Canada is an expansive land that encompasses so many beautiful elements of nature, from rolling hills and mountains to breathtaking seaside landscapes. Cape Breton Highlands National Park is the epitome of this beauty.
If you love to hike, fish, and explore the natural wonders of Canada, then visiting this national park should shoot straight to the top of your to-do list. Before you plan your trip, you'll want all the insider information. That way, you'll be able to squeeze in all the highlights and must-see spots.
Check out this comprehensive guide to Cape Breton Highlands National Park so that you can plan out the perfect trip!
Of course, the best way to experience Cape Breton is to experience all of it, so make time to read through the entire guide.
Of all the landmark features of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the Cape Breton Plateau is the most dominant. At 350 metres high on average, this section of the Appalachian mountain chain goes from Newfoundland to George. The majority of this park consists of this plateau and features rolling hills cut by canyons with rivers.
Cape Breton is sandwiched between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. On one side, steep cliffs meet the water. On the other, the coastal plain slopes down and creates some beautiful beaches.
This mix of beaches, cliffs, rolling hills, and plains makes for an interesting ecosystem. Many animals, plants, and non-living things make their home in Cape Breton, all delicately balanced on each other for existence.
There are three main sections of the northern Cape Breton ecosystem: Acadian forest, Boreal forest, and Taiga region.
In Cape Breton, two keystone species highly influence the other components: humans and beavers. While humans affect the ecosystem with their existence and manipulation of nature, beavers create dams that create wetlands and redirect water.
Outsides of living things, the park relies on the abundance of freshwater. Unfortunately, the park's soil is thin and stony, easily carried away by any environmental upset or human visitors. The preservation of the park's fragile ecosystem is extremely important for allowing living beings to thrive.
Getting to Cape Breton Highlands National Park
There are quite a few ways to get to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. You can decide what mode of transportation you prefer or base it on which direction you're coming from.
If you're travelling by car, two routes take you to the western entrance near Cheticamp. On the east side, you can arrive in Ingonish. No matter which entrance you choose, you can use the famous Cabot Trail.
Even though the Cabot Trail loops around the park, the direction you go in will give you very different experiences. It is nearly 300 kilometres long, and about a third of the road is within the park's borders.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a Canadian national park in the northern section of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. This National Park was the first in the Atlantic provinces of Canada and covers an area of 948 square kilometres (366 sq mi). It is one of 42 in Canada's National Parks.
With direct and connecting flights from across Canada the USA and around the world. You will be well on your way for a beautiful stay at Cape Breton Highlights National Park.
Using the West Entrance
You can choose to take Route 19 on the west side of the island and follow it through Judique, Mabou, and past Inverness beach. You'll go all the way to Margaree Harbour and beyond.
You can also take the Cabot Trail through Middle River and Margaree Harbour. You can access this route from Trans-Canada Highway 105 Exit 7.
Using the East Entrance
You can take the Cabot Trail through St. Ann's, which you can get to from Highway 105 Exit 11. You can also take the ferry at Englishtown on Route 312. Either way, you'll end up on the north side of the ferry and follow through to Ingonish Beach.
Getting Around the Park
The Cabot Trail is the best way to travel around the outskirts of the park, and a third of the route actually runs through the park. You can take your RV or vehicle into the park to several campgrounds. When you're in the park, there are many hiking trails to explore and travel through the area.
Things to Do in Cape Breton Highlands National Park: Attractions
As long as you stay within the bounds of respect for the wilderness, there are so many options for activities and pass times in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. If you're wondering what to do at Cape Breton, you should really ask, "What can't I do?"
Below is some in-depth information about hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, and more.
Cape Breton Hiking Trails
If you love to hike, Cape Breton is your dream location. The national park has 26 different hiking trails, all with unique views and landscapes to explore. There are many trails to choose from, all recommended for different experience levels.
What do they all have in common? They end in panoramic views of the park's vast and intriguing landscapes, including highlands, the coast, and the canyons.
The good news for families is that the majority of the trails are rated as easy strolls. No matter your age or experience, you can enjoy a vast range of sights at this park on the hiking trails. In addition, all the trails have different lengths and elevations, so you can choose which trails are appropriate for you!
For those who like a challenge, there are ten moderately-rated trails with more difficult treks. Three difficult trails have steep climbs, but they're very rewarding.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park Camping
Looking to go camping? Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a wonderful place to sleep under the stars. The best times to camp are from July to August, but you can come anytime from mid-May to late October.
Whether you're planning your trip thoroughly or want to just show up, there's space for you. The park has both non-reservable and reservable sites, so you can show up last minute if you'd like! It's recommended, though, to reserve a spot during the busiest time of the year.
When it comes to reservable spots, you can check out Cheticamp, Broad Cove, and Ingonish Beach. The first two are sites complete with electric, water, and sewer hook-ups. They have hot showers, picnic tables, kitchens, and washrooms.
Broad Cove is the largest option and has many loops to choose from with different features. It's lined by Broad Cove Beach, so you can swim and enjoy the shoreline. It's not close to grocery stores, however, so you'll need to stock up before you arrive.
