9 Cape Breton Hikes on the Famous Cabot Trail Nova Scotia

Two hikers at an overlook on Jack Pine Trail along the famous Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia Canada

Two hikers at an overlook on Jack Pine Trail along the famous Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia Canada

 

Have you ever dreamed of driving the famous Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Nova Scotia? For many years I thought about visiting Cape Breton and hiking in the Highlands National Park along rocky coastlines and through the forests. After driving across Canada last summer I finally realized my dream of visiting Cape Breton.

In this post I’m sharing nine hiking trails in Cape Breton including a mix of easy, moderate, and one more difficult hike. I also found out about an annual hiking festival in Cape Breton, scroll to the bottom for more about it.

 

Did you know that Nova Scotia means New Scotland

 

Which direction to drive the Cabot Trail?

Seems most people figure you should drive Cabot Trail in a counter-clockwise direction. So, naturally I went clockwise instead :)

Does it really matter which direction you drive the Cabot Trail?

People will claim the views are better when you go counter-clockwise. But that doesn’t make much sense, there are curves all along the Cabot Trail, so some of the views are better in one direction and some in the other, it all works out pretty much the same. And I figured if most people go counter-clockwise there should be less traffic in the other direction.

 

A squirrel sitting in a tree enjoying something to eat

This Cape Breton squirrel doesn’t care which direction you drive the Cabot Trail

 

9 Cabot Trail Cape Breton Hikes

There are around 25 hikes in Cape Breton Highlands National Park according to the Parks Canada site, most are easy to moderate and a few rated as difficult. I really should have stayed for a bit longer, but with 3 nights in Cape Breton, I saw quite a bit and hiked 6 of the trails. In this post I’m also including 3 hikes that are on my list for next time.

Outside of the park, I also did a nice boardwalk hike up in Meat Cove, it’s the northernmost community in Cape Breton and definitely worth the drive (it’s not on the Cabot Trail) for some hiking and a visit to the chowder hut restaurant.

If you are wondering about where to stay in Cape Breton read this post about cottages and hotels in the area. I stayed in Pleasant Bay one night and Ingonish for two nights (in the cutest cottage). I would advise adding a couple more days for Cheticamp and another day or two for Ingonish area if you want to do a good amount of sightseeing and hiking. So basically a week. But if you can only spare a weekend go for it, you will love Cape Breton! Life is enjoyed at a more relaxing pace on the coast and the people are friendly and welcoming.

Now let’s have a look at some of the beautiful hiking trails in Cape Breton.

 

Skyline Trail

6.5  km (4 miles)
236 m (775 ft) elevation gain
Loop trail
Allow 2 to 3 hours
Rating: Easy

Skyline is the one trail people talk about a lot.

 

Skyline trail map shows a loop but lots of people hike straight to the overlook down the boardwalk

Skyline trail map shows a loop but lots of people hike straight to the overlook down the boardwalk

 

I have to say that Skyline was a bit of let down. Considering all the hype it gets I envisioned a coastal hike with beautiful views all along the trail. There are stunning views at the end of the trail but the trail itself is not spectacular. One thing though, you are likely to see moose along the Skyline trail so that is cool, and I did see one moose at the beginning of my hike, getting close to sunset.

 

It is common to see moose along the Skyline Trail especially as sunset approaches

It is common to see moose along the Skyline Trail especially as sunset approaches

 

Why do I recommend Sky Line trail if I thought it was not up to my expectations? Everybody else seemed to love the trail so I figure my opinion is not what the majority of people think about Skyline. It is a pretty sunset hike, but a lot less crowded early in the mornings.

 

Skyline Trail is the most famous of the Cabot Trail hikes of Cape Breton Nova Scotia

Skyline Trail is the most famous of the Cabot Trail hikes of Cape Breton Nova Scotia

 

MacIntosh Brook

1.7 km (1.1 mile)
64 m(209 ft)
Out and back trail
Allow 15 – 30 minutes
Rating: Easy

After staying one night in Pleasant Bay I had no excuse not to do this little hike along the Cabot trail.

 

MacIntosh Brook hike along a babbling brook in Cape Breton Highlands

MacIntosh Brook hike along a babbling brook in Cape Breton Highlands

 

MacIntosh Brook is a short and pleasant out and back trail by a lovely brook with a pretty waterfall at the end.

