The Cabot Trail, a 185 mile loop road, traces the outline of the upper end of Cape Breton Island. The cape looks like a giant thumb, and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a band running right across the middle of it. So as one travels up the western side, they enter the national park about half way up, then exit the park as the trail rounds the top of the cape. One enters the park again traveling down the eastern side.
The road is a bit of a roller coaster, as grades are steep…even a few at 13%. Thankfully, there’s not far to drop with the highest elevation being only 1,750 ft. Still, the hairpin curves and steep drop-offs give both my downshift and my heart a good workout.
The Cheticamp Campground is literally next door to the national park Visitor Information Center. It’s only 15 miles from the Skyline Trail trailhead. This five mile loop is considered Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s “signature hiking trail.” The park offers an organized hike to the end of the boardwalk each evening to watch the sunset, though the trail is easy enough that one can go alone without the group.
I opt to go a little before sundown in hopes of avoiding sunset crowds. It’s a steady trickle of people down the more maintained trail to the boardwalk, a series of 260 stairs that descend down for a look over the headlands. But once I return back up the boardwalk stairs and continue on around for the remainder of the loop traveling along the shoreline for a couple of miles, then returning through the boreal forest, the crowds thin out almost immediately.
Although the campgrounds are near full each night, the park itself is remarkably uncrowded. This is most evident when I stop at the pullouts. In US national parks, it’s rare to find a parking space, let alone one that will accommodate a 24ft RV. But I rarely see more than one or two cars parked at every scenic overlook where I stop…and my stops are many!
For my second night on Cape Breton Island, I decide to follow in the footsteps of my Whackamole friends and fellow View owners Ed and Marti Kirkpatrick, who are a couple of weeks ahead of me on this circuit. They recommended the Hide Away Campground and Oyster Market. How many times do I get a chance to overnight at an oyster market? So of course, I’ve got to do it in the spirit of research, right?
I get a FB message saying, “Be sure to drive out to Meat Cove. It’s beautiful.” I look at the map…it’s a dotted line. I message back…”It looks a little sketchy…” Ed assures me the road is fine, though Marti has a different adjective to describe it. Still, I know I will regret not driving to the “end of the road” at the northernmost point of Nova Scotia. I’ll just take it slow….unlike every other driver on the road!
Like many adventures out of my comfort zone, I am glad I did the drive to Meat Cove, but relieved to be back. It’s one of those experiences where I think, “If I make it back safely, it will have been worth it!”
The east side of the Cabot Trail is less “parky” and a little more “fishy.” What it lacks in national park polish, it more than makes up for in rustic charm. I take the side loop to Neil’s Harbor and notice a boat circling around the harbor followed by about a hundred gulls. I quickly find a place to park the Winnie just as the boat is pulling into the dock. I’ve watched boats unload fish many times, but this will be my first time to watch them unload today’s catch of hundreds of live lobsters. One guy pries the blue rubber bands open with a metal tool, while the other guy shoves each claw in, until every lobster has been “handcuffed.”
Of course, I’ve taken the detour because there’s a lighthouse at Neil’s Harbour. I get excited when I see the “Open” sign in the front door, and go bounding in for a tour and some history, only to be greeted by a braces-wearing teenager behind an ice cream counter. Now that’s a first! I just can’t patronize an ice cream shop patronizing a lighthouse. Besides, it’s a bit blustery on the water, not exactly ice cream weather. So I go next door for a bowl of steaming hot chowder and a brew with a view.
A few more scenes from driving the Cabot Trail. A lot of photos, admittedly, but you should see what landed on the “cutting room floor.”
If the Cabot Trail is not on the list of “World’s Most Scenic Drives,” it should be, with its continuous, curvaceous, coastal-hugging two lane. At times, it seems like I could almost dip my elbow in the ocean as I bank on a curve.
I could spend a week here in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park exploring the over 100 miles of trails, slurping oysters off the half shell, listening to a fast and furious fiddle, and breathing in the fresh ocean breezes. But alas, Lads and Lassies, I’ve got a ferry to catch…