Solo in Cape Breton, Part 2: The Cabot Trail & the Most Beautiful Drive of My Life

The legendary Keltic Lodge in Cape Breton

The legendary Keltic Lodge in Cape Breton

This is second part in Georgie Jet’s two-part series on her time on Cape Breton. See part 1 here.

As I continued on my solo road trip from the west coast of Cape Breton‘s Ceilidh Trail, I met the Cabot Trail, where steep cliffs jut out above a kaleidoscope of blues on the Atlantic Ocean. From Glenora Distillery (see part 1) I headed to Baddeck—right on Bras d’or Lake—to take in the local color and get some rest before setting off to Ingonish and Keltic Lodge.

Welcome to the Cabot Trail

Welcome to the Cabot Trail

I stayed in Baddeck at the Inverary Inn, a family-run resort perfect for family reunions on 11 acres on the sublime Bras d’or Lake and a close walk to town. On my first night there, my Nova Scotian friend Mark and I walked to the Bras d’or Yacht Club to have a drink on the deck and enjoy a casual dinner from the Stand and Stuff Your Face (!) food truck.

The yacht club has an open-door policy and reminded me of my time in Australia, where yacht clubs are fun social places and not exclusive, snooty and members-only. Our dinner and Cape Breton ales were brought to us as we sat and admired the sunset over the Kidston Lighthouse and the unreal beauty of the lake. Mark’s sirloin steak and spinach salad were mammoth-sized and reported to be very good, as was my cup of Cape Breton seafood chowder and halibut fish sandwich (all for $30).

Baddeck Harbor

Baddeck Harbor

The next morning I enjoyed breakfast at the inn and then headed off on the majestic Cabot Trail, but not before a stop at the tourist centre for directions, tips and maps.

Iron art on Artisan Trail (part of the Cabot Trail)

Iron art on Artisan Trail (part of the Cabot Trail)

The east side of the Cabot Trail is also called the Artisan Trail for its concentration of local makers and shops. I was glad I had time to explore and stop in many of the artists’ shops and homes. I visited an iron worker, a pewter shop and an art gallery, all selling work made only on Cape Breton. There are so many artisans on the trail that I could have spent several more hours exploring, but I was anxious to get up to Cape Breton Highlands National Park and Keltic Lodge for an experience of a lifetime.

The classic Keltic Lodge

The classic Keltic Lodge

I needed to purchase a day pass to enter the park, which granted me access to both the lodge and rocky Ingonish Beach. At Ingonish Beach, I inhaled the fresh breeze coming off the Atlantic Ocean and was drawn to the large stones made round and smooth by the pounding surf. I was tempted to take one home (but encouraged not to as they act as a barrier for the dunes). I met many nice people that day on the beach, each one of them in a good mood surrounded by the beauty of the cliffs and the ocean. I really believe in the power of the ocean to soothe the soul!

Corson House room, Keltic Lodge

Corson House room, Keltic Lodge

The Keltic Lodge opened in 1951. Today, there are 120 rooms, some in the main hotel and others in private cottages or the newly built Corson House, where I was lucky enough to stay.

View of Cape Smokey from Keltic Lodge

View of Cape Smokey from Keltic Lodge

My room had an open-air staircase to a loft with a queen-size bed but since I was alone, I stayed in the luxurious ground level suite, where I had a view of the ocean and Cape Smokey, also a ski area. On my private deck were two classic red Adirondack chairs to match the red roof of the main lodge.

A Cape Breton ale at Keltic Lodge

A Cape Breton ale at Keltic Lodge

I stopped in at the on-property Arduaine Restaurant for a local ale before sauntering up the hill for an early reservation at the the Purple Thistle. The meal at Purple Thistle (which is a massive dining room with large windows) was delicious, fresh and typically Nova Scotian—from the appetizer of Digby scallops with flying fish caviar to the main course of halibut with lobster.

Digby scallops served on slate at Purple Thistle

Digby scallops served on slate at Purple Thistle

After dinner there was a musical event called a ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”) in the lounge (see part 1 for more on ceilidhs). Music is the heart and soul of the Cape Breton islanders, whose Scottish and French history merged to create the unique Cape Breton sound. There are ceilidhs every night at the Keltic Lodge and elsewhere on Cape Breton!

Hiking Middle Head behind the Keltic Lodge

Hiking Middle Head behind the Keltic Lodge

The next morning, I enjoyed a breakfast of delicious scrambled eggs, toast and coffee before beginning a hike behind the Keltic Lodge called Middle Head.

Iconic Keltic Lodge

Iconic Keltic Lodge

The 4km hike took me two hours to complete, and I was not alone for long. I met several pairs and groups of hikers. It was a beautiful day complete with a bluebird sky and musical birdsong, and in the end one of the best hikes of my life. The views of the Atlantic Ocean and craggy cliffs were spectacular.

View from the hike at Middle Head

View from the hike at Middle Head

Later, when I left, I vowed to come back soon with my husband Cam so that he could play the renowned Highlands Links golf course.

I drove north from Keltic Lodge along the Cabot Trail unprepared for the raw, jaw-dropping beauty that was to come. It took about three hours to carefully traverse the northeastern tip of Cape Breton to the top to the northwestern part before I landed in Chéticamp. Along the way I took in the crazy steep cliffs, the endless Atlantic Ocean, rugged coastline, and numerous twists and turns. I stopped at every viewpoint I could while paying close attention to my driving. Distracted driving is not an option on the Cabot Trail!

Harbor at Chéticamp, Cape Breton

Harbor at Chéticamp, Cape Breton

At Chéticamp, I was signed up for the guided sunset hike ($14 CND) along the Skyline Trail, also inside Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The temperature had dropped 30ºF from what I’d experienced on the east coast, but I was prepared with rain pants and jacket, a Skida hat and gator, gloves, smartwool socks, and hiking boots! The hike was not hard, but guide Courtney stopped often to talk about the moose, coyote, and other fauna and flora. Two hours after setting off, we arrived at the boardwalk with the million-dollar view.

Skyline Trail at sunset

Skyline Trail at sunset

As everyone took pictures of the sunset, I decided to walk back alone—or rather run back. Along the way I encountered a large moose! He was quite interested in continuing to eat but I snapped a few pics while my hands were shaking from the cold (and maybe I was a little bit nervous, too).

A moose on the Skyline Trail

A moose on the Skyline Trail

 

That night, a few hikers and I savored Acadian food in Chéticamp at Le Gabriel. While another musician played tunes, we ate fish and chips and drank local beer. My time in Chéticamp was way too short, as I left the next morning. I vowed to come back to learn about the French deportation in the 1700s at the museum Les Trois Pignons, see the rug hookers, and take in more of the Acadian culture. I can’t wait!

More photos:

Georgie Jet

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About the Author

Georgie Jet
Hi, I'm Georgette, a writer and artist based in Connecticut and Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. I'm also Johnny Jet’s sister, who quite possibly ignited his first spark of interest in traveling to exotic places when at the impressionable age of 14, he saw my four-week trip to Australia last three years! Whether skiing in the mountains, snorkeling in the tropics, or exploring historical cities, I'm always game for traveling and the privilege of writing for my brother's website JohnnyJet.com. Of course, coming home to my husband Cam, our dog Indigo, and my three cats Ace, Chammy and Kashmir is great, too! Check out my animal portraits at georgettepaintings.com.

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