Cape Breton is consistently rated as one of the world’s top island travel destinations – No. 1 in North America, according to Travel & Leisure magazine. On Cape Breton no attraction is more emblematic of the beauty, history and culture of this magical place than the Cabot Trail. It is, without exaggeration, one of the greatest scenic drives on the planet and should be on every visitor’s Atlantic Canada must-see list.
Named after the Italian explorer John Cabot, who first visited more than 500 years ago, the trail is a 300 km (186 mile) circular paved highway, which continuously dazzles with amazing vistas of where mountains meet the sea. The winding up-and-down road is a pleasure for drivers and riders of all stripes – whether in a car or on a motorcycle or bicycle.
While it’s possible to drive it in one day, the Cabot Trail really should be at least a three-day experience. Along the way there are world-class hiking trails to be hiked, whales to be watched, waterfalls to be photographed and great seafood to be sampled. A longer visit gives visitors a deeper insight into the unique Gaelic and Acadian culture of Cape Breton, too.
The town of Baddeck, near the start of the Cabot Trail has a wonderful location on the Bras D’Or Lakes and was the last home of Alexander Graham Bell. The Bell Museum features many of his most famous inventions.
The Margaree Valley is justly famous for beautiful rivers and fall foliage. Salmon fisherman from all over the world come to try their luck to catch one of nature’s greatest fighting fish. Margaree Harbour, where the river meets the sea, is a classic east coast fishing town.
Cheticamp is the largest community on the Cabot Trail and the center of Acadian culture in Cape Breton. There’s no better place to buy a traditional Acadian hooked rug or sample the unique cuisine. It’s also at the entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which has fabulous hiking on twenty-six different trails including the stupendous Skyline.
If whale watching is your thing then head out from Pleasant Bay to search for whales, porpoises and seals. Sightings are guaranteed.
Ingonish has everything a Cape Breton visitor could ask for – a world class resort at Keltic Lodge, the top public golf course in Canada, hiking with near-certain moose sightings and great beaches.
If you are into Celtic music and Gaelic culture then St. Ann’s Bay is the place to be. Here Gaelic College is North America’s only college dedicated to preserving Gaelic and teaching traditional skills such as the bagpipes, step dancing and kilt making. The Great Hall of the Clans is an impressive sight, whether or not your roots are Scottish.
St. Ann’s Bay also is famous as the home of many of Nova Scotia’s finest craftspeople and artisans working in just about any media you can think of. A great way to end a Cabot Trail trip is to buy something unique from one of the many small local galleries.