Seacoast hiking

Location: Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site
Distance: 490 km roundtrip on Cape Breton Island, NS

Majestic seacoast hiking is life-changing thanks to the grand distraction – the constant presence of the vast and wild Atlantic Ocean, dramatized by steep cliffs and deep river canyons carved from forested plateaus. Whichever trail you choose, there is so much to see and experience with this 3-day getaway.

Visitors at the Skyline Trail lookouts at sunset, in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Day 1

Location: Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Chéticamp
Distance: 170 km from Sydney

Start your trip on the west side of the national park and the nearby communities of Pleasant Bay and Chéticamp. There are 26 hiking trails within Cape Breton Highlands National Park. There is a collection of experiences steeped in local Acadian heritage: Le Chemin de Buttereau (4.6 km return); Le Buttereau (1.6 km loop), Le vieux chemin du Cap-Rouge (9 km return) and of course the Skyline Trail (8.2-km loop), with an elevated, unceasing, rugged coastal view that will leave you breathless.

Depending on the time of day, the Skyline has multiple personalities. For a quiet moment in nature, start early in the morning. Or try out the hike at sunset, considered a Canadian Signature Experience (aka a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience). No matter the time of day, watch for whales in the Gulf from the viewing decks. Moose, bald eagles, bears and numerous birds thrive in this habitat. Picnicking is redefined in this live theatre of sea and sky.

More advanced hikers should treat themselves to a trek up the Acadian Trail, where enchanting forest gives way to panoramic views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the top.

Visit nearby Chéticamp Island Beach, a beautiful sandy and pebbled strand where the water is known to be warm because of shallow, walkable sand bars, or within Chéticamp itself, where you can stroll along the waterfront boardwalk, scouting out opportunities for seafood.

Recommended accommodation: oTENTik, Chéticamp campground

Two visitors on a lookout are looking at the forest and the sea, in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Day 2

Location: Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Neil’s Harbour
Distance: 80 km from Chéticamp

Swing east toward Neil’s Harbour. Atop Neil Head, a rocky cape that looks out over a natural working fishing harbour, sits one of the most accessible lighthouses in Canada. Within minutes of Neil’s Harbour, there are three noteworthy coastal hiking trail experiences: Jack Pine (2.3 km loop); Coastal (2.4 km return); and, Green Cove (0.2 km return).

Continue traveling 27 km to Ingonish where the Middle Head Trail (3.8 km loop) follows a long, narrow peninsula separating two ocean bays, ending on headland cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Smokey and Ingonish Island. There are opportunities to view seabirds, seals, whales and eagles, as well as active fishing boats. Two important hikes in this region include the Freshwater Lake Trail (1.7 km return), which begins next to the ocean, and follows the shoreline to a small lake that was once an ocean bay, and Freshwater Lake Look-off Trail (0.3 km return), short and steep with a picturesque vista that unfolds, showcasing views of the region.

Recommended accommodation: oTENTik, Ingonish Beach campground

Three adults walking in a field by the sea with the Fortress of Louisbourg in the background.

Day 3

Location: Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, Louisbourg
Distance: 175 km from Ingonish

Set sights on the largest historical reconstruction in North America, the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Four coastal trails and two secluded, white sand beaches share stories of Louisbourg’s 300-year history. The Old Town Trail (2.25km) takes visitors along the shore of Louisbourg Harbour, and provides interpretive panels and impressive views of the fortress and harbour. The nearby Ruins Walk (2.3 km) leads visitors past the notable ruins and burial grounds associated with early French habitation. Also recommended in the vicinity are two more treasures: the Gooseberry Cove Trail (7.7 km return), which skirts cliffs and has unbelievable coastal views and lush vegetation, and the Gull Cove Trail (10.5 km return), which winds through windswept woods, cobbled beaches, and coastal barrens to panoramic ocean views, including the Fortress of Louisbourg.

Distance: Return to Sydney, 40 km

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