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!
Visiting Cape Breton Island and 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.
About Fishing Cove in Cape Breton Highlands
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
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.
Hiking the Fishing Cove Trail
The trail for Fishing Cove Campground 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 length of the trail.
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).
Tenting at Fishing Cove Backcountry Campground
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?). That was magical.
The Best Camping in Cape Breton
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.
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