Cabot Trail, Day 1, Baddeck to Cape North

It rained overnight starting at 5 AM and rained steadily for a couple of hours. By the time we finally got up at 8:00, the rain had stopped, but it was gray and overcast. There was a low cloud over the valley.

We had breakfast and prepared to leave for out 2-day trek on the Cabot Trail….one of 5 scenic trails on Cape Breton Island. Since the Cabot Trail is 186 miles long and encircles the major portion of Cape Breton Island, it was suggested that we take 2 days to do it. That’s what we decided to do. We originally chose our current campground, Bra d’Or Lakes, near the town of Baddeck as a good starting point on the Cabot Trail and used it as our home base. Because of the nature of the Cabot Trail road–narrow and winding–and its many opportunities to stop at overlooks and hike to places of interest, we wanted a place where we could leave the trailer and do our sightseeing without it. We didn’t want to rush ourselves in doing the Cabot Trail either, so we decided it would make sense to do half the Trail (west coast) Baddeck to Cape North today, stay in a motel overnight, and do the other half of the Trail (east coast) Cape North back to Baddeck tomorrow. See the map. The yellow road on the map that encircles the green area is the Cabot Trail. The bright green area is Cape Breton National Park at the top of the map.

We left camp at 9:45 this morning and headed north back on the same road we took yesterday to go whale watching and continued on from there. The road took us into Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada. It is 366 square miles of sheer wilderness beauty.

We paid our entrance fee at the office and made our slow climb into the park.

The Cabot Trail goes in and out of the National Park. It follows the sea northward, up and over the French (1500 ft.) and McKenzie Mountains, over a wilderness plateau through awesome canyons, and eventually back out to sea and to the town of Pleasant Bay. Then it goes up and over North Mountain, turning inland at Cape North where we would spend the night at McDonald’s Motel and Cottages. We stopped at most of the overlooks and one was more spectacular than the other. Here are just a few views for your enjoyment.

Many years ago, before the trail was paved, there was an unwritten rule that you must always drive the Trail clockwise. That would put your car on the inside of the road away from the cliffs on the ocean side. It’s not so much of an issue today, but that guardrail doesn’t offer enough comfort when you’re looking down a sheer cliff and the road looks like it will take you right off of the edge. It definitely takes your breath away! 

We decided to go with the clockwise direction. The coastal drive along the Gulf of St. Lawrence is just a prerequisite for the more dramatic segments of the Trail further north. This is a view of the ocean.

We stopped at a wayside/campground to eat our bag lunch and stretch our legs. Auggie too. At the town of Big Intervale, about 2/3 of the way to our motel, we took a side trip down a narrow, one-lane gravel road to Beulach Bay Falls.

Luckily, when we came upon a car going the other direction, there was a place for us to slide over and let them get by. At the end of the road, we all got out of the car and took the very short walk to the falls.

Auggie wanted to constantly go to the edge of the path and look over. He was fearless. Us….not so much! The falls was about 100 ft. tall, cascading over the rocks. It was the tallest one in the park. It was beautiful!

Our next stop was at McDonald’s Motel and Cottages to check in.

It was 1:30, still early in the day, so we had plenty of time to make the 14 mile drive to Meat Cove–the ultimate, northernmost spot that you can get to by car on Cape Breton Island/Nova Scotia. See the map in the beginnng of this blog entry. This scenic road takes you to the Bay of St. Lawrence and Aspy Bay. The road is littered with potholes, parts are totally washed away, or look like a washboard and shake your teeth loose, but it is DEFINITELY worth the trip!!!! The views are breathtaking all along this narrow, winding road.

The road literally ends at Meat Cove where there is an awesome campground and chowder house. This is the view looking down at the campground.

Here’s a closer view of the campsites. 

They have campsites with picnic tables, a few cabins, and a lodge if that’s more to your liking. There are bathroom facilities also. Imagine pitching your tent on the edge of this bluff and falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The night sky must be bursting with stars or Northern Lights, if you’re lucky. What a view!

A Nova Scotia Visitor’s Center volunteer told us a story of a man that went camping with a friend at Meat Cove. The man’s friend went outside in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom beside his tent. He lost his bearings and rolled down the cliff. Everyone thought it was funny, until you actually see the cliff like we did! It’s not a mistake you want to make twice! 

The slope on this campsite was just a little too much for my comfort.

Meat Cove is described as a place that “makes you feel like you could be standing at the end of the Earth”. It’s all that…..and MORE!

We walked along the cliff staring out at the vast ocean and admiring the beauty before us.

Looking to the east towards the beach, we got a great view of the rocky shoreline. Through the binoculars, we could see a huge waterfall that crashed from the top of the cliff to the sea farther down the shore.

We decided to take the drive down to the beach. We had to cross another one-lane bridge (one of three on this road) to get there.

At the beach, I took off my sandals and waded in.

The water was cold and my feet went numb after awhile, but it was so clear and deep blue.

Others were wading and even swimming in the chilly water. It was an amazing place to be and I didn’t want to leave. After about 30 minutes, we decided to head back to Cape North and find someplace to have dinner. Mrs. McDonald suggested a few places, so we decided to make the short drive into the town of Dingwall. Here we discovered Dingwall Harbor and some working lobster boats.

The town was small, but had a lighthouse museum and the St. Paul Lighthouse with a fresnel lens inside.

Across from the lighthouse, we located the Celtic Touch Bakery and Pizzaria where we would have dinner.

We ordered a Celtic pizza with 3 kinds of meat, cheese, tomatoes, green peppers, black olives, mushrooms, and onions. It had a handmade crust and was delicious! We ate our fill and brought back a couple of slices for our lunch tomorrow. From there we went back to the motel, unpacked, and relaxed. Auggie finally got to take a nap. He got jostled about all day long on those bumpy and winding roads. He was happy to be out of the car and back on hard ground again. It turned out to be a beautiful day….sunny, blue skies, glassy calm seas, and 71 degrees. It was PERFECT!

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