If you’re looking for an amazing road trip that will take you through some of the most stunning landscapes in North America, look no further than the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.
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Cape Breton Island is connected by a causeway to mainland Nova Scotia and is located 3 hours east of Halifax. The island is spoiled with striking views in all directions and unique cultural heritage sites throughout.
The Cabot Trail winds its way around the island, circling the beautiful Cape Breton Highlands National Park and taking in so many scenic overlooks, steep drops, mountains, oceans, and forests along the way. There’s something for everyone on this scenic route, from hiking and biking to fishing and whale watching.
After spending a week on the Cabot Trail on our recent East Coast trip, we discovered plenty of beautiful stops, unique accommodation options and fun activities for all ages. We hope that this Cabot Trail guide will help others explore the best stops for the ultimate Cape Breton road trip.
FAQs About the Famous Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
How long does it take to do the Cabot Trail?
It takes 4-5 hours to drive the Cabot Trail if you wanted to do the entire loop in one day. The Cabot Trail is about 300 km (185 miles) and loaded with scenic viewpoints, so it’s not one you’d want to rush. For the full Cabot Trail experience, you should set aside 3-5 days or plan to spend at minimum an entire day.
Why is Cabot Trail famous?
The Cabot Trail is one of the most famous drives in Canada thanks to its spectacular scenery. The scenic roadway loops around stunning western and eastern coastlines, passing through old-growth forest, rocky cliffs, and picturesque surrounding beaches. It’s a major draw of Cape Breton Island and a postcard destination for Nova Scotia tourism.
Where does the Cabot Trail begin and end?
The Cabot Trail makes a loop around the northern arm of Cape Breton Island, starting in Baddeck. You can do the road trip in a clockwise or counter clockwise direction.
Traveling clockwise, the route begins in Baddeck and ends in Ingonish. If you plan on driving counter-clockwise, Baddeck will be your first destination on the Cabot Trail and Chéticamp will be the last.
How to Get Around the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia
Driving the Cabot Trail is the best and most popular way to explore Cape Breton. Bring your own vehicle or rent a car or RV and plan a multi-day Cabot Trail road trip filled with cultural experiences and outdoor adventures.
If you dislike driving, you can look into taking a tour or plan a multi-day bike trip. Many visitors cycle the loop over 5-7 days and camp along the way. Just prepare for steep grades and lots of hills, particularly while traveling through the Cabot Trail National Park section.
Cabot Trail Itinerary & Suggested Stops
Whether you do the Cabot Trail clockwise or counter-clockwise, there are tons of amazing stops and things to see on this scenic drive. The below Cabot Trail itinerary follows the clockwise route, starting in Baddeck and ending in Ingonish. But if you want to see the road trip from a different perspective, head to Ingonish first and end your loop in Chéticamp.
Start or end here
Baddeck is a charming town located on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake in the center of Cape Breton Island. It’s an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area and starting or ending your Cabot Trail drive.
Baddeck is home to a strong Gaelic heritage and culture. The Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts is located in the town and offers classes in traditional music, dance, and language. During the summer, the college hosts an annual Gaelic festival that celebrates Cape Breton’s Celtic traditions.
Baddeck is also known for being the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. You can see his works at the museum at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site.
Other Things to do in Baddeck, Nova Scotia
Get on the Water at Inverary Resort – Inverary Resort is a beautiful waterfront resort and hotel with lots of activities. You can rent kayaks, bicycles, or pontoon boats, or dine at the Lakeside Restaurant. The floating picnics are especially cool—enjoy a lobster lunch from Lakeside and float your way around the lake on a floating picnic table!
Join in on Baddeck Ceilidh Evenings – “Ceilidh” is Gaelic for gathering and summer ceilidhs in Baddeck are parties for locals and tourists alike. They’re all about celebrating Scottish heritage with traditional Celtic music and dance events at St. Michael’s Parish Hall every night in July and August.
Visit the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and National Historic Site – See many of Bell’s impressive inventions including the largest collection of his artifacts and documents.
Visit Kidston Island and See the Kidston Lighthouse – Take the free shuttle boat to uninhabited Kidston Island to enjoy the beach. You can walk around the island and see the Kidston Lighthouse and admire the views as yachts and sailboats circle the lake.
