One of the World’s Best Road Trips: Exploring Cape Breton Island

When I planned my trip to Nova Scotia, I knew I had one main destination in mind: Cape Breton. Cape Breton is an island situated in the east part of Canada’s Atlantic province Nova Scotia. It is known to be one of the world’s best road trips and places to live. It is home to a breathtaking natural landscape, stunning coastal views, and highland scenery. There are many historical sites, beautiful hiking trails, and a rich history, and regional culture – be it Celtic, Acadian, or Aboriginal.

I spent three days in Cape Breton road tripping through the Cabot Trail and enjoying island scenery and hospitality. Even though I did not finish driving around Cabot Trail, I had an excellent trip to Cape Breton Highlands National Park and Baddeck. If you are planning on visiting Canada’s Atlantic province, be sure to visit Cape Breton.

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada

Cape Breton Overview

Cape Breton has 3,981 square miles in landmass, and it connects mainland Nova Scotia via Causo Causeway. The main landscapes in Cape Breton are rocky shores, forests, valleys, mountains, oceans, waterfalls, and farm fields. The northern part of the island is where Cape Breton Highlands National Park is located. Cape Breton Highlands National Park encircles the forested plateau coastal perimeter and it is believed to be the most beautiful part of the island. The stunning coastal views exist at every twist and turn, and it has many stunning trails and observation platforms where you can see cliffs towering over the oceans.

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada
Cape Breton is too beautiful that I stopped driving and walked down the road to take in the breathtaking view.

Get to Cape Breton

There are two ways to reach Cape Breton. Please note that there is no public transport in Cape Breton. To travel around the island, you need to have your own vehicle.

Driving: From Halifax, it is about 4-5 hours drive. From Sydney, it is a two-hour road trip.

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada
Onto Cape Breton from Halifax, NS /Photo credit: JP via Flicker

Bus: Maritime Bus transports passengers between Halifax, Sydney, Baddeck and Whycocomagh. For information on bus schedules and reservation, check here.

Road Trip in Cape Breton

I spent three days in Cape Breton, and it was not enough time for me to travel around. If you are short on time, I recommend you to visit Cabot Trail. Cabot Trail is a 185-mile loop that covers Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Even if you only have few hours for a drive-through, the fantastic coastal view and the unparalleled beauty is totally worth the trip. The vista on the road is absolutely amazing and takes your breath away.

Cape Breton has numerous observation points, 26 hiking trails, and the highland golf course that ranked top 100 best golf courses in the world. Here are few great highlights that get visitors the best this island has to offer.

Cheticamp – Your Getaway to Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Cheticamp is an Acadian village and a getaway to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I spent a night at Cheticamp on my way to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Cheticamp has a camping ground at Plage St-Pierre Beach that opens to motor homes and hikers. Camping at the beach is surprisingly easy mainly because all the facilities, including a game room, bathroom, picnic tables, fire pits, and shower, are provided and easily accessible. As for the food, Seafood Shop Restaurant offers a variety of seafood including lobster, fish and chips, shrimps, and seafood chowder. I had halibut and wine there for dinner. The following morning, I had a big breakfast at a local restaurant Evangeline on Main Street Main with a great view of Cheticamp harbor.

Cape Breton road trip, NS
On my way to Cheticamp , Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS

Cape Breton Highlands National Park: the most enchanted place in Canada

Cape Breton Highlands National Park passes through 1/3 of the Cabot Trail from Acadian village Cheticamp and beaches at Igonish, where mountains and rusted-colored cliffs meet the sea, plus the special mix of engendered plants and animals, with the possibility of viewing moose, bald eagles, and pilot whale. Winding through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, it is easy to spot the scenic lookouts where you can pull off the road, take pictures, spot the wildlife, and learn the unique island culture.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Cabot Trail, NS
Cape Breton Road Trip, NS Canada
Breathtaking view from scenic lookouts inside Cape Breton National Park, Cabot Trail, NS

Skyline TrailA walk in heaven

Skyline Trail is inside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park featuring a seven- kilometer loop with a tranquil and relaxing walk in the woods and forests. You can either trek the full-circuit or take the easy trek to reach the same plateau. I was short on time so I took the short and easy one.  The view on the trail is beautiful and, if you are lucky, you will encounter moose, coyotes, and bear cubs. Unfortunately, I only saw squirrels and baby snakes.  After a 30-minute hike, you will reach the end of  the trail, where you come out on the plateau with an amazing coastal view surrounded by cliffs and mountains. It is absolutely a visual feast. The best time to hike the skyline trail is during the sunset. If you go, be sure to bring a flashlight.

