Canada’s world famous Cabot Trail is a scenic drive everyone should take the time to do at least once in their lifetime. If you only have a day, love to eat delicious seafood fare and want to see “everything” this is for you.
In order to do the trail comfortably in a day you need to begin your trip from somewhere in Cape Breton… the typical beginning/end of the trail is in Baddeck. There are many places to stay around the quaint town (The Silver Dart Lodge, Telegraph House and the Dunlop Inn to name a few). Once you have your starting point, you are ready to begin the journey around the Trail!
Start from Baddeck
Leave Baddeck in the morning and head toward Englishtown – before arriving in Englishtown you will have the option to turn toward the Gaelic College in St. Ann or continue a bit further and cross the ferry. It’s a cable ferry and a neat thing on the island to try! And it’s only few minutes to the other side.
Clucking Hen Butter Tarts
Next stop is The Clucking Hen Café & Bakery – even if you have already eaten breakfast you have to stop! My mandatory purchases include butter tarts (at least 6… I mean you will get hungry along the drive, might have to share, etc.) and oat cakes. They also give out little cards with the recipe for their oat cakes, so be sure to pick up a copy so you can give them a whirl when you get back home. .
Hit the Road
Now that you’ve had a snack and are back in the car, buckle up for a longer stretch of driving. Enjoy the scenic views and make your way up Cape Smokey, commonly known as Smokey Mountain. This is by far the most harrowing part of the drive! Ascending up the winding mountain you may.have the feeling as though you might topple off a cliff at any given moment. Once you reach the top, it’s time for your next rest stop. Get out of the car, catch your breath and walk a little into the trails. This is the first major photo opportunity so get out your selfie stick and snap a few!
Your next stop will be in Ingonish. You can linger at the lovely beach for a few minutes (if you have never touched the Atlantic Ocean, this would be a good opportunity to do so!), however, I usually stop at the Keltic Lodge. You will see it from this historic lodge from the road and can follow signs to it very easily. From here you will get panoramic views or the coastline, the beach and of course the beautiful grounds at the Lodge.
Chowder House Lunch
It’s time! Time for lunch and the best chowder there is… this is not a joke, I have tried A LOT of chowders in my day and this chowder really is the best! Stop in picturesque Neil’s Harbour and drive to the the end of the road where you will find The Chowder House. The test of your self-control will be when you see the menu… yes, I know everything looks and smells amazing, but trust me, get the chowder filled with local lobster, scallops and more.
Spectacular Cabot Trail Views
Now that everyone has a full belly, drive to Cape North and turn on Bay Saint Lawrence road, you are now heading off the Cabot Trail for a small detour. The view is quite spectacular. Drive to end of the road (even if you feel like you are lost or heading to the end of the earth, haha) until you arrive at a very small town called Meat Cove located at the most northern tip of Cape Breton Island. It’s rugged landscape and rocks hitting against the oceans swell makes for great photo opportunities. Now that you are back on the main Trail – you are likely ready to open those butter tarts you bought earlier! Savour each bite and enjoy as you drive up and down a few mountains and possibly stop for a few more photo-ops at some of the look out points.
My favourite look-out stop is coming up next! You will begin to see the coastline again and will pass by signs for the Sky Line Trail… Side Note: You won’t have time in one day to take in the Sky Line Trail, but your next trip around the Trail, this is worth making time for! At the bottom of French Mountain, just before you arrive in Cheticamp you will see my favourite look-out. Stop here! Take a deep breath. Yes, it really is that beautiful!
Once you arrive in Cheticamp you have 3 things to do: 1) If you have run out of butter tarts, stop at Aucoin’s Bakery to restock on some tasty homemade baked goods. 2) Decide if you are hungry for dinner yet… if yes, stop at Wabo’s and grab a slice of pizza. If no, check if you will make it to The Dancing Goat before it closes for the evening and wait for the next stop. 3) Stop at Flora’s and buy a souvenir.
On to Margaree
You are now on the last leg of the race… as you drive through bucolic Margaree enjoy the view and be sure to stop at The Dancing Goat if it’s still open by the time you arrive. And really, even if you’re not hungry, get a loaf of bread for tomorrow, some scones, etc. You will thank me later.
Back to Baddeck
And now, after a fun-filled day of exploring and eating you will arrive back in the Baddeck area. I ave gone around the Trail many times, and although the topography remains much the same, driving the route in different seasons will change the feel entirely… try a day trip in early October to see the leaves changing colours in the fall for example! One of the great things about the Cabot Trail, is that if you ask ten people what to do, where to stop and what to eat you will likely get ten different answers – all that really means is no matter how you decide to do the Trail you can’t go wrong as long as you’re doing it!