Monday, 25 July 2016

The Cabot Trail

Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS


The Cabot Trail

As usual, when we need to go somewhere we put the address in our GPS and go. Most of the time this works well. But sometimes it thinks it’s doing us a favour by taking the quickest or shortest route. On the way to Chéticamp, it took us up the Old Cape Breton Road which is not only gravel but is also quite narrow. Luckily it was only a couple of kilometres and no-one came the other way or I don’t know what we would have done. We were getting worried and we couldn’t turn around. After coming back on the highway for a short while, it then took us up a back road, named appropriately “Back Road” which had a few pot holes in it. It turns out that there is a check box to avoid dirt roads. Who knew?

lots of curves on the Cabot Trail

A week before we arrived I decided that I had better book a campsite. Luckily I did as there was only one spot left out of the two largest campgrounds that I looked at. Admittedly they do keep some allocated for first come first served but we didn't know that and would you want to take that chance anyway? The only spot that was available for us was unserviced, but it was 40' long and flat, so we would fit so I grabbed it. Interesting that they have the campsite length in feet and not metric. Having no hook ups doesn't worry us and as we were right next door to the showers we used theirs.

North east of the trail

I was really looking forward to Cape Breton as everyone we met said it was amazing. Whenever something has been highly praised, we often find that it’s disappointing. In it’s defence there were a lot of road works going on, so getting pictures of the rolling hills with the road winding through them was not very pretty when it should have been. The first couple of days were overcast which didn't surprise me as I'd heard it rained here a lot. We drove the famous Cape Breton trail, stopping at all the pull outs along the way. We thought we were going to Meat Cove but we missed the turn off and didn’t realise it.

One of the easy trails off the Cabot Trail

While cooking a barbeque one night Lindsay was chatting to our neighbour. Ken on the other side of our neighbour heard the Aussie accent and joined in. It turns out Lindsay knows his brother from sailing! That night we caught up with Ken and Julie for drinks. They are over here for three months, travelling in a very minimalist way. Buses, trains, ferries, some hire cars, hostels and some camping but without all the normal camping gear such as a stove. Not my kind of travel I have to say. Lindsay kindly boiled some water for them in the morning.

Skyline Trail

The most popular hike here is the Skyline trail that everyone goes to for sunset. We had also heard there was moose there. Where do we sign up! The first night as we were driving up to the trail head, the fog had already started to roll in. We had been warned that there was a short way and a long route. Take the left hand fork was the advice, which meant it was 7.5km for the short side, and 9.2km for the full loop. The trail starts off on a path as flat and wide as a road, except that you aren’t allowed to drive up it. I was hoping it would get better and it did. The path winds through fir trees with ferns skirting the pathway which was really pretty. We started chatting to a mother and daughter from New Jersey as we were walking. There is a small section that has been closed off to keep out the moose to see how it regenerates. The area was decimated by some beetles some years ago and many of the trees died. Now they believe that the moose inhibit the trees from rejuvenating, and they are probably right. They are not native to the area as they have come from Alberta and therefore they should not be allowed to stay. A lot of money has been spent on a cull to reduce the numbers which has upset a lot of people. I can understand the issues from both sides. We have never seen a moose with a rack and really really wanted to see one.

Mr Moose just before sunset

And there he was, sitting down amongst the undergrowth. Munching away. Lindsay wanted to stay with him as he didn’t want to miss him standing up. The mosquitoes made a beeline for me because I’m A+, so I didn’t want to stand in one place for any amount of time, and continued on to the end of the trail. I had to go through another larger section that has been fenced and gated off to keep out the moose. The fog was moving in and I was a bit worried walking by myself; it was a bit eerie in the fog. I nearly stood on a snake but I have good reflexes and missed him. Before I could get my camera out though, he had slithered away. I was more worried about bears. Luckily I didn’t know about the girl who was killed by a coyote on this very track two years ago… Towards the end of the track, you come across some boardwalks and steps, more steps and more steps. I couldn’t see any of the view because of the fog. Even though I was tired I went to the very bottom step – to the very end of the trail and then came back again. 

a much better picture of the Cabot Trail than from the road itself
Visibility was very low

There was no way there was going to be a sunset here tonight. But as I was walking back I noticed the clouds in front of me had a pink tinge, so I looked behind me. From my new vantage point, there was a sunset. This area hadn't been under fog when I came through and I’m sure the point would still have been under fog.


