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A Day on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Nova Scotia

To truly experience the stunning Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, you need several days, but many travellers will not have that luxury of time. Cape Breton's famous Cabot Trail, with its wealth of nature, culture, and history, is rightfully recognized as one of the world's most stunning. While a week might be ideal, a day trip following the trail and taking in the incredible views is a treat visitors should not miss.

A red rock coastlne with green  hills and trees

Visitors can self-drive, join a group tour, or hire a driver for the day. The route is very popular with motorcyclists and superfit cycling enthusiasts. Even though we had a vehicle, we hired a driver so we could both enjoy the views without worrying about driving the winding roads. Our hotel, The Inverary Resort in Baddeeck, recommended a local, Shane, who regaled us with history and tall tales. A day trip allows time to stop at scenic viewpoints, hidden coves, and charming fishing villages.



Cape Breton History and Culture

Cape Breton is heavily influenced by Gaelic and Acadian culture. Early Scottish immigrants brought their music, language, and dance. Ceilidhs (kay-lees) or kitchen parties are common in community halls and pubs. Place name signs are printed in both English and Gaelic.

Green and white town sign with text inEnglish and Gaelic: Englishtown Baile Na\n Gall

French settlers from the 1600s, known as Acadians, developed a distinct culture and way of life. When British settlers arrived in the mid-18th century, tensions between the governments of France and England led to the Great Expulsion. During the 1750s, the British government expelled all Acadians from British North America, establishing Acadian communities, especially in Louisiana, where they became known as Cajun. Acadians were allowed to return in the 1860s, but distrusting the British government, many never returned. The homes of Acadian descendants are often adorned with a large 5-pointed star.


A pyramid shaped lighthouse with broad red, white, and blue stripe with a large 5 pointed yellow star painted on the blue section
Cheticamp Lighthouse

The Cabot Trail Drive, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

The Cabot Trail is a 298 km loop around Cape Breton Island that passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The entire trail system is a mix of roads, paths, stairs, and the breathtaking beauty of coasts and tiny fishing villages. The trail can be followed in either direction, depending on personal preferences. Driving clockwise will have better views from the right side of the vehicle, but driving counter-clockwise gives better access to some pullouts. We went counter-clockwise, starting from Baddeck.

The North Shore

Our driver drove to Englishtown to take a cable ferry across St. Anns Bay to join the Cabot Trail. The North Shore is a traditionally Gaelic area with native speakers and new students.

Englishtown is home to The Gaelic College, which is dedicated to studying and conserving all things Gaelic. The North Shore is known for its splendid scenery and spectacular fall foliage, celebrated annually during the Celtic Colours Festival.

An open decked cable ferry crossing St.Anns Bay
Englishtown Cable Ferry

Our first brief stop was a small fishing hub, long abandoned by residents but still used by fishermen who store their sheds and equipment on the shore. We could wander around, chat with fishermen, and take many photos as our driver told us about the fishing traditions and how locals have adjusted to decreased fishing stocks and increased conservation regulations.



As we began the drive into the Highlands, we stopped at most of the viewpoints, known as Look Offs. The views kept expanding as the road climbed.


Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Approximately one-third of the Cabot Trail runs through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This stunning park has over 950 square kilometres of mountains, trails, camping, and nature-based activities. It is unique because of the flat-topped mountains, which comprise 90% of its geography.

A simple wooden bench overlooking the water with a flat-topped mountain in the background

The Keltic Lodge

The grand Keltic Lodge at the Highlands stands out against the landscape with its bright white and red painted walls and row of inviting and colourful lawn chairs. The land on which it sits, Middle Head, was first owned by Henry Clay Corson, a wealthy American industrialist and friend of Alexander Graham Bell. Corson's summer home design is repeated in all the buildings on the property. The Keltic Lodge is a great place to stop for lunch or stretch your legs during a Caabot Trail day trip.



Green Cove 

A quick but satisfying viewpoint with incredible views of the Atlantic is at Green Cove. The viewpoint requires a short walk over large rocks.

the author posing in front of rocky shore

Neils Harbour

Neil's Harbour is a small village with approximately 300 people. Originally an Acadian settlement, it was resettled by Gaelic settlers during the Expulsion. There are a few small cottages and a small lighthouse. Almost all residents work in the lobster/crab and fishing industry.


