In celebration of the 150th year of Confederation, we are trying to visit every Canadian National Park that we can drive to. This is the eastern portion of that tour.
Day Five – Cape Breton National Highlands National Park
The alarm woke us up. I think we were the first ones in the entire campground awake as we went for a quick stroll; we did not see a single person moving. I must say, I could get used to this early morning thing; if it didn’t involve being up so darned early. I briefly toyed with the idea of taking the dogs to the beach but we were on a bit of a schedule. The dogs ate their breakfast while I broke camp and we began the drive to the ferry at Wood Islands. Our friends from the beach the night before had told us that the ferry would save us a ton of time. Yes it costs a bit of money (over $70!) but it shaved hours off the drive so I figured it was worth it.
Knowing that I would need caffeination, we stopped at Montague Bakery in, you guessed it, Montague. As we drove up, I was a little confused by the bakery next to a coffee shop with a drive thru. Well it turns out, they are connected so rather than have the woman run between both sides of the store, I hopped back into the car and proceeded to the drive thru. When she saw the dogs, she handed me a big peanut butter cookie for them. It’s the little touches that make some things so memorable. I ordered a coffee and cinnamon bun and we continued on to the ferry. Small confession here: I “sampled” the cookie and it was very good indeed. Rest assured, the dogs did get the majority of it.
We arrived at the ferry docks and as we were stopped to pay our fare, the gentleman working in the booth handed me a cookie for each dog. Wow! I’m happy when people just acknowledge the dogs and here they are getting cookies from two different places in less than an hour. OK P.E.I., you understand dogs. Now my plan was to park in line and take the dogs onto the grass to let them sniff and stretch. No. We got ambushed by people who were already waiting or had just pulled up and can I see your dogs? There were even some girls that sat down on the road for the full boxer lapdog experience. Next thing I know, there’s the announcement to return to the cars. Darn. We sauntered back to the car and as we were waiting, I bit into my cinnamon bun. It’s different from a cinnamon roll and it’s more like a cinnamonny scone and it went fabulously with the coffee. I was just wiping the crumbs from my face when we were waved onto the ferry.
I parked the car and pulled everyone back out then I had to find a place where we could all squeeze between cars. This is one of the ferries that do allow dogs out of the car but they have to stay on the outside decks. Well that is just fine with us.
At first, I wanted to find a seat but there were so many people already sitting and space was kind of limited (we do kind of spread out a bit), so I found a spot against a railing where there would be room for people to walk around us and just sat down with the dogs. We had kids hanging around us for most of the trip and a few folks posed with the dogs. In fact, one gentleman asked me if his kids were bothering me because they were hanging around so long. I told him that it kept everyone occupied as I watched Piper lick one of their faces.
We were the last to leave the deck when the announcement was made that it was time to return to our cars. We strolled to the car and had just gotten settled when the ferry docked. From there, we drove straight to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. There are two gates at the south end of the park and we went to closest at Cheticamp. That campground was full but they mentioned that they had opened up several of the day use areas for overflow camping as well as some other campgrounds that were self-registered. Hmmmm this presented a bit of a conundrum: to I grab the first site I find or or do I drive the length of the park and hope to get something nicer? I decided to take the safe route and headed to the first permanent campground at Corney Brook. We did see several of the overflow sites which were just numbers attached to picnic tables. I’m impressed that they opened up so much of the park which just goes to show how high the tourist volume was.
Corney Brook campground was not much to look at. It was literally right off the highway and all it had for service was a port-a-potty. But you had the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other side of the road. The ocean was literally a minute walk away. Besides, it’s just a place to sleep since we were only spending the night.
We set up camp and started driving north. The Cabot Trail runs along the west side of the park, across the north border, and then follows the coast on the east side. There are towns at both south gates in Cheticamp and Ingonish, a few on the north, and some on the west coast. Needless to say, food was on my mind. After some hiking of course.
You can’t go far in the Cape Breton Highlands without finding trails. The first trail we came to was Skyline and there were a whole bunch of signs posted: no dogs allowed. OK sensitive area, I get it. The next trail we jumped out and almost immediately jumped right back into the car. Wow were the bugs bad at that spot. Of course it was bog so makes sense. We went a bit farther and decided to give MacIntosh Brook a try. Third times a charm. What a charm it was: a nice breezy trail through old-growth forest and a pretty waterfall at the end of the trail. I let the dogs wade in the river to cool off but there were so many people around that I didn’t dare let them off their leashes for a proper swim. Then back in the car.
