The Ceilidh Trail on Cape Breton Island is the place for you to be if you want a cultural adventure and an outdoor adventure for your Nova Scotia holiday. This trail has everything........read on and see for yourself!!
Do you want to:
* learn a little Gaelic
There is all of this and much more along this scenic route.
The Ceilidh Trail starts when you arrive in Cape Breton. Once you cross the Canso Causeway, follow Route 19 to your left and then follow the signs marking the Ceilidh Trail.
This scenic trail is approximately 100 kilometers long (62 mi) and straddles the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the west side of Cape Breton Island.
This trail ends in Margaree Harbour and it is here where you meet the Cabot Trail.
Before you take route 19 I strongly suggest that you stop at the Visitor Information Centre. You will see the familiar "?" as soon as you cross the Canso Causeway. The folks here will give you information about current events on the trail and they will also also give you a map (all for FREE)!!
The Ceilidh Trail is filled with little places here and there that are full of character. Small harbours with the local fishing fleet will be a regular sight.
If you are lucky and there during lobster or crab season be sure to stop by to say hello to the fishermen and you might just be able to get some fresh seafood for supper.
But for me the biggest attraction on the Ceilidh Trail is the music. Cape Breton music, Scottish music, the fiddle, stepdancing, square sets and the singers! There is something to attend every night. It is simply amazing!!
I have included 'live music' options in each community as I talk about them below. But I must say that it is possible that I have missed one or that one has been added.
This is why it is always a good idea to stop at the local grocery store, post office, community hall or church hall (whenever there are many cars parked)......ask around for the closest ceilidh or square dance and the locals will certainly know.
One of the major attractions on the Ceilidh Trail is the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail. This multi-use recreational trail is over 90 kilometres long. It stretches from the beginning of the Ceilidh Trail in Port Hastings and ends in Inverness. I did bits and pieces of it and I think that it is a great addition to this part of Cape Breton.
Troy is the first community that you will come across on the Ceilidh Trail. This place is really small. However, it has a special attraction now. Follow the blue sign that you will lead you to the Troy Station trailhead for the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail.
This section of the trail is called the Ceilidh Coastal Trail. This is a beautiful spot for a picnic and a hike. Even if you only have 30 minutes it is worth it. You are on the coast and overlooking St. George's Bay and the entrance to the Strait of Canso.
The hometown of Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac is next on the Ceilidh Trail. This is a lovely area and you have great views of the coast. There is another trailhead for the Ceilidh Coastal trail here so look for the small blue sign.
Watch for the Creignish Recreational Centre. The parking lot was filled when I was going through.
Apparently, there was a luncheon and a ceilidh!
The historic Stella Maris Church is just across the road from the centre. It was built in 1899 and is the pride of the community.
It sits proudly at the base of Creignish Mountain and has a commanding view of St. George's Bay.
There is a pioneer cemetery beside the church. The headstones date from the early 1800s to present day.
There are many of these pioneer cemeteries along the Ceilidh Trail and all over Cape Breton.
Many early settlers are buried here and many of the headstones are very decorative.
I also saw that many included Scotland as the homeland for many of the pioneers.
Another couple of kilometers up the road is Christie's Look-off. This is a another great place to stop and take in the coastal views. There are several panels explaining the history of the area. Apparently, this land was donated by a local resident to be made into a park.
There is another trailhead here for the Ceilidh Coastal Trail. Access is very easy and there is plenty of parking available.
I met some locals when I stopped. They told me that there is music every night along the Ceilidh Trail. They tried to convince me to go back to Creignish for the ceilidh but I was on a schedule and had to make it to Mabou before the end of the day.
Judique is alive with traditional celtic music. One of the main attractions in Judique is the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre.
There is loads of information about Celtic and Scottish music and how it has thrived in Cape Breton.
The Celtic Music Centre has regular sessions of live music so be sure to check it out.
Judique on the Floor Days is held each August. This is a great weekend filled with many events including the Sunday afternoon concert at Kintyre Farm. Check out the date at Cape Breton Festivals!
Port Hood is a small service town about 18 km north of Judique on the Ceilidh Trail. It should have everything you need including groceries, gas, banking, a post office, liquor store, restaurants and accommodations.
The Port Hood Day Park is a great place to spend some time. You'll see it just as you are entering the community. The boardwalk is surrounded by dunes and high grass.
The boardwalk will take you to Port Hood beach which is serviced by the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service during the summer months. This beach is well-maintained and has shower, washroom and canteen facilities. The water is shallow here so it heats up quite nicely in the summer.
