Everyone tells you that you should plan for 3 to 5 days on the Cabot Trail – a 185-mile drive around the tip of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, passing through the scenic Cape Breton Highlands. If you’re like most travelers, though, you have limited time and your best bet is driving the Cabot Trail. I can help you plan your trip with this 1-day Cabot Trail itinerary, so keep reading!
Nova Scotia is beautiful, and most people vacation in the whole province of Nova Scotia, which means they only have a day or two to commit to one of the most beautiful parts of the province, Cape Breton. The average Nova Scotia traveler is not able to spend 3 to 5 days on the trail and more often than not people try to do Cabot Trail in a day.
When you look at the Cabot Trail on a map it looks pretty manageable; I can do that in a day – not a problem! But when you do actually take into account that it’s 185 miles to get around it and it’s full of scenic stops and activities you can do, you realize it’s not easily manageable in a day without some pre-planning and organization.
You need a plan if you plan on driving the Cabot Trail in a day.
Cabot Trail Map One Day Itinerary
You’ll want a Cabot Trail itinerary that allows you to get a sampling of everything it has to offer; scenic overlooks, hiking, seafood, wandering quaint villages, some Cape Breton culture, and getting that perfect sunset shot. Yes – that is actually all possible in a day – it is a long day though!
Renting a Car
I have consistently found the best rental car prices on RentalCars.com (international and at home) and use them when I have to rent a car. They work with all of the major car companies; check out their prices and see what you think. They also offer free reservations and cancellations which I love as my plans often change!
Driving the Cabot Trail
On my recent trip to Cape Breton my friends, Pete and Dalene, and I set out to figure out the perfect one day strategy for driving the Cabot Trail. This was my second trip around the Cabot Trail, so I understood just how much of a challenge this was going to be; however, I think we did a great job pulling it off. It was a long day from sun up to sun down, but we packed a little bit of everything in and squeezed out every ounce of beautiful photography that we could.
If you want to go beyond Cabot Trail and do a road trip around Nova Scotia, then check out my Things to do on a Road Trip through the Province article. It includes experiences, food, lodging and everything is updated as of 2021!
What Direction Should You Drive the Cabot Trail?
Before we even get started – the more important thing to decide first is clockwise or counterclockwise! Our goal was to see the sunset, so it only made sense we would start on the southeastern end and go counterclockwise to end on the western side for the sunset. This also means for the parts of the drive that go right along the coast, you’ll be on the outside lane of the road with the best views!
Accommodations for a One Day Cabot Trail Itinerary
Keltic Quay Bayfront Lodge & Cottages
To do the Cabot Trail in a day, you really need to wake up on Cape Breton as opposed to trying to drive from the mainland to the Cape and try to make it all the way around; that would be nearly impossible. I recommend you stay overnight in the cute town of Whycocomagh just outside of the start of the Cabot Trail.
We stayed at the Keltic Quay Bayfront Lodge and Cottages the night before. Our cottage was ‘picture-perfectly’ located on the Whycocomagh Bay looking out on Indian Island.
Read Reviews on Keltic Quay Bayfront Lodge and Cottages
Book your stay at Keltic Quay Bayfront Lodge and Cottages
I suggest you make reservations at the Normaway Inn for the end of the day since it will be dark when you get done with the itinerary. The Normaway Inn is a lovely local place that also provides live music most nights.
Driving the Cabot Trail in One Day
Stop 1: Charlene’s Bayside Restaurant and Cafe
It’s a long day so you’ll want to fuel up for the journey. The best way to do that is to start with breakfast in Whycocomagh at Charlene’s Bayside. I implore you to get the East Coast Breakfast on the menu. This is not just any breakfast, this is seafood for breakfast!
I know it sounds a bit strange, but trust me on this. Charlene’s is known for serving up the best chowder on Cape Breton and they serve it up for breakfast along with a fish cake and a homemade biscuit. I was a little skeptical about having a seafood breakfast, so I ordered a side of Canadian bacon and a glass of OJ too – just to make it a bit more breakfast-y!
This breakfast blew me away, and it was by far my favorite breakfast I’ve probably ever had. The crab cake was peppery and had potatoes in it, and the chowder was packed full of seafood. Plus the atmosphere at Charlene’s is like having breakfast in your grandmother’s house, and who doesn’t love that! A great start to your day driving the Cabot Trail!
More Information: Charlene’s Bayside Restaurant Facebook
Stop 2: Wreck Cove General Store
Drive Distance from Charlene’s: 65 miles approx 1 hr 15 min
Drive north and eventually you’ll see the Cabot Trail sign; make sure you stop and take a selfie, as all good road trips need selfies! This is a pretty long stretch to drive, but it is all very scenic.
