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Cape Breton Highlands: Where the mountains meet the sea

A national park home to deep river canyons, endless valleys, and roaming wildlife.

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Created by RoadtrippersCanada - May 8th 2018

Cape Breton Highlands is so much more than a national treasure. It’s one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the entire world. Traversing this lush plateau is the Cabot Trail, a world-famous scenic drive that winds through the park. Here you’ll encounter moose, bald eagles, bears, and pilot whales. You’ll enjoy endless valleys, river canyons, and ancient forests. The park is truly the crown jewel of Nova Scotia. If you’re into golf, there’s an 18-hole golf course at the Keltic Lodge, called Highlands Links. The course is frequently ranked as one of the top golf courses in the entire world.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park was established in 1936, and it’s been one of the highlights of the Canadian National Parks system ever since. Located on the island of Nova Scotia, this park features a third of the Cabot Trail, which should be on every serious roadtripper’s bucket list. The park is also known for its forests and beaches. There are actually five beaches, two rivers, and two lakes to explore.

There are 26 awesome hiking trails, for beginners to advanced hikers, throughout the park. Each ends in an amazing viewpoint that provides unreal panoramic vistas ranging from the highlands themselves to the ocean and canyon ravines. Some of the wildlife you’ll expect to see include owls, beavers, bobcats, black bears, whales, and a few random roaming snakes.

TIPS:

  • Stop by the Visitor Information Centres in Cheticamp or Ingonish Beach to pick up maps for the trails.
  • Although the park is open all year long, the visitor centres are only open from the middle of May through the middle of October.
  • Bring your bicycle if you want the ride of a lifetime along the Cabot Trail. The park also offers a few campgrounds at Cheticamp, Broad Cove, and Ingonish Beach. Be aware that the currents at Black Brook and Ingonish Beach can be very strong. So, keep hold of your children! 
  • Don’t approach or feed the wildlife!
  • Bring appropriate clothing, because, like most parks in Canada, the weather can change rapidly.
  • Bring plenty of water, suntan lotion, and insect repellent. You’ll thank me.

Margaree River

The modern history of the Margaree River Valley dates back to the 18th century when the first Acadian settlers established the name for the river as St. Marguerite. Settlement of the river valley extended into the 19th century by Scottish Highlanders. The Margaree River is known for its salmon and trout fishing. In fact, many visitors to Cape Breton come specifically for the fishing here. However, the park regulates fishing to only fly fishing, with barbless hooks. Atlantic salmon spawn in the Northeast part of the river, and the river’s valleys are home to the American marten and Gaspé shrew. During WWII a Canadian naval destroyer was named after the river, the HMCS Margaree.

Cabots Landing Provincial Park

The shore of Aspy Bay is home to Cabots Landing Provincial Park, located on the north of Cape Breton Island. This is a great place to sit down for a picnic (there are plenty of picnic tables) or spend an afternoon strolling up and down the beach. It’s also a great park for kayaking, hiking, and cycling.

Egypt Falls

There’s a short 15-minute trail that leads to Egypt Falls from Lake Ainslie (Cape Breton’s largest freshwater lake). The downhill trail is pretty steep, and you’ll have to climb a steep gorge a the very end, but it’s absolutely do-able for amateur hikers. The trail ends at Matheson Glen Brook, and if you visit in autumn the waterfall will be framed in beautiful foliage.

Les Trois Pignons

At Les Trois Pignons you’ll find the Museum of the Hooked Rug and Home Life. This is a pretty adorable local museum that chronicles Acadian culture, genealogy, and the history of the Cabot Trail. There’s a gallery featuring art and hooked rugs, created by local craftspeople. You can even watch a rug hooking demonstration. The museum also offers guided tours.

Ahhh, the Skyline Trail. If you’ve ever wondered what heaven must look like... well, no one who’s ever been there has come back to tell us, but, I will say, I’d be surprised if it didn’t resemble the Skyline Trail. This hiking trail is pure drama! From Pleasant Bay to Cheticamp, the Skyline Trail is a cliff-hugging, rugged, coastal hiking adventure. Be prepared for a 1.5- to 3-hour hiking loop, but it’s a relatively easy hike, with boardwalks along most of it.

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We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again…The Cabot Trail is one of the WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENIC DRIVES! Seriously, I can’t stress this enough. Where else can you drive through highlands, along the coast, through old-growth forests, and fishing villages. It’s a 186-mile odyssey that will stay with you long after you leave Cape Breton.

Lobster Pound Restaurant and Moore

Lobster Pound Restaurant and Moore will absolutely fulfill your seafood craving. Located just 45 minutes from the Cabot Trail, and “in the heart of Cape Breton,” this seafood restaurant is a local favourite.

Looking for a delicious home-cooked meal? Well, look no further! The Dancing Moose Cafe is more than just an awesome name (seriously, that’s a pretty cool name). This year-round breakfast and lunch restaurant makes EVERYTHING on site, including the baked pastries and even the sandwich bread. They’ve got a cute little souvenir gift shop, and even offer a 2-bedroom cottage and camping cabins.

The Clyburn Valley Trail features beautiful hardwood trees, massive boulders, abandoned beaver ponds (yes, you read that correctly…the ruins of beaver ponds), picture-perfect meadow valleys, and even the remains of a historic gold mine! The entire trail will take you about 2-3 hours to hike, but it’s an awesome afternoon stroll.

Still Brook Waterfall

Still Brook Waterfall is located at the confluence of Still Brook and Black Brook Cove. The waterfall flows over into Black Brook beach, which is a pretty popular swim spot along the Cabot Trail. It's a great place to beat the summer heat if you visit between June and the beginning of September.

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When you’re ready to rest your weary head, the Cabot Shores provides absolutely beautiful mountain chalets, quirky yurts, geodesic dome treehouses, a rustic lodge, traditional quaint farmhouse, or camping. Basically, whatever your taste, you’ll find the perfect place to sleep here. There’s also an onsite bistro, organic garden, and pets are more than welcome to spend the night.

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Laurie's Motor Inn

For a more affordable option, Laurie’s Motel is located on the Chéticamp Harbour and features a hot and cold breakfast buffet. The rooms either have beautiful views of the mountains or the ocean, so no matter where you stay you’ll have a room with a view. There’s an onsite restaurant, laundry facilities and outdoor seating areas.

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