We started our second day of our vacation with a little hike down to the water’s edge from our Bras d’Or Lake farmhouse. It was a beautiful morning for a jaunt through a few meadows and a trail through the woods, and the water was peaceful and still. We found this frog along the way:
We had chosen this day to drive the Cabot Trail. For anyone not familiar with this iconic auto route, it is a beautiful scenic drive through mountains overlooking the ocean, and through old forests and fishing villages. Much of it is through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and there are many trails to hike through along the way. As it is a popular tourist destination, there are also small shops you can stop at outside of the park boundaries.
Having lived my life in the Maritimes of Canada, surrounded by natural beauty and a short drive away from the ocean, I wasn’t expecting to be quite so overwhelmed by the amazing views that the Cabot Trail provided. I was the driver, so I couldn’t take in the vistas at all times, but there were opportunities to pull off and soak in the contrast of the tree-covered highlands to the blue of the ocean and sky. There was one point, a pull-over spot surrounded by converging valleys, that it brought tears to my eyes because of the grandeur of it all. Pictures certainly do not do it justice.
Actual driving time of the Cabot Trail (depending on where you’re starting and ending) might be about 4-5 hours, but make sure you give yourself much more time than that, as you’ll want to pull over here and there, or maybe take in a hike, or eat some fish and chips, or browse through a specialty shop set up by a local artisan. Many people recommend taking 3-5 days (yes – days, not hours) to fully take in the Cabot Trail experience and there are motels, cottages, campsites, and glamping opportunities in the area to accommodate this. We just had 1 day to dedicate to this portion of Cape Breton Island and we ended up running out of daylight towards the last part of our journey.
We packed a lunch to have a picnic, and chose a few hikes to stop and stretch our legs with. Our first one was near Ingonish Beach on the Middle Head trail (2 km loop) past the Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa. They said you can sometimes spot whales from here, but we didn’t see any on this day. There was also a beach, golf course, and ski hill in this area.
Our next stop was at the Green Cove look out where a short walk (1 min.) took you out to some rocks by the ocean to enjoy the views of the shore line. There were signs that told of the different types of rock in the area. I was surprised to see irises growing in such a formidable area as well. It’s amazing when something survives against all odds.
There was a short walk (10 min.) at historical Lone Shieling through a 350 year old forest of sugar maples in the Grande Anse Valley. On this site is a replica of a shieling or shepherd’s hut that crofters or tenant farmers in Scotland would have used to shelter themselves and their livestock. Built of stone and with a thatched roof, you can walk inside and get a sense of what it would have been like living in such close quarters. There is a historical marker on site that explains how the former owner, Professor MacIntosh, donated these 100 acres of old growth Acadian forest to be preserved and the shieling built in the style from the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Placards placed throughout the trail speaks of the old growth forest and types of leaves that can be found – including a challenge for children to find as many types as possible.
There was another short hike (35-40 min.) we took at the MacIntosh Brook trail that led us out to a waterfall.
The Cabot Trail continued on through its twists and turns and above the tree line at some high elevations. I didn’t take any photos at these spots as we were losing daylight fast.
It was getting dark when we arrived in Chéticamp where we stopped to have some supper. I plan on returning some day and tent at some of the campgrounds and take in some longer hikes. I would also like to drive the Cabot Trail from west to east, instead of the east to west that we did this time. I don’t think one way is better than another, but you would have different perspectives of the amazing views. One word of caution: in driving east to west, I had the setting sun in my eyes coming around some hairpin turns at times. This was not pleasant as it was difficult to know whether you were still on the road or whether there was on-coming traffic. I probably wouldn’t be a fan of driving this route in icy conditions, which can occur between November to March, but the people who live locally do so it certainly isn’t impossible. Late September/early October, when the leaves are at their brightest and best, would be quite pretty I would imagine.
If you are looking for beautiful panoramas I would highly recommend this amazing location of the world to visit. To learn more, you can visit these sites:
Parks Canada – Highland National Park
Hiking in Cape Breton