The Skyline Trail……the name says it all! At the end of this hiking trail, you will find yourself walking on a very steep headland cliff overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the great Atlantic Ocean.
Your view of the coast will be the Cabot Trail, Presqu’île and Cheticamp Island. The view is breathtaking and it will be easy to see why this trail is truly the gem of the Cabot Trail. You must not miss this hike!
As your car climbs French mountain on your way to this trail, watch very carefully to your left. You will see the headland cliff where you will eventually hike. You should be able to see other hikers.
The Skyline trail is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, on the island. This being said, you will probably not be alone so expect to see other hikers.
If you enjoy being alone on a trail, I suggest you go early in the morning. You have a better chance to see moose as well if you go early in the morning!
The Skyline trail is very well-maintained since it is part of the national park. It is not difficult and I think it is a wonderful family adventure.
However, keep a close eye on children since you are high on the plateau. There are steep cliffs and there are no security guardrails installed.
Directions: Drive about 15 kilometres north of Cheticamp on the Cabot Trail. When you reach the top of French mountain you will see a sign indicating the trail. Turn left and the road will take you to the trailhead.
The Skyline Trail is trail #7 in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. You will need to pay a fee to enter the park either in Cheticamp or Ingonish.
GPS at trailhead: N 46o 44' 15.4" W 60o 53' 49.1"
Distance: The trail can be done either as a 7.4 km (4.7 mi) return trip or a 9.2 km (5.6 mi) loop. There are several trail maps along the route so you can see your location the trail.
Elevation: 290-405m (950-1330 ft)
Time: Approximately 2-3 hours.
Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Suitable for children but watch them along the open parts of the trail.
Food/Water: Water is always necessary. There are no picnic facilities on this trail, however, the headland cliff is a great place for a picnic and it has several benches. Lights snacks are also a good idea. There are also several benches along the trail where you can stop for a break
Clothes/Accessories: A sweater or light jacket as it will be very windy once you reach the vantage point overlooking the Cabot Trail and the Atlantic Ocean; sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots; insect repellent; binoculars and a camera.
Facilities: Pit toilets at traihead & just before viewing platform
The beginning of the Skyline trail is very easy terrain. Be sure to watch for moose! When I was there, I saw a very large moose in the woods not far from the trailhead. He was very calm and not bothered by my presence so I watched him for a time.
Later, I saw another. But this time, he was parked in the middle of the trail. I decided to stop and watch until he was good and ready to move on!
You are on the top of the highland plateau where it can be extremely windy. You may wonder how anything could possibly survive here. Especially, during the long, cold Cape Breton winters.
Not far into the trail, you will come to the junction where you must decide to continue on your left to go straight to the headland cliff or turn right and take the longer route.
Most people want to go directly to the cliff so they will continue to their left. I suggest you take this route.
There are some very nice views of French mountain and the Cabot Trail along this route which you will see in front of you as you hike.
I found this view really cool since I could see the road that I travelled to get to the trail. Once you get to the headland cliff, the view will hit you all at once. I was not prepared for what I saw.
It was simply magnificent.
It was fairly cloudy and misty the first time I hiked the Skyline trail. But once I arrived on the headland, the clouds lifted immediately and the blue sky and sparkling ocean seemed to open up wide just for us.
It was great!
Don’t hesitate to walk to the end of the trail. You will be guided down the middle of the headland cliff by wooden steps. It is fairly steep and can be very windy but it will give you the true feeling of the Skyline trail.
You will have the open Atlantic to your right and a deep ravine to your left. On the other side of the ravine, you will be able to admire the Cabot Trail and French Mountain.
Directly in front of you is Presqu’île with Cheticamp far in the distance. This is Cape Breton at its best!
The wooden platform and boardwalks are fairly new. Park officials decided to add these to the headland due to the high usage of the trail. Hikers were basically causing a lot of damage to the fragile plants.
Please be respectful of the warnings indicated in the area and stay on the platforms while enjoying the beautiful view.
Your binoculars will be very useful at this point. On a clear day, you will be able to see the outline of St. Peter’s Church in Cheticamp.
You can also try to spot some whales. You will probably see some whale-watching boats. They have a pretty good view of the headland cliff so give them a wave.
On the return trip, turn left when you reach the junction to complete the loop and explore more. You may also continue straight if you wish to return directly to the trailhead.
I suggest you turn left. There is more to see. This part of the trail should not have many hikers since most people continue back to the trailhead.
The trail will take into more wooded areas (where moose could be lingering). You will eventually have another vantage point of the coast pointing north.
I have also read that you can see the Magdalen Islands to your left on a very clear day. Get those binoculars out again!
Continue along this trail until you come to another junction. Turn left and you will reach the parking lot.
Cheticamp is a great place to visit with a vast array of services. There is an exceptional bookstore located at the Highlands National Park Information Centre in Cheticamp. It is operated by Les Amis du Plein Air and is definitely worth a visit.
There are also several great camping areas. The Corney Brook campground which is part of the national park is a great place to camp. It is located on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
The Cheticamp campground located in the highlands park is also a great place to camp. Or if you prefer there are several options for accommodations in the Cheticamp area such as cottages, small motels, inns and B&Bs.
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