Somewhere along the line, we heard that many Scottish immigrants were drawn to Cape Breton Island because the landscape reminded them of the Scottish Highlands. We haven’t been to Scotland but we’ve seen plenty of photographs and can’t argue with the comparison. The island is picturesque, but also quite remote. The coastal towns are “blink-and-you’ll-miss-em” sized and, as we drove around, we repeatedly saw signs that warned there would be no gas stations for X number of kilometers ahead. Combined with the lack of cell coverage throughout much of the island and, at times, it felt more isolated than most anywhere we’ve traveled in the past year…

Rocky coastline along Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia

View of ridge at the end of the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Beer and Telephones

Before we headed out to find leprechauns (yeah, yeah, I know…whatever), we headed off in search of beer. Big Spruce Brewing is a small operation that makes really solid beers (heavily weighted toward IPAs). Even better, the brewery features live music by local artists several times each week. By the time we arrived on a Thursday afternoon, the small tasting area was packed, but we were able to score a table outside within earshot of the very talented musicians. We tried several local beers while touring Eastern Canada and this brewery was, by far, our favorite.

Flight of beers at Big Spruce Brewing in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Another overcast day, we headed to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum.

The front of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Bell and his family called Cape Breton Island home for many years. The museum was well done and we learned not only about Bell’s most famous invention, but also about his work in other areas. Turns out, he spent much of his career working with the hearing impaired and that, later in life, he and his colleagues made significant contributions to the world of aviation, building and flying their own plane around the same time the Wright Brothers were engaged in their famous flights.

But really… can we talk about the phone stuff for a second?

So there we were wandering through the exhibits about the invention of the telephone…

Museum display of telegraph transmitters at Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

“Oh look at these!!! Back in the olden days phone numbers were just 2 digits long. How crazy is that??”

Museum display of old telephones at Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

When suddenly, we come face to face with this:

Rotary phone at Alexander Graham Bell Museum

Yeah. That’s in a museum now. Right next to the 2 digit telephones.

And while still processing just how weird that was, we watched as three different kids walked up to the phone and started trying to figure out how to use it. They were drawn to it like a shiny toy display at a children’s store. All three were completely flummoxed, unsure why they couldn’t just press on the numbers like a “normal” phone. Unsurprisingly, their parents were amused as they watched their kids, who probably routinely move satellites through space using an iPhone, struggle to utilize this ancient contraption.

Yeah, yeah…  Adorable.

It’s all fun and games, kid, until one day your childhood phone is in a museum.

Then it’s not so cute anymore.

Punk.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the Cabot Trail

First, a bit of orientation. Nova Scotia is made up of the mainland, which is a peninsula attached to New Brunswick, and Cape Breton Island, which is a large island connected to the rest of the province by a bridge. About one third of Cape Breton Island is a National Park, and a large portion of the island is encircled by the Cabot Trail, which is a 186 mile loop road that travels around the perimeter of the island’s northern section.

The Cabot Trail is highlighted in yellow…

A lot of visitors drive the entire Cabot Loop in one day, but we felt that was a bit more than we wanted to take on. We opted to drive from our home base of Baddeck, located at the bottom of the loop, up the west side one day, and up the east side a different day. Breaking the trip into two days allowed us to take in several highlights without spending the entire time driving.

The West Side and the Skyline Trail

We drove up the west side first, admiring the small fishing communities and cliff side views as we went. After stopping for lunch at the Rusty Anchor, a popular restaurant with an impressive view, we headed into the National Park.

Rusty Anchor Restaurant patio with view of the ocean in pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia

The most famous hike in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is the Skyline Trail. It’s about 5.5 miles long if you do the whole loop, though visitors can opt to take a shorter route directly to the main viewing point. We opted for the longer hike and would absolutely recommend it to others. It travels through multiple types of terrain before turning to run parallel with the oceanfront……

Wooded trail at Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia

The main viewing area is reached by taking a boardwalk down a series of steps and viewing platforms.

Boardwalk leading to the ocean on the Skyline Trail at Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia

While we were on these platforms, we heard fellow visitors excitedly talking about what was going on out in the ocean. Some proclaimed they saw whales, while others said they were seals, others indicated they were dolphins, while still others claimed they were porpoises. Luckily, some forward thinking folks brought along binoculars and they said the creatures were definitely whales. We didn’t stick around for the debate about what kind of whales they were, but we were pretty satisfied that the tiny dots out in the sea were, in fact, whales. And since we saw exactly zero moose the entire time we were in Canada (#falseadvertising), we took this as a win.

At the very bottom of the boardwalk, there’s a dirt path that leads even farther out on the ridge. We followed the path through the copse of trees pictured in the center and came out on the other side of the mountain.

Mountain ridge on Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Can you spot Kevin in the picture?

Once we got to the far edge, we found ourselves in the company of just a few visitors who were willing to walk out that far. It was very still and the clouds reflecting off the calm ocean, combined with the thin layer of fog sitting on top of the water, made it feel a bit like we were standing on the edge of the world….

Kevin looking out on the ocean at Cape Breton Highlands National Park

The Skyline Trail was the only hike we tackled in Cape Breton Highlands National Park and our advice would be, if you only have time to hike one trail, make it this one. While it wasn’t particularly challenging, the payoff was one of the most impressive we’ve seen.

The East Side and Meat Cove

We drove up the east side with the intention of going to Meat Cove, the northernmost inhabited point on Nova Scotia (see the second map pictured above). Interestingly, we learned from a quick stop at the visitor’s center that some of the best views along the entire route could be found by briefly exiting the Cabot Trail entirely and driving along a separate coastal route (Exit the Cabot Trail at Neils Harbor and follow it toward White Point and Dingwall). We’re so glad we heeded this advice. Had we just stayed on the Cabot Trail we would have missed several breathtaking overlooks.

Cliffs and ocean views on Cape Breton Island

Wildflowers, rocks, and ocean views on Cape Breton Island

A cove and rocky beach on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

We also got to see some pretty spectacular homes… or, to be more precise, spectacularly situated homes….

Homes on a hill overlooking the ocean with cliffs in the back on Cape Breton Island

Home on Cape Breton Island

Once we got up to Meat Cove (which, much to Kevin’s dismay, does not contain a BBQ restaurant), we found a small seafood restaurant with stunning views and pretty impressive food.

View of the porch and cliffs at the Chowder Hut at Meat Cove, Nova Scotia

The View from the Meat Cove Chowder Hut in Cape Breton Island
The view from the deck of the restaurant…..

(By the way, I’ve had some requests to include full sized photos in the collages, so I am trying a new program for that. If you want to see the full photos, just click on any of the pics in the collage and it should open a full sized picture.)

Meat Cove is also home to a small tent campground perched on the cliffs overlooking the inlet.

Meat Cove camping sign and tent in the background, Nova Scotia

Can you imagine a better view to wake up to?

Tent campers at Meat Cove camping area in Cape Breton Island

Unless you’re a sleepwalker.  Then I would suggest you stay far far away from this place.

On the beach below the cliffs, we found a huge number of these rock sculptures.

Beach full of stone markers at Cape Breton Island

We’d been finding these things all over beaches in eastern Canada, but this was the largest concentration of them and a lot of them were pretty impressive.

Stone cairns at Meat Cove, Cape Breton Island

Cairns at Meat Cove, Cape Breton Island

In real time, we’ve made our way back into the U.S. and, after several weeks of traveling much faster than we usually do, we have settled in for a lengthy stop in the finger lakes region of upstate New York. Not only is this area home to hundreds of wineries, but there are several gorgeous state parks, Cornell University, and the college town of Ithaca. We’ll have plenty to keep us busy.

Next up on the blog: Lunenburg, Nova Scotia!

Where we stayed: Bras d’Or Lakes Campground

13 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, definitely a lot of natural beauty! I do love the restaurant. “Cold beer” and ” mussels” – two of your favorite things! Cape Breton Islands really does look like Scotland. Can’t wait to see the next set of pictures (and I did find Kevin in that picture, kinda like where’s Waldo, lol!).

    • I found some old pictures from that restaurant and it looks like they renovated/rebuilt it some time recently. It actually seems like the kind of location that would have some high end resort hotel or B&B. It’s just such an incredible view! Having the food and beer be solid at this little chowder shack was just icing on the cake of a perfect day. As for the Scotland thing, I didn’t see the comparison when we were down in Baddeck, but as soon as we started driving northward into the National Park, it was like “Oh yeah, I see it now!”

  2. Cape Breton looks like my kind of place. Again (of course, again!) your photos are spectacular. If the kids were puzzled about the rotary phone–wonder what they would think about the whole party line thing? Years ago, one of my stepdaughters saw a stack of vinyl albums we pulled out of the attic. She was in total awe–“Those are really giant CDs!” Now, it’s like “What’s a CD?” Anyway, I got off track–sorry about that. Beautiful post! Dawn

    • Isn’t it crazy how quickly the familiar becomes unfamiliar? I mean, there is NO reason those kids should know how to use a rotary dial phone, but it’s still incredible to see them struggling with it in a museum. Someone pointed out that the average high school kid today doesn’t know why the “save” symbol on a computer screen looks the way it does. What the hell is a “floppy disc”??? If you handed a kid a flip phone and told him to send a text message, they’d have no idea how to do it. It’s endless… And it definitely makes you realize how quickly time flies……

  3. On our list, for sure! If we ever manage to pry ourselves away from the Pacific Northwest in the summer, hahahaha. It looks mighty appealing, though, and I appreciate your tips for best hikes, best driving route, etc. And best places for food! The chowder and mussels look delicious at Meat Cove, which clearly should be named Seafood Cove.
    I like being able to click on the photos to enlarge them. (I’ve been playing around with the same thing on our blog, and currently have a clunky option in place. If you don’t mind sharing, which plug-in are you using?)

    • Oh trust me, I can imagine the draw up there must be incredibly powerful as well. They are both beautiful places with great summer weather. It’s hard to imagine driving to the other side of the country in the hopes of finding something as good or better than what you’ve already found. BUT I think that sorda thing is required if you live in an RV full time, right? 🙂

      As for the collage, I don’t love the program, but it’s serving its purpose for the moment until we can find something better. It’s called “Tiled Galleries Carousel Without Jetpack.” We didn’t want to use the Jetpack option because it requires us to store the photos on their Photon system and that system created a lot of problems for our site the last time we used it. The problem with this program is it doesn’t give me a lot of flexibility with how the images are displayed, and I just noticed it doesn’t seem to render the pictures as a collage when looking at the page on a mobile device. Soooo, we’ll probably keep looking for other options.

      • Yeah, you’re right, we need to drag our butts away from the PNW in the summer. I mean seriously, why are we living in this trailer if not to travel? Well, we do travel — just not yet to the East Coast. (Florida doesn’t count.) Your posts are inspiring us.
        Thanks for the info on your collage. Jetpack has caused problems for me in the past, too. I’ll let you know if I find another option (because I’m so incredibly technologically savvy). 🙂

  4. You should write for some of these cities chamber of commerce or visitor bureau because everywhere you go, you convince me that I HAVE to go there! Love the discussion of the phone museum. It reminded me of my teenage years when I would stretch the cord of the phone as far as I could down the hall from our living room to talk to my best friend. Those were the days! Ha!

  5. Wow! Your great pictures are making me want to revisit this far away scenic island. That restaurant at Meat Cove has progressed and expanded! We drove the Cabot Trail in two days staying at a hotel so we can enjoy both sides of the island slowly 🙂

    • When we were up in Meat Cove, I immediately thought the restaurant looked different than the one you and other bloggers I follow had been to, and sure enough, it was. I’m pretty sure the deck we were sitting on was brand new. I think the whole building was new, or at least, massively renovated. It was really nice up there and I think it’s so cool that these tent campers get to have these million dollar views all to themselves. Such a neat place!

    • Thank you so much! If you have the opportunity to get up there, we absolutely recommend it. It’s spectacular and I can only assume there are many more fantastic trails and vistas within Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

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