If Prince Edward Island was near the top of the list of places I never thought I’d go, Nova Scotia was a close second. Before planning this vacation, I didn’t know anything about Nova Scotia except that it’s way out east and the capital is Halifax. But once I saw pictures of Cape Breton Island – the easternmost part of the province – I knew I had to go there. The red sand beaches of PEI were very unique, but Cape Breton was my favorite part of this vacation.
Our ferry from PEI docked in Caribou, Nova Scotia and – after a quick grocery run and super classy picnic lunch on the trunk of my car in the Walmart parking lot – we headed off towards Cape Breton Island. It’s only disconnected from the mainland by a thin stretch of water, but it’s an island nevertheless.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park covers a substantial portion of Cape Breton Island. Traversing the island’s perimeter is the Cabot Trail, a 300 mile (480 km) road that’s been labeled one of the most scenic in Canada. It’s easy to see why. The road hugs the coast for much of its journey, cut into the side of the bluffs that rise out of the sea.
We started on the western side, spending our first night at camped at Chéticamp, which is far from my favorite campground ever. Our site was flat and wide open, and had it been crowded that night, our neighbors would have been uncomfortably close. Fortunately it was fairly empty.
Before settling in for the night we headed a couple miles up the road to hike the incredibly beautiful Skyline Trail. From the parking area, the trail cuts through a forest and across a meadow, opening up to an expansive overlook. To the north is the Gulf of St Lawrence, with Prince Edward Island way off in the distance on a clear day. To the east, the lush green land rises abruptly up out of the beautiful blue water. And to the west is the Cabot Trail, winding along the coastline. It’s a roller coaster of a road, and that fact is very evident from this vantage point.
The photos below pretty well sum up the reason this hike is on my All-Time Favorites list. It’s just so beautiful, and standing atop those cliffs staring out over the endlessness of the ocean made me feel like I was at the edge of the world.
Cape Breton is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before (or since) and, for me, this hike was one of the highlights of our vacation!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: encircled by the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, accessible from the town of Cheticamp on the west coast or Ingonish on the east coast
- Fees and passes: $7.80/person/day or $19.60/car; Parks Canada Pass accepted
- Camping: Chéticamp; 122 sites, showers, $25.50 CAD/night; reservations accepted
- Hiking: Skyline trail, 4.7 mile (7.6 km) loop… this is definitely a must-do if you’re visiting Cape Breton
- Other: watch for moose (supposedly, though we didn’t see any), be ready to get throughly windblown, and be prepared to drive a roller coaster road!