The Cape Breton Highlands
If you've ever been there, you already know of Cape Breton’s beauty. Located on the Eastern part of Nova Scotia, this small island lacks little in personality. The constant reminder of being near the ocean - buoy décor, the smell of fresh sea air, whale watching signs at nearly every stop - each village has its own charm. Cape Breton Island is known for their friendly locals, stunning views, fiddle music and their French and Scottish influences.
In the summer of 2018, my sister and I embarked on a road trip to explore the Cabot Trail. Having lived in Nova Scotia my entire childhood and early adulthood, it was shocking that neither myself nor my sister had ‘properly’ ventured to this part of the province. In my early twenties, I actually did go to Cape Breton – for their annual Chestico Days Festival, but not for all this small island has to offer.
Just a ‘short’ 4-hour drive from Halifax on what seems like an endless highway, we were well prepared with cautiously picked playlists to pass the time and snacks ! Once you pass the Canso Causeway onto the island, the windy roads begin. With so much greenery you wonder if you will ever make it to your final destination, due to the breathtaking sights you find yourselves obliged to stop to take it all in.
Finally arriving on the island, we had about another 2 hours to go to arrive at our final destination: Ingonish, which is where we booked a bed and breakfast to spend a couple of nights. This was our ideal location being so close to the Highlands and right beside Ingonish Beach. Beauty aside, this is also the place where I stumbled upon the best grilled salmon I have ever tasted - and being a native Nova Scotian, I have eaten some amazing fish.
On our first hike, we decided to begin with the well-known Skyline Trail. This is quite possibly the most recognized view of the Cabot Trail – a staple image in the tourism industry reveals the view of the ocean with the road wrapping around a mound of greenery. This image has become an iconic representation of the Cape Breton Highlands. The skies were beginning to threaten rain, but we ventured onto the tourist look-off. Most of the people who were here didn’t intend on walking the full trail - lucky for us, as we didn’t have to cater to a set pace! I was surprised at how woodsy this trail was, being along the coast, we didn’t see much of the water with all the trees in the way, but we continued along and luckily made it back to the parking lot just as the rain was coming down. You can never be sure what weather you will encounter in Nova Scotia!
Franey Trail was our other choice for hiking in the Highlands. Seeing images of the view from the top, I needed to see it for myself. In passing, people mentioned it was a difficult hike but no one emphasized just how difficult it was. The day we went was 36º+ humidity which made the massive and never-ending incline much more difficult. The thing about Franey is, once you do make it to the top, the view from above makes you almost – not completely – forget how much hardship and energy went into the climb. When you finally make it to the top, the surrounding blueberry bushes along with the panoramic view towards the Atlantic Ocean invite you to take your time to enjoy and soak it all in.
From the Cabot Trail to the tip of the island at Meat Cove, all the way back to the beaches in Inverness, Cape Breton offers solitude, nature and great food, as well as the quaintest towns with the friendliest people. It has been said that millions of years ago, parts of this island were part of modern day Scotland and Norway, and with this in mind, it’s no surprise how often the Cape Breton is compared to the beauty of the Scottish landscape. We barely scratched the surface of this small island, but this is a place you don’t want to rush through!