3 Days of Hiking on Cape Breton Island

This hiking itinerary in Cape Breton Island starts on the Cabot Trail in Margaree Harbour, making the loop clockwise in three days. This itinerary will take advantage of all the exciting hiking adventures the Cabot Trail, and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park offer.

Where is Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton Island is in the beautiful Atlantic Canadian province of Nova Scotia. The island in the northeastern part of Nova Scotia is surrounded by the waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. 

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hiker standing on the rocks by the shore of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia
randonneur debout sur la côte rocheuse du Cap Breton en Nouvelle-Écosse

Why Visit Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton Island is home to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and incredible coastlines. The Cabot Trail attracts thousands of tourists every year. The road wanders between the highland plateaus and the ocean coast, making it a magical drive with plenty of hiking and sightseeing en route. 

The Cabot Trail winding road on the coastline in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

A bit of History

The Cabot Trail is named after the explorer John Cabot that landed in Cape Breton in 1497 to explore this part of the New World. 

The Cabot Trail is the road that wanders around the north of the island, following the coastline. The stunning 300-kilometre drive between the ocean and the high plateaus is a sight to behold. 

Statue of John Cabot in Cabot Landing Provicial Park on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

#vanlife We spend the first night in Nova Scotia in Margaree Harbour by the sea next to a sandy beach with breathtaking views of the shores. It seems like a popular and busy spot, but there is a lot of space. 

Don’t Miss 

The sunsets at Chimney Corner Beach are spectacular. The colours in the sky as the sun is setting on the ocean water are stunning. The pink, yellow, and orange against the blue skies would inspire any artist to paint this amazing scene!

The evening sun and grassland, sands and ocean view of Chimney  Cornor Beach in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
Colourful skies in pink and bleu while de sun is setting in the ocean on Chimney Cornor Beach in Cape Breton Island.

Day 1 Hiking in Cape Breton 

Hiking the Gypsum Mine trail

The hike starts at the far end of the parking. Follow the old mine road to the mine, now turned into an emerald green lake flanked by a rock wall. The 20-minute walk will get you to the lake. 

Plan on swimming, kayaking or paddle boarding and sunbathing by the water. The water is so clear that you can see the white rocks at the bottom of the shallow shore. 

You can hike to a stunning viewpoint of the lake. Look for the trail going up to your left when you first come into view of the lake. The short trail will take hikers to the top of the mine. The lake below and the rock walls in a half circle are beautiful scenery. Picture perfect! 

Green lake surrounded by rock wall on the Gypsum Mine Trail in Cape Breton
The Gypsum Mine Trail Lake seen from viewpoint above with the foresst and hills behind

Skyline Loop Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

This hike is the staple trail of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It can be done in a loop of 8 kilometres or as an out-and-back (to the viewpoint and back) in 6,5 kilometres. 

If you plan on making the loop, I recommend you do it counterclockwise. The viewpoints will build up to the most impressive and stunning scenery by the end. 

The trail is mostly a narrow path that is well maintained. You will walk among the small brush, mostly conifers with some birch. The trail, sometimes under tree cover, sometimes out in the open field with scattered trees, is easy with little to no elevation. 

The Boardwalk

Most of the elevation will come at the famous viewpoint on the boardwalk. From the top of the boardwalk to the end, the views are splendid; the cliffs, the rolling hills, the highlands, and the ocean. It is well worth going all the way to the end to take in all the fantastic scenery. But don’t be mistaken; you must climb those stairs to return to the trailhead.

Even though the path is a loop, the boardwalk is a side trail from the loop. It is a few floors worth of stairs but take your time, and you will be back at the top in a glimpse. There are benches along the way to give you a break from the hike.

walking on the boardwalk on the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
The view of the ocean and the coastline near the end of the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Once back at the start of the boardwalk, the trail continues for another 2.5 kilometres to the parking. Before the end, you will learn a bit about moose and the park’s rehabilitation project by reading the trail’s interpretive signs. 

