Cape Breton Highlands and Cabot Trail

May 22-23, 2012
Posted on June 4, 2014

Cabot Trail was meant to be the highlight of our trip: it’s one of those beautiful twisty coastal roads that are a pleasure to travel by when you just want to enjoy the ride and not get from point A to point B. Unlike the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon, Washington and California, Cabot Trail exemplifies that notion as you literally cannot get very far: it’s a 300 km loop. We had two days to see how far it can take us.

Day 4

We started the day with seafood chowder for a late breakfast and lazily considered if we should navigate the Cabot Trail clockwise or counterclockwise. The day was overcast and sleepy, and the outdoor patio of the café was very relaxing.

The town of Baddeck

As we were getting ready to head out, an odd call came in on a cellphone: a person from Fedex was complaining about missing some paperwork for a shipment we recently sent out. It was a very bulky, heavy and expensive item, and we did not want to deal with it getting sent back, or stuck in limbo somewhere, so decided to handle things right away. Here is where it gets funny: they needed the paperwork faxed! Yes, I know. At first we were puzzled, but soon found a computer shop next to a pier, and hoped they could help. “They” was really just one guy, and this being such a small town, he does not often come into the shop unless he has a scheduled appointment. We called him on the phone and after figuring out what we were looking for, he tipped us that if we cross the street and open an unmarked back door leading to a semi-basement of a church, there would be an employment office where we can use a computer, printer and fax. And so it was 😉 . We paid $2 for the services of that office, and I have a feeling we were the only visitors there all day.

The hidden door to the employment office.

Baddeck Harbour

With that out of the way, we finally got going. We chose the counterclockwise direction to get to the highlands sooner, and started watching the numerous lakes and creeks pass by. There was the occasional village thrown in for good measure, and bilingual signs marking points of interest (in English and Scottish Gaelic). There were quite a few craft shops along the way, and banners advertising various attractions, though it seemed many were not yet open for business (too early in the season).

Bilingual signs

Riding through The Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island

Once we started climbing higher into the elevated northern regions, the road got more twisty and the views even more inspiring. We stopped at several lookout points to absorb the views of the shoreline and the valleys, and take photos. Unfortunately, the beauty of this place did not translate as well into 2 dimensions as I hoped. That is to say, it was more stunning in real life.

The Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands

The Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands

View from the Cabot Trail in infrared

Whenever you travel outside of major urban areas, you have to be mindful of the wildlife. Meeting a large animal like a moose at high speed may be exciting, but may also be catastrophic. And so in the highlands of Cape Breton, after completing an exhilarating sequence of turns we came upon a moose on the road. It was sitting right in the middle of the paved road, and while we had plenty of time to stop, it was not immediately obvious how to proceed. After noticing us, the moose got up, and started running along the road, in the same direction as us. So we continued after it, shamelessly taking pictures and laughing about the whole situation. The road was framed by a cliff on one side, and forest on another, and the moose kept running until we finally came to a clearing where it could turn away and hide from our prying eyes.

The hover-moose

Valley in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

2 wheels, 4 legs

On and on we went, eventually reaching the picturesque Acadian village of Chéticamp. They proudly display the Acadian stars on the walls of houses and the whole town is much more elaborately decorated than the Anglophone ones. In the presence of all the decorations, we slowed down enough for our stomachs to catch up to us and let us know of the little void we needed to fill. The thought of finding food in that village was very tempting but with the evening quickly approaching us, we chose to ride on and any and all stomach growling was easily concealed by the sounds of our engine roaring.

Chéticamp, Cape Breton

We finished off the Cabot Trail loop and it was that time of the evening again: everything closed, except for Tom’s Pizza.

Day 5

The following morning was even gloomier than the one before. It rained overnight, and promised to do it again. We had one more day to explore the Cabot Trail, and naturally, we went clockwise this time, passing through the Acadian region first, followed by the highlands.

Fog over Cape Breton

Just in time for lunch, a lonely house appeared with a sign “Boulangerie” on it, and we had to oblige and stop for some freshly baked treats. As we were eating blueberry turnovers in a mixture of rain and fog, a local man on a Can-Am Spyder (a three-wheeler) came by to pick up some bread. We started talking and he mentioned that moose often like to sit in the middle of the road, as it heats up during the day and warms up their bellies. He suspected it could have been a pregnant female we saw the previous day. He told us several stories about life on Cape Breton, especially about wildlife, and how tasty it is. Mentioned that although so many people come here to travel the Cabot Trail, he himself did it only once, many years ago, was not impressed and hadn’t done it afterwards.

As we rode further into the highlands, the fog got so thick, visibility reduced to no more than 20 meters. It would clear up occasionally, only to thicken back around the next turn. It made for dramatic views when you reached an opening in this curtain, but it also made for a chilling ride, with no one else on the road, and who knows what beyond the fog in the woods.

Riding in the clouds

The sky cleared up as we reached a fishing village of Neils Harbour at the north end of the island. It was a quiet but pretty place, with boats moored near numerous piers and fishing paraphernalia sold as souvenirs on the side of the road. It was so pretty, we had to stop for lunch there :).

Fog clearing out over Cape Breton

Neils Harbour, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Just outside Neils Harbour

Creepy things in Neils Harbour

The coastal weather continued fluctuating between fog and rain. It seemed all the moisture made the greens even more lush in the few brief moments when the sun eventually came out. When we got back to the hotel, the quickly moving clouds made quite a display in the dramatic sunset light.

The sea and valley hidden by the fog

Everything looks scarier in the fog

Near Great Bras d’Or Channel, Cape Breton

180º view of the Cabot Trail

Sunshine came out and punched a rain cloud in the groin

P.S. yes, we ended up having Tom’s Pizza for the third evening in a row.

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