Looping around the northern end of Cape Breton Island, driving the 300-kilometre Cabot Trail is always a highlight of my travels through Nova Scotia. The dramatic coastal scenery alone qualifies the Cabot Trail as one of the world’s great drives, but our family also enjoys spending time soaking up local Acadian culture, hiking through pristine forests of Cape Breton Highlands, and simply relaxing on white-sand beaches.
Plan on starting your Cabot Trail adventure at the historic lakeside town of Baddeck, where tour boats depart for cruises on Bras d’Or Lake, where historic mansions dot the shoreline and bald eagles fly overhead, and the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site commemorates one of the world’s great inventors. From Baddeck, the Cabot Trail leads north through the forested Margaree River Valley to Chéticamp, where boats filled with snow crabs fill the local harbour and restaurants dish up Acadian specialties such as chicken fricot stew and butterscotch meringue pie. The most famously scenic section of the Cabot Trail is north of Chéticamp through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Here, the road traverses a dramatic stretch of cliff-lined coast with the sparkling blue Gulf of St. Lawrence far below. At Pleasant Bay, which is indeed pleasantly located in a protected cove, friendly locals take nature-loving visitors out onto the water in search of whales. From Pleasant Bay, the Cabot Trail rises to an inland plateau laced with hiking trails leading to pristine lakes and lofty viewpoints, and then descends to the resort town of Ingonish. Unlike the rocky western extremity of the Cabot Trail, this stretch of coastline is lined by white sand beaches, where I find the summer water temperature surprisingly pleasant. Lifeguards patrol the more popular beaches, while at Black Brook Cove the focus is on nature walks and picnicking.
Although there are sections of narrow, winding highway, it is still possible to drive the entire Cabot Trail in five to six hours. But don’t. Instead, plan on immersing yourself in the natural attractions and historic charm of the destination for at least two full days. Offering a mix of charming bed and breakfasts and resort-style accommodations and dining options such as the casual Herring Choker Deli, Baddeck is an ideal base. Those equipped for camping will appreciate the numerous campgrounds through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, or for unequalled historic ambience, make reservations at the Keltic Lodge.
Where to Stay
Water’s Edge Inn: Set across from the Baddeck waterfront, this comfortable lodging with solid furnishings and original art on the walls is a little piece of heaven. Two of the six guest rooms have balconies with water views.
Keltic Lodge: Perched high above the ocean overlooking Ingonish Beach, everything about this historic lodging bespeaks class and gentility. One of the world’s best golf courses and cliff top hiking trails add to the appeal.
Where to Eat
Herring Choker Deli: Super-fresh, well priced food is the attraction at this casual dining room overlooking Bras d’Or Lake. The homemade soups are divine.
Seascapes Restaurant: For the full effect at this stylish seafood restaurant overlooking Ingonish Beach, talk your way to a window-front table and order the snow crab dinner.