The Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia

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 roads in Cape Breton Highlands National Park are a bit steeper than I am accustomed to driving in the Winnie!

The roads in Cape Breton Highlands National Park are a bit steeper than I am accustomed to driving in the Winnie!

Thank goodness there is little traffic, as it's tough to keep my eyes on the road with the breathtaking scenery.

Thank goodness there is little traffic, as it’s tough to keep my eyes on the road with the breathtaking scenery.

This one's for "Oh the Places" Pam...she and John did this trip on motorcycle a few years back.

This one’s for “Oh the Places” Pam…note motorcyclist coming my way.  Pam and John did this trip on motorcycle a few years back.

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.

This is a Canadian NP information booth at the Skyline Trail trail head.

This is a Canadian NP information booth at the Skyline Trail trail head.

A walk through the woods on the Skyline Trail passes through several of these moose fences. It's a four year project to restore the boreal forest "browsed" by moose. The fence will keep the mooses (meece?) from trampling 50,000 fir and spruce seedlings.

A walk through the woods on the Skyline Trail passes through several of these moose fences. It’s a four year project to restore the boreal forest “browsed” by moose. The fence will keep the mooses (meece?) from trampling 50,000 fir and spruce seedlings.

The Skyline Trail is considered Cape Breton's most scenic hike, especially at sunset. The boardwalk was installed to minimize impact on the tundra.

The Skyline Trail is considered Cape Breton’s most scenic hike, especially at sunset. The boardwalk was installed to minimize impact on the tundra.

Looking back on the Cabot Trail.

Looking back on the Cabot Trail.

Skyland Trail is a 5 mile loop. Easy, except for the 260 stairs back up.

Skyland Trail is a 5 mile loop. Easy, except for the 260 stairs back up.

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!

I finish the hike long before sunset, but stop along one of the many scenic overlooks to catch the last rays.

I finish the hike long before sunset, but stop along one of the many scenic overlooks to catch the last rays.

The golden light is beautiful along the headlands.

The golden light is beautiful along the headlands.

I shot this one while driving....I should have stopped for a better angle, but there was no place to park. It was a beautiful reflecting pond.

I shot this one while driving….I should have stopped for a better angle, but there was no place to park. It was a beautiful reflecting pond.

Last overlook before I travel a couple of miles down to the Cheticamp Campground.

Last overlook before I travel a couple of miles down to the Cheticamp Campground.

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?

Hide Away Campground and Oyster Market.

Hide Away Campground and Oyster Market.

Aspy Bay Oysters farmed in the bay across the road by the owner of Hide Away Campground. MMMmmm good!

Aspy Bay Oysters farmed in the bay across the road by the owner of Hide Away Campground. MMMmmm good!

If you always wanted to overnight in a lighthouse, Hide Away Campground has just the cabin for you!

If you always wanted to overnight in a lighthouse, Hide Away Campground has just the cabin for you!

Hide Away Campground was a lovely spot with a beautiful few overlooking a field of daisies.

Hide Away Campground was a lovely spot with a beautiful view overlooking a field of daisies.

That's the Winnie way back in the distance on the left end.

That’s the Winnie in the distance on the left end.

I am finding campgrounds offer "non-service" sites, or dry camping, which is typically "pull up on the grass until you get level and park it."

I am finding campgrounds offer “non-service” sites, or dry camping, which is typically “pull up on the grass until you get level and park it.”

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!

Passing through Capstick on my way to Meat Cove.

Passing through Capstick on my way to Meat Cove.

Views along the roadside on the way to Meat Cove.

Views along the roadside on the way to Meat Cove.

Meat Cove in the distance.

Meat Cove in the distance.

I lost my center stripe...will soon lose my pavement!

I lost my center stripe…will soon lose my pavement!

Meat Cove has a campground. There were several truck campers here, and a couple of small trailers, thought it looked like it would be tough getting level.

Meat Cove has a campground. There were several truck campers here, and a couple of small trailers, thought it looked like it would be tough getting level.

Meat Cove is Nova Scotia's northernmost settlement. I never did find out how it got it's name.

Meat Cove is Nova Scotia’s northernmost settlement. I never did find out how it got it’s name.

These are some "butt-puckering" curves. Check out the missing guardrail!

