Fall to the Rising Sun Trip • September 29, 2016 • The Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island
After arriving in Halifax on Monday (which you can read about here), we spent 2 nights there and mostly focused on historical sites. We then drove to Louisbourg, NS where we camped for a night and visited the Fortress of Louisbourg. You can read more about these places in our history post. Aside from visiting these sites, the days inbetween visiting Hopewell Rocks were rainy, cold, and uneventful. I guess you could say we reached our “low point” of vacation on Wednesday the 28th, when we had to settle for camping in an RV park. It was already raining and windy to begin with, but on top of that, we were unable to find anywhere to camp besides this park. Ironically, while it was in the least scenic spot of this entire trip, it happened to cost us the most out of all the places we camped. But the night passed, as did the rain, and we were able to tour the amazing fort and get back on the road the next day. Our next destination was the one I’d been looking forward to the most, and the reason I started planning this vacation in the first place: Cape Breton Island!
As far as we knew, it had been raining EVERYWHERE that week, so staying in a hotel and visiting Halifax was the best thing for us to do. Now there was sunshine and warmer temperatures predicted for us to enjoy hiking in this new gorgeous location! Coming from Louisbourg, we drove West, around Sydney and across Boularderie Island, until we finally met up with the world famous Cabot Trail. The scenery started getting better and better after making it passed North Sydney, with lots of switchbacking up and down the hills and crossing over rivers.
Some quick geographical information if you aren’t familiar with this area: Cape Breton Island is on the North side of Nova Scotia. It is made up of many different scenic drives and beautiful places, from the highlands to the lakes, as well as historic sites. The Cabot Trail is a 210 mile loop drive that circles the highlands area, and is world famous. The top third of the trail goes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which is on the North end of Cape Breton Island. We picked up the Cabot Trail after it goes through Tarbotvale, and drove around it counter-clockwise, taking 4 days to explore, then finished the drive in Margaree Forks on the Western side. So despite spending 4 days in this area, we were only able to explore a part of the trail and have much more to see if we ever return.
All in all, it was a gorgeous drive and we are so glad we took the time we did to enjoy it. The one thing we were a little disappointed by was that it wasn’t quite peak fall season quite yet — I had done some research and we were hoping we’d hit it by now, but the leaves were only beginning to turn. So just for your information, if you are hoping to see a very colorful Cabot Trail, wait until the second week of October. I have to say though after finishing this fall foliage tour, I much prefer the colors on the trees and not the ones littering the road or street corners…referring to all the orange construction cones and the political signs in the US, of course. Haha.
We made our first stop along the drive at Cape Smokey Provincial Park for a late lunch with a great view. Our Jeep did quite a bit of climbing to get up to this point, but it was definitely worth it. If you’re not a big fan of long, windy roads going up mountains…take deep breaths and try to enjoy it anyway because this place is too beautiful to miss out on! The water was the prettiest shade of blue — it looked turquoise up next to the shore, and turned into a deep royal blue out in the ocean. This has to be one of my favorite views I’ve ever had of the Atlantic. From our high vantage point, we were able to see the waves of the ocean rolling in from so far away. We hoped to maybe even see some whales from here, but sadly, we didn’t see any on this trip. Perhaps if we had taken a whale cruise we would have, but what fun would that be to pay a ton of money and have to leave Charlotte behind? Whenever we did have a great view of the ocean like this, we would always linger for as long as we could, just in case a whale decided to reward us for our patience. 😉
From this park, there’s a long trail that goes along the coast that would have been really fun to do, but it was already late in the day (maybe 3 or 4 – we had spent the whole morning at the Fortress of Louisbourg and it was a long scenic drive!) and it was very windy. And we still needed to find a camp site! We entered Cape Breton Highlands National Park and when picking a campsite, Curtis specifically asked for “a site where no RVs are allowed” haha. There is cheaper/possibly free camping at least 30 km North of the national park in Meat Cove, but the park is already so big, we didn’t want to be that much further away. (We also visited Meat Cove while we were there and were glad we didn’t camp there — more on that later!)
Our plan was to camp here for 3 nights so that we could have enough time to enjoy the park without wearing ourselves out. We set up camp at the Big Intervale Campground, which was right in the middle of the park between the East and West entrances. Driving through the whole park takes about 2 hours if you go without stopping, but I personally think that is impossible. Even if you aren’t hiking, you just have to stop at the scenic overlooks! Anyway, this campground just had restrooms, picnic tables, and a few tent sites. It wasn’t very secluded from the traffic on the Cabot Trail, but it worked out for us. When we arrived, we were the only ones there, so we claimed the spot on the end, leaving plenty of room for other potential people camping to spread out and have their own space. Of course, the only other people who came took the spot IMMEDIATELY next to ours…?!? We learned from that experience and tried to park our car in that spot on the other days to give ourselves some extra space. 🙂
To finish off the day, we went to go see Beulach Ban Falls, which were right across the street and a little ways up a road. They were pretty impressive falls that you can drive right up to, so that’s one easy thing to see along the Cabot Trail. The Aspy Trailhead is here as well, which takes you to another waterfall. We started on that trail, but when we were about halfway we realized it was getting late and we wouldn’t make it back before the sun set, so we returned to our car. I had heard and read that this place is heavily populated by moose, black bears, and coyotes and wasn’t taking any chances. Besides, we needed to eat and rest up so that we could enjoy this place to the fullest in the daylight!