If you’re planning a road trip to Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail, you’re sure to visit Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The park is a crown jewel of Cape Breton Island, and roughly one third of the famous Cabot Trail runs within its boundaries. It’s packed full of amazing outdoor experiences for visitors of all ages and interests.

These seven essential experiences will help you make the most of your time in Cape Breton Highlands National Park as you drive the Cabot Trail. Each of them highlights a different and unique aspect of this park’s fascinating history and geography. From spectacular vistas to friendly surrounds, there’s so much to explore!

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Hike the Skyline Trail

One of the top destinations in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is the Skyline Trail. This relatively easy gravel and boardwalk path takes roughly an hour to complete in each direction. It’s very approachable and family friendly. When you arrive at the clifftop lookout at the end of the Skyline Trail, you’ll be met with spectacular panoramic views over the Gulf of St. Lawrence! It’s important to stay on the marked trail and boardwalk to protect the fragile environment that surrounds it. But if you look closely to the sides as you walk, you’ll spot many types of birds, signs of moose activity, and some of the rarest plant species anywhere in Nova Scotia.

Camp at Mkwesaqtuk/Cap-Rouge Campground

If your group is into camping—or even if you’re new to it and you’d like to give it a try—check out Mkwesaqtuk/Cap-Rouge Campground. This relatively new campground is located 15 kilometres north of Chéticamp on the park’s west side. In addition to 42 unserviced campsites, there are five Parks Canada oTENTiks available here. These are permanent structures that make it easier to enjoy camping as you travel since you’ll need less gear and setup time. We watched a spectacular ocean sunset and then fell asleep to the soothing sounds of a babbling brook.

Take your time exploring Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s lookouts

As you drive around the Cabot Trail, you’ll encounter many designated areas where you can pull off the road and take in the spectacular scenery. Many of these are located within the boundaries of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Keep your eye out even beyond the seaside sections. In the inland section between Neils Harbour and Pleasant Bay, there are some spectacular views at lookouts along the Aspy Fault and the Grand Anse River valley.

Do some Xploring

If you have young explores with you, stop at any Parks Canada visitor centre to pick up a booklet for the Parks Canada Xplorers program. It’s designed to help kids and their families explore more while visiting Parks Canada places. We’ve found the activities so inspirational during our travels! The Xplorers program at Cape Breton Highlands National Park is especially well done. As you visit various locations, you’ll see posts where kids can add pencil rubbings to their booklets to commemorate their travels. Take the completed booklet to a visitor centre or campground office, and you’ll receive a collectible medallion to take home!

Visit Green Cove

One of the stops suggested in the Xplorers booklet is Green Cove. It’s located roughly 20 kilometres north of Ingonish. Be sure to pull in on a sunny summer morning. You’re likely to see large groups of seals barking, playing, and basking on the rocks.

Explore the Lone Shieling Trail

The seaside portions of Cape Breton Highlands National Park attract the most visitors. The inland section is home to some natural treasures, too. Much of the park’s northern section protects the largest undisturbed tract of old growth Acadian forest in the Maritimes, where some trees are more than 350 years old.

A lot of the forest is kept off-limits to visitors for protection. However, there is one place where you can explore it. The Lone Shieling trail is a short 15-minute hike along the Grand Anse River. You’ll notice the forest here is quite different from elsewhere in the park as you walk beneath towering maple and beech trees. It’s also home to the Lone Shieling, a small Scottish-style hut that’s one of the park’s key historic landmarks.

Stay at the Keltic Lodge at the Highlands

The Keltic Lodge at the Highlands is a historic property along the Cabot Trail. A stay here is definitely one of the park’s essential experiences. And it starts before you check in. You’re likely to encounter a bagpiper in traditional regalia playing on the lawn as you arrive. Tee up at the resort’s famous golf course, enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants, take a breather at the spa, or just wait for nightfall and gaze up at the stars over Ingonish.

Did you know?

Cape Breton Highlands National Park is the oldest national park in Atlantic Canada. It was established in 1936, the same decade when then-Premier of Nova Scotia, Angus L. Macdonald, was branding parts of the province with Scottish names to encourage tourism. The Cabot Trail driving route was completed in the 1930s, one third of which runs through the park.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How do you get to Cape Breton Highlands National Park?

Cape Breton Highlands National Park has two official entrances, both of which are along the famed Cabot Trail. The western entrance is located just north of the Acadian fishing village of Chéticamp. The eastern entrance is at Ingonish Beach, just south of the Keltic Lodge of the Highlands. As you drive the Cabot Trail, you’ll leave and re-enter the park as the road passes in and out of its boundaries.

Do you have to pay to drive through Cape Breton Highlands National Park?

If your plan is only to drive along the Cabot Trail without stopping, you do not need to pay a fee to pass through Cape Breton Highlands National Park. However, if you plan to use any of the park’s amenities, including campgrounds, beaches, hiking trails, and more, you are expected to pay the daily entrance fee unless you have a season pass or Parks Canada Discovery Pass. This fee is payable at the visitor centres in Ingonish or Chéticamp.

What is so special about Cape Breton Highlands National Park?

Cape Breton Highlands National Park is best known for its spectacular roads and panoramic ocean views. It’s home to rugged coastlines, excellent hiking trails for all skill levels, and the largest undisturbed tract of Acadian forest in the Maritimes.

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