3 Road Trips Out of Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax Travel Insider Guides
by Carlo Alcos Sep 20, 2010
Squirrel on the Cabot Trail

Squirrel and his berries on the Cabot Trail

3. The Cabot Trail – 1 or 2 nights

The Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island was the one thing I wanted to make sure I did during my stay in Nova Scotia. The entire road is just under 300km long, with the east and west portions cut into the small mountains overlooking the water, and the middle north part snaking through the Highlands National Park.

It’s best to do this drive counter-clockwise as well for the best views. From Halifax, point yourself towards Ingonish, about 450km away. It’s all highway driving, but the Trans-Canada cuts through dense forest, so it still feels somewhat like you’re in nature.

Tip: There is a Visitor Information Center just across the Canso Causeway once you get onto Cape Breton Island. Stop there to pick up a map of the area and hiking trails.


Moose on the Skyline trail

Make sure you buy your park pass. It’s $7.80 per adult and is good until 4 PM the following day. If you do pass through Ingonish to start, there is currently no gate because of road construction, so it’s not very obvious that you have to pay. But it is necessary, especially when leaving your car parked. They do check.

There is a lot of accommodation, and not only in the bigger towns like Ingonish or Cheticamp on the west side. You can find B&Bs all along the trail.

I chose to stay in Dingwall, a small settlement about halfway along the Cabot Trail and not very far off of it. Markland Beach Cottages semi-hosted me (they were nice enough to offer me 50% off), but semi-hosted or not, there is no denying it’s set on a beautiful piece of property.

There are several cottages and log rooms spread out on the grassy land, a short walk from their private beach. From the deck of all the lodgings is the same ocean view. A few minutes away is a small diner to eat in. If you want booze you have to make an excursion to Bay St. Lawrence, way up at the tip of the island, to find the NSLC (a bit of a trek, but worth it for that rewarding beer).

As I only spent one night on the trail, my time was limited. After all, the entire trip to and from Halifax is about 1000km. But I was still able to go slowly, stop at scenic viewpoints, and hike a couple of trails:

Skyline view

View from Skyline

  • Middle Head Trail – Shortly before reaching Ingonish turn off towards Ingonish Beach and Keltic Lodge.

    Follow the road into the lodge parking lot and go all the way to the end. This is where the trail begins. It’s an easy 4km return trip, with rewarding views at the end.

  • Skyline Trail – The most popular hike in the park. Just over 9km, the loop trail goes through low wildflower-filled scrub, trees, and eventually onto a boardwalk* that descends onto a headland.

    If you can get some quiet at the bottom it’s a very contemplative spot. On the way back I came across a big moose grazing just off the trail.

*The boardwalk is there to protect the sensitive flora, so make sure you stay on it.

While this road trip is very doable over one night, two would be ideal. That way you’ll have more time to hike more of the great trails in the park, take in a whale watching tour, or even learn about the Acadian history and culture.


Trips Co-Editor Hal Amen has cycled around Nova Scotia, including the grueling hills of the Cabot Trail. If you’re thinking of going by bike, make sure you read his piece 8 Steps for Successful Self-Supported Bicycle Tours, and his tour journal, A Maritime Meander.

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