The Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a mecca for the outdoor enthusiast. If you love hiking, camping, exploring waterfalls and getting in touch with nature this is the place for you@
This national park is a large protected wilderness area (950 square km) located in northern Cape Breton. It is bordered on the east side by the Atlantic Ocean and the west side by the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The ocean views are outstanding!!
The world-famous Cabot Trail goes through the park and the vistas that you will see will bring you to your knees!
I really like the wide range of hiking trails, look-offs, beach locations, camping options and interpretive programs in the park. You can easily spend a week exploring. There is something for everyone.
The Cape Breton Highlands National Park is one of the best places in Nova Scotia to view wildlife and to feel the ocean spray on your skin!
Do you want to see moose and whales? Well, you might just see both on this adventure!
You can access the Cape Breton Highlands National Park via Cheticamp on the west side or Ingonish on the east side. Either way you will be on the world-famous Cabot Trail which forms a loop around the park.
Go to my Cabot Trail map and use the '+' zoom to get a closer look at the location of the park. The Cheticamp entrance is about 140 km (86 mi) from the Canso Causeway which is the entrance to Cape Breton Island. Ingonish is about 180 km (111 mi) from the causeway.
Parks Canada has a great map of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It is a fabulous guide and can easily be stored on your mobile device. This will give you a clear idea of how the park is laid-out.
The visitor information centres at the entrances in Cheticamp (western side) and Ingonish (eastern side) will also have maps (FREE) for you if you would prefer a hard copy.
Cheticamp VIC Location: The western entrance to the Cape Breton Highlands Park is about 5 km (3 mi) north of the village of Cheticamp. Follow the Cabot Trail north and you can't miss it. This VIC is excellent. They have many exhibits depicting the wildlife and fauna in the park and the staff are always ready to answer your questions.
The Cheticamp VIC has washroom facilities, a children’s playground and picnic areas. The Nature Bookstore located here is one of the best that I have visited. Hiking books, nature books, local history, field guides, souvenirs, t-shirts…..you name it and they probably have it.
Ingonish VIC Location: The Ingonish VIC is on the east side of the park and is located in Ingonish Beach. Once again, follow the Cabot Trail and you can't miss it. The new VIC at Ingonish Beach just opened a few years ago and is full of useful park information.
VIC Opening Dates: mid-May to mid-October with full services in July and August.
VIC Hours: Spring (9-5pm); Summer (0830-7pm); Fall (9-5pm)
Entrance Fees: A visitor’s permit for the park is required even if you are only spending the day. The fee structure is very reasonable and is generally under $10. The good news is that Youth (6-17 years of age) get FREE admission to the park.
There are also special rates for a family/group which is defined as ‘up to 7 people arriving in a single vehicle’. Look at the posted fee structure when you arrive so you can choose the best option for you.
Other Fees: Permits and fees are also required for camping, backcountry camping, and fishing.
Services in park: The entry fees help to maintain a vast array of services in the park: hiking trails, beaches, restroom facilities, emergency shelters, informational exhibits and programs, picnic areas and look-offs.
Summer Weekly Activities: This are several weekly activities that are organized in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park throughout the summer. These range from guided hikes to haunted walks on the beach to nature films and milling frolics!
Make sure you ask what is going on when you stop at a VIC.
For each location I'll tell you about the campgrounds nearby, the hiking trails, beaches, picnic areas and look-off points. I'll also include any unique things that you must see or do.
Ingonish is on the eastern side of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the Cabot Trail. Take option 3 or 4 from the Cabot Trail location page and it will take you to Ingonish. You will be on the Cabot Trail so it is not fast and it has lots of hills, and lots of twists and turns.
Before you reach Ingonish you will climb Cape Smokey. This is steep…..you will rise 1200 feet in less than 1 mile! This is an awesome drive but be careful you are skirting the cliffs and the drop is long. Just kidding.....it is very safe.
You can stop at the top of Smokey at the Cape Smokey Provincial Park to get your bearings. Enjoy the views of the wide-open Atlantic Ocean. There is also a hiking trail here and it is a great way to see the coastline along the Ingonish area.
You'll notice from the parks map that there are actually several Ingonishes. Best to situate them now before you get confused when you arrive. Arriving via Cape Smokey and travelling north you will see them in this order:
There are only a couple of kilometers separating each one so distance is not really a concern. The only one actually within the boundaries of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is Ingonish Beach.
The communities in the Ingonish area include banks, gas stations, restaurants, accommodations, grocery stores, Nova Scotia Liquor Commission and a post office.
