The Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island is certainly one of the most beautiful drives anywhere! Rivers, valleys, coastal views of the ocean, fishing villages, mountains, waterfalls, hiking, golfing, whale watching, camping, beaches, cycling…..the list of things to do and see is endless!
I guess the best way to tackle explaining the pure joy that travelling the trail can offer one is to go step-by-step and treat this as a journey. For sure, my words and images will entice you enough to come to Cape Breton to experience this wonderful gem for yourself.
And if you have already been here….well….I guess you need to come back! My map below will give you a good idea of where the trail is located on Cape Breton Island. Use the zoom in (+) and zoom out (-) functions to get a clearer view of the location.
You can refer back to this map as you read about the communities along the trail on this page.
Visit my Cabot Trail location page for different options in getting to the trail.
The Cabot Trail is a 297 kilometre loop (185 miles) around the northern part of Cape Breton Island. This spectacular drive will treat you to
We'll start our tour at Margaree Harbour and go around the trail clock-wise. Margaree Harbour is on the west side of Cape Breton. You can reach Margaree Harbour by taking the Ceilidh Trail (Route 19) as you cross the Canso Causeway upon entering Cape Breton Island.
Margaree Harbour will give you a breathtaking view of the coastline. There is a look-off at the harbour just before crossing the bridge so be sure to stop.
After Margaree Harbour, you’ll skirt along the coastline of the Gulf of St. Lawrence heading north toward the Acadian village of Cheticamp. You'll come across small communities likes Cap Le Moine and Grand Etang along the way.
Many of these folks are the ancestors of some of the Acadians that were expelled from mainland Nova Scotia in 1755. They made their way to this area and found a new home along these shores.
Cheticamp is very special. This northern location kept the community isolated for many years. This helped the community maintain their Acadian culture and language and it has flourished.
This unique area of Cape Breton has much to offer the visitor and has a full range of visitor services. I would encourage you to stay a few nights. You can practice your French language skills with the locals.
Just past Cheticamp you will enter the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This is a real jewel and is the largest protected wilderness area in Nova Scotia.
You'll need to purchase a pass to enter the park. I strongly suggest that you stop at the Visitors Information Centre. There is a wealth of information here about the park and they'll give you a FREE map.
There are many activities that happen in the park. The staff in the information centre will be able to answer your questions.
Once in the park you’ll climb French, MacKenzie and North Mountains before turning east to cross the plateau of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Remember you are still on the Cabot Trail.
Be sure to stop at the many look-off points along the way. This is the best way to experience the Cabot Trail. I encourage you to just not drive the Cabot Trail, stop, get out of the car and breathe it!
The Veteran's Monument is one of my favourite look-off spots.
There are many hiking trails along the way as well. Short trails to long challenging trails. There is something for everyone.
I strongly suggest that you do the Skyline Trail. It can be busy so doing it in the early morning or early evening would be best. The trail gives awesome views of the Cabot Trail coastline.
You'll come across the community of Pleasant Bay when you descend Mackenzie Mountain. This is a great little place. You can go whale watching here and they also have a community museum about whales. This really is worth a visit especially if you have kids with you.
The Cabot Trail continues over North Mountain and across the plateau of the Highlands National Park. Watch for moose as they cross the road on a regular basis. Remember you are in their home!
You'll know you have reached the east side of the trail and the park once you arrive at Cape North. Follow the trail to your right and you will continue on the Cabot Trail. But not far from this turn-off you'll see a sign for the Scenic Route.
Seems funny since you are on the 'scenic' Cabot Trail. This sign should be near Effie's Brook. Take it! This diversion from the Cabot Trail will take you to an absolutely beautiful place. You cannot miss this drive. Trust me!
The scenic route will take you to White Point. A small picturesque fishing village that will steal your heart. Drive to the end of the dirt road and take the time to go for a hike. The image below will give you an idea of what you will see. I have cycled and hiked here and it is absolutely gorgeous.
Follow the road after White Point to another magical place, Neil's Harbour. Another small picturesque fishing village. Look for the lighthouse. It will lead you to the cliffs and the Chowder House! Ready to eat?
The Chowder House is nestled near the cliffs......it really is just a shack but these are usually the best for seafood. They have seafood chowder, lobster, crab, mussels.....
Leaving Neil's Harbour you will rejoin the Cabot Trail. The ocean vistas along here are worth several stops. You are now entering the Ingonish area ...from hiking trails to beaches to look-off areas.....you'll surely find a good spot to stop.