These are some “butt-puckering” curves. Check out the missing guardrail!

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.”

I pulled off the road to visit Neil's Cove just as the lobster fishermen were coming back.

I pulled off the road to visit Neil’s Cove just as the lobster fishermen were coming back.

They loaded boxes and boxes of these live lobsters into a Budget Truck.

They loaded boxes and boxes of these live lobsters into a Budget Truck.

This guy is breaking these fish in half and sticking them in small mesh bags for the lobster traps. They are baited daily. I often wonder what's left in the sea...

This guy is breaking these fish in half and sticking them in small mesh bags for the lobster traps. They are baited daily. I often wonder what’s left in the sea…

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.

Neil's Harbor Lightouse. Kinda shocking to see an "Open" sign in the door, think you are walking into a lighthouse, and turns out it's an ice cream shop! They don't take their lighthouses as seriously as we do. ;-)

Neil’s Harbor Lighthouse. Kinda shocking to see an “Open” sign in the door, think you are walking into a lighthouse, and turns out it’s an ice cream shop! They don’t take their lighthouses as seriously as we do apparently. ;-)

But at least the Chowdah House has a view!

But at least the Chowdah House has a view!

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Neil's Harbor. Some people on the beach in the distance enjoying the 20 mph breeze, no doubt!

Neil’s Harbor. Some people on the beach in the distance enjoying the 20 mph breeze, no doubt!

Green Cove on the eastern side of the Cape.

Green Cove on the eastern side of the Cape.

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.”

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This is a terrible pic snapped out the passenger side window, but I could not resist the tiny lighthouse on the little promontory jutting out in the river!

This is a terrible pic snapped out the passenger side window as I crossed the bridge, but I could not resist the tiny lighthouse on the little promontory jutting out in the river!

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…

10 thoughts on “The Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia

  1. I had forgotten how beautiful it is there. Perhaps we’ll go back. It’s only a few thousand miles! If your return trip takes you near Dayton Ohio, go to the Wright Patterson air museum. We did that on the way back to Tucson from the maritimes and just loved it. Take a sweater, it’s cold.

  2. Beautiful pictures! This is perfect timing. We’re taking off a week from our volunteer job here in New Hampshire and heading to Nova Scotia next Wed. We’re leaving our motor home here. So excited. Thanks for your great posts.

  3. Thank you for another bucket list stop. But I think I may pass on taking my 30′ Class A with tow. Yikes.
    But what scenery!!! And your commentary as always, is fantastic.

  4. Glad we’re turning out to be friendlier, easier driving, and more connected than you expected. Have a fabulous time in Newfoundland! We drove the Cabot Trail about 30 years ago, and it was entirely foggy the time we were there, no scenery! Enjoying your Canadian trip!

  5. We didn’t get out to Meat Cove because of the gravel road. John doesn’t do gravel roads on two wheels:) We tried though! Love Cape Breton Trail. Such a great road. The motorcycle was the perfect vehicle. We weren’t addicted to hiking back then. Maybe we need to return! Thanks for the motorcycle shout out!!:)

    When you get to Halifax, you must visit the Alexander Keith’s Brewery and do the tour. Very good and huge samples! Alexander Keith’s Red was my favorite beer until I couldn’t get it anywhere in the states. Such a good beer!

    Sounds like you are now settled into NS and relaxing…have a wonderful time.

  6. Deede and I are ready to go to North East Canada and enjoy the best lobster in the world. Enjoy, we haven’t made it to Newfie as yet, but your description will undoubtedly motivate us to stop procrastinating going to that awesome island.

  7. Thanks Suzanne, another wonderful post. We loved the Cape Breton Highlands last year on our Nova Scotia trip. Sandy and I even saw two moose up near the Skyline Trail area, “so far” our only moose sightings of our RV travels but we’re always on the lookout for more!

  8. Absolutely beautiful! We’ve been going back and forth the past few years wondering if we really want to make the effort to go to Nova Scotia. We’d have to give up a summer in the PNW, and that’s been a tough call for us. But….seeing your photos and reading about your adventures (and just at the start of your journey!) is convincing me that we really must pry ourselves away from the West Coast for a summer. So glad you’re doing this trip!

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