The picturesque island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia is home to beautiful highlands and coastline, providing the perfect backdrop for a range of outdoor activities like hiking, cycling and whale watching.
The world-famous Cabot Trail is the islands’ most popular attraction. The 185-mile road is the best way to see the highlights of Cape Breton as the route does a loop of the northern tip of the island.
The Cabot Trail is one of the most popular Canada destinations and one of the best-known driving routes in the world. Here, you can travel to a variety of seaside communities and see some stunning coastal views around every corner. Read on for our top recommendations on unmissable places to stop along the route.
The essential stops along the Cabot Trail
Your starting point for this epic drive is the village of Baddeck and before you begin driving on the route, we’d recommend having a look around this fascinating place, which is famous for its iconic Kidston Island Lighthouse.
The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic site allows you to explore the natural and cultural heritage of the area. Through films, interactive displays, artefacts, models and a large photo collection you will learn so much about the area.
Other great attractions in Baddeck you can visit include:
•Wagmatcook Culture & Heritage Centre – Here you can buy authentic Mi’kmaq arts and crafts or enjoy seafood specials featuring fresh seafood caught by our local fishermen and women.
•Amoeba Sailing Tours – Go on a sailing tour from Baddeck around the Bras d’Or Lakes. You might even see a Bald eagle in its natural habitat!
Go on a kayaking tour with North River
35 minutes from Baddeck
— North River Kayak (@northriverkayak) September 11, 2018
North River Kayak Tours is located just outside of Baddeck and they offer quality sea-kayak tours. There are guided half-day, full-day or even 3-day kayak tours on offer. By kayaking along the Cape Breton Island coastline, you can see its hidden gems and its wildlife.
The single and double kayaks are modern and are easy to handle, meaning that if you’re a beginner you’ll feel comfortable throughout the tour.
The half-day tours are North River Kayak Tours’ most popular trip: you’ll paddle through the St. Ann’s Bay region, visit a large eagle’s nest, see a waterfall and stop off at a small beach. At the secluded beach, you will settle down for some well-earned food.
About 1 hour 17 minutes
One of the first highlights on the Cabot Trail is Ingonish Beach, famed for its rugged headlands, sandy beach and countryside.
Ingonish itself consists of five different communities: Ingonish Ferry, Ingonish Harbour, Ingonish Beach, Ingonish Centre and North Ingonish.
What makes Ingonish Beach remarkable is the fact you can jump from saltwater at the beach to a freshwater lake in just a few, small steps.
There are lots of hiking trails to sample, like the 4km hike to the Middle Head Peninsula, and an iconic golf course in the form of the fabled Stanley Thompson’s Highlands Links course, which offers par-fect views of the coastline and countryside.
Hiking along the Skyline Trail
About 1 hour 30 minutes from Baddeck
The Cape Breton Highlands National Park is regarded as one of Canada’s most captivating parks as the mountains meet the sea.
The route of the Cabot Trail winds through the national park and you’ll be driving through lush river canyons one moment and along rugged coastlines the next.
The Cape Breton Highlands National Park is home to a number of fantastic hikes, but one trail that Helen Suk from the travel blog Not Without My Passport highly recommends stopping at is the Skyline Trail.
“A visit to Cape Breton Highlands National Park wouldn’t be complete without a gentle hike on the famous Skyline Trail, which is the spot for sunset viewing and one of the most iconic images of Nova Scotia.”
About 1 hour 49 minutes from Baddeck
Seen as the halfway destination along the Cabot Trail, this bay is known for being the whale watching capital of Cape Breton.
Here, pods of Atlantic pilot whales spend their summer hunting for squid. Other whales such as finback and minke whales have also been seen here, while there is also a large population of seals in the area.
Pleasant Bay is a great place to stop off at and go whale watching. Below are some of the best tour operators located in the area.
•Captain Mark’s Whale & Seal Cruise – They offer some of the best whale watching experiences on the Cabot Trail and their work with whales has been featured on local news specials.
•Guaranteed Whales – With this tour operator you can explore Cape Breton’s rugged coastline and its sea life. Their Highland Vessel is Cape Breton’s only double-decker whale watching tour vessel and it is great for catching a glimpse of the resident whales, seals, birds and other marine wildlife.
About 2 hours 30 minutes from Baddeck
Meat Cove is the most northerly settlement in Nova Scotia. The route to this scenic fishing village is incredible with spectacular views of the coastline.
The Chowder Hut restaurant is located here, and you can get some great views of the beach and coastline from this elevated location. If you’re feeling peckish, the restaurant serves delicious seafood and if you want to stay around Meat Cove for a bit longer, there is a campsite across from Chowder Hut.
Helen Suk from Not Without My Passport also thinks Meat Cove should be on your to-do list.
“I also highly recommend Meat Cove, a rural fishing community on the northernmost tip of Cape Breton Island. This off-the-beaten-path location offers a stunning panorama of rolling hills and the Gulf of St. Lawrence below.”
Around 3 hours 30 minutes from Baddeck (via above attractions)
Margaree Harbour is another must-visit destination nestled along the Cabot Trail.
It is a major attraction for anglers the world over with it being a hotspot for salmon and trout fly fishing, but there’s more to do here than just fishing.
One reason the Margaree Harbour Beach is known as a great destination is because of its sunsets, and either before or after watching the sun go down you can enjoy the fine cuisine on offer here.
The Dancing Goat Café & Bakery is a bustling roadside eatery offering soups, artisanal sandwiches and salads. It is a culinary gem tucked away in the hills of the Margaree Valley.
The Duck Cove Inn is located on a hilltop in the Margaree River Valley. It not only offers traditional Scottish and Acadian cuisine but offers panoramic views of the Margaree River Valley.
To recap, here are the top stops to visit along the Cabot Trail:
•Kayaking with North River
•Hiking along the Skyline Trail
Tips for first-time drivers on the Cabot Trail
Don’t rely on your smartphone for GPS
It’s all too easy nowadays to type in the GPS on your smartphone, but according to Helen Suk from Not Without My Passport, you should avoid doing this along the Cabot Trail.
“Do not rely on your smartphone for a GPS! You’ll lose your signal intermittently as you drive the Cabot Trail which can lead you to lose your way. I recommend getting a GPS with your car rental.”
Don’t rush it
While you could drive the Cabot Trail in a day it is best to take your time and spend a few days driving this iconic route.
Annette from the travel site Bucketlist Journey, tells us, “Seeing the highlights of The Cabot Trail can absolutely be done in one day, but it may be better to split it up into two, staying the night somewhere around the halfway point.” This way you get to stop off along each of the hidden-gem highlights along the way – and sample more of the incredible seafood, too!
Pack your walking gear
Make sure you pack your hiking boots or some comfortable shoes you can walk in because there are so many amazing walking trails on offer.
Here we list some other items you need to pack for the Cabot Trail
•Jumper and warm clothing (winter)
•Shorts and t-shirts (summer)
•Camping gear (if you decide to go camping)
If you’re thinking about driving on the Cabot Trail, take a look at our different car rental services in Canada and book your dream holiday today!