However before you pop out onto the coastal cliffs, stop at the Wreck Cove General Store. This isn’t just a place to get fuel, fun t shirts, much needed wifi, and take a bathroom break; it is an iconic place to stop for your picnic lunch! You have to get a few of their famous fresh lobster sandwiches – they are packed with lobster meat and really not much else. As you might recall, I have a love affair with eating lobster! They don’t add anything to the sandwiches other than salt, pepper, and sandwich dressing. It may look very plain, but why disturb the taste of the lobster with lettuce and other tidbits?!
Take the sandwiches and some drinks to go and eat at the next stop!
Note: This is where my Canadian friends introduced me to Cheezies – which apparently is a Canadian drug masquerading as a cheese puff. Yum. Get a bag!
More Information: Wreck Cove General Store Website
Stop 3: Cape Smokey Picnic Park
Drive Distance from Wreck Cove: 9.3 miles approx 15 min
Once past the General Store you’ll start to climb the cliffs along the coast and the views become pretty incredible. This is when the ooh’s and aah’s start. You see a few little places where you can pull over and take a picture, however don’t be tempted by these places, they are crowded and the view isn’t as good as what is to come. Remember, you don’t have time to waste on so-so views if you only have a day.
What is to come is the entrance to Cape Smokey Picnic Park. There is plenty of parking and the views are even better in this little park than along the highway. Plus, there are little hiking trails that will take you right to the edge for some spectacular pictures. This is a great location to use the restrooms and have that giant lobster sandwich while taking in the view from the picnic tables!
More Information: Cape Smokey Picnic Park
Stop 4: Middle Head Hiking Trail
Drive Distance from Cape Smokey Picnic Park 8.3 miles approx 16 min
Now you are all fueled up for a short hike. Time to get out and stretch those legs! This 2.4 mile easy hike out the narrow peninsula separating two ocean bays ends on cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
You’ll wind through the forest and then out a slight uphill to the end of the peninsula. Here you can sit and watch the sea birds soar overhead and take in the beauty of Cape Breton. There is a loop trail that will take you back a more forested way, or go back the way you came. There is plenty of parking at the trailhead and don’t forget your camera!
Need ideas for more hikes around Cape Breton? – check out these Cape Breton Hikes!
More Information: Middle Head Hike
Stop 5: White Point Harbor
Drive Distance from Middle Head Trail: 22.3 miles approx 35 min
Cape Breton culture centers around fishing villages. The whole cape is filled with little fishing villages that once were booming, busy ports of fishermen and locals. Now many of these towns have changed more into touristic towns. However at the north end of Cape Breton just slightly off the Cabot Trail you’ll find White Point Harbor.
Here you’ll find a small dock filled with small fishing boats, a few stone foundations, one B&B, and a few locals walking dogs. This is all that is left of a booming fishing village in 1922. There was a lobster factory, church, and school there at one point but they are long gone now. Park by the docks and take a little walk around the town. You will find a few local fisherman there and a piles of lobster traps, but this sleepy little town has virtually no tourism and that’s what makes it so great. It’s just a nice stop with beautiful views of a bygone era; a real look at local life on this remote part of Cape Breton.
Note: On your way to White Harbor, keep your eyes peeled for ice cream shops! You deserve an ice cream after that big hike!
More Information: White Point Harbor
Stop 6: Rusty Anchor Restaurant
Drive Distance from White Point Harbor: 35 miles approx 1 hr
You’ll do a drive around the northernmost tip of Cape Breton going through some pretty decent mountain climbs and forest. But then you’ll pop out on the other side by Pleasant Bay, a cute little town worth a stop for a few pictures. But don’t waste too much time because you are on a tight schedule!
It’s now time for the quintessential Nova Scotia dinner – lobster. And there’s no better place for this than family owned Rusty Anchor Restaurant in Pleasant Bay. It’s right along the Cabot Trail so you can’t miss it especially with the giant fisherman statue outside! Take a seat on the outdoor patio and do some whale watching as you wait for your lobster feast.
Sitting outside gazing out on the ocean eating Nova Scotia lobster and drinking beer – it really doesn’t get any better than this. The wait staff is super friendly and the whole place has a relaxed atmosphere. But don’t get too carried away with the atmosphere because for the next stop, timing is everything!
More Information: The Rusty Anchor Website
Stop 7: Sunset Point
Drive Distance from Rusty Anchor Restaurant: 18 miles approx 31 min
We came across this perfect sunset spot on accident actually – but sometimes accidents are meant to happen! The drive from Rusty Anchor to this secluded point is gorgeous as the sun is going down. This is some of the most scenic parts of the Cabot Trail and they are glowing in golden sunlight at this time of evening.