Explore Uisge Bàn Falls Provincial Park – Follow the 1.5 km (1 mile) hiking trail up to the beautiful granite waterfall. It’s an easy trail and a great spot to have an afternoon picnic.
Where to Stay in Baddeck, Nova Scotia
Spread out on 11 acres of waterfront property, Inverary Resort is an ideal place to stay in Baddeck. The rooms are cozy and comfortable and have access to an on-site Lakeside restaurant. Guests also have access to an indoor pool and outdoor hot tub on a first come first serve basis and can enjoy the grounds of this beautiful property during their stay. Plus, there are loads of other activities to enjoy the lake with a paddle or floating picnic.
Baddeck to Chéticamp: 89 km / 1 hour 15 min
We drove the trail in a clockwise direction, so our next stop on the Cabot Trail was Chéticamp. It’s the largest village on the west coast of the island and is the best launch point for hiking the Cabot Trail. Cheticamp has a rich Acadian heritage, a number of local art studios and marks the west entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
There are lots of worthy stops on the Cabot Trail and the Chéticamp area is brimming with them. Explore Acadian food and culture, go whale watching, or hike the famous Skyline Trail—it’s one of the best things to do in Cape Breton.
Things to do in Chéticamp and Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia
Learn how to rug hook at Les Trois Pignons – Celebrating Canada’s “Artist in Wool,” Dr Elizabeth LeFort, the gallery displays her beautiful tapestries and hooked rugs. The museum and shop serve as a gallery and window into Acadian culture, featuring woven portraits and scenes. Les Trois Pignons is also an informal visitor centre, where local guides can help you plan your visit.
Visit Le Centre de la Mi-Carême – Mi-Carême, or Mid-Lent, is one of the oldest Acadian traditions and a celebration involving masks and disguises. Learn more about Mi-Carême and see locally crafted masks on display. The Centre also hosts mask and rug hooking workshops led by local artisans.
Try Acadian Food at Le Gabriel Restaurant & Lounge – Dine on Acadian seafood and traditional dishes inside of a unique lighthouse. Le Gabriel offers daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner with live music throughout the week.
See the Enragée Point Lighthouse – Travel to Cheticamp Island to see the heritage lighthouse built in the 1950s. It’s the perfect place to catch a sunset!
Go Whale Watching – From May-October, the waters around Cape Breton Island are home to humpbacks, finbacks, minke, and pilot whales. Go on a zodiac tour to see them from the water as they swim by. Chéticamp Adventure Co and Captain Zodiac Whale Cruise in Cheticamp are two reputable local operators offering Whale Watching Tours in Cheticamp. But be sure to plan ahead! We didn’t book ahead while traveling in July and sadly found out that neither operator had any availability for our dates when we arrived on Cabot Island.
Visit Gypsum Mine Lake – The Gypsum Mine Trail follows 2.6 km of groomed trails around a lake and quarry. It’s suitable for all skill levels and opens up to a stunning viewpoint over a sparkling lake enveloped by trees.
Where to Stay in Pleasant Bay/Cheticamp, Nova Scotia
Cabot Trail Tiny House Vacation Rentals – Located in Margaree River Valley near the town of Margaree Harbour, the Cabot Trail Tiny House Vacation Rentals are built and operated by the Page Family and offer a colourful and unique stay on the Cabot Trail. There are currently 3 homes available (with more on the way) that feature cozy and comfortable living quarters and outdoor spaces. Visitors can also enjoy water sports, campfires, BBQs, and ATV rentals on-site to make the most of their stay.
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Cape Breton National Park
Chéticamp to Cape Breton National Park Entrance: 10 mins
Cape Breton Highlands National Park is arguably the biggest highlight of the Cabot Trail. The park is located on the northern tip of Cape Breton Island and is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in Nova Scotia. The park is an expanse of forests, rugged mountains, and winding rivers and is home to moose, black bears, bald eagles, and other wildlife. There are plenty of hiking trails and camping spots in the park, so be sure to spend some time exploring its natural wonders.
The park’s main activities are spread across Cheticamp/Pleasant Bay Area in the West and Ingonish/Neil’s Harbour in the East. To see it all, plan to spend at least 2-3 days in the park.