Cape Breton Road Trip, NS Canada
Skyline Trail, Cape Breton, NS
Cape Breton National Park, NS
The view at the end of Skyline Trail/Photo credit:  Andrea Schaffer via Flicker

Pleasant Bay – your halfway destination on Cabot Trail

Pleasant Bay is a fishing village and whale-watching capital of Cape Breton. Captain Mark’s whale and seal cruise takes you to the mid of the Atlantic ocean with the possibility of viewing pilot whales, eagles, and puffins.  Pleasant Bay is also a place to work up your seafood appetite as the fishermen there captures lobsters in spring and snow crab in summer. Rusty Anchor Restaurant features delicious seafood where you can get lobster for a very cheap price.

Cape Breton road trip, NS
Pleasant Bay, Cape Breton

Baddeck – the beginning and end of the Cabot Trail

Baddeck is a vibrating village on the shore of Bras d’Or Lakes. A prominent site in Baddeck is the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Alexander Graham Bell chose Baddeck as his summer home and the museum exhibits the story of his inventions in aviation history, advanced recording technology, and the world’s fastest boat. Here, you can learn about his personal life and his scientific and humanitarian contribution to the world. Afterward, you can walk around the wharf and have a 360-degree view of Baddeck. Amoeba Sailing Tours also take visitors on Bras d’Or Lakes where you can catch a glimpse of bald head eagles and beached seals, while learning more about Baddeck.

Cape Breton National Park, NS
Baddeck Harbor, Cape Breton, NS

Bear on the Lake Guesthouse – Your home away from home 

I stayed at the Bear on the Lake Guesthouse and it is my favorite accommodation during the trip. It is not just a hostel but feels more like a home where travelers from all over the world come together and share a great time. We watched the full moon on the first night and hung out on the front porch the following night. The hostel itself is a short drive from Whycocomagh, Cabot Trail,  the grocery store, and Baddeck. There are outdoor seating areas and hammocks for you to relax and get a stunning view of Whycocomagh Bay.

Cape Breton road trip, NS, Canada
View of Bras d’Or Lakes from Bear on the Lake Guesthouse, Cape Breton, NS
Cape Breton Road trip, NS, Canada
Hung out at the front deck at the Bear on the Lake Guesthouse

I hope this post inspires you to discover the culture and the beauty of another beautiful part of Canada. Through my experience and talking to other travelers, Cape Breton is still not on the tourist radar because of the time and the effort it takes to get there. If you go, take your time exploring this beautiful island and enjoying the rich culture and the history it has to offer. I have missed many places during my Cape Breton trip. I wish to return one day and explore more of its simple beauty.

Plan a road trip to Canada? Check out my other Canadian road trip posts:

Points East Coastal Drive on Prince Edward Island

Newfoundland and Labrador: Why it is an Ultimate Canadian Road Trip

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Exploring Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada #Travel

 

 

Julie Cao

Julie Cao is a travel blogger, travel writer, and global citizen currently living in Toronto Ontario.

24 thoughts on “One of the World’s Best Road Trips: Exploring Cape Breton Island

    • May 24, 2017 at 6:45 am
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      Congrats! The island beauty and hospitality definitely attract newcomers. Are they in the picture of the Thanksgiving feast?

      Reply
  • May 24, 2017 at 7:11 am
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    Looks like on of those quiet and safe places to live in, surrounded by stunning nature. The national park looks like a truly beautiful travel spot!

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    • May 24, 2017 at 1:46 pm
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      It is beautiful isn’t it? It is still not touristy so you will find it quite and peaceful. We even sleep with doors open and local hospitality there are legendary.

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  • May 24, 2017 at 7:19 am
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    Before this post, I had never heard of Cape Breton. It is so pretty. I love the picture of the wooden steps at the end of the Skyline Trail. Cape Breton seems like a great place to go hiking with the family.

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    • May 26, 2017 at 5:57 am
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      I love the wooden steps at the Skyline Trail too. It is a great place to hike with family and have a picnic under the sunset.