The small community Chestico Museum tells the story of the area. The museum also hosts regular Thursday night ceilidhs. In late July, there are Chestico Days celebrations.
You can buy fresh lobster and other seafood at the Ceilidh Fisherman's Co-op which is located at the main street. The Sunset Sands RV Park is located in the middle of town on the water. It is a fantastic location for a campground.
When you are ready to leave Port Hood on your way to Mabou I suggest that you follow an alternate route other than the Ceilidih Trail on route 19.
Look for this sign
The alternate route is at the north end of the village and near the top of the hill. As you are leaving Murphy’s Pond Road you will see a sign for Colindale.
Some folks refer to this road as the Colindale Road but on the map it is called Little Mabou Road. This dirt road (it was in very good condition when I was there a few summers ago) will lead you through gorgeous coastal vistas and to the West Mabou Provincial Park. The road eventually leads you to a junction with Route 19, the Ceilidh Trail.
I think it is safe to say that anyone who knows a little bit about Cape Breton music knows the Rankin Family! And if you know the Rankin family then you probably also know they hail from Mabou.
Check out my page on Mabou and you'll see there is much to do and see!
About 10 km north of Mabou you'll find the Glenora Distillery. When I visited the distillery in Glenville I imagined that this is what Scotland must be like. It is a beautiful setting for a very special and unique craft. The Distillery produces ‘Glen Breton Rare Canadian Single Malt Whisky’.
This is North America's first single malt whisky. Tours are run throughout the summer and there is a very nice dining area for lunch. There is also live music during lunch. And, you can even bottle your own whisky!
The next stop is Inverness which is a full service community along the Ceilidh Trail. You will find everything you need here including a wonderful beach, a boardwalk, a golf course and access to the Celtic Shores Coastal trail. This area has some of the warmest beaches along the Ceilidh Trail.
The boardwalk is next to the beach and is a great place to stretch your legs if you have been driving all day. Remember this is the sunset side of the island. Watching a sunset while strolling along this boardwalk must be incredible.
Check out my page on Inverness so see what else there is to do and see.
I would suggest a little detour 'off the beatin track' if you are planning to continue driving north on the Ceilidh Trail in order to meet the Cabot Trail. This detour will still take you to the Cabot Trail by way of the Atlantic coastline and the views are worth it!
About 4.5 kilometers (almost 3 mi) from Inverness on Route 19 you'll see a sign for the Broad Cove Marsh Road.
This is another dirt road in very good condition. The first thing that you will come across is St. Margaret of Scotland church.
The Broad Cove Concert is held here every year on the last Sunday in July. This concert is known as Cape Breton’s largest annual concert.
It began in 1957 as a simple celebration for the 100th anniversary of the St. Margaret of Scotland parish.
You will have the finest of Cape Breton musicians, dancers and singers at Broad Cove.
St. Margaret of Scotland
People from the area who now live away are known to plan their summer vacations around this concert. The Rankins, Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac and the master of them all, Buddy MacMaster, have delighted the crowds over the years.
Continue on the dirt road and enjoy the scenery. Stop once in a while and get out of your car. Look behind you for a different look and enjoy the vast ocean views. You might see fishing boats!
The Broad Cove Marsh Road will eventually take you to MacLeod’s Beach Campsite. This little corner of Cape Breton is absolutely beautiful and you will most probably want to try this campsite. There are open sites and wooded sites and easy access to a perfect beach.
This particular area is known as Dunvegan to many of the locals. A wonderful location which is neatly hidden away on the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
Once you leave this area and get back on the Route 19 (Ceilidh Trail) watch for another turnoff on your left for route 219 (Shore Road). Once again, this will take you close to the coast for some magnificent scenery.
Watch for Whale Cove and a cemetery on the ocean side of the road. You can easily go for a hike here and get really close to the coast and the crashing waves.
This road will take you to Margaree Harbour where you will meet the Cabot Trail. Margaree Harbour is a beautiful spot. This is where the Margaree River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. There is a small store in Margaree Harbour called Laurence's General Store. An ideal place to stop if the need arises!
This is where your tour of the Ceilidh Trail ends. You'll see signs for the Cabot Trail. Continue north on the Cabot Trail and you’ll see the wonderful Acadian area of Cape Breton and the village of Chéticamp.
Continue past Cheticamp and you'll enter the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Get ready for more adventure!
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 Ceilidh Trail? Do you want to become a part of Your Nova Scotia Holiday?