5 Highlights of Cape Breton Road TripMonday, September 19, 2016 Road Trips by Julie Cao
“I have traveled around the globe. I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.”
Alexander Graham Bell
I have taken many road trips in the USA and Canada, but one that has certainly stolen my heart is Cape Breton. It is a scenic highland in one of the most beautiful Canadian provinces – Nova Scotia. It has panoramic ocean views, rugged coastlines, countless beaches, a rich Scottish and Irish culture, dozens of hiking trails, and fresh seafood. Though Cape Breton is a less-visited destination, there is no shortage of stunning places to visit.
How to get to Cape Breton
Cape Breton is nearly five hours way from Halifax and two hours away from Sydney. While Maritime Bus transports passengers from Halifax and Sydney to Cape Breton, I quickly realised that there is no way to get around the island if you do not have your own vehicle. Halifax and Sydney have several car rental companies where you can hire vehicles.
Most travellers I met begin their trip in Halifax and travel around the loop of Cabot Trail, which is the most classic part of Cape Breton. Cape Breton National Park is a major attraction of Cabot Trail, and that is where you can drive around the coastline of Cape Breton Island and see the stunning seascapes at every turn.
Highlights of Cape Breton
Skylight Trail is inside the Cape Breton National Park and is about a 20-minute drive from the park entrance. It is an easy and a flat walking trail, and the entire loop takes two to three hours to finish. During the walk, you will tread amidst the spruce coloured bushes, and see the eagles and birds soaring above you. If you are lucky, you may spot moose and coyotes. The end of the trail takes you out of the stunning forest and to the headland cliff plateau with the stunning coastline winding through the mountains. It is a fantastic scene to watch under the sunset.
Pleasant Bay is a famous fishing village about 20 minutes away from Skyline Trail. It is also regarded as the whale-watching capital of Cape Breton. Here, you can book a whale-watching tour with Captain Mark’s Whale and Sea Cruise to have a close encounter with the whales, other marine creatures, plus a stunning view of the Cape Breton coastline.
Pleasant Bay is a perfect place to work up your seafood appetite. The fishermen there capture lobster in spring and snow crab in the summer. My favourite place for seafood is The Rusty Anchor Restaurant, which features lobster, seafood chowder, and steamed mussels. This restaurant has an outdoor sitting area that offers a spectacular ocean view under the sunset.
Egypt Falls is the widest waterfall in Cape Breton, and it requires good physical shape to finish the hike.
From Aberdeen, where I stayed, travel south-west on the Trans-Canada Highway. After a scenic drive, you enter into a dirt road that is Piper’s Glen Road. Continue driving about 1000 meters and come to the trailhead.
The path to the falls leads you deep into the woods, and, shortly after, the sound of Egypt Falls is within earshot, and you can see a bit of the waterfall in the distance. The final part of the hike takes you to a steep and slippery trail where you have to hold onto a rope tied to the trees to walk down. I have never seen a trail as steep as this in Cape Breton. However, once you get down to the waterfall, you will know the precarious descent was worth it.
After leaving Cape Breton National Park, I continued my journey to Ingonish Beach. I had just two hours there to stretch my legs and get rid of my travel exhaustion. However, if you are flexible on time, I recommend that you spend a few days at Ingonish to explore all the five small communities and hiking trails.
I walked to Ingonish Beach around noon. The water was crystal clear, and a lifeguard was on duty. The sand was pink, soft, and flat, which made it easier for me to dip my feet into the cold water and walk back to the shore. I did not find any shells and sea glass, but if you are lucky, you may see lobsters and crabs. There are also picnic tables in the area so you can enjoy lunch and dinner during the sunset with your friends and loved ones.
My last stop in Cape Breton was Baddeck at the beginning and the end of the Cabot Trail. It is a vibrating village situated on the shore of Bras d’Or Lakes. A well-known site in Baddeck is The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, where the Alexander Bell Museum is located to show the story of his inventions in aviation, advanced recording technology, and the world’s fastest boat. The museum also features artefacts, family photos, and films that display his life stories, working process, and scientific and humanitarian contribution to the world.
After visiting the Alexander Bell Museum, I walked to the wharf, which offers a 360-degree view of Baddeck and the village. There are two-hour Amoeba Sailing Tours departing from the wharf, which takes you exploring the beautiful Bras d’Or Lakes, where you will catch a sight of beached seals and bald head eagles, as well as learn interesting tidbits about Baddeck.
The following day after exploring Baddeck, I left Cape Breton for Halifax and back to my working world in Ontario. However, my mind and heart were still in Cape Breton, and it took me few weeks to get back down to earth. I have come to realise that even though I managed to get the most out of my Cape Breton trip, I still have missed out on many beautiful sites and hiking opportunities. I wish I can return one day to explore the rest of it.
Beyond the scenic views and checking out the interesting sites, much of the island charm is found in the welcoming locals and friendly travellers. My favourite experiences come from simply connecting with other travellers, talking to the islanders, and listening to the sound of the waves battering the cliffs. Just be flexible, set your mind free, and let your adventurous spirit take care of the rest.
If you are interested in checking out Cape Breton, fall is the opportune time. The climate is moderate, and there is a change of foliage, which adds up to the dynamics of the beautiful landscapes. Moreover, Cape Breton is still under tourists’ radar to this day, because of the time and effort it takes to get there. Once you arrive in Cape Breton, enjoy the stunning road trip, Scottish culture, and the serene beauty it has to offer. Just as Alexander Bell once said, the simple beauty of Cape Breton trumps that of all other places in this world.