Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Falling in love with the Cape Breton Highlands | Powell’s Travels

by W. Andrew Powell

Travel is really the act of falling in love again and again. I’ve fallen for cities, restaurants, landscapes, and cultures, and this week, on our 10-day trip in Nova Scotia, I’ve fallen for the Cape Breton Highlands.

We’ve been planning this trip since July, and now that we’re here, it’s made me feel very lucky to live in Canada. The people have been so welcoming, and the views are like nowhere else I’ve ever been. All with that sweet, direct, and honest east coast charm.

So far the trip has taken us from Halifax, at the end of last week, north to Baddeck, and then on to Chéticamp, before we drove around the Cabot trail, through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and then over to Ingonish.

Staying at Inverary Resort in Baddeck, and the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish, we were welcomed warmly, and the towns were the perfect places to explore from. There’s so much to see and do within about an hour of Baddeck and Ingonish, it’s worth spending a few days in each place, if you can.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Cape Breton Highlands National Park

The real star of our drive though was the coast north of Chéticamp, and into the national park. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring drives I’ve ever been on in my life, and it goes on for miles and miles. The coastline is rugged and beautiful, huge and serene. Even outside the true highlands, on the north-eastern side of Cape Breton, near Dingwall and south to Black Brook Cove Beach near Ingonish, the views are still like nowhere else.

Visiting the Parks Canada destination from Chéticamp, the drive offers rest stops every few minutes, so you can easily stop and snap photos of the views. And you’re going to want to stop a lot. The road twists and turns first around the coast, and then inward, through the highlands, and across to Cape North.

The whole drive is about one hour and 40 minutes from the park entrance on the west of Cape Breton, to the park exit at Ingonish Beach. You’ll want to spend days though, exploring the area. There are towns and communities throughout the area, including Pleasant Bay, Saint Margaret Village, and Ingonish Centre.

There are some wonderful places to eat, too, like the upscale Purple Thistle Dining Room at Keltic Lodge, and you need to visit the spectacular Morrison’s Restaurant in Cape North. Morrison’s is one of the best affordably-priced restaurants I’ve ever been to, and their Neil Angus Burger is one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten.

Hiking in Cape Breton is also a must, and while there are epic, big trails throughout the park, there’s a lot to love about the shorter trails, too. The Middle Head trail near Keltic Lodge, and the Jack Pine trail are good for new and experienced hikers, and the Skyline Trail near Pleasant Bay is one of the most picturesque hikes in all of Cape Breton. For each, you can explore for about 2 to 4 hours, and see some of the best views that the park has to offer.

I also highly recommend a stop at one of the beaches for a break. Black Brook Cove Beach has some incredible views of the smaller cliffs along the shore, Still Brook waterfall, and you can sit in the sand or on some of the rocks that dot the cove. It’s a very picturesque spot to take in the view, feel a little zen, and have a snack before your next hike or drive.

I’ve got a few more days in Nova Scotia, but I have to say that I miss the Highlands already. We’re excited to explore the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site next though, the city of Sydney, and get back to Halifax for some more adventures, including a ghost tour at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.

Watch for my #VisitNovaScotia posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Every month, I round up travel thoughts, inspirations, and travel ideas in Powell’s Travels. I’d also love to hear about some of your favourite travel memories, so tell me all about them in the comments, ask me questions, or reach out on Twitter. Watch some of my travel videos on YouTube.

All photos by W. Andrew Powell, The GATE.

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