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Riding the buses » Canada, Family travel, Road trips, Travel itinerary » Road trip around Cape Breton Island, Canada

Road trip around Cape Breton Island, Canada

Rugged Cape Breton coast, Riding the busesCape Breton receives many accolades such as “one of the best island destinations in the world” and “one of the world’s best road trips”. What’s so great about this island on the Atlantic Ocean that is part of the province of Nova Scotia? The Cabot Trail, that’s what, and the inland sea that dominates its center, and Baddeck, the village where Alexander Graham Bell—the inventor of the telephone—spent his summers.

Here is Alexander Bell’s take on Cape Breton: “I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton out rivals them all.”

Cabot Trail, Riding the busesThen there’s Fort Louisbourg and whales, fiddle music, seafood and friendly people. What’s not to like about all of that.

It takes about four hours to drive from Halifax to Baddeck, the gateway to the Cabot Trail. The Canso Causeway crosses the Strait of Canso that separates the island from the mainland so there is no need to catch a ferry. Another option is to fly into Sydney Airport and rent a car from there. One year we combined a road trip around Cape Breton with a drive up the west coast of Newfoundland because you catch the ferry from North Sydney in Cape Breton to Channel-Port aux Basques in Newfoundland.


Here is my itinerary for a road trip through the Maritimes and on to Newfoundland & Labrador


Camp_cartemap_2012_E.ashxThe northern section of the island is dominated by Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The ocean and mountain views in the park are spectacular. The 300 km Cabot Trail makes a loop through the park.  The first time my husband and I drove around it, we were in a very old car and could only chug-chug-chug  up the mountains, so think about the condition of your vehicle before you go.

The western entrance of the park is the village of Cheticamp on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Cheticamp is known for its fiddle music and hooked rugs. On the eastern side of the park is Ingonish on the Atlantic Ocean. Ingonish is a fishing village and where you’ll find the rather famous Keltic Lodge Resort that is perched high on a cliff.  There are other places to stay and several campsites within the park. As a child I spent many summer vacations camping at Ingonish Beach. I loved it because we could walk from the campground to the beach on the Atlantic Ocean and then when we wanted to get the salt out of our swimsuits we’d walk to the nearby lake, aptly named Freshwater Lake.

There are 26 hiking trails, the best known probably being the Skyline Trail where you can watch for whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the viewing decks. Watch out for the moose!

Bell Museum, BaddeckMany visitors stay in Baddeck, which is located on the northern shore of the Bras d’Or Lakes. There is quite a choice of accommodation and restaurants and you can take a whale-watching cruise and listen to some Gaelic music. So it’s a fine place to stay awhile.

Bras d’Or (Arm of Gold is the English translation) is an enormous inland sea measuring roughly 100 by 50 km. The setting is gorgeous for it is almost entirely surrounded by hills and mountains. The Chairman of the National Geographic Society Board, Gilbert Grosvenor, called it his “favorite landscape on planet Earth”. While it is connected to the Atlantic ocean, the water is not as salty as in the ocean because five rivers flow into it.

Baddeck is where you’ll find the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and even as a kid I loved this place. Bell and his wife Mabel first came here in 1885 and after building a summer home and laboratory they spent half their lives there. Dr. Bell was involved in many experiments besides the telephone, such as man-carrying kites, hydrofoil boats and the first airplane to fly in the Commonwealth (the Silver Dart). This museum tells you all about them in the most interesting way. You will leave a little smarter.

Fort Louisbourg, Riding the busesSpeaking of getting smarter, you can’t leave Cape Breton without going to the Fortress of Louisbourg. It was once the capital of Île-Royale (New France) and the third largest seaport on the eastern seaboard. Those were the days when the British and French were always fighting with one another. The British eventually won (1758) and dismantled the fort but it was reconstructed and today you can walk its streets and feel like it’s still the 18th century. I remember visiting when my daughter was about 8 years old and one of the “actors” charged her with stealing wine from the King’s cellars and locked her up in irons (all in good fun, of course; she loved it).

Fun at the fort, Riding the busesThe settlement here was founded in 1713 so this year is its 300th birthday.  There are special activities planned for the celebration such as a “Super Feast” concert with 300 fiddlers.

Cape Breton is also known for its coal industry and over its 250 year history the picture was not always pretty. On your way to visiting the Cape Breton Miner’s Museum in Glace Bay, listen to the music of the Men of the Deeps,  a choir whose members were all miners.

Such a lot to do on a not-too-big island, I would say.

Related articles
Road trip itinerary: Maritimes and Newfoundland
My favourite road trip through Canada’s Maritime Provinces
A special place called Newfoundland

By Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2013

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3 Responses to "Road trip around Cape Breton Island, Canada"

  1. Joanne H. says:

    Hi Sylvia,

    My husband and I are planning a motorcycle trip the end of June for about 2 weeks. Our goal is to ride up the coast of Maine (our first trip) and then make our way up to Cape Breton to the Cabot Trail. Along the way we hope to just spend 2/3 days in Maine and about 3 days from Canada to get home. Home is in Maryland. So that leaves us with about 8 to 9 days to spend in Canada. We were thinking of stopping at the Hopewell Rocks before heading to Cape Breton. We’d like to see the Fortress of Louisbourg and also head off the Cabot Trail to any neat little places that you could suggest. A friend of mine suggested that we take the ferry in Saint John to Digby and head over to Peggys Cove and up the coast on the east side for a bit on our way to Cape Breton. Thoughts on that idea? I know we will not be able to see all of Nova Scotia. We would like to take the ferry to PEI and then just ride to the bridge to exit on our way home. Any thoughts or ideas you may have would be greatly appreciated! I love that I found this site 🙂 Thank you, Joanne H.

    1. Sylvia Fanjoy says:

      Hi Joanne. I think your friend has some great suggestions. You may have heard about the partial collapse of one of the Hopewell Rocks so it’s wise to stop now. So you’ll get the ferry from Saint John to Digby, drive across NS to Liverpool on Hwy 8, then take Hwy 3 along the South Shore until Hwy 333 to Peggy’s Cove and on to Halifax. Be sure to drive on Hwy 3 by the ocean and not the faster 103 (you’ll be a little dizzy with all the twists and turns but that’s where the attractions are).

      I was at a dinner party on the weekend and a very serious golfer raved about the Cabot Links Golf Course in Cape Breton. Now I’m not a golfer but she was equally enthusiastic about the nearby town of Inverness where she and fellow travellers had a great time in one of pubs — its all about the fiddle music! I will have a closer look when I’m there again (summer of 2016).

      I think it makes sense to take the ferry from Caribou to Woods Island, PEI and then the Confederation Bridge over to NB and you’ll get to see another province, and a very different one at that.

      You’ll be travelling quickly but you’ll have a taste of the Maritimes. I also really enjoy the coast of Maine but it can be SO busy! I imagine you’ll really notice the difference travelling in the two regions.

      Thanks for writing,

      – Sylvia Fanjoy

      1. Joanne H says:

        Thanks for responding Sylvia…I apologize for the long time to say thanks!


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