Fall to the Rising Sun Trip • White Point & Meat Cove • September 30 & October 1, 2016
After enjoying our first two hikes in Cape Breton Highlands, it was early afternoon and we didn’t really feel like doing any more long hikes that day. However, it still felt too early to just go back to our campsite and hang out, so we decided to take a few roads that went out of our way just to fill the afternoon. We first drove to Neils Harbor, just outside of the national park, where we stopped to see a lighthouse. As it turned out, the lighthouse happened to have an ice cream shop inside of it, so we decided to support them and treat ourselves. We split a cone between the 3 of us. Through doing this, we learned that Charlotte eats ice cream with her teeth.
Neils Harbor, Nova Scotia
After that, we continued on New Haven Road toward White Point. I don’t remember the scenery being much different than what we’d been seeing on the Cabot Trail, but it was still beautiful, with peeks of the ocean and coves here and there between the trees. As we were driving, we saw a sign for White Point, and at the last second Curtis turned and we started down that road.
Let me give you a little background information to set the scene: When we first arrived at Cape Breton Highlands, we got the usual national park map, brochures, and recommendations from a ranger. Curtis asked specifically about trails or areas outside of the park, and all they had was a piece of paper with a rough drawing of Meat Cove (the town 30 minutes North of the park) with trails drawn on it and listed on the side. The scale was totally off and there were no descriptions whatsoever. Still, we didn’t let that deter us from planning to spend a day around Meat Cove — I had read a travel blog that claimed this was their favorite spot around the entire Cabot Trail. We also know from many past experiences that while National Parks are great and draw attention to some of the most beautiful places in the country, sometimes our favorite spots are right outside of the park — not only because of their beauty, but because they’re always less crowded.
All that to say, we had heard about Meat Cove, but we had heard nothing about White Point. For all we knew, it was just another small fishing town with tourist traps. While “kitchy” isn’t necessarily how we’d describe the Cabot Trail, it certainly has a more tourist attractions than New Brunswick did. It was somewhere between Fundy (quiet with next to nothing there) and Acadia (WAY too crowded). So White Point could have very well been a dead end where we drive in, turn around, and drive out.
White Point, Nova Scotia
The road to White Point started hugging the side of a cliff and this was already looking like this wasn’t just a mistake — if only for the views of the Highlands in the distance. We drove into the small town, to where the road intersected with another road, and the main one we were driving on became a dirt road. We pulled over, parked, and started walking down the dirt road. There were no other cars here, there were no signs for trails or tourists, we didn’t know if we were trespassing — we just started wandering up this road. The dirt road became a narrow dirt path surrounded by grass, barren of trees and exposed to the wind. We reached the top of a short hill, and after just one look over to the other side, we knew we had found our favorite spot.
I’ll let my pictures do the talking, but like always, know that they can’t do this place justice. The sun was bright, and it washed out some views and colors and over-saturated others. But I don’t care — these just bring me back to that moment where we realized we were in the most beautiful spot in all of Nova Scotia.
The trail broke into a few different trails, and we took the one that led to as close to the ocean as we could be. Everything about this was so perfect. The grass leading up to the pink rocks, with the deep blue ocean all around, and the highlands in the background. I took pictures and recorded a short video on my phone, but this was just one of those places where we could stand there for so long, in complete silence, just taking it all in. I have to admit, we don’t actually do that often. Most of the time when we’re out exploring, we’re always on the go, and we’ll only break for food or letterboxes. Those are kind of mandatory breaks and we aren’t always totally focused on what we’re seeing. I’ll take pictures, then we’ll move on. This place wasn’t like that. It was breathtakingly beautiful, it wasn’t like anything we’d seen before.
I considered giving this post a title with more suspense, maybe use a little click bait, like “You won’t believe what’s at the end of this road!” or “The most beautiful spot in Nova Scotia!” But I realized, I don’t want to draw attention to it… I want this place to remain a hidden gem. I’m still sharing about it though, because I am not a popular travel blogger, and I do want my friends and family to know about this place and be able to enjoy it. But let’s just keep this our secret, shall we? 😉 I hope I didn’t talk it up too much so that you can only be disappointed though…maybe try going with low expectations like we did!
