9 days hiking on Cape Breton 8/03

Sep 5th, 2003, 06:10 AM
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9 days hiking on Cape Breton 8/03

Cape Breton Trip Report, August 2003

In 8/03 we spent 9 days on Cape Breton, staying at three different places, and hiking nearly every day. Many people spend only a day or two, but there is no way to experience CB in such a short time, especially if you are interested in active pursuits. Following are some highlights (and lowlights).

Starting out we drove from Halifax to Ingonish, and stayed at the Seascape Coastal Retreat, which turned out to be the nicest place we stayed on CB. These are ten brand new (2002) cottages on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Ours (#8) was a 2-room cottage with queen bed. The living room had a sofa in front of a large picture window looking at the sea, and had satellite TV and a VCR (fortunately we had good weather and didn?t need these). There was a bar area with coffee maker, microwave, and mini-fridge, and a covered porch with 2 adirondack chairs. A very good breakfast (eggs or cereal & muffins) was included, but not served until 8:30 AM. The day we arrived we took short but beautiful hike (Middle Beach Trail) near the Keltic Lodge. Day 2 we hiked Franey Mountain, whose trailhead is near the southern entrance to Cape Breton Highlands Park. This was a ?view? hike but visibility was poor. In the afternoon we took an easy but pretty hike around Warren lake. (All these hikes are in ?Hiking Trails of Cape Breton,? by Michael Haynes. Buying this book is highly recommended if you plan to hike). Day 3 we drove north to Meat Cove, stopping along the way at Cabot Provincial Park (this was a beach hike, but there was no life at all on the beach ?no birds, no crabs, nothing).. On the return from Meat Cove we hiked to Glasgow Lakes, a 6 mile RT over mostly taiga (scrubby low-growing foliage). It is not aerobically challenging but it is difficult because the trail is very rocky, and we felt the experience wasn?t worth the effort.

A few practical things about Ingonish: There are 3 towns, I. Harbor, I Beach and I Centre, and they are spread over about 20 miles of the Cabot Trail. There is no town you can walk around; businesses are strung along the road. (This is the case almost everywhere in CB). I Beach has a convenience store, restaurant, liquor store and hardware store. I center is the biggest, with several restaurants and a small grocery and various other stores. There?s also a library with free internet access. If you are going to be staying on CB for more than a few days we strongly recommend you bring or buy a picnic cooler. There are very few places where you can buy a sandwich (except pre-made pre-wrapped ones) for lunch or cold drinks (especially beer), but places that sell ice abound. This is true not only of Ingonish but CB in general

We are spoiled Americans, and like quality food. This was hard to come by. We had dinner twice at the Seascape, the first meal was good, the second wasn?t. The third was at the Coastal Waters restaurant, which was cheap but bad.

After Ingonish we drove to Baddeck, stopping at Cape Smokey Provincial Park for a hike. This was one of our best, even though visibility was poor. The hike is a challenging 7 mile RT, but we saw several bald eagles and other people we encountered saw a moose. On a clear day this hike would be fabulous. Baddeck is a ?real? town in the sense there?s a small business district you can walk around. We stayed at the Lynwood Inn, which is located at the main intersection in town. (However, there was no street noise at night). There are 3 rooms in the Inn and 30 or so in a new motel-like attachment. Our room was in the Inn and was very bright and nice (queen bed, TV, nice bathroom), except that it was right above the outdoor dining area and people tended to congregate there early in the morning to plan their day?s excursion. Food at the Lynwood is so-so at best, and service is friendly but slow. Our first full day there we took a morning hike (Englishtown). This was an easy 6+ mile hike over an old woods road, but sections are overgrown. The day was overcast and it wasn?t very interesting, but we did see another bald eagle. The moment we finished the hike it started to rain, so we went back to Baddeck for pizza (pretty good) and beer at the Yello Cello, then visited the Bras d?Or interpretive center across the street and the Alex. Graham Bell museum. Both were very interesting. Next day we drove to Louisbourg (a bit less than 2 hours drive) to see the restoration. This is a must-do if on Cape Breton. It is very well done and very interesting, even if you are not a history buff. You can easily spend most of the day there. Two hints: Pack a lunch in a backpack because except for two ?eat like they did in 1740? restaurants it?s hard to get something to eat. There?s a big picnic area that nobody uses. Hint 2: Most guidebooks say that the weather at the site can be a lot worse than in the town of Louisbourg. This is TRUE! Take a windbreaker. That was it for Baddeck. There is not much to do in Baddeck in the evening, except for a nightly ceilidh at one of the church halls. ?Not much to do in the evening? is also characteristic of most of CB.

Next day we drove to our next stop in the Margaree valley, via Whycocomagh and Mabou. We did a nice coastal hike in the Mabou Highlands (buy a $3.00 trail map at the FreshMart in Mabou), and then went on to our next lodging at the Normaway Inn. This is a lovely spot with rustic (no TV or phone, but otherwise very comfortable) cabins. They also have rooms in the lodge but we overheard comments that they were small and noisy. The Normaway has entertainment every night (2 different folksingers when we were there) and one night a week they have a big ceilidh in their barn. This is a big deal; people come from all around and start arriving before 7PM for an 8PM show. The food at the Normaway (especially breakfast) was the best we had on Cape Breton, but by, say, Halifax standards, it was only so-so. The menu changes only modestly from night to night, and the food is very bland (and sometimes frozen). We were quite surprised that, given that fishing is a major CB industry, there was very little fresh fish anywhere. Service is gracious and charming but can be excruciatingly slow when the dining room is full. You are pretty much a captive audience, since it is 20 minutes or so to any other place to eat. Not that there are many choices, even if you do venture forth. During our two full days in this area we drove north on both days to the Cape Breton Highlands Park. The visitor center is north of Cheticamp (there is no visitor center at all on the east side of the park). One day we hiked the Acadien trail which was GREAT! It?s a loop a little over 6 miles, 3 miles gradually up and then gradually down. You get pretty high, with fabulous views back toward Cheticamp, but it?s so gradual you don?t really notice. We hiked the loop clockwise, which gave us the views on the way up, and a hike along a brook on the way down. On the way up we saw bald eagles and a goshawk and on the way down a BIG bull moose, with a bigger rack than any of the ones we saw in postcards. The next day we hiked the Trous de Saumon trail which follows the Cheticamp river upstream. The first 45 minutes is boring, but then you get nearer to the river and there are lots of pools, rapids, etc. It was a quite beautiful and very easy (flat) hike. We saw a barred owl roosting.