Best Hikes in Cape Breton National Park
Acadian Trail: One of the best hiking trails in Cape Breton, the Acadian Trail boasts panoramic views of the coast. It’s a moderate 8.4 km loop that takes 3-4 hours to complete. The trailhead begins at the Chéticamp Visitor Centre, with another entrance at the Chéticamp Campground. Climb through the forest for a rewarding view over the Cabot Trail and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Skyline Trail: The Skyline Trail is one of the best hikes in Nova Scotia and a Cabot Trail must-see! You’ll follow the trail to a boardwalk with steps down the headland which opens up to a birds-eye view of the coast. It’s the perfect place to snap some photos and watch the sunset.
Mackenzie Mountain Lookout: The Mackenzie Mountain Lookout is one of the best whale-watching hiking trails on the Highlands Plateau. Look out over Pleasant Bay while whale-watching boats float in the bay.
Le Chemin du Buttereau Trail – This trail features a short climb through the woods where Acadian pioneers once travelled. You’ll see remnants of historic homes, local wildlife and views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
MacIntosh Brook Trail – This level inland hike meanders through old-growth forests along the shores of a babbling brook. It ends with a beautiful waterfall with interpretive signs throughout, sharing the Mi’kmaw legend of maple syrup.
Aspy Trail – Beginning from Beulach Ban Falls, this hike follows the Aspy fault line through Acadian and mixed forests. Listen for owls and birds along the way.
Franey Trail – Perched high above Ingonish and the Atlantic coast, Franey Trail is a beautiful forested hike. It can be steep and rugged in sections but opens up to large flat rocks that are perfect for admiring the view. At the top, you will look out over Clyburn Brook Canyon, Cape Smokey, and the town of Ingonish.
Duncan’s Cove Trail is a moderate 5 km (3.1 mile) hike that takes you past beautiful waterfalls and coastline cliffs.
Where to Stay in Cape Breton National Park:
Camping is one of the best ways to truly experience and appreciate Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Camping season in Cape Breton National Park runs from May 20 to October 23, 2022. Reservations are highly recommended, especially in the busy summer months.
There are seven front country campgrounds at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, all of which offer beautiful views and access to hiking trails in the park. The following are some of the best campgrounds in the park.
Broad Cove Campground is a small campground with only 20 campsites. It’s located in a quiet cove on the east side of the park and offers hikers easy access to the Skyline Trail.
Chéticamp Campground is the largest campground in the park, with over 200 campsites. It’s located close to the town of Chéticamp and offers easy access to a variety of trails, including the popular Ceilidh Trail.
Ingonish Campground is located on the northeastern side of the park and offers stunning views of Cape Smokey. It’s close to a number of trails, including the Keltic Express, which leads to some of the most popular hiking areas in the park.
Middle River Campground is a small campground with only 10 campsites. It’s located in a beautiful valley near Middle River and offers hikers easy access to a variety of trails.
North River Campground is located on the north side of Cape Breton Highlands National Park and offers stunning views of North River Gorge. It’s close to a number of trails, including the popular Skyline Trail.
Pleasant Bay Campground is located in a picturesque bay on the west side of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It offers easy access to a number of trails, including the Broad Cove Head Trail, which leads to some beautiful waterfalls.
South Gut Campground is located on an isolated peninsula on the west side of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It offers hikers amazing views of South Gut Harbour and Stirling Mountain.
Top of the Island
Chéticamp to Meat Cove: 100 km / 1 hour 40 minutes
The northern tip of Cape Breton Island is an off-the-beaten-path area with even more spectacular ocean vistas. Cruising along the Cabot Trail and veering north from Cape North, you’ll find several towns and communities including Aspy Bay, Dingwall, Bay of St Lawrence, and Neil’s Harbour.
Things to do on the Top of Cape Breton Island
Camp at Meat Cove – Journey to the northernmost point of Cape Breton with beautiful look-offs jagged cliffs and grassy headlands. You can visit for an afternoon or spend the night camping perched above the ocean’s edge.
