map of Cabot Trail
It wasn’t until the early 1930’s one could travel by automobile over the Cape Breton Highlands. Cheticamp on the western side, while the foot of Cape Smokey on the eastern side would be the end of your travel. The sea would then become your way of travel. The communities in the highlands were extremely isolated, supplies could only be brought in by boat or winter dog team. While settlement life was hard, the Scottish and Irish pioneers were strong and determined to live as Highlanders of Cape Breton. The beauty of this solitude was not invisible by the provincial government, as they saw potential for tourism in Cape Breton.

With little need of encouragement, the road from Cape North to Cheticamp was underway in 1926. By the fall of 1927 a route from Cheticamp to Pleasant Bay was accomplished. A 24 mile section over some of the most rugged terrain in North America. Beyond Pleasant Bay to Cape North there remained only a foot path. Not until 1932 did Reverend R.L. MacDonald become the first person to drive the Cabot Trail. Over 10 hours to travel , from Cheticamp to Cape North, approximately 50 miles.


view of Cabot TrailThe communities in the highlands were extremely isolated, supplies were brought in by boat and in wintertime, the mail could be delivered by horse back or dog team. It wasn’t until the early 1930’s one could travel by automobile over the Cape Breton Highlands, at least as far as Cheticamp on the western side, and foot of Cape Smokey on the eastern side.

The beauty and solitude was seen as a tourism asset by the provincial government. The road from Cape North to Cheticamp was started in 1926 with the rugged Cheticamp to Pleasant Bay stretch completed in 1927, leaving a 24 mile section from Pleasant Bay to Cape North as a foot path, not completed until 1932. Reverend R.L. MacDonald become the first person to drive the Cabot Trail taking over 10 hours to travel The 50 miles.from Cheticamp to Cape North.

Hiking along the Skyline TrailPlan six to eight hours from Cheticamp to Ingonish to take advantage of the numerous lookouts, roadside exhibits, walking trails and scenic side routes (106 km, actual driving time is two hours.)

The Cabot Trail offers a safe, but spectacular, driving experience. The section between Cheticamp and Ingonish is maintained by the Canadian Parks Service.

If you’re driving from the Newfoundland ferries or Sydney, you’ll find it shorter to visit the Park in a counterclockwise direction, entering at Ingonish. Plan to stop at the Ingonish Information Centre.

Cabot Trail- view south to Cheticamp La Pointe
Cabot Trail- view south to Cheticamp La Pointe

Narrative Overview of the Cabot Trail

There are two ways to navigate the Cabot Trail: clockwise (west coast first) or counterclockwise. Most of the lookoffs (scenic viewpoints) are on the coast side, so if youa re travelling in summer with a long RV or camper, we recommend you driver coutner clockwise. You may also want to consider the weather: the west coast if often less foggy (wind blows in from the water), and the northeawst coast is often foggier (it has a lower average elevation). So, if this portion of route is fog-free, you may want to tackle this segment first (especially, if you aare thinking about riding the Cape Smokey gondola up for maginficent views of the Ingonish area!)

Cabot Trail - Grand Etang Harbour welcome sign
Cabot Trail - Grand Etang Harbour welcome sign

Baddeck to the Park Gates

view of Cabot Trail

Exit from Highway 105 at Exit #7, heading northwest from Baddeck. The Cabot Trail winds its way uphill through the Middle River villages, and then winds its way downhill through the various Margaree villages (a total of seven so-named in all), ending up on the Gulf of St Lawrence at Margaree Harbour.

Here the Trail meets highway 19, the Ceilidh (KAY-lee) Trail, which winds south along the coast past Inverness and Mabou on its way to Port Hastings. From Margaree Harbour, the Cabot Trail winds its way north through a number of quint coastal fishing villages before pausing at the rustic village of Cheticamp, the western gateway into Cape Breton National Park.

Cabot Trail - Cheticamp harbour with fishing boats
Cabot Trail - Cheticamp harbour with fishing boats

Along the West Coast of Cape Breton National Park

The Cabot Trail swoops up from the park entrance, climbing up the slope of Jerome Mountain, taking you past La Bloc Beach to Cap Rouge, a 421 metre (1381 ft) headland (with the Cap Rouge Geology Exposition, worth stopping for).

