One of the most captivating places in Canada, Cape Breton Highlands National Park is where the mountains and the sea come together. Located on Northern Cape Breton Island in the province of Nova Scotia, the park was the first national park in Canada’s Atlantic provinces and includes 366 square miles.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park features Acadian and Boreal forests, mountains, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, rocky coastlines and the Cape Breton Highlands, a tundra-like plateau. One-third of the well-known Cabot Trail winds through the park, offering mountain and ocean views. As you travel along the Cabot Trail coastline you can experience river canyons carved into the ancient plateau that are bordered by cliffs.
The park’s climate is cool and along with the landscape allows for a rare blend of Acadian, Boreal and Taiga habitats, plants and animals. The mix of northern and southern species that are found in the park is not found anywhere else in Canada. In addition to rare species of plants and animals, visitors can see artic-alpine plants that are from the last ice age.
Various viewpoints throughout the Cabot Trail will allow you the chance to enjoy views of the French, North and MacKenzie mountains, along with the rugged coastline. While exploring, keep your eyes out for moose, bald eagles and even pilot whales when looking toward the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of St. Lawrence. The park offers plenty of recreation options; hiking, swimming, fishing, bird watching and boating are just some of the opportunities available to the park’s visitors.
Point your RV in the direction of Cape Breton National Park and be ready to embark on your next great adventure!
Cape Breton Island is about a 2.5 hour drive from Halifax. Cape Breton Highlands National Park can be accessed from both an east and a west entrance. There are two main ways to drive to the western entrance of Cape Breton National Park near Cheticamp and two options to arrive at the park’s eastern entrance in Ingonish.
If looking to arrive at Cheticamp entrance, you can choose to take Route 19 (Ceilidh Trail), which begins in Port Hastings on the “island” side of the Canso Causeway. This will take you through Judique, Mabou, Inverness and Margaree Harbour. You can also take the Cabot Trail (west), which will take you through Middle River, Lake O’Law and Margaree Harbour, accessing the Cabot Trail from Exit 7 of the Trans-Canada Highway 105. The Cabot Trail, which loops around northern Cape Breton, is considered one of the most magnificent drives in the world, so make sure to allow for some time to enjoy the scenery.
If you would like to enter the park through the Ingonish entrance, you can access the Cabot Trail (East) from Exit 11 of the Trans-Canada Highway 105 at South Haven and travel through St. Ann’s. Another option is to access the Englishtown Ferry (Route 312) by taking Exit 12 off the Trans-Canada Highway 105, which will include a brief ferry ride. The two routes converge north of the Englishtown Ferry.
There is plenty of parking available throughout the park.
There is no public transportation to Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
When looking to camp at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Broad Cove Campground is an excellent choice. The campground offers 202 sites, 182 of which can be reserved ahead of time. A variety of sites are available; some have electricity, water and sewer hookups as well as a fireplace, some offer the hookups without the fireplace and there are a number of sites without hookups available. There are a total of five accessible sites available at the campground and you can even reserve an oTENTik, which is a cabin/tent hybrid. Located close to the village of Ingonish in a forest bordered on one side by a beach, the campground is open from May 17 to October 28 and offers the following amenities: showers, flush toilets, kitchen shelters with wood stoves, fireplaces, a playground and easy access to ocean and lake swimming. Many sites have sufficient space for RV’s and trailers longer than 35 feet.
Located in the Chéticamp River valley between the river and the mountains, whichever campsite you choose will offer easy access to four of the park’s hiking trails. The campground offers 122 sites, 112 of which are able to be reserved ahead of time. There are a variety of sites available at the campground, some of which offer all hook-ups, some electricity only and some without hookups. Ten of the sites offer oTENTik, the cabin/tent hybrid and several of the sites are accessible. The campground has showers, flush toilets, kitchen shelters and a playground. A visitor’s center with a nature bookstore and coffee is nearby and the campground offers easy access to nearby beaches and the town of Chéticamp. Some sites can accommodate trailers and RV’s, the sizes of which vary.
