Things to do on Cape Breton Island

September 9, 2023   2 Comments »

Things to do on Cape Breton Island

August 29, 2023 2 Comments »

My mom and I turned into the French Mountain parking lot in Cape Breton’s Highlands National Park. After pulling into a parking space I walked over to the Skyline Trail sign. I had been told hiking the Skyline trail was one of the best things to do on Cape Breton. This was supposed to be the best hike in the park for views. I had heard about it, seen pictures, and read about it. I had drunk the Skyline Trail Kool-Aid, and I wanted to do it.

Looking at the map we determined it didn’t look too hard, but it would take a couple of hours to complete. We looked at each other and realized we didn’t have time to do it; we had to keep going. 

If we stopped to hike all of the incredible trails in the park we’d never make it around the Cabot Trail in a day and to our hotel! I reluctantly got back in the car and we kept going with a sinking feeling.

cape breton island hikes

Cape Breton Island in Canada is known for outdoor activities and adventures, and I didn’t really have time to do any of them. The only solace I could muster up was making a pact with myself I would come back again so I could do all of the best things to do on Cape Breton.

Fast-forward four years and I’m back on Cape Breton Island to fulfill that plan. I spent a week on the island with friends Pete and Dalene of Hecktic Travels. We focused on getting outside each day on a different hike, adventure, or experience. This way we were able to see and experience the variety of activities the island offered.

The Best Things to do on Cape Breton

Skyline Trail Hike

Difficulty: Easy – well marked and there isn’t much elevation change. The trail itself is well-groomed and easy to walk. The loop section is a bit more rugged, but still in the easy category. 

Distance: 4 miles return or 5.1-mile loop 

Location: Located in Cape Breton Highlands National Park along the Cabot Trail at the top of French Mountain. There are signs for the parking lot.

The terrain is fairly average for the first two-thirds of the walk as you wind through the forest and get teased by views of Cabot Trail through the trees. But it’s the last third that will have you oohing and aahing.

You suddenly leave the forest area behind and are high on top of a headland cliff overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A boardwalk with stairs leads you down to a viewpoint with benches. Keep your eyes peeled for whales and enjoy the view. This is also a great place for a picnic lunch or sunset hike.

Mabou Western Coastal Hike

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate – well marked, but in spots, you’ll need to watch your footing as there are tree roots in some parts. However, the short distance of this trail also makes it pretty easy.

Distance: 1.8 miles if you go all the way to the end and back

Location: Trailhead and map are near the parking lot before you head down to the beach.

This is a short little hike but I was slowed down by the beach views. This can be a simple out-and-back hike, or you can go along the bluffs on the way out and follow the trail down to the beach and walk back along the beach.

You’ll start out in a dense area of Spruce trees and rolling green hills and then pop out on top of the sand dunes where it’s more of an open field. We walked back along the beach and enjoyed the crashing waves and meeting locals along the beach.

Stroll on the Inverness Boardwalk

Difficulty: This is a simple walk anyone can do. 

Distance: Nearly 1 mile to the end of the boardwalk 

Location: 158 Beach No. 1 Road, Inverness – head towards the ocean until the road ends, and you’ll be at the beginning of the boardwalk. There is parking by the beach.

cape breton island hiking inverness boardwalk
On the boardwalk!

This really isn’t a hike, it’s just a nice little walk where you can soak up the sea air and a lovely place for sunset. The boardwalk begins at the public beach, runs above the beach, and ends overlooking the Cabot Links Golf Course.

If you are tired of watching the ocean, you can watch golfers tee off on one of the best courses in the world. There were a lot of locals out walking their dogs along the beach and swimming in the shallow waters.

Middle Head Hike

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. There is some rolling up and down – but nothing steep. The trail is well-marked and groomed. There are some places where you need to watch your footing. 

Distance: 2.4-mile loop 

Location: Parking is located at the trailhead behind the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish.

Hike out the narrow peninsula separating two ocean bays and end 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 Island. There is a loop trail that will take you back a more forested way, or go back the way you came.

Find the Best Views in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

This is one of the crown jewels of Cape Breton Island. This National Park has a number of wonderful hiking trails, restaurants, small towns, and so many incredible coastal views!

One of my favorite and most clever uses of the Adirondack chair in Nova Scotia Canada was by the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in their “Red Chair Challenge”. The mission was to find and sit in ten red chairs scattered around Cabot Trail. At each chair, there’s a unique view of the landscape and seascape.

Baddeck full moon kayak
A full moon is all the light we needed for kayaking

Take a Sea Kayak Adventure

If you are looking to give your legs a break and give your upper body a workout, then try a kayak adventure on Cape Breton. This isn’t just a paddling trip, you will also be treated to gourmet local food and wine.

We actually went on a full moon tour and kayaked at night. As the sun went down we left the shore in Baddeck and did a golden hour paddle around Kidsten Island. Keep your eyes peeled for seabirds around the island. Right before the sun disappears you’ll end up at the Kidsten Island lighthouse where you can beach your kayaks and get photos of this idyllic setting.

