I planned my trip to Nova Scotia around visiting Cape Breton Highlands National Park, two days to explore a splendid natural gem ripe with outdoor opportunities. You can hike any of the 26 trails in the park, spot a moose, bear, eagle, or whale. Swim at the beaches, camp, fish, eat seafood, and possibly learn something. This is an area that many people throughout the ages have loved. The Acadians originally faring from France made their mark here. Gaelic left their ceilidh musical traditions. One third of the Cabot Trail, a scenic roadway that circles Cape Breton Island, runs right through the park. Roads are well maintained and the scenery is striking, where the mountains reach the sea.
Where to stay?
Cape Breton Island is large and there are many towns on it – but not all are so close to the park which is located on the northern end. If your main purpose is exploring the trails of the National Park which spans the width of the island, your first choice is east or west. On the east side, popular towns where you’ll find lodging, restaurants, and gas include Ingonish and Neils Harbour. You can even stay right in the park at the Keltic Lodge complete with a restaurant, golf course, and pool. On the west side of the park is the town of Chetticamp.
Good to know:
+Normally there is a fee to enter the park, but 2017 is Canada Year so all national parks are free to enter
+This is moose country, be aware on the trails and try not to drive at night
+Be prepared for rainy weather
+There are gas stations and restaurants on the Cabot Trail, but not many within the park boundaries
Where to hike:
Located right beyond the Keltic Lodge, this is the most popular hike on the east side of the park. In a 2.4 mile loop gaining 200’ elevation, you’ll be treated to some incredible views. Hike through the forest over roots and rocks out onto the Middle Head peninsula. On one side is a sparkling bay, I could imagine spending hours soaking up the sun on that pebbly beach below if I had all day.
The other side a separate bay, and if you take a spur trail to get a closer look there are hidden slices of paradise waiting to be found.
End out on the headlands and the vast ocean is before you.
+Broad Cove Mountain
If you’re looking for solitude, this mini mountain climb is much less frequented than many of the nearby trails and packs a punch. At just 1.4 mile RT out and back with 500’ elevation you don’t need much time to conquer the summit. The hike begins on a forested trail, very well maintained, with many stairs carved into the mountain. On the way up you may notice bluebead berries, but don’t eat them, they are toxic.
I also spotted a camouflaged frog, only because it hopped in front of me.
There is one lookout before you get to the top, a great spot to catch your breath and have a drink of water. After that we startled a couple of spruce grouse into the trees above, but from their height they didn’t mind us observing them.
The trail ends with a dramatic view of the Atlantic Ocean, Middle Head, and so many green trees.
Admire, take a deep breath, and head back the way you came.
The most popular trail on the west side of the park, if you’re going to take one hike this is the one. There is an option for a 4.7 mile RT out and back or to create a 5.7 mile loop with 400’ elevation gain. The trail is comprised of gravel and boardwalks, very well maintained when heading left on the loop.
If heading right the trail is a bit more rugged, though I think the views are even better on this side.
You have the potential to see moose and whales, though we sadly saw neither – but we did encounter a snake.
Where the boardwalk ends, you can take a herd path down to the headland above the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the mountains meet the sea.
A calming scene of endless blue and green.
A moderately hike with stunning views, if you’re looking for a more challenging hike – this is your pick. Parking is at the Chéticamp Visitor Center for this 5.2 mile loop which gains 1200’ elevation. The hike can be steep at times, but there are benches along the way to take a breather. Once you get above the tree line there is no one particular overlook that stands out, but a series of beautiful vistas along a ridge.
Wildflowers and blueberries are abundant in summer. Eagles fly high in the sky and waxwings sit perfectly pretty for a photo shoot.
Soon the environment changes and you will descend through the woods into a scenic stream valley.
In some spots when the sunlight shines through, the streambed glows pink.
I was very excited to see moose scat, in hopes of seeing one of the elusive creatures – but with no luck.
+Black Brook Cove
I couldn’t tell you how the water is here, although there were plenty of people swimming so it must have been relatively warm.
I went to this beach on the east side of the park late in the evening to check out a waterfall, one that flows right into the sea. An easy walk, just a few short minutes from the parking lot – head down to the pebbly beach and make a left. You’ll run into it and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be awed.
Pink rocks, a flowing tidefall, and deep green forest. The view from here out into the ocean is outstanding.
If I had known how gorgeous this location was, I would have spent a whole day at this heavenly spot.
The parking area goes unsigned, but if you’re looking for a beach on the west side of the park – you’ll notice not far from the Cheticamp Visitor Center many cars parked in this lot and it is one of the view with access to the ocean. The scenery is stunning with cliffs on either edge, the beach is lengthy, perfect for taking a stroll.
If you’re looking to take a dip, waters are warmer and suitable for swimming due to the gulf stream. Pebbles are warm to lay on in the heat of summer.
There is nothing better than relaxing at the beach after a day of hiking.