As we were heading back, other cars started arriving and more people started walking toward the area, so I guess it’s not that much of a secret. We were just fortunate enough to have it to ourselves for however long we were there! If we had been ambitious enough to get up early and brave the cold for a sunrise, then this would be the perfect place to watch, but we were not feeling up to that at this point in our travels. (Or pretty much any time after our first campsite in Maine, to be completely honest!)
The next day, Saturday, October 1, we drove up to Meat Cove to explore around that area. It was quite a ways from the Cabot Trail, and to be honest, after we were so blown away the day before, we just didn’t think it was anywhere near as impressive. There’s a campground here right up next to the water, but we didn’t think this was the best time of year to camp here — it was exposed to the cold winds coming from the ocean with no trees or anything to block the wind.
Like I mentioned earlier, all we had for this area was a rough map drawn on an 8×11 sheet of paper. Unfortunately, there weren’t any trailhead signs either, and we had no idea how much elevation gain would happen on any of these trails. We saw that there were 2 different lighthouse hikes and decided to try one of them. At the first one, we were unable to find a trailhead so we gave up, then at the second we realized there were no trailheads so we decided to park and just start wandering.
This may have worked the day before, but sadly didn’t turn out as amazing today. At first we wandered up a steep and muddy path, around fallen trees, and to come to a dead end at an overlook, but no lighthouse. It was still pretty, just a lot steeper and smaller of a lookout than White Point offered. We walked back to the car and decided to hike up the rough gravel road, up the hill. At first we were worried we were on someone’s property, but we finally received confirmation that we were on the actual trail. It started to make a little more sense on the map, at least we thought so. Then we ran into a cow.
Meat Cove, Nova Scotia
The road ascended gradually up this mountain, then leveled out a bit. There was a trail on the side of the road at one point, but after checking it out, Curtis decided it was probably a hunter’s camp, so we continued down the road. The coolest thing we found was a really old abandoned truck in the ditch on the side of the road. Eventually, we came to a fork, with our first sign of the day. We were going the right way! We took a right at the fork, then the trail narrowed and started descending rapidly. At this point, we had hiked 3 miles already and had not seen a single person. We were a little disappointed that we had decided to spend a whole day in this area — it probably would’ve been better for us to stick to the national park. We hoped the trail wouldn’t descend all the way down to sea level at the lighthouse, only to make us turn around and regain all the elevation that we climbed earlier.
We finally found an overlook where we stopped to reevaluate. The map said that the trail would continue straight, and looking ahead, we saw that the trail really did lose all that elevation. Even worse, we used my camera to zoom in on the lighthouse…and found out it wasn’t like a charming old lighthouse, it was a more modern “light on a stick” kind of deal. Disappointing! We decided we didn’t really feel like going all the way out there, so we stopped here to have a snack before returning the way we came.
On our way back, we came across another hiker. We asked him if he knew of anything worth hiking to out here, to which he replied “I have no idea what I’m doing, the visitor’s center [for the national park] was closed when I arrived. I just started walking down this trail.” We shared our “map” with him to at least help him out, then continued on our way back. Before we said farewell, he said: “Oh and be careful, I saw a moose coming up the trail.” AHHH! That was not what I wanted to hear, not with my puppy around — I read somewhere that moose go out of their way to attack puppies. 🙁 However, as we were continuing our hike down, a guy on an ATV drove loudly past us, and we knew he had probably scared the moose off. No moose sightings, thank God!
So in summary, if you are driving along the Cabot Trail and want to see something beautiful without a long hike, go to White Point. If you like to hike in the back country and get away from other hikers and traffic in the national park, go to Meat Cove…but maybe investigate to see if there are better maps available, or look online to see if other adventurers have more recommendations. Most importantly, remember that all the natural beauty in your country isn’t limited to within a national park’s boundaries…sometimes the most beautiful spot is just miles outside of the park, at the end of the road.