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  • May 24, 2017 at 7:43 am
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    Canada’s beauty and majestic nature is world renown. However, I had not been aware of Cape Breton Island before reading your post. I agree that it mustn’t be promoted as a tourism destination and maybe that is a good thing in some respects. Having read your post and seen the fabulous photos you included, I am very keen to see it for myself someday.

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    • May 24, 2017 at 1:56 pm
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      You definitely should visit it one day. It was promoted via the word-of-mouth but not so many travelers I met in Halifax have made it to Cape Breton because it was a very lengthy road trip, and you don’t know how long the trip is until you get there. We all get driving fatigue on the road at some point but it is very rewarding.

      Reply
  • May 24, 2017 at 11:06 am
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    This looks like an incredible road trip! I love road trips that go along the coast! It looks amazing!

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    • May 24, 2017 at 1:47 pm
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      Me too! The coastal highway is truly an amazing place for road trips, and Cape Breton has it all. Would love to do the trip every year!

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  • May 24, 2017 at 11:15 am
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    Love the stairs and it’s little glimpse of turquoise on it! I never heard of Cape Breton, myself being a Canadian. It’s crazy how many of us don’t know our own country. If only travelling within isn’t as expensive as a flight from Dubai to Budapest! A road trip sounds like a great idea and the pictures are so beautiful!

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    • May 24, 2017 at 1:50 pm
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      Canada is a huge country and there are so many undiscovered place waiting to explore. I did not took the flight. I took an overnight train from Montreal to Halifax and from there I got to Cape Breton through a very lengthy road trip, but it is so worth it. You should take the train from Montreal. The scenery is incredible and you will cross to NB via the coast.

      Reply
  • May 24, 2017 at 2:12 pm
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    Cape Breton looks like Great Ocean Road type. I would definitely pin it for my future visit to Canada. The view from Lake Guest House is incredible.

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    • May 26, 2017 at 5:56 am
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      I still miss the view from the guest house. It is the first thing I saw upon waking up in the morning. I have not been to Australia yet but the Great Ocean Road sounds like a great trip!

      Reply
  • May 24, 2017 at 10:18 pm
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    I hate being in the car but love a good road trip! This looks like so much fun. I had no idea that There was no public transport here. Can’t wait to go to Nova Scotia myself one day!

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    • May 25, 2017 at 3:25 am
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      I dont like being in the car as well. You can survive Cape Breton without a car, you can walk and hitchhike. I actually met people do that too, but it is not ideal.

      Reply
  • May 25, 2017 at 10:10 pm
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    Yessssss! I’ve been trying to figure out my next Canadian adventure. I never had a desire to explore Canada until I visited Banff last year and now I’m obsessed with Canadian landscapes. I’ve never heard of this place, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • May 26, 2017 at 5:51 am
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      Banff is a beautiful place and I love it! There is a huge differences on the culture and landscapes between the east and west and the east part have amazing coast too.

      Reply
  • May 26, 2017 at 5:14 am
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    Cape Breton does look amazingly beautiful. For you who have traveled quite a lot and speak highly of it, I would take your word for it that it is truly unrivaled when it comes to natural beauty. The view of the coastal cliffs and the beaches definitely got me interested in paying it a visit someday!

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    • May 26, 2017 at 5:53 am
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      haha that is Alexander’s word and I just agreed! But yes natural beauty there is incredible.

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  • May 26, 2017 at 9:12 am
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    I’ve never heard of Cape Breton Island, but I supposed it gets lost behind all the other mainstream attractions in Canada. And in a way, that’s probably a good thing since less tourism would keep the island unspoiled. The coastline looks pretty amazing and I’m sure I’d make many pitstops along the way!

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    • May 30, 2017 at 2:44 pm
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      I also believe that the reason Cape Breton is so beautiful is that it get lost and was unspoiled. It is truly an amazing place and yes, there are many pitstops and they will all take your breath away.

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  • May 27, 2017 at 10:07 pm
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    WOW Julie!! You have now just added to my bucket list!! Your beautiful descriptions and stunning pictures have sealed the deal!! Thank you for this detailed, expansive post on such a beautiful location!! This is my first visit to your site and I am THRILLED to catch up on old posts and await new ones!!

    Reply
    • May 30, 2017 at 2:41 pm
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      Thanks April! You are welcome to my site at any time and wish you will see such a beautiful location on your own someday!

      Reply

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