 

Cape Breton MacIntosh Brook trail features a pretty waterfall at the end

Cape Breton MacIntosh Brook trail features a pretty waterfall at the end

 

MacIntosh Brook map - shows camping, toilets, and picnic tables at the trailhead parking lot

MacIntosh Brook map – shows camping, toilets, and picnic tables at the trailhead parking lot

 

The Lone Shielding

.6 km (.4 mile)
15 m (50 ft) elevation gain
Loop trail
Allow 15 – 30 minutes
Rating: Easy

This one is a short little hike through the forest but it’s unique and I enjoyed visiting the Lone Shielding.

 

Lone Shielding trail features this replica of a Scottish hut on the Isle of Skye Scotland

Lone Shielding trail features this replica of a Scottish hut on the Isle of Skye Scotland

 

The Lone Shielding features ancient sugar pines, over 350 years old, and a short walk through the forest but the big reason to go is to check out the replica of a Scottish hut (or Shielding).

 

Lone Shielding trail map with information about the area

Lone Shielding trail map with information about the area

 

Broad Cove Mountain

2.3 km (1.4 miles)
145 m (475 ft)
Out and back hike
Allow 1 hr to 90 minutes
Rating: Moderate

I enjoyed hiking Broad Cove after my first night in Ingonish. It’s a great place to start your day and take in the beautiful views.

 

A bench at Broad Cove Mountain summit offers beautiful views of Cape Breton

A bench at Broad Cove Mountain summit offers beautiful views of Cape Breton

 

You’ll hike up the mountain for stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Breton coastline. There’s a bench at the top and there’s also one of the Canada red chairs for your Instagram photo ops.

 

Broad Cove Mountain Trail map shows the route up the mountain to the lookout

Broad Cove Mountain Trail map shows the route up the mountain to the lookout

 

Jack Pine Trail

2.3 km (1.4 mile)
44 m (144 ft) elevation gain
Loop trail
Allow 30 minutes to 1 hour
Rating: Easy

I did a variation of the Jack Pine loop combining it with a bit of the Coastal Trail to make the Jack Pine Coastal mini-loop. You see, it was a bit hot out and I was getting hungry (more truthfully hangry) so I didn’t have the energy or the ambition to do the full Coastal Hike. I started out doing the loop and then I veered off to the Coastal trail and all the lookouts.

 

Jack Pine Trail and Coastal Trail feature stunning coastal scenery in Cape Breton Nova Scotia

Jack Pine Trail and Coastal Trail feature stunning coastal scenery in Cape Breton Nova Scotia

 

If you are feeling more ambitious you can do the Coastal Hike (from the same trailhead as Jack Pine) for a total 11.3 km (7 miles) and enjoy more of the coastline. Allow 3 – 4 hours total. Note that the map below only shows a small portion of Coastal hiking trail.

 

Jack Pine Trail map shows a loop trail and several lookouts on the Coastal Trail

Jack Pine Trail map shows a loop trail and several lookouts on the Coastal Trail

 

Middle Head Trail

3.8 km (2.4 miles)
130 m (425 ft) elevation gain
Out and back hike
Allow 1 – 2 hours
Rating: Moderate

This hike reminded me of the beautiful Gaff Point hike at Hirtle’s Beach in the South Shore region (shhhh… don’t tell Cape Breton, but that’s actually my favorite hike in Nova Scotia…so far) near Bridgewater, where I stayed.

 

Middle Head Trail map shows a lovely coastal route on this peninsula in Cape Breton

Middle Head Trail map shows a lovely coastal route on this peninsula in Cape Breton

 

I chose Middle Head as my farewell to Cape Breton hike on the morning of my departure back to Bridgewater. Great choice! Middle Head is a beautiful hike in Ingonish, by the Keltic Lodge, with lovely coastal views.

 

Coastal views are plentiful on the Middle Head hiking trail by the Keltic Lodge at the Highlands

Coastal views are plentiful on the Middle Head hiking trail by the Keltic Lodge at the Highlands

 

Franey Mountain Trail

7.4 km (4.6 miles)
340 m (1,118 ft) elevation gain
Loop trail
Allow 2 to 3 hours
Rating: Difficult

Franey Mountain hike is tops on my list for next time I drive the Cabot Trail. I talked with a few people that said Franey is their favorite hike in the highlands. You should have a decent meal before hiking this one because there is a substantial elevation gain. Remember to bring plenty of water and some snacks for the hike.