One thing that was a bit odd was the amount of construction that we found, particularly in this section of the park. I mean, did no one think that offering free admission into the parks was going to result in a massive influx of tourists? I get that work needs to be done, it just seems that the timing could have been a little bit better.
Now I must confess that I dropped the ball a little here. We stopped somewhere and had a lobster burger with pasta salad. Even the inclusion of bacon could not save the meal. However dogs were allowed on the patio so I was able to actually sit and eat although Piper was trying as hard as she could to suck up every morsel of lobster she could find so it wasn’t exactly peaceful. Problem is, I didn’t make note of where it was or what it was called and I cannot for the life of me seem to find it. It was next to a general store so if you’re driving the Cabot Trail and you see that and lobster burger on the menu, be warned. Yeah my bad on this one.
We kept going and stopped at Jack Pine for another walk. This had some absolutely stunning views of the coastline. The moss growing on the rocks across from us looked so thick I wanted to lay down in it. Naturally we were out on the rocks exploring and watching some young folks cliff dive; right next to the sign that says no diving. Ahhhh youth is for the young. I lost track of time on the rocks and for some reason I got worried about being stuck in the woods when the sun went down. We had plenty of time, but I had heard that you don’t want to be on the roads after dark because of the moose. Yikes.
By the time we arrived in Ingonish, I was pretty hungry again so when I saw the sign for The Seagull, well you know I went in. Unfortunately the dogs were not allowed on the patio but the woman helping me actually showed me a beach almost within spitting distance where we could sit. Don’t mind if I do. I asked for a food recommendation and she told me the fish and chips were very popular. Sold. Oh and a slice of coconut cream pie for the road if you don’t mind. When I asked if I could get some water for my dogs, not only did she fill both bottles but she also tossed in some ice. East coasters are known for their friendliness and it is a reputation that is well and truly deserved my friends.
Soon I had a full bag of food and we made the short trip to the beach. There was a couple with their dog so we walked to the far end of the beach and found an empty picnic table. The dogs were pretty tired by this point so they mostly wandered around, oh and offered to help with any food I couldn’t finish. They checked out the water, and Leo rolled, but they mostly just lazed in the sand.
We made the drive all the way back to our site (without seeing a single moose), returning to our site just as it was dark. As they ate their dinner, I ate my pie, and we all piled into the tent.
37639 Cabot Trail, Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia, B0C 1L0
HOW TO GET THERE
There is only the Cabot Trail. Once you get onto that, you are set.
WHAT TO DO
Hike, hike, and hike some more. There is also mountain biking, and we saw some folks that are obviously gluttons for punishment that were biking the road. There are plenty of beaches to go swimming if that’s more your thing. Want to get really out on the water? No problem here.
There are serviced, unserviced, and backcountry camping sites, oTENTiks, and even something called a Cocoon Tree Bed. The Parks Canada website describes the cocoon tree bed as: “a spherical accommodation that is suspended in the trees at Ingonish Beach in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The accommodation is accessed by stairs. It contains a mattress that is 2.5 m in diameter and can accommodate up to four people.” Needless to say, those were fully booked for the season.
Oh and if you like whisky, you will drive right by Glenora Distillery. Stop in for a snoot. If whisky isn’t your thing, there are plenty of artisans along the Cabot Trail.
While the Cabot Trail is the only road in the park, it does not only exist in the park as it forms a 300 km loop that extends far to the south. There is a reason why it was named one of the best road trips by Lonely Planet. Do yourself a favour and drive the entire loop. It is well worth it.
WHERE TO EAT
The park offers a program where you can learn to lobster boil, there are some restaurants that have a program with the park where you can order a prepared picnic complete with souvenir basket, and there are lots of restaurants when the Cabot Trail leaves the park boundaries. Obviously beware the lobster burger at an unnamed restaurant (sorry about that again). However I can attest that the fish and chips and coconut cream pie from The Seagull are top-notch.