When it comes to Cape Breton campgrounds, Fishing Cove offers an unparalleled experience. Cape Breton Highlands National Park is widely known as a Canadian treasure. Within this national park, Fishing Cove offers the only backcountry camping experience along the Cabot Trail. There are 8 reservable campsites and a permit is required. In my humble opinion, this is the best camping in Cape Breton!

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Tenting at Fishing Cove Backcountry Campground.

About Fishing Cove Trail

Camping at Fishing Cove
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Cold nose in the morning. Brisk by the cove!

Location: Cape Breton Island National Park
Distance: 12 kilometres out and back
Difficulty: Moderate due to length and slippery sections (especially after rain)
Elevation: 355 m gain
Time: Approx. 5 – 6 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes
Features: Fishing Cove trail follows the Fishing Cove River through the forest and down to one o the top Cape Breton campgrounds. There are 8 reservable sites with wooden tent platforms, in the campground nestled in the cove. At one time, Fishing Cove was home to Scottish settlers around the 1700-1800s. By 1915, descendants of these early settlers had dispersed to other communities, leaving this coastal plot behind. I could almost hear the faint sound of bagpipes in the morning.

Fishing Cove is one of the best Cape Breton campgrounds
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Fishing Cove.

Visiting Cape Breton Island

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View from MacKenzie Mountain Lookoff on the Cabot Trail.

Are you planning to visit any Cape Breton campgrounds this year? I visited Cape Breton for the first time ever last October. Yes, it’s strange that a Nova Scotian took 28 years to travel to the island—but my family didn’t travel much growing up. My week on the island ended with foot-stompin’ tunes at the Celtic Colours International Music Festival in Sydney (Highly recommend!).

The fall is a beautiful time to visit Canada’s Top Island Travel Destination. Especially because of the bright yellows, oranges, and reds sweep the ever-changing forests. Plus, visiting in autumn means fewer tourists and more camping options (but come prepared, as it does get a wee bit chilly).

I ventured counter-clockwise around the Cabot Trail, from Ingonish to Cheticamp. The eastern side of the island boasts brighter fall colours, but the western half had more spectacular coastal views.

Read more: Driving the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton—What You Should Know

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Autumn is the best time to visit Cape Breton Island.

Fishing Cove Hike

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Fishing Cove from the trailhead.

The Fishing Cove hiking trail is found on the western side of Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail. You can find the trailhead on Google maps. The trailhead is well-marked with a parking lot and signs. The 6 kilometre trail follows the Fishing Cove River the entire way.

After leaving MacIntosh Brook Campground, I arrived at the Fishing Cove trailhead later in the afternoon than anticipated. The trail is a gentle slope down to the cove and was very quiet, with one or two other hikers out for the day. When I arrived at camp, there was one other tent pitched (and they left early the next morning).

Read more: Cape Split Trail: One of the Best Hikes in Nova Scotia

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The Fishing Cove River.
Fishing Cove trail
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This 6 kilometre trail is almost completely in the forest alongside the river.
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Maritime garter snake on the trail.
the Fishing Cove river in Cape Breton
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The Fishing Cove river leads the way to the campground.

Fishing Cove Backcountry Campground

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Wooden tent platforms are available with permit reservation.

There are 8 reservable sites at Fishing Cove. At the beginning of my Cabot Trail journey, I stopped at the Ingonish Visitor Centre to purchase my backcountry permit. From the other direction, permits can be picked up at Chéticamp Visitor Centre. The sites have wooden platforms for your tent.

Most of the campgrounds in Cape Breton Highlands were nearly deserted by October. To be fair, the evenings were cooler and one night saw some frost. If you’re going to camp in the shoulder season, you gotta be prepared for cooler temperatures. I slept with warmer clothes, my toque, and my down sleeping bag rated for zero degrees. I was fairly comfortable, but would have probably preferred a -7 degree sleeping bag.

Summer camping at Fishing Cove would also be enjoyable, I’m sure. But there was something refreshing and almost mystical about being alone in this cove. In the morning, I walked down to the shore and ate my oatmeal while listening the Bear McCreary’s Fraser’s Ridge (Any Outlander fans out there?). Normally I wouldn’t listen to music in the backcountry, but it felt right in this empty campground and idyllic setting.

Note: Starting March 18, 2023, you can now reserve Fishing Cove Backcountry Campground on the Parks Canada website. Reserve here!

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The wooden platform with my Marmot Tungsten 2P UL.
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The glow of the sun on the horizon. Does it get any better than this?
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Morning views. Such a lovely spot.

One of the Best Cape Breton Campgrounds

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Admiring Fishing Cove.

Fishing Cove is a great spot for backpackers of all skill levels. As the only backcountry campground in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Fishing Cove is an absolute must for outdoor enthusiasts. The trail would be very doable as a day-trip; hike in the morning and out in the afternoon. But I’d recommend spending the night if there’s room in your schedule. And in the fall, you don’t need bug spray—another bonus!

For more information on Fishing Cove, including a map of the campground, check out the Parks Canada website.

Fishing Cove Trail Map

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2 thoughts

  1. Very informative, and great photos. I’m hoping to camp at fishing cove in a couple weeks; I’m looking forward to it!

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