Lodging near Cheticamp in Cape Breton

The Drive on the Cabot Trail

The drive along the Cabot Trail is like no other. The sight is unforgettable, from mountains, cliffs, and valleys to the blue of the infinite sea. It will leave you breathless. Canada is such a beautiful country! We stop at every viewpoint along the way. All bring new scenes that leave us in awe of this place!

#vanlife  We spend the second night in Meat Cove. Again, a beautiful spot for the night by the sea with the highlands across the bay. The sound of the waves hitting the rocks below is very relaxing. The evening is perfect!

Day 2 Hiking in Cape Breton

Meat Cove Mountain Trail

The trail is less than 4 kilometres, but it is a steep hike up the mountain for the first 2 kilometres. 

The trail wanders through forests of maple and birch. The path is evident for the climb up. Some ropes here and there have been placed strategically to help hikers up the steep incline. 

Once close to the summit, the trail narrows and is overtaken by brush and small tree branches. You will have to make your way through. Eventually, it opens up, and the scene at the top of the mountain is stunning. 

At the summit, the trail splits up. I recommend you go right first. The end of this side trail opens up to a lookout on the town below and the ocean. Beautiful view. Once you have had your fill of the scene, come back the way you came and go straight at the split to get to the other summit. 

View of the highlands and the valley on the Meat Cove Mountain Trail in Cape Breton Island.

This one is the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick. You will walk on the plateau for a few hundred metres with amazing views on each side. To your right is the valley and the plateaus of the Highlands. To your left, the ocean and the mesa with its beautiful cliffs. 

Meat Cove Mountain Trail in Cape Breton
Meat Cove Mountain Trail following the ridge in Cape Breton

The return is by the same route.

Jack Pine Loop with the return on the Coastline Trail

This hike is an easy short 2-kilometre loop. I recommend doing it clockwise to keep the fantastic lookouts for the second half of the hike. Start at the trailhead to the far end of the parking lot. The path is evident through the forest, sometimes scattered with roots and rocks. Sometimes the rock is the trail. 

When you reach the first fork, you can go left for a longer loop or right for a slightly shorter loop. Next, you will encounter two more forks; at the first one, go left; at the second one, go right. This path will bring you to the Coastline Trail, with numerous lookouts. 

a boadwalk and fork on the Jack Pine Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

You can walk out on the big rocks along the ocean’s shore every few hundred metres on the trail. The views are amazing. The pink and grey stones and the waves splashing against them make a magical scene. 

Viewpoint on the coast on the Jack Pine Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Viewpoint on the rocky shore on the Jack Pine Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

There is a turn-off for the beach just before the trail’s end. This side trail will lead you to a lookout with the famous red chairs on top of waterfalls cascading down the rocks toward the beach.

Water cascading down the rocks on the Jack Pine Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

After the hike, you can enjoy some time at Black Cove Beach just down the road. Again the scenery is beautiful. You can admire the falls from below and spot the red chairs above. 

Lodging near Meat Cove in Cape Breton

  • Meat Cove Mountain Campground, located on the northern point of Cape Breton Island, offers campsites on a first-come, first-served basis, and they also have cabins for rent upon reservation. 
  • Hines Ocean View Lodge is set on a hill overlooking the ocean. They are also pet friendly.

The Drive on the Cabot Trail

We keep driving from Meat Cove towards Ingonish, stopping in Cabot Landing Provincial Park. It is perfect for a picnic and a walk on the sandy beach to soak in the sun or enjoy a swim. This is the place where Jean Cabot, the explorer from Italy, landed in 1497 after 35 months at sea.

walking on the sandy beach in Cabot Landing Provincial Park in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

#vanlife  Our stop for the night is in Ingonish at the end of Ferry Rd by the ocean, with a warm fire to embellish the view. The sound of the waves will rock us to sleep tonight!

