A cycling tour of the world-famous Cabot Trail on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island
“I have traveled around the globe. I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty Cape Breton outrivals them all “ –Alexander Graham Bell
World renowned for its beauty, the Cabot Trail is also the most popular multi-day cycling route in Canada. It is the greatest protected wilderness in Nova Scotia. As cyclists, we may well get the opportunity to photograph black bears, moose, and white tail dear. The coast is famous for whales, porpoises, and seals.
We toured Cape Breton and the famous Cabot Trail in the summer of 2003. This route is hilly to mountainous, and requires riders to be physically in shape. We will ride a clockwise route in order to take advantage of the stiff tailwinds that will literally help lift us through the two toughest days of climbing. Our early September weekend was chosen so that the summer traffic, complete with wide campers and motor homes, has mostly dissipated. This is also the time when mosquitoes and black flies have disappeared. The slightly cooler weather is a plus for those long climbs you’ll be enjoying! The total distance is 179 miles. View at RideWithGPS.
DAY ONE: St. Anns. Our first destination was the village of St. Anns, on the Cabot Trail. We stayed for the night at the Chanterelle Inn, overlooking the valley where the North River joins St. Anns Bay. Borrowing from the lines of a classic Cape Breton barn, the Inn celebrates the regions First Nations, Gaelic and French heritage and the beauty of nature in an elegant setting along the Cabot Trail. That afternoon, take the opportunity to do a sweet preview ride of up to 35 miles around St. Anns Bay. For this ride, we take the Cabot Trail south to Rt. 205, then turn north along the east side of the Bay, and switching over quickly to local route Rt. 312. Two miles before reaching Englishtown, we take a 5 minute ferry ride (cyclists ride free, and the ferry leaves every 10 minutes.) Looking out into the Bay, you’ll see rocky points known as the Bird Islands. Upon reaching Tarbotville, we turn south, returning to St. Anns on the Cabot Trail. Distance: 30 miles.
DAY TWO St. Anns to Margaree Valley. After starting out riding south on the Cabot Trail, we join the Trans Canada Highway (Rt. 105), with wide shoulders, only briefly. Then we take Rt. 205 to Baddeck. This charming resort village is often called the starting point of the Cabot Trail. Just before reaching town, well stop in at the Alexander Graham Bell museum, a National Historic Site. We turn west on the Cabot Trail, ride past Lake O Law, with rolling hills, following the Margaret River. Hunters Mountain at an elevation of 500 ft. (really a hill) offers only a moderate challenge.. Distance: 45 miles. Spend the night at the Normaway Inn.
DAY THREE : Margaree to Chetticamp: At Margaree Forks, take the side road to East Margaree to visit the Margaree Bicentennial Museum, with many artifacts from the area. Not long after reaching the towns of Margaree Harbor and Belle Cote, and turning up the coast, you’ll pass the unusual Scarecrow Theater, an outdoor display of 100 scarecrows representing public figures from Cape Breton’s history. We continue up the Cape Breton Coast to Cheticamp, West Main Entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We begin to encounter the foothills of the Cape Breton Highlands. Cheticamp is the remote Acadian west main entrance to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. A fishing port, it also offers whale-watching. The vibrant Acadian culture of this town includes a fiddling style all its own. Cheticamp calls itself the Hooked rug capital of the world. A not to be missed side trip is Cheticamp Island, where you’ll view a lonely lighthouse high on the bluffs. View pictures of this outpost of civilization. Distance: 41 miles. Tonight we recommend the Auberget Doucet Inn and Restaurant.
DAY FOUR: Cheticamp to Cape North: Get ready, for today is your greatest challenge ride! For the next two days, you’ll will be encountering grades up to 15%. On the plus side, there’s almost always a stiff tailwind that will help you cycle up these mountains, and you’ll be sure to see eagles soaring! After riding north 5 miles, we pass the Visitor Center at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park entrance. Then for 6 miles, the Cabot Trail remains very close to the water as we tackle a tough ascent, but with incredible scenery. We mostly maintain this altitude, with rolling Alpine terrain, and at 17 miles, we reach the summit of French Mountain (455 meters). Just past French Lake is the Bog Walk, an interpretive boardwalk trail that explains the highland’s incredible beauty! At mile 27, we are at the summit of MacKenzie Mountain (elevation 335 meters). Here we begin a 6 mile moderate descent to Pleasant Bay on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. And its uphill again, with a ride to the summit of North Mountain (elevation 445 m) at mile 38, about a 5 mile climb. Then we descend again, to the village of Cape North. While this is the Cape Breton ride of which many cyclists dream, rest assured that our support van will be there to assist with the hills, and provide plenty of refreshments, and water! Distance : 44 Miles. Tonight’s stay is at the Markland Resort in Dingwall, Cape North. Frommers Guide says it’s “.. the best resort location on Cape Breton Island”…”the best evening meal at the top of the island.”
DAY FIVE Cape North to Ingonish Although not as challenging as the day before, there are plenty of climbs and descents. We leave the Cabot Trail, and follow the 15 mile Alternative Scenic Route which has very little vehicular traffic that affords spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Neils Harbor, a very picturesque fishing village. At Smelt Brook, stop in at the Sea Spray Cycle Centre. Along this route we visit a stunning coastal panorama, with mountains climbing right from the sea. White Point is one of the most beautiful fishing villages on the route. There’s a 3 mile climb, and then a 3 mile descent to New Haven. We rejoin the Cabot Trail at Neils Harbor, another fishing village, with shops and services. We ride close to the Ocean, again with spectacular views. Many people like to stop for a swim at Black Brook, and Green Cove is actually the site of magnificent blocks of pink granite! The cycling’s not too difficult here. Distance: 32 miles. Tonight’s stay is at the Keltic Lodge, perched on a narrow stretch between two bays.
DAY SIX Ingonish to St. Anns After passing through the villages of Ingonish Ferry, Ingonish harbor, and Ingonish Beach, we begin a 3 mile ascent to the summit of Cape Smokey (elevation 366 meters), with a breath-taking view of the ocean and its coastlines. Then there’s a 3 mile descent, with some very steep drops, an average 12% grade. From there we have gentle riding the rest of the day. At mile 35, we continue on the Cabot Trail where Rt. 312 joins from the left, to the ferry. We head back to St. Anns, through an area known as the Artisans’ Loop, where you might want to obtain souveniers from the ride. Distance: 47 miles. We stayed again at the Chanterelle Inn