You’ll really want to follow the map above to find this point. There is a little turnoff between two little lakes/ponds and there’s room for a few cars to park. If you end up at the Cheticamp Visitors Center you’ve gone too far!
Park and walk out on this secluded little beach and watch the sun dip down behind the rock formations. Perfection! There may be a few other people sitting on the beach watching – but this really is a hidden little gem to watch sunset.
Stop 8: The Normaway Inn and the Barn Music Center
Drive Distance from Sunset Point: 36 miles approx 1 hr
You’ll leave the National Park after sunset and continue along the Cabot Trail through a few little towns. As you get to Margaree Forks continue following the Cabot Trail inland to the Normaway Inn; it is a great place to stay for the night. The sun will be down as you pull in and get ready to rest your weary head after a long day!
But wait…it’s not over yet! Now it’s time to make this the quintessential Cabot Trail day and finish it off with some live Celtic music at the Barn Music Center next to the Normaway Inn! They have live music most nights for you to relax and wind down with a beer.
See Reviews of Normaway Inn and The Barn
Congratulate yourself because you just made it around the Cabot Trail in a day! You experienced the best it has to offer in a short amount of time! This little taste will no doubt make you want to come back for more hiking, food, and exploring on another trip!
Find lodging options at the start and end:
What to Pack for Driving the Cabot Trail
Since this road trip itinerary includes driving, hiking, and photography – you’ll need a little of everything! You can check out my Amazon travel gear recommendation lists for hiking, photography, and road trips – but here are some key items you won’t want to forget!
- Light hiking boots for Middle Head Trail. I love the OBOZ Sawtooth II for short hikes and walks!
- Small photography backpack for the trail
- Car phone mount
- Sunglasses – a must for the afternoon when you are driving into the sun!
- Dramamine – the Cabot Trail is full of twists and turns!
- A roadside emergency kit
- Extra SD cards for your camera!
- What’s a road trip without beef jerky – this is my favorite and it’s organic!
- Rain and wind coat…because you just never know!
I hope you have a great time driving the Cabot Trail!
How Do You Get to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia? It’s easy!
It’s easy to get to the Cabot Trail with daily direct service from the NYC area to Halifax! There are several flights a day via Air Canada/United direct to Newark and via Delta direct to LGA. Its just a 2 hr flight and you have US Customs pre-clearance at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport for the return trip! PLUS…you can carry on and carry home fresh lobster from the Halifax airport!
I was a guest of Nova Scotia Tourism however my desire to go back to Cape Breton for a second time was all mine so that I could have more time in this lovely place. All opinions expressed here are mine.
By MikesRoadTrip January 14, 2018 - 7:29 pm
This looks and sounds amazing! I really want to go back to Nova Scotia just for this part. If you and/or your readers are interested, here is a link to my post and video for other parts of Nova Scotia. https://www.mikesroadtrip.com/nova-scotia-road-trip-guide
By Stan December 20, 2018 - 7:13 pm
How is the weather on the Cabot trail between June 14 and June 18.
By Sherry December 27, 2018 - 11:50 am
Stan – I’m sorry – but I don’t really know for those exact dates. It’s the beginning of summer there so I would expect decent weather and cool nights.
By Amal G April 2, 2019 - 11:20 am
Hello, this itinerary is great, thanks for sharing! Just wondering why you didn’t stay the night in Baddeck initially? Any tips on other local villages we could stop on along the way?
By Sherry April 3, 2019 - 4:00 pm
Because then I wouldn’t have had that wonderful fish cake breakfast at Charlene’s! Actually I didn’t start in Baddeck because there was no lodging available there. This was sort of a last minute trip. However – the fish cakes are definitely worth it!!
As far as other places to stop – you can’t really fit any more in if you do the hike and follow this itinerary – it is a FULL day.
If you have more days – then consider Inverness – it’s a lovely place to stay and stop along the coast. You can also find more ideas here in my other articles – https://www.ottsworld.com/blogs/cape-breton-hikes-adventures/
By Harold May 15, 2019 - 6:08 pm
This is very helpful as we are planning a trip to Cape Breton in July and we don’t have 3 days to do the Cabot Trail. Thanks for sharing!!
By Sherry May 15, 2019 - 8:16 pm
You’ll love it – and you can truly do all of the stuff I wrote about in a day…we did!! I hope you enjoy your time there!
