Local Adventures

Cape Breton Road Trip: Look Offs & Leisurely Drives

I’ll never forget the first time I visited Cape Breton. My grandmother, who is originally from Cheticamp, took me on a trip to experience the Cabot Trail when the foliage was at its peak in mid-October. I was overcome with emotion as each twist and turn in the road revealed walls of spectacular colour and coastal vistas. I was hooked—and I knew I had to share it with Brett. Every year since that first trip, Brett and I have returned to Cape Breton to soak it all up.

While autumn is unquestionably gorgeous, Cape Breton has so much to offer year-round. As a tribute to some of the incredible experiences we’ve had, I’ve rounded up the highlights with a focus on Cape Breton’s incredible look-offs, hiking trails, and the scenic drives that connect it all together.

If you’re beginning to plan some warm weather adventures (or even far enough ahead to the fall—I really wouldn’t blame you!), I hope these tips can serve as inspiration. This year, we’re planning a trip up to Cape Breton in spring with a focus on waterfalls, so stay tuned for a future post!

Where to Stay in Cape Breton

While there are plenty of great options—including camping, which we’re going to try this year—we’ve had wonderful experiences at these places:

Chalets at Glenora Distillery in Glenville/Mabou area

If you’re on a romantic getaway, the 1 bedroom chalets are ideal; they feature a jacuzzi tub and a wood stove which offers the perfect place to soak after a long day of hiking. The chalets are tucked into the hillside which offers a beautiful view every time you open your door. The grounds of the distillery are lovely and the onsite restaurant is a nice convenience; make sure to try one of their whisky flights!

Raspberry Cottage in Southside Boularderie via Airbnb

If you’re travelling in a group, this is a fantastic option; we were a group of 6 but it could have accommodated up to 8 people. Our review (under Brett’s name but penned by me) really says it all. It was an adorable, cozy, well-appointed spot and the host is incredible.

Once you’ve found a home base, it’s time to start planning your adventures. Without futher ado…

Acadian Trail, Cheticamp

One of my favourite hiking trails of all time, the Acadian Trail climbs 365 meters above Cheticamp, offering stunning panoramic look-offs along the way. The reward is well worth the work—taking in the views of the Cheticamp River, coast, and the rolling hills of the highlands is truly awe-inspiring. In addition to the incredible look-offs, you’ll notice the forest around you change as you ascend.

The second half of the trail is a descent through the woods following a river. The full hike is about 12km and takes 3-4 hours; if you don’t have that time to commit, I recommend at least doing the first half of the trail which is where the look-offs are situated.

Be on the watch for bears and moose on this trail!

Gypsum Mine, Cheticamp

A short walk on a crusher dust ATV trail leads to what at one time was a gypsum quarry. The hole from the mine has since filled in with water, creating a gorgeous little lake with a vivid turquoise hue. The colour is reminiscent in some ways of the big lakes between mountains in Western Canada (just a LOT smaller!).

When you arrive, to the left you’ll see a rope you can climb to get up to a look-off. While slightly vertigo-inducing, the view from the top of the steep hill is stunning. That said, use your own discretion; a misstep and a tumble could cause serious harm.

If you’re visiting in the summer, this would be a great place to swim! The full walk to the Gypsum Mine and back can be done in under an hour as it’s only 3-4 km.

Skyline Trail, Inverness

No surprise here! The Skyline Trail is one of, if not the most, famous trails in Cape Breton. I’m not sure it qualifies as a hike per se—it’s more of a walk along a well-groomed crusher dust trail—but this makes it easier and more accessible, which can be a nice change of pace. The highlight of this trail is the incredible look-off at the end—it feels like you’re at the edge of the world! If you can plan it, this is likely one of the best places in all of Nova Scotia to watch the sunset.

If you decide to take in sunset, make sure you give yourself enough time to get back before it gets totally dark, and/or come equipped with flashlights. There is lots of wildlife near this trail, so exercise caution; for example, I’ve seen moose just about every time I’ve been, and there is coyote in the area. We always carry a bit of coyote spray just in case.

Franey Trail, Ingonish

On the opposite side of the island from all of the places listed above, Franey Trail is also among my favourite hiking trails of all time. It shares some similar characteristics as the Acadian Trail in that it is a challenging uphill hike that rewards you with mind-blowing look-offs and views. The views from Franey, though, are altogether different and equally spectacular.

The first look-off overlooks a river valley between highlands. The “main event” look-off is at the top of the trail and offers a 360 degree view of the coast which is attached to another river valley between highlands. Absolutely breathtaking!

The trail is a loop and is about 7km; however, both times I’ve been we’ve simply gone back the way we came to enjoy the look-offs again on the way out. This cuts total walking time down by a bit and depending on your pace, you could do this hike in 2-3 hours.

Driving the Cabot Trail

Honestly, just driving from place to place along the Cabot Trail is an adventure in and of itself. I recommend taking the time to drive the full loop and enjoy the twists, turns, and delights around every corner. There are many look-offs along the way—you won’t be disappointed by stopping at just about every one of them to take in the scenery. To make the most of your driving, make sure you have a full tank of gas (there aren’t many if any gas stations in the deeper parts of the park) and put a fire playlist together in advance so you have great soundtrack to complement your visual experience!

Putting Your Cape Breton Road Trip Together

Depending on where and how long you’re staying in Cape Breton, to fit all of these things in, you could break things up in a few different ways. The first few parts are all fairly close together (especially the Acadian Trail and Gypsum Mine which are both in Cheticamp); it’s really only Franey that’s on the opposite side.

A nice way to spend a day is to start with the Acadian Trail, perhaps break for some lunch in Cheticamp (Le Gabriel is a classic; try the Acadian Platter for a true taste of local cuisine), and then check out the Gypsum Mine.

The next day, you could hike Franey Trail in the morning, take the long/scenic route along the Cabot Trail to enjoy the drive and scenery, making your way to the Skyline Trail for sunset.

Again, depends on where you’re staying, but we’ve done a similar route in the past when we called Glenora home base and it worked quite nicely.

Are you planning a trip to Cape Breton? If you’ve been, what are your favourite places to explore? Let me know in the comments!

Also, stay tuned for my next post on our Cape Breton waterfall tour and follow along on Instagram for highlights in real-time.