We almost had to nix our planned sightseeing along the Cabot Trail. When we awoke that morning a heavy fog was hiding the Seal Bridge, which we had been enjoying every morning for the past few days. But knowing how fickle fog can be, we hoped the trail would be clear (or clearing) as we proceeded. Hey, this is the whole reason we drove up to the northern part of Nova Scotia!
Cape Breton Island has divided its unspoiled land into scenic drives – Fleur-de-Lis Trail, Ceilidh Trail, Bras d’Or Lake and Cabot Trail. We chose to tackle the longest and most popular Cabot Trail, a 186-mile scenic loop through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It connects previously isolated communities consisting of Acadian, Irish and Scottish people. The trail is named in honor of John Cabot, who discovered Cape Breton Island in 1497.
As we had hoped, the fog began to clear somewhat as we drove several miles from our “HQ” at the North Sydney KOA toward Baddeck. We entered the trail from the west side – traveling counter-clockwise.
There is so much to see and do on this long drive that one could spend several days exploring the area. Most folks do it in one very long day, but considering the numerous overlooks with beautiful vistas to take in – and many hiking trails to conquer – we prepared for a slower two-day adventure. We planned for an overnight stop at a B&B near the mid-way point at the top of the island. I’ll share with you just the highlights of the natural beauty that comprises this gorgeous landscape.
Upon entering the trail, we briefly stopped at St. Ann’s Gaelic College, a school devoted to the study and preservation of the Gaelic language and Celtic arts and culture. This was the first time we had heard the terms “Gaelic” and ‘Celtic”, and it turns out that Cape Breton is known for its history of living gaelic communities. The school continues to contribute to its preservation. After the quick stop we could not utter a single word in Gaelic, even though the woman in the office tried to teach us a few words. But Steve enjoyed the Celtic music playing in the background!
After several miles we spotted the only wildlife we would see on this journey, a majestic bald eagle! I say “the only wildlife”, since despite several signs warning of Moose in the area, we never saw one crossing the highway or while we were hiking. Darn!
Ocean scenery, steep cliffs and beautiful beaches dominate the eastern side of the trail facing the Atlantic ocean. We took our first hike on the Middlehead trail in the Ingonish area, which follows a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. At the end of the trail we were rewarded with great views of the Atlantic waters crashing onto the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
Rocky bluffs and shallow coves characterized the eastern side as we trudged along.
We passed homes with whimsical and colorful yard decor in the Neil’s Harbor area.
We ended our first day with mussels and cold beers at Meat Cove, which is at the end of a dirt road and as far as you can go on land to the north in Nova Scotia. It is highland vista, serene and very remote, but a spectacular place. The road ends at a small campground that would be a great place to stay in a tent or small trailer, but we wouldn’t bring Betsy out here!
The following day we continued on with our sightseeing, leaving the northern end of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. A third of the Cabot Trail runs through the national park along the coast and over the highlands. We climbed the fog-covered mountain and stopped at some viewpoints to see canyons and plateaus where possible. High winds were our companion as we drove around the higher elevations of the trail.
Despite the winds, I took a hike and followed the Skyline Trail, described as a dramatic headland overlooking the rugged Gulf Coast. But not today – I could barely stand on the boardwalk as the wind was really trying to blow me over! Steve was smart enough to stay nice and warm in the car, so I asked another friendly tourist to take a picture of me with my hair up in the air.
As the road twisted along the coast we were brought to Cheticamp, home of the Acadians. They are direct descendants of the original Acadians expelled by the British from Nova Scotia in the 17 century. Their preservation of their history and culture gave this area a personality of its own. The Acadian Flag is proudly displayed at just about every home.
We bought mussels and lobsters at Margaree Harbour, locally called “The French Side.” While exploring the harbor we noticed some unusual stacked triangular rocks that resembled clams:
Margaree Harbour and the yummy seafood we bought to take back home offered a fitting end to our Cabot Trail adventure.
Two days was barely enough to really experience the unique culture and diverse heritage around the trail, but we think we covered it fairly well. Although it is easy to compare the Cabot Trail with the California and Oregon coastlines, we think the Cabot Trail just has a character, history, and beauty all its own.
As we reached home, the rain began to approach. It proceeded to pour almost non-stop for the next three days, a bummer end to our time in Nova Scotia. The good news is we accomplished everything we had planned before it hit!
Next up: Back to New Brunswick and then goodbye for now, Canada!