By Linda Payne June 14, 2019 - 9:47 am
is there hotels on trail and are they expensive
By Sherry June 14, 2019 - 10:30 am
Yes – there are many hotels along the drive. However – in the summer months you have to have them reserved in advance as they fill up quickly. My best advice is to look on booking.com and see what you can find in the various towns along the trail. And reserve early.
By Paula n Dean July 23, 2019 - 12:05 pm
Love the 1 day travel hence we have decided to give it a try. We lived in Elmsdale, NS for 25 years and traveled to North Sydney for NL ferry every July and never did the Cabot Trail. This year we are definately doing it enroute from Labrador to NL.
We will ne leaving Halufax area on a Monday and have ferry reservations for Wednesday afternoon in North Sydney.
What are your suggestions for our route? I will start trying to book accommodations around your suggestion.
Looking so forward to hearing from you as well as finally getting to see what The Cabot Trail has to offer in its beauty.
Thank you in advance
By Sherry July 24, 2019 - 12:36 am
If you follow the route that I laid out for a day – it will be a full day. But if you like hiking that Middle head hike is the perfect little break from the car to get out and stretch your legs! I loved Charlene’s fish cakes – it’s just a simple little cafe, but delicious. And be sure to get to the sunset spot I talked about! Hotels in the summer can be hard to find, so book as early as you can! Let me know if you have any specific questions!
By gloria baraks August 22, 2019 - 12:15 am
Coming into North Sydney on a cruise ship how far into the Cabot trail can we get between 9 AM and 4 PM?
By Sherry August 22, 2019 - 5:57 am
Oh – I think you could get all the way around to have Lobster at the Rusty Anchor for sure. If you make minimal stops – I think you could get quite far. It all really depends on how many stops you make! But you could get up and see the top tip for sure. Enjoy!!
By Albert TO August 25, 2019 - 9:57 pm
Thank you Sherry for the info filled webpage about the Cabot Trail. We just completed a full day of visit to all the spots you mentioned here. From the lobster dinner at Rusty Anchor Restaurant to the magical landscape at dusk over the mountains, this is a road trip to remember for a long time. Look forward to visiting your future postings on other wonders of our land.
By Sherry September 2, 2019 - 1:20 am
So glad you enjoyed the Cabot Trail! Oh…how I wish I could have some of that delicious lobster!
By Alain Gauthier September 5, 2019 - 8:31 am
Thank you so much for this! My wife and I did the “Maritimes tour” a couple of weeks ago (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, PEI) and we HAD to do the Cabot trail! I made sure to include many of your recommended stops and we were NOT disappointed! We ended up with a sleepover in Dingwall and decided to check out Meat Cove instead of White Point. Incredible drive (scary at times!) but incredible views! Rusty Anchor remains our top spot for a lunch. That view was stunning!
By Sherry September 6, 2019 - 9:17 am
I wanted to get out to Meat Cove but ran out of time. You cover a lot of ground if you do this whole itinerary as I wrote it AND do the hikes and stops! So happy you like the Cabot Trail and that you stopped at Rusty Anchor…I have missed lobster this summer…I must go back!
By Nadia September 6, 2019 - 12:45 am
Is the drive scary for those who don’t like heights
By Sherry September 6, 2019 - 9:15 am
I’m scared of heights and no – I didn’t find it scary at all. It’s winds around and has some hairpin turns but the views are spectacular!
By Selena September 12, 2019 - 10:09 am
Saved your recommendations! I’m heading there this weekend 🙂 thanks so much!!!
By Ruth Johnson November 3, 2019 - 9:12 pm
Hoping to do the Cabot Trail on November 25 and 26th with my 20 year old daughter. Any recommendations? The Johnson side of my family still live in Pugwash, NS. I live in Michigan, USA where many Nova Scotians came to work on the car assembly lines – Including my Father and his Father and Mother (née Chase) from Oxford, NS came and immigrated some 92 years ago. I love Nova Scotia and the Johnson’s. Looking forward to a quick Cape Briton trip and on to Pugwash.
By Lu-Ann January 12, 2020 - 10:08 am
We’re planning our trip to NS and Cape Breton for June/July 2020. We’re driving in from Toronto and taking the ferry from Saint John NB to Digby, then making our way around NS with only a couple of days in Cape Breton. This is a fantastic itinerary as we will only have a day to travel the Cabot Trail. Thank you!
By Sherry January 17, 2020 - 7:29 pm
So glad it’s useful! I’m trying to make a printable version too so people can take it with them!