We did some more walks the following morning, but found them a bit boring. Had we been spoilt elsewhere? The humidity was stifling and it was easy to take the afternoon off. After reading a few pages of my book, I headed over to the visitor centre to check my emails. While I was there I heard an Australian voice at the counter. It was Peter & Leanne that we met at the Mahone Bay coffee shop. We didn’t even know they were coming to Cape Breton.

There were supposed to be moose on this trail, but there weren't

One of the reasons, apart from the humidity that we took the afternoon off was that we intended to go back to the Skyline trail after dinner. Lindsay was determined to find the moose again to get a picture of him standing up. The humidity had dropped a little bit, but not much and it was hard to be motivated. We asked everyone we met along the trail if they had seen a moose. On the right hand trail seemed to be the consensus. Then a guy said, yes the right hand trail but he was near the third lookout. When we got to the diagram of the trail where it split we could see that the third look out was actually where the two trails met up again before the boardwalk and the steps began. So I suggested that it would be quicker to go on the left hand trail. After going through the fenced-in no-go-moose-zone, we were told – there’s a moose up ahead on the trail be careful. They can actually be dangerous. He was about 40 metres off the track amongst the trees and high undergrowth and it was difficult to get a clear picture. I’m going in says Lindsay. What? So I stay on the trail for a few minutes, then decide to follow. Moose eat 60 pounds of vegetation a day, but they don’t get much nutrition out of it. So if they are not sleeping, rutting or mating, they are eating. After we had taken a number of shots, he started to move towards us. Okay we get it, time to leave. There was absolutely no sunset that night, which made me feel better for not having the energy to go to the end of the trail, and it was still over 3kms to get back to the truck. The following night it rained, so there wouldn't have been any sunset either. 

Mr Moose in all his glory

Leaving Cape Breton

Cape Breton to Québec city is just over 1230 kms, about 12.5 hours. So we split it up into three days. Our first leg from Cape Breton to Moncton took us about 5 hours.

Bi lingual signs in New Brunswick

We passed a few dead skunks and porcupines on the road which is a bit sad. We haven’t seen either alive and we would love to.

Hwy 395 was a terrible road with lots of potholes. The other roads were rough and pot holed until we got down to the toll section - so at least you know they are putting your toll fees to good use. The Toll was $5.25 for our 5th Wheel.

This light represents the flag of Arcadia

the town of Chéticamp

We found our favourite stores all together in Moncton, NB. We went to Home Depot to get some magnets to stop some of our drawers from sliding out as we are travelling. Walmart to stay in overnight with wifi, this being one of the few times we didn't actually buy anything, and Costco to fill up with propane. They don't sell propane at all the Costcos, but it is well worth getting it when you can as it’s much cheaper here than anywhere else. All of them sell petrol (gas) but we have only found one very new one that sells diesel. We only found out on this trip that Canadian Tire also sells propane which is good to remember. 

Cabela’s & Marks were nearby and Lindsay wanted to see what cold weather gear they have for minus 40 as he needs to work out what to buy for Manitoba next year.

Thankfully the humidity we experienced in Cape Breton has reduced.

There were signs all along the road warning about moose but it is now all in French. I could translate a few of the signs, but others were a complete mystery. There are fences either side of the highway to reduce the chances of moose running out in front of traffic, with gates allowing them back into the forest if somehow they did get out.

Moose next 7kms?
Dégelis - next two exits


Chéticamp Campground in the National Park


  1. Your moose shots are fantastic! I especially like the one lying down in the golden afternoon light. With the humidity and mosquitoes you describe, I'm thinking we might plan to visit Nova Scotia in the fall instead of summer. But then it might be too cold....

    1. Canada is notorious for mosquitoes, it amazed me how less there were once we were back in the US, border control mustn't let them in! The humidity did slow us down a bit but we found humidity all up the east coast, we just aren't used to it. I would be more worried going in the fall that I didn't get back south before it started snowing!