The third site, Ingonish Beach, is great for kids because the beaches have lifeguards and there's a small nature center with programs offered daily. However, there are no hook-ups, so you'll have to camp with a tent or use your smaller vehicle.
If you're looking for something closer to civilization, you can set up your tent or RV near Cheticamp at the Cheticamp Campground. In this town of 4,000 residents, you'll have access to small shops, free WiFi, and some recreation besides nature.
Cheticamp is also near the Skyline Trail, which is world-famous. It's almost always crowded, but the experience is worth the view. This trail is amazing for spotting wildlife like bears, eagles, moose, and whales, and yet the hike itself is very easy.
There are many non-reservable campsites that you can choose from, including Corney Brook and MacIntosh Brook. At Corney Brook, you won't have potable water, so choose this site if you're looking for a more rugged experience.
At MacIntosh Brook, you're within walking distance of a waterfall. You'll also have access to flush toilets and a kitchen. There are ten unserviced sites right in the Grand Anse Valley.
Looking for something a little fancier? Two Rivers Wildlife Park Campground, you have access to rivers for kayaking and canoeing and 500 acres of wildlife and leisure areas.
You also have access to flush toilets, picnic areas, showers, and firepits. There's also a petting zoo, free wi-fi, wagon rides, and more.
Fishing at Cape Breton Highlands National Park
There are some excellent options for Cape Breton Highlands National Park fishing. There are tons of lakes and streams to choose from and opportunities to catch both the native brook and speckled trout. You can also catch Atlantic Salmon, but angling is only permitted in certain areas during certain times of the year.
To fish in the park, you'll need to call ahead to ask for season dates and limits. You'll have to pay for a permit and license fee and abide by restrictions on equipment. Fishing licences can be purchased at Canadian Tire as well. Usually, you can fish from April 15 to September 30, and catch and release runs throughout September.
Swimming at Cape Breton Highlands National Park
If you love the water, there are so many options for swimming throughout Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Not only are there several lakes and streams but also beaches along the coastline. There are both saltwater and freshwater bodies for you to enjoy.
If you'd like to enjoy swimming at the beach, you can try:
Ingonish Freshwater Lake
Broad Cove Beach
Black Brook Beach
La Bloc Beach
North Bay Beach
Depending on which location you choose, you can have access to playgrounds, picnic areas, washrooms, change houses, and more. At Ingonish Beach, you can even use the tennis courts.
If you feel better about being supervised by lifeguards, especially for your kids, you can choose to visit North Bay Beach or Ingonish beaches during the busy season of July and August.
At Cape Breton Highlands National Park Cycling
According to Lonely Planet, this park is on the list of top ten places to cycle in the world. Cabot Trail is the main reason for this recognition, as it offers an amazing experience throughout the island's landscapes and views. There are also many trails dedicated to cyclists, including:
Le Vieux Chemin du Cap-Rouge
If you like multi-day cycling challenges, the Cabot Trail is your best option. The trail is 298 kilometres long and creates a loop around the island, passing through the National Park. Most people take about 5 to 7 days to complete the trip.
While you can get lucky, especially during the most pleasant times of the year, be prepared for rough weather. Cycling will leave you especially exposed to the area's typical freezing temperatures and rain.
Try planning your trip between June and October. While the summer is rainy, October is colder. If you cycle during early fall, though, you'll witness spectacular fall-coloured foliage. It might not be recommended to cycle during the winter, but this area is still in the top places to visit in the colder seasons.
Where to Stay in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
If you love to experience nature, but you're not eager to sleep in nature, you might be wondering if there are any fancier experiences for accommodations. Luckily, there are some very cool places to check out for your trip.
One of these accommodations is the Blue Bayou Resort, which is still a campground but with a modern twist. Instead of tents or RVs, you'll stay in a private dome. This campground offers the glamping experience with over 20 domes and is complete will all the comforts you can imagine.
Another glamping experience with domes is offered by Archer's Edge Luxury Campground. Each dome has full furnishings, a private bathroom and kitchenette, and a full view of the ocean. All activities are minutes away and you're near an amazing Celtic community.
Look into these places further to see if they're the right choice for you during the time of year you'd like to visit!
Don't Forget To Pack Your Travel Insurance!
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Cape Breton Highlands National Park FAQs
Have further questions? Here are some frequently asked questions about inquiring and aspiring visitors.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park is best known for its amazing landscapes and views, including the oceans, cliffs, and highlands. It also has a ton of opportunities for camping and outdoor experiences.
For adults, entry to the park costs $7.90. Seniors get a dollar off the price, and entry is free for youth. Groups and families can get discounts of $16 for everyone, and commercial groups can get a discount of $6.90 per person.
Because Cabot Trail runs through the park, you can't avoid paying to drive through the park using the road. You'll have to pay the daily fee according to normal part entry costs, but those 17 and under can enter for free.
Experience Cape Breton
Cape Breton Highlands National Park will be unlike any other experience you've ever had. With a wide array of campgrounds, accommodations, and outdoor adventures to choose from, you'll never get bored.
Looking for more ways to express your love of Canada? Visit our "I Love Canada" section of our blog for more trip and activity ideas!