By Dorothy and Robert Lambert February 2, 2020 - 11:14 am
We found your itinerary very helpful. We are visiting Canada for the whole of July and will be in a Nova Scotia from Saturday 25 July, we are picking up an RV from Halifax that day and hoping to stay at a campsite in Baddeck on the night of the 25th. Would it, in your opinion, be possible for us to drive the Cabot Trail in a day and stay at the same campsite for the night of 26 July before making our way onwards to Prince Edward’s Island on 27 July? I look forward to your reply, many thanks.
By Sherry February 2, 2020 - 12:45 pm
Hi! Yes – you could do it – but it will be a long day. If you follow my itinerary – I would maybe skip the White Point Harbor if you think you are behind schedule. I really love the Middle Head hike and it’s a nice chance to get out of the car. If you time the west side for the sunset, you will be driving back in the dark, but you can make it. We actually did this route and went back to Whycocomagh that night. It’s a long, full day…but worth it! Let me know if you have any other questions!
By Connie February 16, 2020 - 2:33 pm
We are booked two nights in saint Ann’s. If we start there can we do a full circle back after the sun sets.
By Sherry February 19, 2020 - 11:43 pm
Hi Connie – yes you can do it – but it will be a long day and you’ll be driving back across in the dark. Not a big deal just a long day. We did it that way actually and started and ended in Whycocomagh and it was fine. Plus we did all of the things I listed in the itinerary! Have a great trip!
By Marsha Seekins March 10, 2020 - 11:11 pm
Hello! What time of year did you do this. Looks like you did about 5 1/2 hours of actual driving, is that correct? Can you tell me what time you left in the morning and what time you arrived at Normaway? I just booked both places to stay – we are going in mid Sept so our daylight hours will be a bit shorter than mid summer. We are planning to do your entire itinerary so just trying to figure out what time we need to get going from the Keltic. Thanks so much for sharing!
By Sherry March 11, 2020 - 12:53 am
We went the first week of August. And yest – 5 1/2 to 6 hrs of actual driving is what we did. The hike and dinner stop was maybe an hour and a half. The other stops were much shorter. I honestly don’t recall how early we started…but I”m guessing around 8AM. The section the goes across the cape before you get to the Rusty Anchor restaurant had some construction when we did it – so be sure to check if there’s any construction going on when you are there. I’m so jealous that you will get to have those delicious fish cakes at Charlene’s Bayside! It’s a full day – but a fun one! We did also stop and take a lot of pictures! Let me know if I can be of any other help!
By Karen July 11, 2021 - 7:11 am
Is the Cabot Trail dog friendly? We are travelling with our pup and our curious if this is something that will work for us!
Thanks so much????
By Sherry July 12, 2021 - 10:08 am
I’m not entirely sure – but most of the stuff we did that I mention was all outdoors and I would think that dogs can join. Even the place where we had lobster dinner we ate outside and I’m sure you could have a dog there outside!
By Valeria Cardozo September 17, 2021 - 10:30 pm
Sounds like a great trip!! Are you able to rent clubs at the Golf course? also do you need to wear special shoes? are they restrictive on that?
By Sherry October 2, 2021 - 11:26 am
I’m not a golfer – so I’m not entirely sure. However it’s is a very ‘upscale course’ – so I would guess they may require special shoes. I would guess they would have club rental though since it’s mainly travelers who come to play the course. I’d call them on both counts to be sure.
By Maha April 15, 2022 - 4:50 pm
hi, did you guys stop at the Skyline Trail? I thought that would be the best sunset spot or would it make the drive really long?
By Sherry April 24, 2022 - 12:34 pm
I didn’t stop there on this particular one day journey – but you certainly could. I’ve been there before. The reason I suggest the sunset spot I did and not skyline is just due to the amount of people at skyline. I really love to seek out the less crowded and lesser-known places – so that’s what I gave you. However – you could easily do the skyline trail instead of sunset. However – know that you have to hike out at least a mile or more to get out of the trees and to a spot to see the sunset. So plan acoordingly!
By sherry June 6, 2022 - 11:26 pm
Hi, im planning to do your full day itinerary in june 2022, however, i cant seem to find the exact address for the sunset point. is it ok if you can please provide me with the exact address and/or other tips on how to easily locate it or where exactly to go. pls and thanks
By Sherry June 7, 2022 - 12:22 am
Hello! I don’t have an actual address for the sunset point. It’s a beach along the Cabot Trail. My best advice is to zoom into the map at Point H on the map in the article. There you will see what else is around the turnoff.
Also – take note of the directions I gave in the article – “You’ll really want to follow the map above to find this point. There is a little turnoff between two little lakes/ponds and there’s room for a few cars to park. If you end up at the Cheticamp Visitors Center you’ve gone too far!”
Sorry I don’t have more specifics…but I hope you enjoy the day on the trail!