Hiking the Highlands on Cape Breton

Hiking the Highlands of Cape Breton

The Atlantic Provinces of eastern Canada are great places to Go Live Real Life. There’s nature, hiking, sailing and boating of all kinds. It’s like the coast of Maine, only much bigger and more diverse. We’d been on many family camping and hiking trips to New Brunswick, Quebec, PEI, and even the southern part of Nova Scotia. But we had never been Hiking the Highlands on Cape Breton before.

Cape Breton Island of Nova Scotia is a must-see summer paradise. The name Nova Scotia is latin for New Scotland, and it fits. This terrain must have seemed like home to the early Scottish settlers. There are five “trails” that the Province promotes for tourism:

  • Ceilidh Trail
  • Bras d’Or Lakes
  • Marconi Trail
  • Fleur-de-Lis Trail
  • Cabot Trail

We had time to explore the Bras d’Or Lakes region and the Cabot Trail. The electrical engineer of Italian heritage in me wanted to visit the Marconi Trail, which is where the first transatlantic radio signal was sent from North America by Guglielmo Marconi in 1902. We did visit the Alexander Graham Bell museum and estate in the Lakes region, but that’s another story.

Most of our trip to Cape Breton was spent traveling the Cabot Trail. The Cape Breton Highlands National Park makes up almost one third of the land. On the second day of exploring we came upon a great little hike in the Highlands called Middle Head.

The Middle Head trail is a moderate hike of about 2.5 miles. It winds through a dense forest with occasional breaks that open up into majestic views of the rocky shoreline. You’re right on the Atlantic Ocean. Nothing to the East until you reach France.


If you’re a bird that likes steep rocky cliffs, cold water, and lots of fresh fish–this is your place. There’s a wide variety of seabirds that live here along the Cabot Trail. We saw black-backed gulls and both great and double-crested cormorants. Watching the cormorants “fish” is pretty cool (cold probably). They circle and dive, coming back up with fish.

Nature is amazing. The Parks Canada site points out that the eggs of these cliff-dwelling seabirds’ eggs are pointed so that they roll in a circle. That’s a pretty good trait to pass along. Bumping into your carefully nurtured egg only to have it, well, you get the idea. It’s better than they roll in a circle.

Points of Interest

Despite being a relatively short trail, there’s a lot to see. Along the way to pass Seine Cove with views of the bay to the South. It was a hot day, and we took advantage of the breaks in the tree line for several photo breaks along the way. Steering Island is right at the end of the peninsula. You can see if, but can’t go any farther by walking. As we wound back around to the Northern part of the trail we saw even more seabirds, diving, soaring, and the occasional fight.

Mackerel rock was another great picture spot along the way. Be careful of the steep cliffs. I just loved the warning sign about the “dangerous cliff. Like a kid, I had to show my defiance by taking a picture of my feet dangling over the edge.

The Highlands Course

Access to the Middle Head trail is through The Keltic Lodge Resort & Spa. It’s home to a wonderful hotel and several excellent restaurants. The Lodge is most famous for its’ golf course, The Highlands.

The Highlands course was designed and built under the watchful eye of Stanley Thompson, a world renowned Canadian golf course architect during the first half of the 1900’s. He designed more than 170 golf courses throughout Canada, the US, and South America. Thompson designed five golf courses for Parks Canada–including a world famous one at the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta.

Mr. Thompson later called The Highlands his “Mountains and Oceans” course. That makes it tough to fit in to the LIVE REAL LIFE terrain groupings…but we have this story in our FOREST and OCEAN categories, but it sort of covers all three!

The Cabot Trail

The Keltic Lodge was wonderful and we would have loved to stay longer, but we had to get back on the road. It took us two days to cover the whole Cabot Trail, and it you could easily spend a week there and still not see everything.

It didn’t look like we would  “close the loop” and complete the Cabot Trail by the end of the second day. We had gone clockwise on the first day and had to stop at sunset with some beautiful rocky islands in the distance to our north.

On the second day we went counter-closewise. That brought us to the Keltic lodge and some other fascinating stops along the way. We stopped for dinner and thought we weren’t going to be able to complete the loop with any daylight. We came across some amazing rolling hills overlooking the western shoreline of the Island. We took some more pictures and couldn’t believe how amazing the views were. In the distance was a rocky island – the very same one we had seen the night before. Our Cabot Trail adventure was complete.

Middle Head

The gorgeous cliffs bridge the gap between the forest and the ocean along this hike
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