There are 2 campgrounds in the park in the Ingonish area:
Both are open mid-May to mid-October. You can get a 15% discount if you stay for 7 or more consecutive nights. There are washrooms, showers, kitchen shelters with wood stoves, communal fireplaces and playgrounds in each.
You can purchase firewood at the campground but fires are only permitted in designated areas. What I really love about these campgrounds is that both are within walking distance of 2 great beaches (Ingonish Beach & Broad Cove Beach).
The Ingonish Beach campground is an open campground with 50 unserviced sites. Some of the sites have fireplaces. There is also a wheelchair accessible washroom at Ingonish.
This campground also has oTENTik sites and equiped camping sites available. You’ll see the entrance for this campground just after the VIC.
The Broad Cove campground is a bit further but stay on the Cabot Trail and follow the signs. This campground is a mix of wooded and open sites. It has 111 unserviced sites and 83 with a 3-way hook-up. Some of the serviced and unserviced sites have fireplaces.
Broad Cove also has some oTENTik sites available. There are wheelchair accessible sites and washrooms at Broad Cove.
Broad Cove also has an outdoor theatre and events happen all summer long.
You can also call 1-877-737-3783 if you are in North America, outside North America you can call 1-519-826-5391.
The trails on the Ingonish side of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park are exceptional. There is something for everyone. I encourage you to check out my Ingonish Hiking page and find one that suits you. I think that exploring the park on a hiking trail is one of the best ways to appreciate it and fall in love with it.
I am a hiker and I have explored many of these hikes. These trails are well-maintained, well-marked and they give extraordinary views of the coast. They will also bring you into the highlands and far away from everything!!
There are six magnificent beaches within the boundaries of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in the Ingonish area:
These are all equally great ways to spend some time in the water during your stay in the area. My 'Ingonish beaches' page will give you all of the information that you need regarding these beaches.
Everyone loves waterfalls so here is another one to visit. Opposite the entrance to the Broad Cove Campground is the entrance to Warren Lake, Broad Cove Mountain, Branch Pond Lookoff and Mary Ann Falls.
Follow the road for about 6 km (4 mi) and you’ll see the parking lot for Mary Ann Falls. A short path, a small bridge and some stairs and you’ll hear and then see the falls.
The falls flow into Mary Ann brook which makes its way to the ocean at Black Brook.
This is a great place for a picnic.
Green Cove and Lakies Head are 'official' look-off spots along the trail. They are located very close to each other and you can easily spot them when you are driving on the Cabot Trail. They are between Black Brook and Broad Cove.
Both are basically huge rocks along the coastline which have become visitor viewing platforms. You are close to the ocean so be careful and don't get too close to the edge of the rocks. Watch children carefully.
Lakies Head is wheelchair accessible. They both have exhibits with information panels on the area and there are often Parks Staff present to answer questions.
If you don't have a lot of time when you are driving the Cabot Trail these are great places to stop to get close to the ocean and to appreciate the salt spray on your face.
If you wish to enter the Cape Breton Highlands National Park on the western side then you will drive along the Gulf of St. Lawrence coastline to the acadian village of Cheticamp.
Take option 1 or 2 from the Cabot Trail location page and it will take you to Cheticamp. Cheticamp is about 144 km (89.5 mi) or 2 hours from the Canso Causeway.
As I mentioned earlier the VIC for the national park is about 5 km (3 mi) past the village. There is a wide range of services available in the village of Cheticamp and this is certainly worth a visit.
There are 4 campgrounds in the park in the Cheticamp area BUT they are very different.
The Cheticamp campground is located next to the VIC and is your typical campground with all of the regular facilities that you would expect. This is a great place to camp with the family. The location is great since you are in the park and not far for the village of Cheticamp.
There are over 100 unserviced, electrical and 3-way hook-up sites at Cheticamp. The majority are unserviced. There are also some wheelchair accessible sites. This campground is well-serviced with hot showers, children’s playground, and kitchen shelters with woodstoves.
The Corney Brook campground is located about 15 km (9 mi) north of Cheticamp and is set on a cliff overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is open to the elements and is fantastic. This is a very popular campground and fills up quickly because it is small (20 unserviced sites).
It is very hard to get a spot to camp here. There is a flush toilet but no potable water on site. Reservations are not accepted for Corney Brook. It is first come first served and payment is by self-registration.
