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Will Norton

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Visited Cape Breton Island in July 2018 for 4 days

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Americas > Canada > Cape Breton Island > Trip Briefs
Updated on Aug 22, 2018 Trip Brief

A guide for how to visit Cape Breton

Cape Breton is a very under-the-radar travel destination, even within Canada. It's an island on the northern tip of Nova Scotia, about 4 hours drive north from Halifax (Nova Scotia's capital and main city).

In my opinion it's one of the most beautiful places we have in Canada, and I've been meaning to visit it for a while now but never had the chance to until last month, when I went there for a weekend trip.


Why go to Cape Breton

  • Mainly for the outdoors. Cape Breton has amazing natural scenery all over the island and lots of hiking trails and camp grounds with gorgeous views of the Atlantic. The island has some interesting history as well, having first been a French colony.
  • The main way to see Cape Breton is to rent a car and drive along the Cabot Trail, which is the highway that goes around the northern part of the island


Timing

  • Summer (June-August) is the best time to visit, but fall (September to mid-October) isn't bad either. Temperature is a bit lower in the fall but the trees are more colourful
  • I landed Thursday evening and left Sunday afternoon. So 2 full days + half a day. I think I saw the major highlights of Cape Breton but I can see people easily spending 4-6 full days there


Getting in

  • I flew into the city of Sydney, which is the main city on the Cape Breton Island. It's a tiny little town that you can probably walk from one side to the other in 30 minutes.
  • There wasn't any direct flights from Saskatoon but my Air Canada flight connected through Toronto. The total flight time was almost 8 hours. The ticket came out to almost $1000.
  • The other option was to fly to Halifax instead of Sydney and drive to Cape Breton. The drive from Halifax is 4-5 hours


Where I stayed

  • The 1st night I stayed at the Cambridge Suites in Sydney (the hotel selection in Sydney is not great, as you can see on Tripadvisor),
  • The remaining nights I stayed in Airbnbs all over the island. The 2nd night was in a town called Chéticamp. 3rd night was in a town called Ingonish Beach
  • Lodging prices are not that cheap in Cape Breton. In the summer which is the tourist high season, hotels average $120-$180 a night. Even Airbnbs average $100-$150 a night


How to get around Cape Breton

  • The only way to do Cape Breton without being on a tour is to drive
  • There were a couple of car rental companies at the Sydney airport. I used Avis which costs around $60 per day all the fees included
  • Definitely book your car ahead of time if you're visiting in the peak months of July and August


Costs

  • My major expenses were:
  • Return flight from Saskatoon: $987
  • Lodging: Cambridge Suites in Sydney was $154 per night; Airbnbs averaged $141 per night (I only booked entire houses with ocean views)
  • Food: comparable to Saskatoon. $7-$10 for an appetizer, $10-$20 for an entree. I spent about $120 total on food the entire weekend
  • Gas: around 122 cents a litre. The island was surprisingly small I ended up using only one and half tanks of gas. Total gas expense was around $170
  • Fees for the Cape Breton Highlands National Park: $7.80 per day per person (adult). Check the official site for the current fee schedule. There are booths on the road that leads into the park (it's literally on the highway you drive on) so it's impossible to miss. Note that you're required to pay the fee if you plan to use any of the trails or parking spots in the park. If you just want to drive along the highway without stopping, then you don't need to buy the tickets


What I did on Cape Breton

From my research, I was able to squeeze in many of the essential highlights to see on Cape Breton. Here's an overview of my road trip over the weekend:

User submitted photo of Cape Breton Island


Day 1 (arrival):

  • Landed in Sydney in the evening on Thursday
  • Rented car and checked into hotel


Day 2 (driving clockwise from Sydney towards Cheticamp):

  • Ceilidh Trail:
  • Ceilidh Trail is basically the southern portion of the circular around-the-island highway (it's not a hiking trail, it's a highway to drive on). On my map above, it's the stretch of blue route below Sydney and Inverness
  • I left Sydney early in the morning to get started on the Ceilidh Trail. With all the stops I did, I made it to Inverness by a little bit after noon. If I didn't do any stops the drive should take no more than 3 hours
  • Was a little gloomy in the morning but all cleared up by afternoon. Had a nice lunch in Inverness at a restaurant called Westside Cookhouse
  • There was a really nice view point at coordinates 45.788748, -61.480574

User submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton Island


  • Inverness Beach Boardwalk: a nice beach with boardwalk in the town of Iverness. There's a golf course there as well. Sky really cleared up in the afternoon!

User submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton Island


Day 3 (continued to drive clockwise from Cheticamp towards Ingonish Beach):

  • Cabot Trail
  • Cabot Trail is the main thing I went to Cape Breton for. Again, it's not a hiking trail but a highway to drive on
  • It's the northern portion of the around-the-island highway and is far more scenic than Ceilidh Trail especially the area around the Highland National Park

User submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton Island

  • There are a bunch of hiking trails of various lengths and difficulty along the Cabot Trail. I did 2 of these hiking trails:
  • Skyline Trail:
  • If there's one thing you do in Cape Breton, this is it. IMO one of the most spectacular scenic views anywhere in Canada
  • I parked here (coordinates 46.737833, -60.880750) right at the start of the trail. Parking was not an issue as I was there super early (7am). It became more crowded when I left around 11:30am
  • You can do this entire trail in probably 3 hours. I took it very slow though and admired the view
  • Here's some official information about this trail

User submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton Island


  • Middle Head Trail:
  • A hiking trail on the opposite side of the Cape Breton Island from Skyline Trail. The view isn't as spectacular as Skyline, but it was amazing nonetheless
  • The hike is on a little tiny peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic. At the tip of the peninsula you get a great view of the ocean and the coast of the Cape Breton Island
  • I parked right here at the start of the trail (coordinates 46.655333, -60.372139)
  • Trail took me about 2.5 hours in total

User submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton Island


User submitted photo of Cape Breton IslandUser submitted photo of Cape Breton Island


Day 4 (departure):

  • Miner's Museum:
  • Despite all the natural scenery, Cape Breton was apparently a major coal production centre back in the days (I associate coal with big industry so it's hard for me to imagine that here). This museum had an amazing showcase of the history of coal production here
  • Museum opened at 10am (10am-6pm June to mid-October; only open by appointment rest of the year)
  • Admission was $16, and it included a guided tour of the museum with an actual retired coal miner who went very in-depth into the history of coal mining here. The tour also went into an actual underground mine
  • I stayed for 2 hours (1 hour is probably enough). It's only 15 minutes away to the airport so worked out very well logistically. I went straight to the airport afterwards and caught my 3pm flight home
  • Official website

User submitted photo of Cape Breton Island

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