Day 3 Hiking in Cape Breton

Middle Head Trail 

The trail is a wide path well maintained in a mixed forest for the first kilometre. However, by the end of kilometre 1, the trees give way to an open space with ocean views on both sides. On the right is Ingonish Harbour and the Cap Smokey Provincial Park. On the left, you can see Ingonish Island. 

hiker on a dirt trail with a fence in the meadow walking toward a forested area
view of the ocean on a trail in Nova Scotia

The trail plunges back into the forest, this time on a more narrow path. Its ups and downs are constant, but there is little elevation. A few lookouts along the way show a glimpse of the ocean. The scenery opens up to the infinite ocean when you get to the end of the headland.

Pick a rock to sit on for a break and have a snack. Keep an eye out for whales. You can also observe different birds, mostly gulls and cormorants, on the rocky shores and grassy areas. 

The waves splash against the rocks to remind us of the water’s power with winds and currents. When you are ready to head back, you can either return by the same path or follow a small trail that loops around. This path is rugged and appropriate footwear is necessary. 

view of the ocean by the rocky shore of Cap Breton

Broad Cove Mountain Hike

The trail is a constant climb to the summit in a little over 1 kilometre with 185 m elevation gain. It wanders through a mixed forest where conifers will dominate as you get closer to the top. This region is home to black bears, so be vigilant on the trail. 

The steepest parts have makeshift wooden stairs to help hikers up the trail. The first lookout is a perfect place to rest, just 300 meters from the end. The view is beautiful, but the second lookout at the summit is breathtaking.

The famous red chair lets hikers rest while taking in the scenery. You have an unobstructed view of the landscape, the Cap Smokey Provincial Park in the far distance, North Bay, Middle Head, and the neverending blue ocean. 

Lookout on Broad Cove Mountain with Middle Head in the distance

Ingonish Beach is beautiful to enjoy the sun, swim, or dip your feet in the cold water after a long hike. This beach can get busy on sunny summer days, but there is plenty of room along the kilometres of sand. 

Lodging near Ingonish in Cape Breton

More hiking on Cape Breton Island

Franey Trail

  • Distance: 7 km
  • Moderate hike 
  • Approximate time: 3 hours
  • Trailhead: on Franey Rd near Ingonish

Freshwater Lake Trail

  • Distance: 2.5 km
  • Easy hike
  • Approximate time: 30 min
  • Trailhead: on Beach Rd near Ingonish Beach

Kauzmann Trail

  • Distance: 4 km
  • Easy hike
  • Approximate time: 1 hour
  • Trailhead: on 6014 Rd near Saint Margaret Village

Le Buttereau Trail

  • Distance: 6 km
  • Easy hike
  • Approximate time: 1 h 30
  • Trailhead: on the Cabot Trail near Cheticamp

Last Words on this Hiking Itinerary on Cape Breton Island

This hiking road trip in Nova Scotia was a memorable one. The hiking trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park will keep any hiker dreaming and wanting more. Driving the Cabot Trail with the views of the rugged coastline and the highlands is an epic road trip, one I urge you to add to your list.

You might also enjoy the hike to Cape Split in Cape Split Provincial Park, also in Nova Scotia. It leads hikers to a fantastic lookout on the Bay of Fundy.

Spend the day in Lunenberg visiting this historic, charming little town with a list of top attractions you will not want to miss while in Nova Scotia.

If the rugged coastline is what inspires you, hiking in Gros Morne National Park will undoubtedly satisfy you.


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  1. The mountain and ocean views in Cape Breton are spectacular and will make anyone fall in love with hiking. Thanks for sharing such a detailed blog post.

      1. awesome! when is the best recommended month or season to do this visit and hiking?

      2. Thank you! The Cape Breton Highlands National Park is open year-round, so that you can visit any time of year. The best time is May through October. Of course, July and August are busy months, end of September and October are amazing with the fall foliage.

  2. Seems like you had a great time. I love hiking trips, but seems like haven’t taken one in a long time. This post served as a reminder that I am long overdue. Thank you!

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