Corney Brook campground
Coastline at Corney Brook
The MacIntosh Brook campground is another small campground with only 10 unserviced sites. It is located a short distance from Pleasant Bay in the Grande Anse Valley sitting at the base of the highlands.
MacIntosh brook flows beside the area and there is a kitchen shelter, a playground and flush toilets. Reservations are not accepted for MacIntosh Brook. Payment is by self-registration.
Fishing Cove is a back-country campground that can only be accessed by an 8 km (5 mi) long hiking trail. I hiked to Fishing Cove several years and it was fabulous. You need to bring everything with you including water! Of course, if you bring it in then you must take it out as well!!
There is an alternate hiking trail to Fishing Cove which is further north on MacKenzie Mountain. It is 5.7 km (3.5mi) return.
Open fires are not permitted so you must bring a camp stove. Backcountry permits must be purchased at the Cheticamp or Ingonish VIC.
You can also call 1-877-737-3783 if you are in North America, outside North America you can call 1-519-826-5391.
There are several hiking trails on the Cheticamp side of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. They are varied in length and difficulty. The good news is that you can normally return on a hike and not complete it totally if it turns out to be more than you bargained for.
My hiking page gives a full list of the Cheticamp Hiking trails.
The beach options are not as varied as they are in Ingonish but there is a beach at La Bloc located about 12 km (7.5 mi) north of Cheticamp. It is a pebble beach and you can enjoy the warm waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There are pit privies and picnic tables but no surf guard on duty here. Thirty families once lived along here and made their living from the ocean.
If you prefer something with more of a sandy beach and more services you can always go to Plage St. Pierre which is on Cheticamp Island. The entrance to Cheticamp Island is at the south end of the village. There is also camping here if the park camping areas are full.
As you leave the Cheticamp area and make your way on the Cabot Trail and further into the Cape Breton Highlands National Park please be careful as you are driving. You will cross 3 mountains and there are winding roads, steep climbs and descents. Use your lower gear on your descents and watch for oncoming traffic.
You may also see wildlife. There are several look-off areas where you can safely pull off of the road and enjoy the scenery.
Cap Rouge is the first look-off that you'll see as you travel north on the Cabot Trail from Cheticamp. The rock formations along this area are quite special. There is an exhibit that explains the distinct formations here.
Probably the best look-off place in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is the Veteran's Monument.
This scenic spot sits on French Mountain.
There is a fabulous view of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Cheticamp coastline.
On a clear day you can easily see the outline of the steeple of St. Peter's Church in Cheticamp.
The beautiful Presqu'Île is also easily seen.
This look-off is a great location for pictures. Get out your binoculars and comb the ocean for whale sightings and fishing boats.
The sunsets along here are also nothing less than spectacular!
MacKenzie Mountain has 2 look-offs. Make sure you stop at the look-off where you can see Fishing Cove. You can easily see the cove from the look-off. Folks used to live here and now it is a wilderness camping area in the park.
There is also a hiking trail going down to the cove. I did it several years ago, it is challenging but awesome!
The next look-off on MacKenzie Mountain looks over Pleasant Bay. This coastline is really spectacular. The descent from the top of MacKenzie into this area is quite special and there are a couple of places to stop. It is a thrilling ride but be careful and go slow.
You’ll come across the Lone Shieling as you climb the 3rd mountain in this area of the park called North Mountain. Lone Shieling is quite special. It depicts a Scottish crofter’s hut amidst a 350-year growth of sugar maple trees. There is a short 20-minute walk through the woods. This place is so quiet and, almost mystical!
When I was there I was treated to a piper in full dress. I talked to him a bit and he told me that he is from the area and plays there from time to time throughout the summer. Just because he loves to play and it is the perfect spot. I am really sorry that I did not take a picture of him.
Travelling across the highlands plateau towards the east side of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park you'll see another look-off as you start your descent down North Mountain. You'll have a great view of Beulach Ban Falls here. This view must be awesome in the spring with the winter run-off from the highlands.
There is also a hiking trail here. Follow the Cabot Trail down the mountain and you’ll see a sign for the Aspy hiking trail (#13). The parking lot for the trail is at the base of the falls.
As you follow the Cabot Trail you will reach Cape North. Here you can decide to turn left and go towards the most northern part of the island. A beautiful and rugged area. Go whalewatching in Bay St. Lawrence or hike the Money Point Hiking trail.
Continuing to your right from Cape North on the Cabot Trail will take you towards Neil's Harbour and then the Ingonish area. You will now be on the east side of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
There is still lots to do and see!!
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