Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail is one of Canada’s most famous drives. Its incredible roads and seaside views draw visitors from the world over. It’s absolutely worth going to Cape Breton for a Cabot Trail road trip to see the legendary vistas for yourself.

No matter how you decide to approach it, you’ll find the Cabot Trail is an easy drive. Here’s everything you need to know about planning your Cabot Trail road trip as part of your Cape Breton visit.

Why is the Cabot Trail so famous?

Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail is famous because of its fabulous driving roads and unbelievable scenery. The route passes through rugged coastlines, the Margaree River valley, and the largest undisturbed tract of Acadian forest in the Maritimes.

The Cabot Trail dates all the way back to 1930s, when construction was completed and spurred a campaign by Nova Scotia Premier Angus L. Macdonald to brand the province with Scottish themes to increase tourism. Macdonald was responsible for naming landmarks such as Cape Breton Highlands National Park. By doing so felt he had created a piece of Scotland and his heritage for tourists in the new world.

Don’t miss these 7 essential experiences you’ll discover in Cape Breton Highlands National Park >

How long does it take to do the Cabot Trail road trip?

Although most drive it as part of a longer route, the Cabot Trail is technically laid out as a loop. If you start and end in the same place and drive without stopping, it’s possible to complete the entire loop in four hours. However, this would leave you with no time to stop to explore the many wonderful lookouts, experiences, restaurants, and artisans along the route, so it’s best not to rush through it. Allocate at least two days, if not three or more, to completing your Cabot Trail road trip.

Can you drive the Cabot Trail in one day?

If your time is limited, you’ll find it’s definitely possible to drive the entire Cabot Trail in a single day. You’ll need to be selective about where you stop to admire the views or explore the route’s small towns. But with careful planning, you can make the most of a Cabot Trail road trip in one day as part of a longer journey.

To map out a single-day journey of the Cabot Trail, we recommend checking the sections below. Select two stops, or three maximum, that appeal to you the most.

Which direction should I drive the Cabot Trail road trip?

Everyone who has driven the Cabot Trail road trip has an opinion on which direction is best! We’ve driven the route in both directions and see the merit in each approach. Some people prefer the views that come from starting in Chéticamp and following the Cabot Trail clockwise. But given the choice, we’ll always start a Cabot Trail road trip by heading counterclockwise in the morning starting from Baddeck or Ingonish. This way, your route follows the same path as the sun. You’ll enjoy optimal light as you make your way around the peninsula. You’ll also have better photos to share when you get home!

Where is the best place to start the Cabot Trail road trip?

If you’re approaching from the west and/or will be returning west once you’re done your drive, we recommend starting in the village of Baddeck. This will allow you to explore the village’s fascinating history and the shores of Bras d’Or Lake before setting off on your Cabot Trail road trip. You can also drive more of the historic route by starting here. The trail begins roughly 20 kilometres northeast of the village off Highway 105, at the community of St. Ann’s. Don’t miss your chance to snap a selfie with the sign marking the start of the Cabot Trail!

Although the best scenery along the route arguably begins closer to Ingonish, driving the full route from Baddeck gives you a chance to visit the many creative artisans who have established their studios along the Cabot Trail. Exploring their phenomenal work is reason alone for a Cabot Trail road trip!

Explore the artisans of the Cabot Trail with our friends at Modern Traveller >

As you follow the trail around the peninsula and southbound through Chéticamp and Margaree Harbour, you can continue along Trunk 30 to complete the Cabot Trail loop and rejoin the Trans-Canada Highway at Highway 105. Alternately, you could take Trunk 19 from Margaree Forks. Either route will take you to the Canso Causeway and back toward Canada’s mainland.

If you’re headed toward Sydney, Louisbourg, and the Newfoundland ferry

The exception to the advice above is if you’ll be continuing to the east once you’ve completed your Cabot Trail road trip and heading toward Sydney, Louisbourg, or the ferry to Newfoundland. In this case, you’ll find it more convenient to head toward Margaree Harbour and Chéticamp to start your drive. This will allow you to either rejoin the Trans-Canada Highway at the end of the trail near Baddeck, or take the ferry at Englishtown. From there, it will be much more convenient to reach your next destination.

We have more on planning a side trip to Louisbourg coming soon!

Which part of the Cabot Trail is best?

If you’re exploring a Cabot Trail road trip for the stunning seaside views, dedicate most of your time to the seaside sections of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This includes the portions of the route from Chéticamp to Pleasant Bay and from Neils Harbour to Ingonish. But there’s much more to explore, from coastal villages to artisan studios, and tucked away natural secrets.

Essential stops for the nature lover on a Cabot Trail road trip

Here’s a list of can’t-miss locations for nature lovers to include on a road trip around the Cabot Trail. These are listed in the order you’ll encounter them, starting from Ingonish:

Cape Smokey and the Atlantic Gondola

Celebrate your arrival at the jaw-dropping views of Ingonish by riding the Atlantic Gondola to the top of Cape Smokey. Opened in 2021, this is Atlantic Canada’s first gondola, and it climbs more than 300 metres! Linger at the top with a beverage as you take in your first Cabot Trail vistas. Both adult and family-friendly options are available. Explore ticket prices in advance by clicking here.

