Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a hiker’s paradise. It has 26 hikes spread out over the Cabot Trail varying in length and difficulty. With coastline views, interior lakes, hardwood and evergreen forests there is a hike to suit any taste and hiking ability. And they are all beautiful. But how do you decide which ones to do if you are short on time?
My husband and I spent 4 days camping in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, staying on the west, or Cheticamp, side of the park. As we didn’t have time to do all 26 hikes, we decided to choose the from the ones on the west side, so we could spend more time hiking, less time driving. Here are the hikes we chose:
6.5 or 8.2 km depending on whether or not you do the full loop
If you do only one hike in the park, this is the one to do. This trail offers spectacular views of the Gulf of St. Lawerence and the rugged coast line for which Cape Breton is famous. Look outs along the way also give amazing views of the Cabot Trail and the highlands. As you hike watch for moose, whales, bald eagles, and bears. Remember, though, that every other tourist in the park is also stopping at this trail – it gets busy, very busy. Try going at dawn or dusk – fewer people and greater chance of seeing wildlife.
8.4 km loop
This is another stunning hike that starts right from the Cheticamp campground. We hiked it counterclockwise, keeping the ocean views for the end, and the steepest hill at the beginning. Going in this direction we hiked along the Cheticamp River, then up 365 m above the river valley to the ocean view. There are several benches, and the National Parks’ famous red chairs along the way to stop and rest if you need to, or just take in the views. Moose and bears are often along this trail, so keep your eyes open as you hike.
Le Chemin de Buttereau
4.6 km loop
This hike is often overlooked in the “best of” lists, but we loved it. It is not as scenic as many hikes in the park, but is rich in history. The trail follows an old cart path of that Acadian settlers used to go from their homes to Cheticamp. As you follow the trail you will see the ruins of old Acadian homesteads with plaques telling you who lived there. Eventually, the trail leads to an overlook of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the beach the Acadians walked to get to school and church. It gives an appreciation of what life must have been like for these pioneers.
1.6 km loop
This hike is a shorter version of the Le Chemin de Buttereau. It starts at a different spot along the Cabot Trail to offer a quicker hike into the Acadian settlement and ocean view. It does not pass as many of the homesteads, but still gives the same sense of history. The two hikes can also be combined to give a longer hike if desired.
9.5 km return (there and back)
This hike starts within the Cheticamp campsite and follows the Cheticamp River. It is a fairly easy walk along the bottom of a valley with cliffs to one side and the Cheticamp river on the other. It leads to different pools where salmon live. While this trail does not offer the scenic ocean views, there is a sense of tranquility listening to the water run as you walk. Bear are often sighted on this trail, and in fact I did not finish it as a couple returning from the end said there was a bear ahead, and I was alone with two dogs. I chose not to find out how that encounter would go.
0.5 km loop
This is considered an accessible trail as it is a boardwalk through a highland plateau bog. It has signs throughout explaining the plants and wildlife you may see as you walk. Moose come to graze at this bog, especially at dusk and dawn. We took this hike at dusk hoping to see a moose. We did not see one but watching the mist rise from the bog as dusk settled was magical.
3 km return (there and back)
1 – 1.5 hours
This is another hike that is know for moose sightings. It starts by going through plateau wetlands, into an evergreen forrest, and ending at a small lake. There are benches at the lake to sit and enjoy the view. Like other hikes, what this one lacks in ocean views it makes up for in its tranquility. We also did this hike at dusk and the stillness of the lake was mesmerizing. We had a hard time turning away.
Whatever hike you choose remember to start with the park map. Read the descriptions of the hikes. Look at the difficulty level and the time the hike will take. Make sure you chose trails appropriately.
Also remember to respect the wildlife you may encounter. They are just that – wild lives. Do not try to take a selfie with a moose or a bear. They may not be so keen to see you as you are to see them. Keep your distance and respect their homes.
Most of all get out and enjoy the many hikes that Cape Breton Highlands National Park has to offer.