As you pass Corney Beach at the park’s northwest corner, the Trail heads east toward the 455 metre (1493 ft) high French Mountain. There, you can hike on the Bog Trail just off the highway, Benjeis Lake Trail up the hill a bit, or the Fishing Cove Trail to the Fishing Cove Lookoff.

view of Pleasant BayHeading north, the Cabot Trail then follows a relatively level ridge overlooking deep valleys until it climbs toward 372 metre (1220 ft) Mackenzie Mountain where you can pause at a series of MacKenzie Mountain Lookoffs. Then you navigate a series of 10% to 12% switchbacks (veery steep!) heading downhill and you leave the park momentarily, as you pass through Pleasant Bay, with a swimming beach on the Gulf of St Lawrence. There, you will find a number of whale watching tours here and several folk art galleries.

Cabot Trail-Cape Breton National Park view north of to Cap Rouge

Inland between Pleasant Bay and Cape North

Then you head up again, this time toward 445 m (1460 ft) North Mountain, formed over one billion years ago, which offers a series of stunning lookouts (they call them a “lookoff” here) at Lone Sheiling, which has an ancient old growth maple grove with a scottish sheep herder’s hut. Keep heading up  North Mountain, which has some very rugged high elevation terrain with sparse forest.  As you start your decent, you  go down a very curvey road, offering views of the North Aspy River gorge (watch for the lookoff). Then you leave the park for a bit, heading to the town of Cape North (see side trip to Meat Cove)

Cabot Trail - Pleasant Bay Whale Watching office
Cabot Trail - Pleasant Bay Whale Watching office

East Coast betweeen Cape North and Ingonish

Shorline views are aplenty on the Cabot TrailFrom the town of Cape North, the Trail heads east to Neil’s Harbour (you can take a scenic coastal route, to the north of the Trail for this stretch, too). Which has a nice lighthouse and a swimming beach. From there the Cabot Trail heads south past Black Brook Cove, with a white sand swimming beach and a couple of hiking trails. You pass Green Cove [18] with a hiking trail, and shortly thereafter get to check out the Lakie’s Head Lookoff, before heading into Ingonish.

South of Ingonish, you head through Ingonish Center before the Trail takes a series of hairpin curves up towards Middle Head. On the east side of the Trail offers picnic areas and a hiking trail to the cliff (with a view to Ingonish Island 3. 5 km to the north) , and on the west side, there is a trail to a small lake and another trail up to 366 metre (1200 ft) Franey Mountain. The Cabot Trail winds down the hill toward aptly named Freshwater Lake  [26] and the eastern entrance to Cap Breton National Park. The Freshwater Lake Lookoff is a short hike just eaast of the Park Gates and Infromation Centre.

Cabot Trail - Iingonish -south of Cape Smokey
Cabot Trail - Iingonish -south of Cape Smokey

East Coast between Ingonish and Bras D’Or Lake

At Cape Smokey, you pass a nice provincial park, and a number of quaint fishing villages as you finish touring along the west shore of St Anne’s bay. Just off the coast are two Bird lslands, which are breeding grounds for a lot of different birds and bird species. From Cape Smokey the roadway continues meandering along the coast in a generally southward direction. You can have great views of the coast ahead, if you are not emersed in low fog banks. The road continues south to St Anns , ending up at Exit 11 of the Trans-Canada Highway 105 and back to Baddeck,

Catch a Ferry and cross the Seal Island Bridge

Just south of Indian Brook, you can shortcut on #312 to the St Ann’s Bay ferry at Englishtown. After crossing a kilometre long causeway, you yearch the 200 metre Englishtown Ferry, which runs about every half hour, coasts  passengers nothing, and is operated by Nova Scotia Highways. From there the road winds south and then north to climb over a 240 metre high penincula before dtoppping down the other side (with a very sharp corner and a mandatory 4- km/h speed limit) to drop town to the Seal Island Bridge. Be sure to stop at the lookoffs on the way up and down. After crossing the Seal Island Bridge there is a short motel zone, and then a 15 km drive to the small town of Bras D’Or which lies astride a narrow St Andrews Channel into Bras D’Or Lake (the Seal Island Bridge crosses over a much wider inlet of the lake) which is only 5 km from North Sydney and the Newfoundland Ferries dock.

Englishtown ferry
Englishtown ferry

Here are the communities passed in a counter-clockwise direction along the Cabot Trail:

Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia Area Map

Cabot Trail Tours and Experiences

Here are several tours and experiences you can book: