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…
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.
Another overcast day, we headed to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum.
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…
“Oh look at these!!! Back in the olden days phone numbers were just 2 digits long. How crazy is that??”
When suddenly, we come face to face with this:
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.
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.
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……
The main viewing area is reached by taking a boardwalk down a series of steps and viewing platforms.
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.
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….
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.
We also got to see some pretty spectacular homes… or, to be more precise, spectacularly situated homes….
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.
(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.
Can you imagine a better view to wake up to?
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.
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.
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