The 298 kilometre Cabot Trail winds its way around the coast of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, hugging the mountains on one side while overlooking the rising sea on the other. Sure you could complete this journey in one day, but where’s the fun in that?
Ready for a taste of adventure? Let’s dive into the beauty of the Cabot Trail!
The village of Baddeck stretches along the shores of the beautiful Bras d’Or Lake and is a wonderful stop at either the beginning or end of the Trail (depending which way you go). Besides its natural beauty, the village is worth a visit for the many festivals and events that take place here throughout the year, including the Celtic Colours International Festival that celebrates the best of Celtic music each fall. The village is also home to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, which provides an excellent history lesson on Bell’s inventions and acheivements.
2. Uisge Bàn Falls Provincial Park
Located just 14 kilomentres north of Baddeck, you’ll want to detour off the highway for the scenic beauty of the Uisge Bàn Falls Provincial Park. Here you’ll find a 2.6-km trail through the forest that leads to a spectacular three-tiered cascade waterfall. Uisge Bàn (pronounced ish-ka-ban) is the Gaelic word for ‘white water’ and you’ll soon understand why it was given this name as you watch the water gush down 50 feet over the granite ridge. The hike itself is gorgeous, with moss-covered twisted roots lining the way and gentle water from the stream flowing over rocks and fallen trees.
3. North River
If kayaking is on your Cabot Trail wish list, there’s no better place to paddle than the North River, as it winds its way down through the highlands and eventually spills out into St. Ann’s Harbour. Exploring it makes for some amazing half-day and full-day kayaking trips.
If you’d like to head deeper into the interior of Cape Breton Island, you could set out to hike the North River Falls Trail, which is nearly 18 kilometres long and takes you to, you guessed it, North River Falls. At 105 feet, it is the tallest waterfall in Nova Scotia and well worth the hike if you have the time and inclination.
4. Ingonish Beach
In recent years, Ingonish Beach at Cape Breton Highlands National Park has become less sandy and more rocky, sometimes making swimming difficult, but we think the turquoise water and stunning scenery make it a worthwhile stop nonetheless. What makes Ingonish Beach even more unique is the Freshwater Lake that is located just steps away. You’ll have the salty ocean on one side and a freshwater swimming spot on the other. Truly unique, breathtakingly beautiful and a refreshing stop along the route.
5. Middle Head Hiking Trail
A few minutes from Ingonish Beach, you’ll find the Middle Head Hiking Trail, which follows a long, narrow peninsula. The peninsula separates two ocean bays — North Bay Ingonish and South Bay Ingonish — and leads to a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Smokey and Ingonish Island. The 3.8 km trail is faily easy, as it is mostly level with only a few short climbs, and offers opportunities to see seabirds, seals, whales and eagles.
6. Meat Cove
You’ll have to take a small detour off the Cabot Trail to reach this northern settlement, but we promise it is worth it. Meat Cove is a remote fishing village surrounded by wilderness with steep peaks and deep valleys. Here on the northern tip of Cape Breton, where rugged cliffs meet the Atlantic ocean, you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the stunning scenery. Take the time to hike the Meat Cove Mountain Trail, a 4-km trek that rewards hikers with expansive views in all directions. To get to the view, you’ll have to endure a steep climb but the 360° views are worthy of the effort.
7. MacIntosh Brook Trail
A mature hardwood forest, a babbling brook and a scenic waterfall — what’s not to love about the pretty MacIntosh Brook Trail? Take a break from the road and go for a relaxing stroll to the soothing sound of forest birds chirping all around you. This is the perfect spot for a picnic lunch or coffee break. At just under 2 km, you can do this hike in under an hour with enough time to take in the waterfall views and enjoy the old growth forest.
8. Pleasant Bay
Do you dream of watching whales play in the water? If you’re lucky, you might just get a glimpse of them at Pleasant Bay. Known as the whale watching capital of Cape Breton, Pleasant Bay is located on the western side of the island and the bay opens up to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. You’ll love strolling along the shoreline and the marina. Whale watching excursions are available from here and the majestic creatures can often be seen from shore.
9. Skyline Trail
If you love scenic lookouts and enjoy taking epic photos, the Skyline Trail is a not-to-be-missed stop on a Cabot Trail roadtrip. You’ll enjoy multiple lookout points on this 8 km loop trail, including an eagle’s view of the Cabot Trail as it makes its way along the coast and views over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The headland cliff has a stunning boardwalk that overlooks the rugged coastline. Wildlife abounds in this region and visitors can spot numerous birds, bald eagles, moose and bears on land, as well as whales in the waters below.
Cheticamp is one of those beautiful seaside towns that you will fall in love with and continue to dream about after you leave. Picture a charming Acadian fishing village nestled between verdant green mountains and the endless ocean, with scenic views and sunsets that will make you sigh with joy. Located on the opposite side of the island from Ingonish Beach but still butting against the sprawling Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Cheticamp is a great stop to explore the many hiking trails on this side of the park. In the town itself, expect warm hospitality and a rich culture. Enjoy traditional Acadian food, art and crafts.
Bonus: Margaree River
The Margaree region, on Cape Breton’s west side, features beautiful farmland and green valleys. It’s biggest claim to fame, however, is the gentle Margaree River, which flows through the region for 120 km. It is well worth a stop here to see the scenic area and experience the warm hospitality. If you love to fish, you might want to investigate a fishing trip on the Margaree, famous around the world for its salmon fishing. The river also offers tubing opportunities — if you sign up for a trip, you can float down the river for a few hours and be picked up downstream!