The Cabot Trail circles the northern reaches of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, passing through rocky highlands that drop to the sea and fragrant forests sprinkled with wildflowers. Its highlight, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, truly can't be missed, since the Cabot Trail runs directly through it. The park has a pair of entrances—one at Ingonish Beach, about a two-hour drive north of Sydney, and the other at Cheticamp—and both sell helpful audio guides of the park for Can$14.
Approached from either end, the park is impressive, especially in autumn when the trees are adorned with brilliant foliage. Yet each side has a distinctive character. The eastern part, closest to Sydney, has the most spectacular scenery. The western part is best for hiking; if you take one of the 27 trails, keep an eye out for moose, red fox, mink, snowshoe hares and bald eagles.
In addition to maintained trails, Cape Breton National Park has the other expected perks: interpretative centers, ranger-led programs and scenic lookouts. Like many renowned parks, it also boasts a grand lodge, in this case the Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa. The luxury property, owned by the province, offers outstanding views, tempting restaurants and on-site amenities that include a premier golf course.
But the trail as a whole is also home to a series of tiny coastal communities that are unique in their own right. Pleasant Bay, for one, promises fresh seafood plus whale-watching adventures. Cheticamp (shet-UH-camp), conversely, is an old Acadian enclave famous for rug hooking, which you can learn about at Les Trois Pignons Cultural Centre; and oh-so Scottish St. Ann's is the site of the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts, where a Great Hall of the Clans proudly recounts the history of the island's early highland settlers.
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