My Experience Driving through Cape Breton, Canada

My Experience Driving through Cape Breton, Canada

Jasmine recounts her experience of exploring hiking trails and chasing sunsets on Cabot Trail while driving through Cape Breton in Canada.

cape breton canada

On Wednesday, we check out of our Airbnb in Halifax at 10am and get into the van, heading towards Cape Breton for a three day, two-night stint. Cape Breton is an island off Eastern Canada, located on the Atlantic coast and the ancestral lands of the Mi’kmaq peoples. The island is best known for its hiking and water options and is a popular road trip and motorcycling destination for many people.

We eventually make our way onto the famous Cabot Trail, a 300km highway that wraps itself around the Cape’s highlands, featuring steep cliff rises and drops, expansive ocean views, and the occasional rough terrain. The Cape Breton Highlands National Park features over 20 hiking trails of various difficulties, plenty of water sports, fishing, historical sites and beaches.

Just after 3.30pm we park, and hop into Downstreet Coffee Company for a leisurely lunch, taking in the vibrant colors and slower rhythms. An hour later we cross the street, down the trail and make it to Inverness Beach, braving the fresh autumn chill for a quick dive in the Atlantic. The cold is a sharp series of pricks on the skin, but the sun is friendly, and the sea floor is clear.

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As the day grows long, we drive into Chéticamp, checking into the Maison Fiset, a beautiful little inn just outside the Highland National Park. We rush against time, unloading the van before hopping back in and driving North to hike the Skyline Sunset Trail: a 45-minute walk through the ranges, a stretch of Boreal forest, down a cliff-side to wooden boardwalks facing west out into the ocean. We catch the sunset with the other tourists who’ve also caught the tail end of the visiting season. The wind picks up and the sky darkens, and as we hike back in fading light, we are greeted by the rise of a large, bright orange moon.

On Thursday morning, we check out at 11am and prep for a day of driving along the Cabot trail. We enter the Highlands National Park, heading toward Pleasant Bay and are caught in a coastal rainstorm. The scenic drive is a different creature in rain, and we travel with caution, paying attention to potential slides, low visibility, and ongoing construction work on the only roadway inside the highlands. We pull into The Rusty Anchor for a late lunch, and I spend our entire lunch hour cracking open delicious legs of snow crab.

The rest of the day is spent driving through scenic trails, short explorations on foot, small talking with locals and passing by other travellers. At 7pm, we check in to a small family-run Bed and Breakfast in Ingonish, having covered 104km that day, and discover that restaurants close way earlier than we imagined in the highlands. At the takeout fast food restaurant we settle on, waiting for fried fish and chips, we meet other travellers who, like us, have made the same mistake in their planning.

cape breton canada

We drag ourselves up early on Friday morning to squeeze a number of things into our half-day itinerary. Breakfast begins at the nearby Salty Rose’s and the Periwinkle Café, a small homestay, café and independent artist store run by a pair of cousins! A round of coffees and breakfast sandwiches are packed into the car, and we drive to the Middle Head trail for a morning hike, where the squirrels are a rowdy chorus in this otherwise quiet stretch of rocky forest. Once we reach the cliffs, the breakfast sandwiches are unwrapped and enjoyed amongst the ever-present ocean view, and a rogue seal pops its head up in the waters below, enjoying its morning quiet time as well. On our way out, we wave at our bed and breakfast host on her way in with a tour group. The trails on Cape Breton often feature guided tours led by community locals, who give historical background, point out interesting plants, and small excursions off the beaten path.

Around 1pm, the highlands disappear into vanishing point behind us on the Cabot trail. The rain of the day before has cleared up, and the sky on the roads ahead are relatively clear, albeit moody the way a sky always is when the season grows cold. We head back south, having made a complete round of the National Park, to catch the 2.45pm ferry that will take us off Cape Breton to our next road trip destination.  

About Author

Jasmine Gui
Jasmine Gui

Jasmine Gui is a Singaporean raised in Suzhou, Hong Kong, currently living and working in Toronto. She is the founder of Project 40 Collective and managing editor at LooseLeaf magazine. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Spectatorial, Panorama Journal, Softblow, ricepaper, and Hart House Review. Her poetry chapbook, boke was published through wordsonpages. She exists on the interwebs as @jaziimun, and can be found meandering scapes of all kinds, from the literary to the geographical.

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