Called the beginning and the end of the 186-mile Cabot Trail loop, Baddeck is your perfect jumping-off point for this iconic Canadian drive. Named after Italian explorer John Cabot, who landed on these shores in 1497, the winding coastal route climbs from sea-swept beaches and sleepy fishing villages to forested slopes and cliff-tops.
Sure, you can get to Chéticamp in three hours straight, but you’ll want to allow a full day for stops. Check your brakes – sharp curves and steep grades ahead – and fuel up. Then travel counter-clockwise (shown here) to catch outside-lane and sunset views, or clockwise to see the sights from a different angle. Either way, you’re in for a treat.
Must-stops along the way
- Ingonish: Gallery hop, fish for salmon and trout, golf at world-renowned Highlands Links Golf Course or tap your feet at a traditional ceilidh in this five-community stretch along the island’s eastern shore.
- Cape Breton Highlands National Park: Protecting some 960 square kilometres of north-island wilderness, this rugged oasis tempts with river canyons, thick forest (with fabulous foliage come fall), lakes, beaches, and an ancient plateau. Pick from 26 hiking trails, ranging from the easy Skyline and its St. Lawrence River views – watch for moose and migrating whales – to the challenging Franey climb up to flat rocks and 360-degree vistas. Pack a picnic or learn to lobster boil on the beach.
- Pleasant Bay: Get ready to spot humpback, pilot, minke, and finback whales from this welcoming fishing village at the Cabot Trail’s halfway point. Learn about their habitat and way of life at the Whale Interpretive Centre.
- Chéticamp: Pull into this traditional Acadian town just in time to visit the Les Trois Pignons museum and gallery before catching the sunset from the beach.
Succulent seafood abounds in these parts, but you’ll find plenty of other specialties too – from Nova-Scotia-style pub grub to palate-pleasing ethnic fare.
- Dancing Moose Cafe: Fill up on sweet or savory Dutch pannekoek – try the bacon-ginger combo – for breakfast or lunch in tiny Birch Plain on the east coast. (Ate too much? Roll into a cosy wood cabin for a nap or the night.)
- Rusty Anchor: Bite into what National Geographic calls “some of the best lobster rolls on the Cabot Trail – pure lump lobster meat with just a little butter (no celery or salad dressing, thank you) served on a toasted roll.” But don’t skip the local oysters and mussels at this family-run Pleasant Bay restaurant.
- Doryman Pub & Grill: Tune into live fiddle music while tucking into local Chéticamp favourite, the Doryman Burger. Go big with a steak platter or hot gravy-smothered sandwich.
End your day
With a ceilidh or two under your belt, and a four-hour drive back to Halifax tomorrow, it’s time to say goodnight. Good thing that a comfy room is just steps away.
- Chéticamp Outback Inn: Gray barn wood accents the walls and modern decor lines this newly opened inn’s three rooms and one suite.
- Auberge des Pêcheurs Inn: Check into down-home east coast hospitality (think friendly service, quilted bedspreads, and nautical appointments) at this Cape-Cod-style structure overlooking the harbour, fishing wharf, and Chéticamp Island.
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