Go Sea Kayaking with Cabot Trail Adventures – Paddle your way around the Cape Breton Highlands on a guided kayaking tour. Cabot Trail Adventures offers hourly and full-day rentals to explore the scenic northern coast.
Visit Neils Harbour – Visit the small town of Neils Harbour to see the lighthouse and feast on seafood.
Hike the White Point Trail – Located just past Neils Harbour, the White Point Trail can be done in less than an hour and offers lovely views over the headlands.
Go Whale Watching – There are a few different tour operators on the top of the island that offer whale watching tours. Hop in a zodiac to see minke whales, humpbacks, and porpoises. In these northern waters, you can sometimes even spot a blue whale or orca.
Black Brook Cove Beach – A beautiful tucked-away beach, Black Brook Cove has spectacular ocean views and a peaceful waterfall. It was our favourite beach on the Cabot Trail and one you can not miss! Go for a swim, walk the beach, or have a picnic overlooking the sea.
Where to Stay Near Cape North, Nova Scotia
Blue Bayou Resort – Located in the small fishing village of Dingwall, the Blue Bayou Resort offers camping and glamping experiences. We stayed in their geodesic dome overlooking the water. The domes are well equipped with a private bathroom, double bed and even a little tea/coffee station. There is a BBQ and a picnic table outside of each dome. You can rent a kayak, canoe, or SUP to explore the water before settling in for an evening campfire. The North End is one of the coolest places to stay in Cape Breton!
Meat Cove to Ingonish: 60 km / 1 hour
Ingonish is a popular coastal town on the eastern coast of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It’s known for great hiking, beaches, and the famous Keltic Lodge Resort, which houses the incredible Highlands Links golf course. You can hike along Cape Smokey to look out over the vast Atlantic Ocean before dining on fresh local seafood at the restaurants in town.
Other Things to do in Ingonish, Nova Scotia
Climb the Broad Cove Mountain Trail – The short, steep climb up Broad Cove Mountain can be a bit of a challenge with its rocky switchbacks. But the views are well worth the climb, with panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean and the sounds of nature and wildlife.
Hike Middle Head Trail – Middle Head Trail follows a long skinny peninsula that juts into the Atlantic Ocean. With open, ocean views on either side, the headlands are an excellent place to see whales, seabirds, and eagles.
Visit Ingonish Beach – Ingonish Beach is a unique stretch of land that’s flanked by a lake and ocean. On one side, Freshwater Lake has a sandy beach with calm, peaceful lake water that’s ideal for swimming. On the other, the salty water of the Atlantic is perfect for a refreshing dip or for enjoying an evening paddle in the bay. Ingonish Beach also has a tennis court, playground, picnic area, and walking and cycling trails.
Ride the Cape Smokey Gondola – Known as the first gondola in Atlantic Canada, this gondola climbs to the summit of Cape Smokey. Here, you’ll be treated to the best view of the Cabot Trail, with access to mountain top hiking trails and a licensed mountain top snack shop. There are multiple viewing platforms with spectacular views of the Cape Breton Highlands and the Atlantic Ocean. In the winter, Cape Smokey becomes a popular skiing destination.
Where to Stay in Ingonish, Cape Breton
The Keltic Lodge Resort is a popular choice, offering cabins, hotel rooms, and suites with incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean. The resort also has a restaurant, lounge, spa, and golf course. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, there are a few motels in town, as well as the Ingonish Campground located close to the village.
Completing the Cabot Trail Road Trip
Ingonish to Baddeck: 105 km / 1 hour 30 minutes
After exploring Ingonish and departing from Cape Breton Highlands National Park, you can circle your way back down to Baddeck. To get there, either take the short ferry to Englishtown or detour along the North River to St. Anns, home of the Gaelic College.
Another option is to continue east from Englishtown, toward the other half of Cape Breton. This is where you catch the ferry to Newfoundland in North Sydney or explore the southern shores of Brass d’Or Lake. Sydney is also the main town on Cape Breton Island so it’s a good place to stop if you need to restock on supplies.
Have you explored the Cape Breton Cabot Trail? What was your favourite stop?
Disclaimer: We visited Cape Breton Island & Cabot Trail as guests of the Nova Scotia Tourism Board, but, as always, all opinions expressed in this article are our own.
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