A small cove with fishing boats and a lighthouse

North Mountain /Aspy Fault

The portion of the drive up North Mountain is one of the best sections of the Cabot Trail with four different viewpoints. The best, in my opinion, is the North Mountain Look Off, with its view into the Aspy Fault

a look into a fault line seen between forested hills

Geologists believe that Cape Breton was once connected to Africa. Signage at the viewpoint shows the Cape Breton fault lines and explains how the land was formed.


Fishing Cove

Fishing Cove is a fishing settlement at the bottom of a ravine at the base of MacKenzie Mountain. The only way to access this area is by water or following a 6km trail down. The original Scottish settlers fished in the Gulf waters and traded with the French for supplies.

A forested hill with a small cove at the far end
Fishing Cove is waaaaay down the hill

The Acadian (west) Coast / Cap Rouge

The trail continues south along the west coast, the Acadian side. This section of the drive is absolutely stunning, with the road winding along the coastal cliffs to the small towns. These towns and villages are mainly bilingual, emphasizing the French language. Perched on the coast, these communities are exposed to the elements from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.



Cheticamp

The first community after the National Park is an Acadian fishing village called Cheticamp, recognized as a leader in preserving Acadian culture. The Visitor Centre, Les Trois Pignons, includes a good museum and several artisan galleries.

A white building with a red roof and a sign "Trois Pigons Musee"
image credit: Visitor Information Archive

Margaree

Margaree includes all the communities along the river (Margaree Centre, Magaree Harbour, Magaree Falls, Margaree Forks), a cultural blend of Scottish, Irish, and Acadian culture. With four beaches, two lighthouses, a river, artisan shops in quaint towns, and hiking trails galore, there are plenty of choices of where to stop before returning to Baddeck.

A small community on the edge of the water with aa large grass field in the foreground

Final Thoughts

While there is no doubt that the Cabot Trail is best explored over the course of several days, it is possible to drive it in a day and thoroughly enjoy the views. Visitors with a time crunch will be thrilled at the spectacular views from the many viewpoints/look-offs along the route.

A cove filled with colourful fishing boats. Two houses on the hill behind the coe

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13 comentarios


Invitado
02 abr

Nice area with lush greenery, the sea and lots to explore culture-wise. The Cabot Trail strikes me as an area that definitely needs a bit more time and truly appreciate the various small villages and local culture. It was interesting to hear that the fishing industry is regulated here and efforts for conservation are made.


Carolin | <a href="https://solotravelstory.com/">Solo Travel Story</a>

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While a day's drive would be possible I've been eyeing this area up for a while and would absolutely want to spend a lot longer. My friend and I have talked about doing some hiking/camping out there, it looks like it would be a great place to spend some quality time. The small villages are just everything I love about more remote areas, they're so scenic and peaceful. I love being by the ocean, so Nova Scotia is quickly catapulting up my travel list

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Contestando a

That would be the perfect way to explore the trail...my next trip will include trails and camping. The Maritimes are a unique culture in a stunning location. If it weren't for the harsh winters, I could see me living in Nova Scotia or PEI

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Invitado
31 mar

It's amazing to find out the Gaul and Gaelic connection and see the lingering influence to the people of Nova Scotia. I can also understand why the former French and Scotts settled here - the landscape certainly remind them of a piece of home. There's planety of amazing sights to see and behold! #flyingbaguette


Jan - https://flyingbaguette.com/

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Contestando a

The landscape is very reminiscent of Scotland... with fewer sheep.

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I never knew that there was such an eclectic mix of English, French and Gaelic cultures in this area. There are towns with names from each language and what a dichotomy that the Gaelic centre is in a place called Englishtown!

the scenery around here is also so beautiful

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Contestando a

It really is a fascinating cultural blend. There are actually more Gaelic speakers in Cape Breton than there are in Scotland!

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What a beautiful area! I'd love to learn more about Acadian culture and history at the museum - honestly I don't know anything about it! Must be some beautiful walks/hikes in the area. Thanks for sharing this special place!

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Contestando a

I have promised myself to put aside a full week just for the Trail. It is stunning and deserves more than a day.

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