Prince Edward Island is home to some of Canada's most popular beaches. While Canada + swimmable beaches might sound like an oxymoron, the gulf stream actually makes the water here warmer than most of the Atlantic seaboard north of the Carolinas.
You'll find popular beaches near Summerside and Cavendish, but my family's favorite place for a 'beach day' is a bit off the tourist trail. Basin Head Provincial Park has the best amenities of any beach of the eastern side of the island and was voted 'best beach in Canada' by vacay.ca a couple years back. Here are a few reasons why...
Singing Sands: The first time my parents took me to Basin Head was on a windy summer day, and the place was practically deserted. However, we hadn't come for the water - we'd come to check out the "Singing Sands". It took a fair amount of squishing my feet around in the sand, but then I heard it! Less of a "song" and more of a squeak, but still... neat! Apparently, this phenomena isn't unique to this beach - you can find sand like this on several beaches around PEI, and the rest of the world - but it only happens when sand is made of certain material (like quartz) and is perfectly round.
Sandbars and Shallow Water: Basin Head is great for families, because of the depth of the water. The whole beach seems to be protected by a sandbar, and as the tide goes out of comes in, you can walk hundreds of feet out and still only be up to your waist. The water gets deeper, then shallow again as you reach the sandbar. Most of the real waves break on the far side of it, allowing for a fun but gentle swimming experience.
Dramatic Scenery: Basin Head combines the best parts of a Canadian beach - it offers infrastructure with lifeguards on duty, clean bathrooms, outdoor showers, volleyball nets, picnic huts, etc., but it also retains the natural beauty of the coast. Giant sandstone cliffs and rocks line the beach on its western edge, offering places to explore or even to set up your umbrella in your own private cove, if you arrive early enough.
The Bridge Jump: The Provincial Park is essentially divided in two by the outlet of Basin Head Harbour to the Northumberland Strait. To the east, the beach is sandier, with grassy dunes behind. To the west, you find the sandstone cliffs. Joining the two is a bridge, the plank-lined quays on either side marked with signs strictly prohibiting jumping. Looking at the masses of people getting ready to jump and the lifeguards looking on, it seems the signs are only a formality. I have yet to attempt it - I would never try to jump off the metal bridge, but I might jump off the quay one of these days. Ross did, though!
If you've made it out to this side of the island, and you're looking for something to round out your day trip, East Point Lighthouse is worth a visit. Aside from the lighthouse, they have a craft shop on-site, as well as a nice place to get a cup of chowder. On a sunny day, you can sit at the picnic tables on the deck of a fake wooden ship and admire the scenery.
In the late 1800s, the British warship HMS Phoenix ran aground on a nearby reef. In the inquest afterwards, it became apparent that the lighthouse was marked in the wrong place on nautical charts. Rather than change all the charts, they moved the lighthouse half a mile, to its present position out on the point.
Plus, there are pirates. (Story behind this pic - on one of my brother's tours of duty, his ship helped patrol against pirates in the seas around Somalia. He happened to be wearing his commemorative shirt when we met up with this guy.)
Basin Head Provincial Park and East Point Lighthouse are located on Rt 16, East of Souris.