Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. My country, my province, my home. Growing up, I spent my far share of time enjoying the beauty of the Cape Breton Highlands. To return back here as an adult and appreciate that beauty, those same places (whether I remember them or not) is something incredibly special. On my last trip home to Nova Scotia, my parents and I ventured far north to the tip of Cape Breton Island in search of some epic hikes, to re-live old memories and create new ones.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park is iconically Canadian and quite possibly one of Canada’s most beautiful places. Its simple and rustic beauty shines through in the unspoiled ocean and mountain landscapes. Not to mention the people there are some of the greatest people in the world. Takes one to know one ;).
When it comes to finding a perfect hike, my parents and I agree (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree) that the best ones are uncharted, take a bit of work to get to and don’t involve seeing other visitors on the trail except the wild kind.
…As the saying goes “It’s not down on any map, the best places never are.”
So with much digging, talking with fellow Nova Scotian’s and a few locals along the way; we discovered 3 incredible hikes that were the highlight of our trip to the Highlands. All three lie slightly outside of the National Park boundaries but are WELL worth the effort to find (and it WILL take a bit of effort to find them). Enjoy them on a warm, sunny summer day or take in the insane colors of fall that Nova Scotia is famous for. Either are bound to knock your socks off.
Happy Trail Hunting!
1. Pollett’s Cove:
This trail is no secret with the locals or to most Nova Scotians for that matter. Talk to any one and they will know someone who did it, or someones brother or father…such is Nova Scotia. The trail has grown in popularity and seems to be a hot spot for people to hike in to make camp for a weekend get away. The appeal lies in the expansive coastal views, the challenging and hilly 19 km return trail, and the wild horses that greet you (but will eat your tent) at Pollett’s beach. The trail is not maintained, but a visible path is easy to follow. I recommend wearing long pants because the trail is quite overgrown in spots.
If you plan to camp on the beach, be aware that it is extremely exposed (and hungry equine visitors are likely). Instead, find a more protected area in the trees, off the trail, just above the descent to the beach. The trail has its fair share of climbing and a couple of stream crossings that require you to un-shoe. The final approach to Pollett’s Cove is the pièce de résistance. As you emerge from the trees into a field of flowers, with the mist of the fog and sea on your face; the view will hit you straight on.
The mountains surround a valley carved out by a river that flows into the Atlantic. The sandy beach stretches on forever in front of you, guarded on both ends by massive rock walls that plummet to the sea. It’s the perfect place for sunset watching or picnic lunching. There is no place I’ve ever visited quite like it.
How to get here: From Cape North, take the Cabot Trail to Pleasant Bay Rd and turn at a sign marked Red River. The road becomes dirt. Take this until you reach Gampo Abbey, a Buddhist monastery. Continue past the statue to the end of the road. There is sign for the trail and a small parking area.
2. Meat Cove Mountain:
If the name isn’t enticing to you, I hope my photos are. Making the drive out to Meat Cove is an adventure in and of itself. It’s the most northern point of Nova Scotia, but quite possibly the most stunning place in the province (my favorite of the trip) and worth the trek just for the scenery on the drive alone.
In case the Highlands haven’t been giving you enough cardio, this trail will get you your fill. The trail rises 900ft in just under 0.75 km. The return trip is only about 3.5 kms total. There are ropes and rebar installed to aid in the ascent and decent over step sections along the trail, use them to save your knees on the way down.
Once you make the quick ascent to the top, you can enjoy valley views, mountain views or ocean views depending on where you look from the summit. The flat top is about 1 km wide so you can explore and find a spot to take it all in, or enjoy a local craft brew, or feed on the plethora of blueberries at the top (leave some for the bears)
How to get there: From Ingonish, take the Bay St Lawrence Rd at Cape North. Follow this road until you reach a sharp left (by the Co-op) for Meat Cove Rd towards Capstick. The pavement runs out eventually and the road is winding and steep; stick with it to reap your reward. If you reach the bridge over the river at town of Meat Cove (next to a sign with a trail map on it) you have passed the trail head for Meat Cove Mountain. Backtrack 100 ft or so to a small turn out. There is a sign that says “Mountain Trail” nailed to a tree and some small rock steps leading uphill. This is your Meat Cove mountain Trail.
3. Kauzmann Trail
You would never know it’s there, most people don’t. In fact we drove by it on our hunt for the trailhead and had to back track in search for it. When you do find it, you will be glad you did because this unique hike is short (2kms) and sweet and offers some serious views of the Atlantic from a high (but windy) perch. The trail has almost no elevation gain and is easy to follow. Just watch your step along the ridge; the wind up there can be pretty aggressive on the exposed and narrow section.. and you’ll be distracted taking in that few.