 

Acadian

8.4 km (5.2 miles)
365 m (1,200 ft) elevation gain
Loop trail
Allow 3 to 4 hours
Rating: Moderate

One of the main reasons I want to go back to Cape Breton is to visit Cheticamp to explore the area and learn more about the Acadian history. After the British expelled the Acadians from what is now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1755, some Acadians came to Cheticamp area. While many others found their way south to Louisiana, to the region known as Acadiana, where I visited many times, staying in Lafayette – heart of Cajun Country.

Acadian Trail features coastline views and a waterfall. There’s a big elevation gain so it’s a good workout hike.

 

Le Buttereau

1.6 km (1 mile)
elevation gain
Loop trail
Allow 30 minutes
Rating: Easy

This trail is on a small hill (buttereau) overlooking Cheticamp and Gulf of St Lawrence. Plaques commemorate Acadian homesteads along the trail.

***

You’ll find the red chairs at the summits of several of the Cape Breton Highlands hikes including Broad Cove Mountain, Franey Mountain, and Middle Head Trail.

 

One of Canada's red chairs at the summit of Middle Head Trail in Cape Breton

One of Canada’s red chairs at the summit of Middle Head Trail in Cape Breton

 

Map of  Cape Breton Hikes

Have a look at my map of these nine Cape Breton hikes. I hope you get a chance to do a few of them. And check out my info below about the hiking festival in Cape Breton.

 

Hike the Highlands – Fall Hiking Festival

Driving down the road in Ingonish I spotted a sign that read: Hike the Highlands Hiking Festival so naturally I had to stop and find out more about this festival of hiking. I can’t say I have ever heard of a such a thing before, but I like to hike so why not get more info. I spoke with a few of the friendly local volunteers to learn more about this Cape Breton festival.

It turns out Hike the Highlands Festival is a 10-day event with guided hikes around Cape Breton Highlands along with evening events for socializing, music, and presentations about hikes around the world. If you’re thinking 10 days is way too much of a commitment, no worries, you don’t have to sign up for the full 10 days.

Get more info and register for the hiking festival here. You can sign up for anything from one hike, 1-day pass, or the full 10 days. Rates are very reasonable. This is a great option for solo hikers or anyone wanting to meetup and hike with others in Cape Breton.

Hike the Highlands Festival takes place September 13 – 22, 2019

Get yourself to Cape Breton and enjoy some incredible hiking trails, wonderful friendly people, and of course delicious seafood!

Share it now! Save it to Pinterest!

9 Amazing hikes in Cape Breton Nova Scotia with bonus map of all 9 hikes in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park Canada

 

9 Great hikes in Cape Breton along the world famous Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia Highlands National Park Canada

Tags: ,

About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 4 of living a nomadic life, roadtripping around the USA and Canada and writing about her experiences. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

6 Replies

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

  1. Chris Bloomfield says:

    I want to visit Nova Scotia and hike just to see a moose! We have been trying to see one in America and never have. Guess we just need to hop over to Nova Scotia! Too bad the Skyline hike wasn’t all you hoped it was.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. Yes, you should hop on over to Nova Scotia, hike the Highlands and you’ll certainly increase your chances of seeing a moose! The thing about Skyline is that I imagined hiking along the coast for much of the trail, if I looked more carefully at the map beforehand I would have realized that’s not the case. Skyline is still a nice hike, but I liked Middle Head better. Hope you get to visit Nova Scotia soon!

  2. Amy Alton says:

    We spent three days on the Cabot Trail and loved it! I ate wild blueberries, spotted seals, and went wilderness camping. Never saw a moose though…. :(

    • Nova Scotia and Maine have the BEST wild blueberries! I saw seals in Nova Scotia but not while on my Cape Breton road trip. Ah, you have a lovely excuse to go back to Cape Breton – you must see a moose in the wild…I hear it’s good luck ;)

  3. Susan, it’s been awhile since Mexico City. So happy to see you’re still traveling and documenting your trips. This is a great hiking guide! I’m especially interested in this one because my family research uncovered a link to an Irish gentlemen who came over around 1790 and landed in Nova Scotia. Definitely intend to get up there at some point and poke around. Your blog will be a big help. Thanks.

    • Hey Dennis! It’s been a few, good to hear from you again. I’m four years into this nomad life now, and still having a blast. You’re going to love Nova Scotia, hope you get to spend a good amount of time there. Seems you’ll need to plan a trip to Ireland as well ;) Cheers, Susan

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Top