There are a couple of campgrounds here that are in the Cape Breton Highlands National park. This is a beautiful area. Ingonish is a full service community so you should be able to find everything you need.
Folks often call Ingonish the 'Gateway to the Highlands'.
Are you a golfer? Highlands Links is a top rated golf club nestled in the middle of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Reservations for a tee time are definitely needed!
After Ingonish, another mountain awaits you, Cape Smokey! Smokey, as it is known in Cape Breton, is steep with very tight turns! You'll be driving very close to the edge of the cliff so the views are outstanding.
Stop at the top if you can. There is a provincial park with an awesome hiking trail. It is a 3-4 hour hike and it is not difficult. It will take you to a spot where you will have a breathtaking view of Middle Head, North and South Bays, the Ingonish coastline and the highlands plateau.
You may be able to see the outline of St. Paul's Island to the north on a clear day. Scooting along the coastline as you descend Cape Smokey is fun but please go slow because there are many curves and bends in the road and it is steep. Just when you think you can't see the ocean it pops through the trees again!
There aren't a lot of services along this trek of the Cabot Trail so make sure you have what you need before you leave Ingonish.
However, not far from Cape Smokey is Wreck Cove. Here you will find the Wreck Cove General Store. A little place to stop for a coffee and sandwich. They also have a gift section with books and CDs. And they have gas.
Driving down the coast you'll come across several gift shops. There are shops selling pottery, stained glass, interesting clothing items (Sew Inclined), wood art and leather works.
Continue for about 60 km and you'll enter the St. Ann's Bay area. You'll come across a right turn (just after Indian Brook) which will take you towards St. Ann's. This is where the Cabot Trail continues.
This is the St. Ann's Loop and it is home to numerous artists and their shops. These shops are unlike many other souvenir shops that you might have already seen. Ask for a Cape Breton Artisan Trail Map when you stop at an information centre. It will show you where all are located.
Do you feel the need to stretch your legs? You can check out the North River Falls Trail which is located at North River, just past Tarbot. This is a fantastic hiking trail. Watch for the signs.
Next stop on the trail is the Gaelic College. The Gaelic College is a very unique place. Do you have any Scottish heritage in your family?
Is your last name MacLean, MacDonald, MacNeil, MacDougall or do you have any of these names in your family tree?
If you do then you might just find your family (or clan) tartan right here!
Do you want to learn a little about the fiddle or the bagpipes....or perhaps highland dancing?
This is the place.
Next stop is Baddeck. Baddeck is a little resort town sitting on the shores of the Bras d'or Lakes. Baddeck is a great place to stroll and take in all of the sites. You are directly on the shores of the lake so it is very nice.
There are lots of shops in the town and plenty of restaurants. I love going to the Highwheeler Cafe for lunch. The coffee is great and they have delicious soups and sandwiches. The Lakeside cafe is also great. They have a terrace which overlooks the lake.
Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell made his summer home in Baddeck? Baddeck is also home to a museum in his name. This museum is fascinating and you can see Bell's summer home at Bein Breagh from the museum.
During the summer months there are nightly ceilidhs at St. Michael's Parish which is on the Main Street in the town. These are great and lots of fun! Some folks got a lesson in square dancing when I was there a couple of summers ago. There is a small admissions fee BUT is also includes tea and Cape Breton oat cakes.
Baddeck is a full service town with lots of restaurants, accommodations, shops, banks, grocery stores, a Nova Scotia Liquor Commission and a post office.
The Cabot Trail loop is completed as you make your way to Margaree from Baddeck. You are now travelling inland and here you will find the world-famous Margaree River. The Margaree River is one of the best places in the world for salmon fishing.
The Margaree area is a beautiful, restful and calming place.
I have a great e-book called 44 Awesome Things to see on the Cabot Trail (+ 17 tips for along the way) that might interest you. This book is an awesome reference for touring the Cabot Trail. I include all of my favorite spots plus much more!
Nova Scotia offers a wide range of places to stay throughout the provinces. From 5-star hotels to mid-range motels to country inns to campgrounds. There is something for everyone. I hope my accommodations page will help you to find something perfect for your visit.
Like accommodations, there is a wide choice of restaurants in Nova Scotia that will fit every budget. I love seafood and I am pleased to report that Nova Scotia has some of the best. Would you prefer a steak, pasta, french cuisine, a cheeseburger or a pizza? You can find all choices here.
My 'where to eat' page offers several resources where you can find the best restaurants no matter where you are in the province.
Do you have a great story about your visit along the Cabot Trail? Do you want to become a part of Your Nova Scotia Holiday?