We paddled up to the shore where there were platters of food being prepared at our own private gazebo. The food was prepared by chef Brian Pickard of the popular local restaurant, the Bite House, and paired with Nova Scotia Canada wine and beer. Our guide surprisingly got out a guitar and we had live entertainment. I loved the vibe of this whole evening; it was like a gourmet camping night.

They only run this nighttime tour during the full moon so be sure to check the North River Kayak website for the dates, and as of 2023, the tour may not be available. But no fear – you can still have an incredible kayak adventure during daytime hours. North River Kayak offers a number of different tours and paddling classes.

Play on a Top Ranked Golf Course

The Cabot Cliffs Golf Course is ranked 19th in the world’s top 100 golf courses, so why not stop and get in 9 holes? And if you can, do an entire 18 as the last 3 holes of the course are some of the most spectacular views on Cape Breton Island! And be sure to bring plenty of extra balls to replace all of the ones you are going to lose off the cliffs!

For the first time in 20 years, I stepped onto a golf course to watch Pete play this famous course. Needless to say – I felt a little self-conscious. We weren’t even completely sure they’d let me walk along on such a renowned course, but they didn’t seem to have any issue with it.

Be aware, a caddie is required on this course. There are no carts on the course, only caddies.

I was having so much fun that after hole 3, I decided to stay a few more, and then a few more, and suddenly I was in for the whole thing! We got beers, put on sunscreen, and made a day of it. This wasn’t the stuffy game of golf I was expecting.

Cabot Cliffs Golf Course Caddie

Make sure you savor the last 3 holes, which are the ‘famous’ holes right along the cliffs, and somehow Pete actually got par hole 16!

Hole 16 Cabot Cliffs

And if your pocketbook can afford it – get a room at The Lodge at Cabot Cape Breton resort too – it’s pure luxury.

Whale watching on Cape Breton

One of the best times to go whale watching in Cape Breton is during the summer months when these magnificent creatures migrate to the area in search of food. The most common whale species spotted here include humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, and occasionally even orcas. With their impressive size and graceful movements, witnessing these majestic mammals up close is an awe-inspiring sight.

Several tour operators offer guided whale-watching excursions in Cape Breton, providing visitors with knowledgeable guides who can share interesting facts about the different whale species encountered during the trip. These tours typically take place aboard specially designed boats that prioritize passenger safety while minimizing disturbance to the marine environment. So if you’re looking for an unforgettable wildlife encounter in a stunning natural setting, don’t miss out on experiencing whale watching in Cape Breton!

Visit the port town of Sydney

Sydney, located on the beautiful island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada, is a charming port town that offers a unique blend of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. The downtown area is a bustling hub filled with unique shops, delightful restaurants, and historic landmarks. Explore Charlotte Street – lined with charming boutiques selling local crafts and souvenirs – where you can find everything from hand-knit sweaters to traditional Celtic music CDs.

The world’s largest fiddle is located in Sydney. Standing at a staggering height of 60 feet (18 meters), this colossal fiddle is hard to miss. Erected in 2005, it holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest playable violin on Earth. It has become a notable landmark in the area, attracting both locals and tourists alike.

Drive the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island

Nova Scotia is known for its spectacular driving routes, but the queen of them all is the Cabot Trail. This scenic drive is typically littered with superlatives such as best, and greatest. It certainly deserves praise as it provides a whole different feel of Nova Scotia than the other routes. The road hugs the cliffs and winds around forests on the Northwest side, and the Eastern side provides a rocky coast dotted with fishing villages and sandy beaches.

There are plenty of scenic lookouts along the world-famous Cabot Trail giving you many photo opportunities or just a place to sit and take in the magnificent views and eat lunch.

Cape Breton sunset

I suggest you drive the trail in a counter clockwise direction. This allows you to see the sunset because you’ll finish the drive on the west side of the island. 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!

If you only have one day to complete the drive, then use this drive the Cabot Trail one-day itinerary I did a few years later.

Try Fishcakes for Breakfast at Charlene’s

Charlene’s Bayside restaurant in Whycocomagh 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. A fish cake and chowder for breakfast….what??? Trust me on this – it’s incredible! Plus, the atmosphere at Charlene’s is like having breakfast in your grandmother’s house, and who doesn’t love that?

Visit the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site

The site includes two main attractions – the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and the nearby Beinn located near the town of Baddeck. These places showcase various exhibits dedicated to Bell’s inventions and experiments.

Visitors can explore a wide range of artifacts related to Bell’s life and work at the museum. From early telephones and experimental aircraft models to medical devices invented by Bell himself, there is plenty to see and learn about his groundbreaking innovations.

Cape Breton Alexander Graham Bell Statue
My mother sitting with the Bells in Baddeck!

In addition to exploring the exhibits indoors, visitors can wander through the beautifully landscaped grounds surrounding the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. The gardens offer breathtaking views of the Bras d’Or Lake and provide a tranquil setting for leisurely strolls.

