The Incomparable Cabot Trail
The Cabot Trail is one of the most famous drives in Canada. The 185-mile road takes you along the coast of Cape Breton — named one of the world’s must-see islands by Travel + Leisure — offering unrivaled views and bringing you to many of the island’s most popular attractions.
When it comes to the Cabot Trail, the journey is the destination. Above all else, it is a path to travel, and how you travel it is really up to you.
Vehicles, motorcycles in particular, are a popular choice. They allow you to tackle the entire trail relatively quickly. As you drive the winding roads, with only a few feet between you and oceanside cliffs, you’ll feel the rush that comes with being on the edge of the world, intimately connected with nature. It’s no coincidence that USA Today readers ranked the Cabot Trail one of the 10 best motorcycle trips in the world. If you love to drive, this is one of those roads you see in car commercials.
Keeping to wheels, but at a bit of a slower speed, cycling is another popular way to explore the trail. This isn’t your regular Sunday ride. It takes about six days to cover the trail by bike, during which you’ll pedal across undulating terrain, your efforts rewarded with vistas of endless ocean and rolling highlands. There are a few good climbs in there that will put some strain on your legs, but they often bring the best views, like on French and Mackenzie Mountains. Certain cycle tour companies will also offer to bring you to the top of mountains in a van, so you can really focus on enjoying the ride down.
Not everyone has the time to explore the entire Cabot Trail, so hiking is a popular way to take in some of the highlights. Cape Breton Highlands National Park, with its 26 hiking trails for all skill levels, is a must-stop. Of those trails, the Skyline Trail is definitely the most loved and lauded. This relatively easy five-mile return hike brings you into the boreal forest, through meadows and up onto a cliff, where you can watch a breathtaking sunset over the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. If you really love to hike, you may want to plan your visit for September during the Hike the Highlands Festival. This 10-day event is filled with opportunities to challenge yourself, explore the trail and meet tons of other hiking enthusiasts.
Along the way
Of course, the Cabot Trail is more than just a trail. It’s a connecting line between the many incredible experiences you can find on Cape Breton Island.
There are countless historical and cultural experiences you can enjoy along the route. Dance a jig to spirited Gaelic music at a Cape Breton Ceilidh or find a work of art to take home at the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Designs’ Craft Shop in St. Ann’s. You won’t want to miss the annual Celtic Colours International Festival, held each October, which features hundreds of Celtic musicians from across Cape Breton and around the world. Maybe you want to connect with Nova Scotia’s traditional French-Acadian culture? Visit the fishing village of Cheticamp, founded in the 18th century, and peruse the intricate craftwork that has drawn people to the region since the beginning.
Throughout the trail you’ll find mouthwatering eats that alone are worth making the trip. Fresh, local, sustainable seafood — scallops, lobster, salmon and more — can be found at boutique eateries across the island. You can follow the Chowder Trail, and fill your belly with 61 varieties of chowder being served up by local shops. The Bite House in Baddeck highlights local ingredients in such delicious ways that it has earned coverage in the New York Times and on the Cooking Channel. And top off your culinary tour with an organic microbrew from Big Spruce Brewing.
Plan a day of golf at the famous Highland Links. There’s nothing quite like playing 18 holes with mountains on one side and ocean on the other. Or, if you’re willing to leave the trail behind, head offshore on a guided whale-watching excursion and get-up close with the giants of the sea. Sailing, fishing and kayaking all offer different perspectives on the waters surrounding Cape Breton. Who knows, you might just stumble on a picturesque waterfall or peer inside a dark sea cave as you paddle by.
Not sure where to begin? Check out a Cabot Trail itinerary