Cape 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.”
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
The 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!
Many 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.
Speaking 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).
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.
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