Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nova Scotia: Cabot Trail

The iconic photo of the Cabot Trail inside the Cape Breton National Park. Much of the drive is in the trees, so this is one of the best views.

The Cabot Trail and Cape Breton National Park are listed by many travel magazines as one of the most scenic drives in the world. There are parts of the drive that are panoramic indeed and other parts that are best seen at 80 miles an hour...not that you can go that fast by any means on Canada's roads. With all the hype, we just had to go.

The Acadian side of the island. This area was filled with open fields, houses, and Acadian flags.

It took us 5 hours to drive from Lunenburg to Beddeck on Cape Breton Island and in hindsight, we might have chosen to stay in the south. When you travel, you make choices, however, and never really know if it was the right one until you have seen it all. If I had to do it over again I would I have spent my time entirely in the south or entirely on Cape Breton. Trying to touch both was too much for a one-week vacation. The guide books are very clear about this too, but if you think you may never get back to a certain area it is hard to not want to hit the highlights.

One of the ocean views from a pull out in the park.

Looking deep into the park from another pull out. The guide book had me thinking much of the park was Highland bog. As you can see it is very forested. Most of the park is inaccessible due to the deep canyons that can be seen here.

We stayed in Beddeck for two nights so that we had a whole day to drive the Cabot Trail. Tour buses do this in about 8 hours. The guide books recommend 3 days. We wanted to start at 8:00 AM but really did not get going until 9:00 AM and returned by 8:00 PM. We did go hiking in the National Park, which added a couple of hours to the day. Our hike will be the subject of my next post.


St. Lawrence Bay. This area is off the Cabot Trail. It sits on the far northern tip of Cape Breton. The CD we were listening to indicated the trip was a worthy detour. We had intended to go all the way to Meat Cove but decided time and day light were running short. We talked to some tourist in the airport who stayed there. There was no food and no one told them.

The proprietor of our Inn gave us a CD with a narrated driving tour of the Cabot Trail. This made our trip. There is so much cultural history in the area that we would have missed had we not heard the CD. We learned about the Acadian side of the island and could recognized the Acadian flags (French with a gold star) as well as the Scottish side. We learned about the fishing camps and the history of the National Park. If you can find this CD before you go, you will enjoy it.

Neil's Harbor and the many types of fishing floats. There is a restaurant here but we were not yet ready for dinner so we continued on.

The guides books all mentioned how harrowing the drive is through the National Park. Those travel writers need to come to Colorado if what to know what a understand the definition of harrowing! The drive was no worse than I-70 and did not even come close to Red Mountain Pass or Trail Ridge Road.

A view on Middle Head, a narrow peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic. The Cabot Lodge is just behind me. There is a trail that all the books recommend in this spit of land. We did not have time to do two hikes, however.

The author sitting at the Keltic Lodge.

At the end of our journey, we ate dinner at the Cabot Lodge, which was on the cover of our guide book. South of this area there are many artist studios that would have been fun to visit but they were all closed by the time we got there. We could have returned the next day since they are relatively close to Beddeck, but instead we decided to take a boat tour to the bird islands. I will post that trip shortly.


We came across this beach south of Cape Smokey. The sun was just beginning to set.

In an ideal universe, spending several days on the Cabot Trail would be ideal. Be advised though that infrastructure is definitely lacking in places, so planning your stops is required.

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