Skyline Trail and Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia
The boardwalk at the end of the Skyline Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
There are not many places that can rival the scenery of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
We are traveling around the island, waiting for the ferry ride to Newfoundland in a couple days, blown away by the seashore, small waterfront fishing communities and of course, the forested mountain scenery that rises up out of the ocean and extends untouched for miles.
A adventuresome hiker teeters on the edge of a high cliff on top of French Mountain along the Skyline Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands.
Starting from North Sydney where we left the RV, we drove south and west across Cape Breton Island, emerging on the western shore at the little settlement of Margaree Harbor. We exited the car and took time to walk along the shoreline to the mouth of the Margaree River and imagined how much fun it would be to live here, at least in the summer.
The mountains meet the sea at Cape Breton National Park, Nova Scotia.
Back in the car we passed the small communities of Grand Etang and Point Cross and stopping occasionally for Kodak moments of the craggy coastline before reaching Cheticamp, another fishing community along the Cabot Trail. Cheticamp receives a lot of pass- through- traffic, en route north to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, one of the most visited places in the Nova Scotia.
The boardwalk makes hiking much easier to visitors to views the ocean and mountains on the Skyline Trail.
The downtown area has an unspoiled view of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and a population of about 4,000, making it the largest town on the western shore of Cape Breton Island. Settled by Acadians, it is very common to hear French spoken here.
It’s the Saint-Pierre Catholic Church, however, that prompted us to pull of the highway for a closer look. We could see the church bell tower before reaching the town’s southern limits.
Along the shoreline at Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
The church, constructed in 1892, was built of native sandstone mined from the north end of Cheticamp Island and ferried across the ice to the shore. It is one of a few stone churches on Cape Breton Island. The doors to the church were open, allowing us to see the interior which is described as “a barrel-vaulted nave with two aisles and upper gallery leading the eye straight towards the main altar. ” We were the only people inside the church.
We entered Cape Breton Highlands National Park just north of Cheticamp and walked the four mile round trip Skyline Trail on French Mountain to the ocean’s edge, finding ourselves hundreds of feet above the shoreline and overlooking the highway. It is best described as the place where the mountains meet the sea.
We could see the bell tower of St. Pierre Catholic Church in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, long before we entered the town.
An interior photo of St. Pierre Catholic Church, Cheticamp, NS.
Surrounded by forested mountains as far as the eye can see, we parked ourselves on wooden park benches and tried as much as possible to absorb the surroundings. Parks Canada has installed a wide boardwalk with steps that follow the steep cliff of the mountain and zig-zag back and forth, making it easier for hikers to get a panoramic view of the ocean and surrounding mountains. This is not the place to turn loose small children.
This lighthouse once stood along the shoreline at Dingman, NS but was relocated into town when it was decommissioned.
Although the trail is well traveled, hikers need to be aware that bears and coyotes are present in the mountains. A 19-year old was attacked in 2009 while walking the Skyline Trail by a pack of coyotes and later died from her injuries. It is the only known fatal attack on a human in Canada.
There are no trees growing at this elevation, providing undisturbed opens views. We were surprised to learn the mountains here are part of the Appalachians. My, what a view!
This colorful lighthouse at Neil’s Harbour also housed an ice cream store, which is the real reason we stopped here on our tour of the Cape Breton Highlands.
Back on the Cabot Trail we stopped for a late lunch at Rusty’s Anchor restaurant near Pleasant Bay, enjoying a bowl of seafood chowder while sitting outside with another view of the mountains while listing to live celtic music.
The northern part of the road has sharp curves, deep canyons and strong winds but the splendid views continued. We drove off the main road a few miles and visited the small settlement of Dingman and took photos of a recently relocated lighthouse. We found another lighthouse and a colorful small boat harbor at Neil’s Harbor. This lighthouse also featured an ice cream shop, the real reason we stopped.
NEXT: Loading the RV on the ferry for a six hour ride to Newfoundland.
Small boat harbour at Neil’s Harbor, NS.