Halifax Nearby: The Cabot Trail
The communities in the highlands were extremely isolated, supplies were brought in by boat and in wintertime, the mail could be delivered by horse back or dog team. It wasn't until the early 1930's one could travel by automobile over the Cape Breton Highlands, at least as far as Cheticamp on the western side, and foot of Cape Smokey on the eastern side.
The beauty and solitude was seen as a tourism asset by the provincial government. The road from Cape North to Cheticamp was started in 1926 with the rugged Cheticamp to Pleasant Bay stretch completed in 1927, leaving a 24 mile section from Pleasant Bay to Cape North as a foot path, not completed until 1932. Reverend R.L. MacDonald become the first person to drive the Cabot Trail taking over 10 hours to travel The 50 miles.from Cheticamp to Cape North.
Plan six to eight hours from Cheticamp to Ingonish to take advantage of the numerous lookoffs, roadside exhibits, walking trails and scenic side routes (106 km, actual driving time is two hours.)
The Cabot Trail offers a safe, but spectacular, driving experience. The section between Cheticamp and Ingonish is maintained by the Canadian Parks Service.
If you're driving from the Newfoundland ferries or Sydney, you'll find it shorter to visit the Park in a counterclockwise direction, entering at Ingonish. Plan to stop at the Ingonish Information Centre.
Narrative Overview of the Cabot Trail
Exit from Highway 105 at Exit #7, heading northwest from Baddeck. The Cabot Trail winds its way uphill through the Middle River villages, and then winds its way downhill through the various Margaree villages (a total of seven so-named in all), ending up on the Gulf of St Lawrence at Margaree Harbour. Here the Trail meets highway 19, the Ceilidh (KAY-lee) Trail, which winds south along the coast past Inverness and Mabou on its way to Port Hastings. From Margaree Harbour, the Trail winds its way north through a number of coastal villages before pausing at the rustic village of Cheticamp, the western gateway into Cape Breton National Park.
The Cabot Trail swoops up from the park entrance, taking you past La Bloc Beach to Cap Rouge, a 421 metre (1381 ft) headland (with the Cap Rouge Geology Exposition, worth stopping for). As you pass Pleasant Bay at the park's northwest corner, the Trail heads east toward the 455 metre (1493 ft) high French Mountain. There, you can hike on the Bog Trail just off the highway, Benjeis Lake Trail up the hill a bit, or the Fishing Cove Trail to the Fishing Cove Lookoff.
Heading north, the Cabot Trail then follows a relatively level ridge overlooking deep valleys until it climbs toward 372 metre (1220 ft) Mackenzie Mountain where you can pause at a series of MacKenzie Mountain Lookoffs. Then you navigate a series of 10% to 12% switchbacks heading downhill and you leave the park momentarily, as you pass through Pleasant Bay, with a swimming beach on the Gulf of St Lawrence.
Then you head up again, this time toward 445 m (1460 ft) North Mountain, formed over one billion years ago, which offers a series of stunning lookouts (they call them a "lookoff" here) at Lone Sheiling and North Mountain, offering views of the North Aspy River gorge. Then you leave the park for a bit, heading to the town of Cape North (see side trip to Meat Cove)
From the town of Cape North, the Trail heads east to Neil's Harbour (you can take a scenic coastal route, to the north of the Trail for this stretch, too). Which has a nice lightouse and a swimming beach. From there the Cabot Trail heads south past Black Brook Cove, with a white sand swimming beach and a couple of hiking trails. You pass Green Cove with a hiking trail, and shortly thereafter get to check out the Lakie's Head Lookoff, before heading into Ingonish.
South of Ingonish, you head through Ingonish Center before the Trail takes a series of hairpin curves up towards Middle Head. On the east side of the Trail offers picnic areas and a hiking trail to the cliff (with a view to Ingonish Island 3. 5 km to the north) , and on the west side, there is a trail to a small lake and another trail up to 366 metre (1200 ft) Franey Mountain. The Cabot Trail winds down the hill toward aptly named Freshwater Lake and the eastern entrance to Cap Breton National Park.
At Cape Smokey, you pass a nice provincial park, and a number of quaint fishing villages as you finish touring along the west shore of St Anne's bay. Just off the coast are two Bird lslands, which are breeding grounds for a lot of different birds and bird species.
Just south of Indian Brook, you can shortcut on #312 to the St Anns Bay ferry at Englishtown, or continue south through the town of St Anns, ending up at Exit 11 of Highway 105.
Here are the communities passed in a counter-clockwise direction along the Cabot Trail:
- North Margaree & Margaree Harbour
- Cape Breton Highlands National Park
- Cape North
- St Ann's