A small campground, Ingonish Beach Campground is just a ten-minute walk from Ingonish Beach where you can enjoy swimming in the ocean or in freshwater. The campground has showers, flush toilets, kitchen shelters with wood stoves, fireplaces and a playground. The Highland Links golf course is nearby and there is also easy access to tennis courts and a soccer field. While there are no hook-ups available at the Ingonish Beach Campground, it offers a few oTENTik sites as well as equipped camping (sites with the equipment you need already there). The capacity for RV length is not specified.
Cape Breton Highlands has one designated “wilderness” camping area; Fishing Cove Backcountry Campground. There are eight sites, all of which are reservable during the operating season (May 17- October 28). A 3.7-mile (6 km) hike down to the rugged coastline will lead you to the campground. A backcountry permit is required and can be obtained at the Chéticamp or Ingonish Visitor Center. Make sure to bring your own drinking water as there is none available on site.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park offers three small campgrounds; Corney Brook, MacIntosh Brook and Big Intervale. Neither Corney Brook or Big Intervale have potable water available, so make sure to bring your own if you plan to camp there. Flush toilets are available at Corney Brook and MacIntosh Brook Campgrounds. All three offer the opportunity to enjoy the park in a peaceful setting with less people around.
A great way to take in the beauty of Cape of Breton Highlands National Park is to hike one or more of the park’s many trails. No matter your ability, there is a trail for you; the park offers easy walks to difficult climbs. Regardless of the trail you take, you will have the opportunity to explore the park’s habitat and enjoy panoramic views of the canyons, highlands and seacoasts that the park has to offer. The Skyline Trail, for example, is an easy 4 mile (6.5 km) walk where you can take in a view of the Cabot Trail as it winds down the mountain as well marvel at the rugged coast from a headland cliff. Those looking for a more difficult hike can embark on the 7.5 mile (12 km) Fishing Cove Trail. The trail works its way down to a small ocean cove and grassy clearing. You can explore the beach and hills, and even go for a swim. This is also the location of the park’s only designated wilderness campsite. Guided hikes in the dark are offered in July, August and September.
If you enjoy fishing, Cape Breton Highlands National Park offers plenty of opportunity break out your fishing rod. Fishing season typically runs from April 14 through September 30, during which you can fish for the native brook or speckled trout and in some areas, Atlantic salmon. Certain waters of the park (Clyburn Brook, the Cheticamp River and the Aspy River) are designated for fly fishing only. There are catch and possession limits for trout and salmon as well as equipment restrictions; make sure to check with the warden office of Parks Canada.. A permit and license is required.
There are a number of beaches to explore at Cape Breton Highlands National Park. You can take a dip in either salt or freshwater, or experience both if you desire. Ingonish Beach and Freshwater Lake, for example, offer the best of both possibilities. Each winter the sandy ocean beach is washed away and the waves deposit the sand here. Over the course of thousands of years, large cobblestones on the beach have become smooth from the action of the waves. These cobbles have formed a barachois that centuries ago created a cove, cutting it off of the saltwater of the Atlantic Ocean. By crossing the barachois, you can enjoy a swim in the warm water of Freshwater Lake. Other beaches include North Bay Beach, Broad Cove Beach, Warren Lake, Black Brook Beach and La Bloc Beach.
One-third of the well-known Cabot Trail meanders through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, resulting in a spectacular drive that you will want to experience. The area is one of the most-visited in Canada with sightseeing being among the most popular things to do in the park. There are a number of look-offs that will allow you the chance to admire the park’s landscape. For example, stop at the MacKenzie Mountain look-off, where you can do some whale watching. Look out for plumes of vapor as whales surface in the Gulf. An exhibit is available that features whales, species of fish, food sources, sea birds and life on the ocean floor.
While visiting Cape Breton Highlands National Park, keep your eyes peeled; you may encounter one or more of the animals that reside within its confines. Watch for wildlife from your vehicle as you drive along the Cabot Trail or during a hike within the park, which is home to whales, black bears, moose, coyotes, bald eagles and more. Remember not to approach or feed any animals that you observe for the safety of you and your family as well as the animals themselves.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park is open for exploration in the cooler months and you can enjoy the solitude that a visit at this time of year is sure to offer. Bring along your snow shoes or cross-country skis and take in the park’s beauty while also getting in a good workout. While the weather may be chilly, you will have the opportunity to view the park from and its off-season scenery with minimal intrusion from other visitors. Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing will allow you to be one with the park while engaging in some alone time.