Meet farm animals on your Cabot Trail road trip at The Groovy Goat

If you have animal lovers in your group, be sure to stop in at the Groovy Goat. The friendly and well-loved herd here produces goat milk that goes into all sorts of creations. You’ll find everything from soaps and lotions to goat milk gelato! Grab a sweet treat—there are cow’s milk and dairy-free options as well—and head out to meet the goats, donkeys, chickens, and sheep.

Green Cove

If you have young explorers in your party, stop at a Parks Canada visitor centre. There, you can pick up an Xplorers booklet full of activities that will help them learn more about the park. One of the booklet’s suggested stops is Green Cove, located roughly 20 kilometres north of Ingonish. Don’t miss this stop on a sunny summer morning. You just might encounter large groups of seals singing and basking on the rocks.

The Lone Shieling Trail

The section of the Cabot Trail between the two coasts may seem relatively empty, but this is for good reason. The northern section of Cape Breton Highlands National Park protects a stand of old growth Acadian forest that’s the largest undisturbed tract of its kind in the Maritimes. Most of the trees here are at the northern limit of their habitat, and some are over 350 years old!

Because this stand of forest is so precious, most of it is entirely off-limits to visitors. There’s only one spot where you can walk under the trees. Stop at the Lone Shieling trail and take the short 15-minute hike beneath the canopy. Notice how different the forest is here from elsewhere in the park with its towering maple and beech trees. It’s entirely worth the stop.

Pleasant Bay for whale watching

If you’d like to include a whale watching tour in your Cabot Trail road trip, head to Pleasant Bay. Three different tour companies operate from the community, from slower fishing-style boats to zippy zodiacs. We chose the latter with Captain Mark’s Whale and Sea Cruise and observed a pod of pilot whales as well as seals, bald eagles, and a rare sighting of an endangered leatherback sea turtle, all in three hours! You can also visit the nearby Whale Interpretive Centre from June to October. Note that if your tour starts around lunch time, it’s a good idea to pack a picnic as there are no food options near the check-in stands.

The Skyline Trail

Located on the west side of the park, the Skyline trail is famous for offering some of the best views in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This approachable and family-friendly trail is gravel-lined and relatively flat, and it takes roughly an hour to hike in each direction. When you reach the end, you’ll find yourself high on a cliff face with jaw-dropping views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Be sure to stay on the trail and boardwalk, but spend some time at the edge of it getting a closer look: the boardwalk protects some of the rarest plants in Nova Scotia!

Mkwesaqtuk/Cap-Rouge Campground

If you’re looking somewhere to camp within Cape Breton Highlands National Park, you’ve got to check out Mkwesaqtuk/Cap-Rouge Campground. Located just inside the park’s west boundary roughly 15 kilometres from Chéticamp, this relatively new campground opened in 2022 and offers 42 unserviced campsites as well as five oTENTiks. A Parks Canada oTENTik is a type of permanent camping structure that lets you enjoy the camping experience with a minimum of setup and gear. From our oTENTik’s terrace, we had a babbling brook to one side and a view toward the ocean on the other with spectacular sunsets. It’s truly magical,

Essential stops for history buffs on a Cabot Trail road trip

These stops are a must for history lovers taking a road trip around the Cabot Trail. Here, the stops are listed in order as you’ll encounter them, starting in Baddeck and heading counterclockwise.

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

Before you depart Baddeck, be sure to visit Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. Though this famed inventor of the telephone was born in Scotland, he and his wife Mabel spent a great deal of time at their estate, Beinn Bhreagh, not far from the village on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake. The estate is not open to the public, but the historic site holds a trove of information about Bell’s many achievements. Did you know he invented a method for teaching people with deafness to speak called Visible Speech? The Bells were also part of an association that arranged the first aircraft flight in Canada in 1909.

There’s a great deal to learn at this fascinating site. If you have young explorers with you, be sure to ask for the Parks Canada Xplorers activity booklet for kids to earn a collectible souvenir!

Keltic Lodge at the Highlands

This historic property is considered an essential stay along the Cabot Trail. Tee up at the famous golf course, enjoy a meal at one of the resort restaurants, relax at the spa, or just wait for nightfall and gaze up at the expanse of stars. The experience begins before you even check in: you’re likely to encounter a bagpiper playing in traditional regalia as you arrive!

The Lone Shieling Trail

The Lone Shieling Trail is a great stop for naturalists, but it’s home to a notable historic landmark as well. Professor Donald S. MacIntosh, a resident of nearby Pleasant Bay, willed 100 acres of land to Cape Breton Highlands National Park upon his passing in 1934. His one request was that a shieling—a type of pastural hut that was once common in Scotland, also known as a bothran—be built on the site to the same style and plan as “the lone shieling on the Island of Skye, Scotland.” His will was fulfilled in 1942, and the site is now a Recognized Federal Heritage Building. It’s accessible via a short walk along the park’s Lone Shieling Trail.

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