Cape Breton Island itinerary in 2 days
Cape Breton Island is on the north-eastern tip of the province of Nova Scotia - with the Gulf of the St. Lawrence to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
Known for it's breathtaking landscapes, the Cabot Trail is a scenic road that circles the perimeter of the island, passing forests, and dramatic coast lines. There are many beautiful and well-maintained hiking paths and look-outs along the Trail.
If you are planning to drive the perimeter of the Cabot Trail in one day, keep in mind that it is 300 km long. You should plan 7 - 8 hours for the drive including some stops for viewing as well as a couple of hikes.
Cape Breton Island is known culturally for its Gaelic fiddling music and friendly people.
Cape Breton Island:
Located in the small village of Mabou, this rustic bed-and-breakfast is clean and our room had a nice private balcony facing the river. They offer a hardy and delicious buffet breakfast
Glenora Distillery Pub. This Distillery is known for the whiskey it produces in the traditional method. They have a nice restaurant on-site and also have live Celtic music nightly.
The Red Shoe Pub. This cozy pub and eatery is located in Mabou. They offer a typical pub menu with some specialty items. Local musicians play there nightly. It is owned by the Rankin sisters. The Rankin family are local celebrities. The siblings, originally from Mabou, formed a band that garnered national fame in the 1990s.
Cape Breton Island
We arrived in Cape Breton Island after visiting Prince Edward Island, where we took the Northumberland ferry to Pictou, Nova Scotia, and drove to Cape Breton from there.
We stayed at the Duncreigan Country Inn, in the small village of Mabou, located on the south-west part of the Island. This rustic bed-and-breakfast is clean and our room had a nice private balcony facing the river.
After checking into the Inn we went for a nice hike along the Mabou Rivers Hiking Trail. This trail, located across from the Inn, is part of the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail. It offers views of the Mabou Inlet, meadows, woodlands and river and runs along an old rail line.
The trail offers serene views of the Mabou River with the highlands in the background. There is a quaint church steeple across the river and a variety of birds can be seen along the trail. We were there at sunset - the river was calm and the light was just beautiful.
After a short rest in our rooms, we headed for dinner at the Glenora Distillery Pub. This Distillery is known for the whiskey it produces in the traditional method using only three ingredients: barley, yeast and water. They offer tours of the distillery and have a restaurant and pub. The pub fare is delicious and they also have live Celtic music nightly.
This morning we got an early start following breakfast, as our goal was to spend the day along the Cabot Trail. This 300 km roadway circles the north part of the island and includes the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world. The trail is named for John Cabot, an explorer who first landed on the island in 1497 from England.
We chose to drive the trail in a clockwise direction because the views along the west coast are some of the most spectacular. We stopped in a small village supermarket and picked up some picnic items on our way to the Park.
The western entrance to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is in the village of Cheticamp. You can obtain a park pass in the Visitors Information Centre in Cheticamp.
The Park covers approximately 1,000 sq. km, stretching between the Gulf of the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. The vistas along the road are breathtaking with ravines and dramatic cliffs by the ocean. The road consists of some hairpin turns and some steep inclines so it must be driven with caution. There are several viewing stations along the route to stop and admire the scenery.
There are many hiking trails but we made our way to the Skyline Trail which is probably the most well-known due to its altitude and spectacular views. The hike is a 9 km loop along dramatic bluffs and through a ravine of spruces and firs, many of which have been eaten by the herds of moose that wander the area. If you spot a moose, give it plenty of space.
The highlight of the Skyline Trail are the stunning views of the cliffs and the Gulf of the St. Lawrence at the end of the trail. There is a well-maintained boardwalk and many stairs to climb to get there but it is well worth it - the views are breathtaking. You may even spot some whales.
We continued our drive along the Trail and stopped for a picnic lunch in Pleasant Bay at the north end of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. There are several picnic spots along the way but we drove down to a little fishing port and had our lunch on the beach.
After lunch we continued over to the east side of the trail - driving south toward Ingonish. The views of the Atlantic are just as beautiful.
We stopped outside of Ingonish by the Keltic Lodge where we parked and headed to the Middle Head Trail. This 3.8 km loop takes around 1 - 2 hours to complete. It follows a long, narrow peninsula separating two ocean bays, ending on headland cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Smokey and Ingonish Island.
After leaving the park, heading south along the Cabot Trail we stopped at some artisan galleries between Cape Smokey and St. Ann. There are glass and pewter galleries with crafts by local artists.
After a rest back at the Inn, we walked to the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou for dinner and to listen to some local live music.
The Red Shoe Pub is a cozy restaurant. It is owned by the Rankin sisters. The Rankin family are local celebrities. The siblings, originally from Mabou, formed a band that garnered national fame in the 1990s.
This morning after breakfast we began our drive to Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia.