Cabot Trail

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Nova Scotia, Canada

August 25, 2001

While we were staying in Cape Breton, one of the most beautiful areas we visited was the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This is a very special part of Canada. It was set aside as a National Park in 1936. The park protects - for visitors today and in the future the largest remaining wilderness in Nova Scotia and some of the finest unspoiled scenery in North America. Our campground was near the entrance to the Cabot Trail. So, on a beautiful Sunday morning we started out for what would prove to be a fantastic drive through some of the most rugged and beautiful scenery we have been exposed to. Here windswept highlands stretch out under an ever-changing sky, and cliffs tumble into the sea. In addition we were able to see many beautiful animals and birds up close that we have never seen before. One of these animals was a very large moose right next to the roadway. The Cabot Trail, is the spectacular overland link between isolated Island communities. Winding and climbing and dipping, the trail will take you along the coasts, past the beaches, into the valleys, and across the highlands. The area is rich in natural beauty and wildlife. White-tailed deer, black bear and bobcat live here, and so do many smaller woodland mammals -- hare, squirrel, mice, shrews -- and woodland songbirds. You can often see bald Eagles overhead. Where the mountains meet the sea. Steep cliffs, narrow beaches, and some unusual erosion features are the landmarks along this rugged stretch of coast. Many visitors find that the warmer waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence make the cobble beaches at La Bloque and Corney Brook more enjoyable that the sandy but more crowded beaches on the Atlantic Coast. The Gulf Coast offers opportunities for nature observation. Pilot whales are sometimes spotted from the roadside look-offs in summer. Seabirds -- cormorants, gulls, and guillemots -- are almost always present.Geology buffs will find much of interest here, too, from the fascinating Presqu-ile sea stacks to the Cap Rouge coast, where rocks of three different ages -- ancient schist, younger granite, and still-younger sandstone--lie side by side. The roof-tops of Cape Breton Island feature wide vistas running out toward the ocean and across the seemingly flat terrain which are characteristic of the highland plateau. Small bogs and mires dot the boreal regions where balsam fir and black spruce flourish. Higher up, where the clouds are often lower, the growing season is shorter and the winds are fiercer, blanket bogs and stunted forests make up the land region known as the taiga. Botanical oddities abound on the highlands: orchids, insect-eating plants, rare arctic-alpine species, and knee high 150-year-old spruce trees struggle for the place in the sun. Highland wildlife includes moose, coyotes, frogs, and birds ranging from the cautious kinglet to the raucous raven. From a distance out to sea, the Cape Breton highlands appear as one huge tabletop. From up close, of course, the topographical facts are plain: the highlands are made up of mountains and valleys. Following the courses of rivers and the faultlines of bedrock, the valleys are more sheltered than the heights they dissect. These lowland zones make up the Acadian land region. Hardwoods such as sugar maple and yellow birch grow here; they shelter abundant spring wildflowers. Dominated by the hardy balsam fir and the black spruce, the Boreal land region covers most of the plateau area and spills over its edges into the upper reaches of the valleys. There are many spindly and charred-looking fir and spruce up here, damaged beyond repair by the spruce budworm. This is a natural cycle: new growth will soon replace the dead wood. The gentler side of Cape Breton Island is less steep and jagged, more rolling and gentle than the Gulf Coast The Atlantic Coast of Cape Breton has its own charms and delights. This is a coastline of fishing villages, sheltered coves, and low headlands of granite that frame beaches both rocky and sandy. You'll find a variety of trails, from short strolls (Green Cove and Jack Pine trails) to a long challenging climb onto the plateau (Lake of Islands trail). Pilot whales are sometimes spotted from roadside look-offs during the summer. They travel mostly in pods of 20 to 50, often diving and blowing together. Seabirds are almost always present -- cormorants and terns visit in the summer, goldeneye and oldsquaw come for the winter fishing, guillemots and gulls live here year round. The picture-postcard features of the Ingonish area include two bays, each with its own sandy crescent beach between them, a long narrow rocky headland jutting into the Atlantic, a freshwater sea-level lake, and a dramatic cape for a backdrop. There is much to do in Ingonish. Swimming: take your pick, freshwater or the sea. Golf: 18 beautiful holes (rated 57th in the world). Tennis: yes indeed. Camping: Broad Cove and Ingonish. Hiking: six trails to choose from -- if you like wide vistas, you'll love Franey trail. Cape Breton Highlands' Greatest Hills. Even if you have very little time to spend in this beautiful National Park, you're still in luck: many of its features are situated close to the Cabot Trail. Maybe someday you'll have more time to come back and explore....

Good Luck! Have Fun! and Stay Safe!