 55 mph, but most drive faster and there are plenty of passing lanes.

(Don't take US-1 via Machias. It's longer, slower because of the reduced speed limits in towns, and not as scenic anyway.) Stop for gas at the intersection of Route 9 and Route 1 (there's a large Irving station). Gas costs almost $1 a gallon more in Canada!

- Take the first border crossing for Canada. It's 4 1/2 miles from the intersection with the Irving station to the border crossing. Take the left turn in the traffic rotary, and the border crossing is just up the hill. Naturally, you just drive past the US post and stop on the Canadian side. Passports, please! With luck, this should take just 5 minutes early in the morning. Gas, the drive to the border, and customs formalities should add up to at least 20 minutes. If you left Bar Harbor at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time, it should now be about 9:30 a.m. ET.

- Now turn your watches ahead one hour for Atlantic Time. 10:30 a.m. AT

- Route 1 from the Canadian side of the border to St. John is 75 miles, freeway all the way, with a speed limit of 70 mph most of the distance (actually posted as 110 km/h). With no stops, you can do it in a few pennies over an hour.

- Allow about 10 minutes local travel in St. John itself. You want Exit 120 off the Route 1 freeway, signed for Digby with a pictogram of a car ferry. (I know that Google Maps doesn't show the exit, but it is there, as the Google Earth photo will plainly show). Follow the signs to the ferry.

That would get you to the ferry dock ... just before noon! So, if the boat departs at 12:00 noon Atlantic, you need to be on the road not later than 6:30 a.m. Eastern to get there with a 1/2 hour time reserve. Remember, you've also go to line up and check in. This ferry either requires or strongly urges reservations. If you show up without one, don't be surprised if they can't get you on board.

This being said, I wrote the following article recently for an asker who wondered about the St. John-Digby ferry. I reprint it here for you. Maybe you'll like it and maybe you won't, but I like to cover all the possibilities:

If it were me, I would not take the Bay of Fundy ferry unless I had a compelling reason, such as if I were traveling to the Digby area and far southwestern Nova Scotia from St. John, New Brunswick.

I could list the usual difficulties with ferry travel:

- the fare is not cheap

- some crossings happen at inconvenient hours, such as late night [At least yuo're sailing by daylight.]

- some passengers (my wife, for instance) get sea sick on the three hour crossing

- it isn't especially scenic, since you're out of sight of land much of the way. The Bay of Fundy tidal scenery that people like can only be observed from land, for example. The open sea looks the same everywhere.

- you must drop what you're doing to be at the ferry dock at the departure time, and you may have to rush to make it, with all the stresses rushing entails

- you have to wait in line to get tickets, wait to board and wait for the ferry to actually embark

It takes considerably less time to drive to Halifax. Here's some numbers:

From St. John to Halifax the 4-lane freeway continues, built to the same Interstate standards all the way. (You can and should get off the freeway for part of the trip.) If you stayed on the freeway the whole way, it's

- 1 1/2 hours between St. John NB and Moncton

- 1 1/2 hours between Moncton and Truro, NS

- 1 hour to Halifax

with no dawdling along the way.

The ferry takes three hours across the Bay of Fundy. From there, 2 1/2 hours to Halifax. The ferry route takes 90 inutes hour longer to Halifax than driving, not counting the time wasted in line.

By the way, from the Canadian border in St. Stephen to Halifax is around 5 1/2 driving hours to Halifax, non-stop.

You'll find the Canadian Maritimes has a good network of freeways, if you need to get where you're going quickly. You can do your calculations for freeway driving based on an average speed of at least 60 mph. Between St. John, NB and Halifax, the posted speed limit is 110 kilometers an hour (68 mph) all the way until you reach the city, and most drivers clip along a few pennies over that.

But you had your heart set on a ferry ride, perhaps? A better way is to take the ferry from Pictou, NS to Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island. This ferry takes just 1 1/4 hours, the water is calmer over Northumberland Strait, and you pay a lot less. Taking the ferry from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island, followed by the Confederation Bridge back to the mainland costs under $50, total, taxes-in for the return trip. In the opposite direction (bridge to Prince Edward Island, ferry back to the mainland) it's around $70.

Prince Edward Island is the quaintness capital of North America, and nothing on the mainland can match it. You would not regret the journey to PEI!

Happy travels!



Edited: 22 July 2013, 16:47
Oak Park, Illinois
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6. Re: Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

Thanks, David for the great info. We're actually staying near Lunenburg in Chester Basin. My six year old is pretty excited about the ferry, so I think we're going to go ahead and reserve our spot. I'm feeling much better about the timing of it all now!

Nova Scotia
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7. Re: Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

They offer family friendly movies on board the Princess of Acadia ferry, which is nice. They are shown in the lounge with comfortable seating. Suggest heading there first to nab a good seat, if you are interested in seeing the movie. Families tend to gravitate to certain areas of the lounge, spread out the kids toys, blankets,etc and many bring pillows to grab a nap on the sailing. There is a cafeteria on board ship and the meals are pretty good! There will also be a 'day care' of sorts for young kids, which will be announced.

You are permited outside on the decks to walk around and it is usually windy. Bring a windbreaker with you. The view as you enter Digby Harbour is quite stunning and a great photo op.

You aren't permitted to stay in your vehicle during the crossing. You must go up to the passenger deck and if you are bringing your dog, he has to stay in your vehicle or in a kennel on the vehicle deck.

There is a small gift shop on board too.

Have a great sail and welcome to Nova Scotia!

8. Re: Driving from Bar Harbor to Saint John, New Brunswick

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