Without a doubt the most scenic drive in Nova Scotia is the Cabot Trail. This winding, hilly highway that circles the coast of the upper end of Cape Breton Island, should be a must on every vacationers itinerary. The views are breathtaking.
One’s experience on the Cape Breton Trail is entirely at the mercy of the weather. If it is wet and foggy, as it frequently is in the spring and early summer, there is a chance that the blue waters of the Atlantic that crash into the shoreline along the trail will be obscured. We drove the trail on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend when the colourful fall leaves were supposed to be at their best but an unseasonably warm fall meant that all the hardwood covered hills were as green as they are in the middle of the summer. So luck will determine the quality of your experience.
The Cabot Trail is 298 km (185 mi.) long. It passes through many seaside communities with excellent accommodations and an abundance of craft shops. There are parts of the highway, particularly as it passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, that are very steep. In these areas RVs and vehicles towing trailers often slow down considerably so be prepared to be patient. Further it is worth noting that for those who are leery of rather precipitous drop-offs from the edge of the highway to the sea below, one solution might be to do the journey counter-clockwise starting in the town of Baddeck and travelling up to Ingonish and on to Cheticamp.
In the Cape Breton Highlands National Park there are many well marked hiking trails and look offs with information plaques. At the entrance to the park it is a good idea to pick up a guide to the trails so that you can select one that is suited to your hiking ambitions and schedule. A good place to stop, take a gentle hike, eat, sit on a beach or golf is The Keltic Lodge Resort & Spa at Ingonish.
Cheticamp, the western gateway to the Cabot Trail, is a beautiful Acadian fishing community. Here the main street is lined with interesting shops with local crafts and restaurants that offer Acadian cuisine. Try the fricot, tchaude or morue en cabane for an unforgettable treat. Don’t be alarmed, the menus describe the dishes in English and every waiter will be delighted to recommend something that will tickle your palate.
Cheticamp is claimed to be the rug hooking capital of the world. The best place to begin your search for the perfect hooked rug is through a visit to Cheticamp Hooked Rugs Coopérative Artisanale, near the Church of St. Peter. The Coop has a well stocked gift shop and a museum where you can learn the ins and outs of hooking. At the very popular Flora’s gift shop, located a few minutes south of Cheticamp, you can watch a rug hooker in action and inspect a huge stock of Cape Breton crafts and fashions. The knitwear is especially tempting.
The Cabot Trail offers something special for every Cape-Breton-Island visitor from unbelievable panoramas of the Highlands and the sea to endless opportunities for recreation and abundant opportunities for shopping for intriguing local crafts.