Visit the Fishing Village of White Point Harbor

At the north end of Cape Breton Island just slightly off the Cabot Trail, you’ll find White Point Harbor. This old fishing village is iconic and worth a stop.

This isn’t a tourist town…this is a fishing village of days gone by. You will find a few local fishermen there and 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.

Park by the docks and take a little walk around the town. You’ll find a few stone foundations and a few locals walking dogs. The small dock is filled with small fishing boats, a few local fishermen, and piles of lobster traps. 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.

Learn about Celtic Culture at The Gaelic College

This non-profit educational institution offers programming in the culture, customs, language, crafts, and traditions of the Highlands of Scotland. Tucked away in the heart of St. Ann’s, The Gaelic College is like a time machine that transports you straight into the vibrant world of Gaelic culture and live music.

Picture this: you can jump into lively ceilidh dances that’ll have your feet tapping and your heart racing. And if you’ve always wanted to strum a fiddle or give bagpipes a go, they’ve got workshops that’ll turn you into a musical maestro (or at least a decent player)!

celtic center plaids

But wait, there’s more! How about diving into the Gaelic language itself? They’ve got language courses that’ll have you throwing around “slàinte” (that’s cheers!) and “tapadh leat” (thanks!) like a local in no time. And for the crafty ones, you can watch and learn as skilled artisans demonstrate traditional Gaelic crafts that have been passed down through generations. Check the schedule here.

Plus, the location is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, nestled on the Cabot Trail, so you’ll be surrounded by spectacular scenery while you’re dancing, playing, and immersing yourself in all things Gaelic. So whether you’re a history buff, a Celtic music lover, or just curious about different cultures, the Gaelic College is a must-visit spot that’ll leave you with unforgettable memories and maybe a jig or two up your sleeve!

Cape Breton Miners Museum

If you’re ready to dig into Cape Breton Island’s mining history, the Cape Breton Miners Museum is where the action is! This place is like a time capsule that takes you back to the coal mining days when this region was buzzing with miners and their tales. You can roll up your sleeves and get hands-on with the tools of the trade, exploring the life of a miner from sunup to sundown. And trust me, it’s a lot tougher than it sounds!

But that’s not all – they’ve got some real-deal underground tours that’ll make your heart race and give you a taste of what it was like to work deep within the Earth. You’ll get to feel the chill, hear the echoes, and experience the whole “Can you believe people did this for a living?” vibe.

Plus, the guides are like living encyclopedias, full of stories that’ll have you laughing, gasping, and maybe even shedding a tear. So if you’re up for a journey into the gritty, hardworking past of Cape Breton Island, grab your hat and headlamp – the Cape Breton Miners Museum is waiting to show you a side of history you won’t find in any textbook!

Eat Lobster at Rusty Anchor Restaurant

Pleasant Bay is a cute little picturesque town at the tip of Cape Breton, and it’s a perfect place to stop to eat some delicious Nova Scotia Lobster.

The family-owned Rusty Anchor Restaurant in Pleasant Bay is hard to miss. Just look for 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.

Where to Stay in Cape Breton

Normaway Inn and The Barn Music Center

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!

Cape Breton music

Cabot Trail Tiny Homes

Stay in a tiny house with a big view! Cabot Trail Tiny Homes have some of the best views on the Cabot Trail. On one side you have the breathtaking view of Margaree Harbour and the beautiful Cape Breton Highlands on the other.

Each tiny house is equipped with a deck from which to see the gorgeous sunsets over the water. There is also a shared outdoor campfire and a beachfront for swimming or launching kayaks or canoes.

Keltic Lodge and Purple Thistle Dining Room

My mom and I actually stayed in a cute little cabin at the Keltic Lodge and enjoyed this elegant historic lodge with its live music and incredible restaurant. After a dinner fit for royalty at the Purple Thistle, we enjoyed Celtic music at the lodge. Read reviews of Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa

Looking for somewhere to stay on Cape Breton? Check prices and availability for hotels on Cape Breton Island

More accommodation on Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia

The luxurious Lodge at Cabot Cape Breton resort

Inverary Resort – Read reviews of Inverary Resort

Mid Trail Inn – Read reviews of MidTrail Inn

Keltic Quay Bayfront Lodge & Cottages – ‘picture-perfectly’ located on the Whycocomagh Bay looking out on Indian Island. Read reviews of Keltic Quay Lodge

Unlike my trip 4 years ago, this week on Cape Breton was a complete look at the island. We didn’t have to rush, we could get outside and enjoy the views, nature, and culture of every part of the island. In addition to these adventures, we also spent a day at Cabot Cliffs golf course, and a day on the CabotTrail.

At the end of my second Cape Breton Island trip, I wondered what was left for me to explore when I came back a third time! The one thing I’m certain of is this island will never be done, there’s always more to see and do.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Cape Breton Highlands? Check prices and availability for hotels in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

How do you get to Cape Breton? It’s easy!

It’s easy to get to Cape Breton 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. It’s just a 2-hour 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!

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Things to do on Cape Breton Island

Disclosure:

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.


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