Canada is a big and beautiful country, with over 5,800 kilometres from Vancouver and Halifax. I’ve flown and driven across this vast land several times. If you really wanna experience Canada, a great Canadian road trip is definitely the way to go—and few compare to the unforgettable Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island.
Canada boasts (humbly, of course) some incredibly scenic road trips of various lengths. Driving across the country on the Trans Canada is one option. Some of my favourite scenic routes include the Sea-to-Sky highway in British Colombia, the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, the Trans Canada through the Rocky Mountains, along Lake Superior in Northern Ontario, and the Fundy Coastal Drive in New Brunswick. But the World Famous Cabot Trail on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island may just top them all.
Driving the Cabot Trail Counter-Clockwise
Cape Breton Island is an outdoor lover’s paradise! There are many hiking trails and beaches to explore. If you’re like me, you’ll also enjoy the little shops along the way, and there’s whale watching and, of course, delicious restaurants with seafood favourites (clam chowder, anyone?).
There are many reasons to visit the Cabot Trail in autumn, especially the forests of bright yellow, orange, and red. I travelled to Cape Breton in October to experience the highlands and take in the Celtic Colours International Festival. In a regular season (without a pandemic), tourists flock to Canada’s Top Island Travel Destination to soak in its cultural and natural beauty.
Six days on the Cabot Trail just wasn’t long enough for me. But it was a good amount of time to visit a few campgrounds, hike a few trails, and enjoy several artisan shops, cafes, and galleries. Alas, I didn’t do everything I planned, but it was definitely better than driving around in one or two days. If you can swing it, give at least one week to the Cabot Trail and it’ll give you so much more.
My first destination was Ingonish to spend the night at Broad Cove Campground. The eastern part of the Cabot Trail is full of fall colours in October. I hiked Broad Cove Mountain, Middle Head Trail, and Cape Smokey Trail. I was nearly the only person overnight at Broad Cove, as the days were getting cooler and few wanted to face the frosty night air. It was absolutely worth it. If you’re planning to tent in the fall, just come prepared for below zero degrees at night.
The Northern Part of the Cabot Trail
After my night at Broad Cove, I drove up the coast and stopped at White Point trail. The trailhead is a tad off the Cabot Trail, but worth the slight detour. This is a short hike that offers some unique coastal views. It’s also not a bad spot to contemplate life’s big questions. After White Point, I drove up to Meat Cove—Nova Scotia’s northernmost community. There’s a private campground and a hiking trail up to the top of Meat Cove Mountain. Few places in Canada truly feel like the edge of the world, but standing atop Meat Cove Mountain looking over the Atlantic Ocean certainly brought a strong sense of wonder. If you have time, this is a unique journey that you won’t regret.
My night was spent at MacIntosh Brook Campground. This campground is part of Cape Breton Highlands National Park and has 10 unserviced and first-come, first-serve campsites. These sites are located at the base of the mountains with picnic tables and a few trees. Plus there’s a lodge, fireplace, sink, and washroom on site. There’s also a short trail, but I didn’t venture down it. Overall, this was a pleasant spot to spend the night (but the bathroom left something to be desired…).
Driving Down the West Side of the Cabot Trail
Driving the Cabot Trail counter-clockwise meant saving the best views for last. While there weren’t nearly as many fall colours on the western part, the incredible coastal views more than made up for that.
On the western side of the Cabot Trail, I enjoyed the Skyline Trail, spent the night at Fishing Cove Backcountry, explored shops and cafes in Chéticamp, and spent another night at Chéticamp Campground. Oh, and I stopped at Inverness Beach before making my way over to Sydney. Read about my trip to Fishing Cove Backcountry.
I cannot overstate how incredible the views are on this side of the Cabot Trail. There are many lookoffs along the way to stop and take that Instagram worthy shot. The highlands are wild, and offer an opportunity to discover the wild within ourselves.
There are many great places to stay along the Cabot Trail. There are several provincial and national campgrounds, as well as private campgrounds, B&Bs, hotels and suites. You can search for a variety of accommodation options here. Even though it was a bit cooler, I preferred to stay in my tent at Broad Cove, MacIntosh Brook, Fishing Cove, and Chéticamp. I also stayed at Mira River Provincial Park near Sydney. If you’re searching for things you do, you can look here.
There are restaurants along the way, and a few spots to grab groceries. I suggest stopping in Antigonish to shop if you’re looking for more grocery options. For camping fuel (like IsoPro), I purchased in Halifax at MEC before driving out to Cape Breton.
If you’re planning to visit Cape Breton Highland National Park, make sure you’re aware of COVID-19 measures and take proper precautions.
The Cabot Trail is a truly special place with living history, thriving artistry, and outdoor wonders to behold. I can’t wait to go back! Have you explored the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island? What would you recommend as a must-do? Leave a comment below.