That was it for our Cape Breton vacation. We loved it despite our complaints about the food, and there were many activities left undone, such as kayaking, canoeing, whale watching. You can easily spend a week plus there. In particular, the Bras d?or lakes are beautiful, but due to poor weather we didn?t get out on them. Just be aware that once you leave the mainland you are in a very rural area, with few conveniences.

Any questions you can email me at [email protected]
Foodiehiker is offline  
Sep 5th, 2003, 06:59 AM
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great report. thanks
ltt is offline  
Sep 5th, 2003, 08:43 AM
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Thanks, Foodie Hiker for your informative report! It is, & always has been, a mystery to me why fresh fish & seafood like lobster,shrimp, scallops & crab is so hard to find in Cape Breton! Maybe somebody in CB can help us out w/ this one!
wow is offline  
Sep 5th, 2003, 09:38 AM
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Love the name, Foodiehiker! Sounds like we enjoy the same type of vacations.

We were also surprised at how quiet and undeveloped Cape Breton was. That is NOT a complaint, by the way.

Although I have no memory of what we ate, we must have been reasonably happy with what we found because I don't recall food being as much of a problem as it was when we went to Yosemite. It will take a long time to forget the "pasta" we were served at a place in the park...

Perhaps the bad food memories fade faster than the beautiful scenery and hike memories do.
elberko is online now  
Sep 5th, 2003, 12:08 PM
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Ooops. There was a typo in my email, it is [email protected]
Foodiehiker is offline  
Sep 7th, 2003, 02:30 PM
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Greetings from Cape Breton Island, I have read you report & agree with some of the things you have said, but with others I disagree, You see sir We in Cape Breton Have 2 favorite sayings 1.wait 20 minutes & the weather will change & 2. Welcome to Cape Breton, Turn your clocks back 20 years. It was your line of when you leave the mainland you enter into a very rural area with out many conviences. Maybe so. But we here are hardworking, honest & friendly people who lead simple lives. I am not ashamed about what Cape Breton can offer someone when they come here we have everything you could ever want. Maybe not to your standards but we are working on that
capebreton01 is offline  
Sep 9th, 2003, 12:10 PM
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We are from Ontario. This July we were invited to a b/day party in Chester but decided to spend a few days in CB first. Stayed in Ingonish at Knotty Pine Cottages. Found the accoommodations to be simple but comfortable. We looked across the inlet at the Keltic Lodge - same view - way cheaper!! We ate a KL twice(were surprised how reasonably priced the meals were) and at Seascape (I think it was called). The meals were excellent. Fresh Neil's Harbour crab, (the crab cakes were as good as any I've tried along the east coast) lobster etc. We had planned to buy and bbq at the 'cottage' but found eating out was so reasonable we didn't bother cooking. On the way back from Meat Cove we found a great 'down home' cafe close to Neil's Harbour, great chowder! Cape Breton was the highlight of our NS trip, beautiful scenery, warm hospitality and best of all -uncrowded.
travellin is offline  
Sep 10th, 2003, 07:34 PM
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Dear Travellin, I don't think I could have put it to words any better than what you just did. I believe you saw the real Cape Breton that others miss. You got what we are all about down here. Hospitality & People make a place as well as Unique Scenery & Great Food. Thank You for your kind words.
capebreton01 is offline  
Sep 12th, 2003, 04:48 PM
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The funny thing was that when we left Ontario it had been 35-36C all week so I stupidly packed nothing but summer clothes. On the drive from Halifax we passed a WalMart but didn't stop. My husband and friend said 'there'll be lots more'. I made them stop at a Saan store (I think in Antigonish) where I bought a rather unstylish sweatshirt for $12.99!! Thank goodness I did. The mornings and evenings were cool. To be honest, we were surprised that CB was so un-touristy, but that was what we fell in love with. I hope it stays as is until we visit again. Cheers, Lin
travellin is offline  
Sep 12th, 2003, 09:12 PM
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Thanks for the interesting trip report Foodiehiker.
In spite of your experiences with the food, your descriptions of the hiking trails make me want to visit Cape Breton. Too bad it's so far away - practically across the continent from where I live!!
By the way "capebreton01" - are you getting any fall colours in Cape Breton yet?
Borealis is offline  
Sep 13th, 2003, 03:18 PM
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dear Borealis, I was just around the Cabot Trail friday the 12 of sept. Beleive it or not the maples are starting to turn mostly the reds but also a few yellow & orange if this is a sign of whats to come, the rest of the season should be breathtaking. The week Travellin was down here a a real messed up week for temps it was almost like fall but now as of todays date the 14 th we have had 3 amazing days that have gone through the roof at 28 or just about. borealis Cape Breton is worth the trip I'd bet my rep on it...
capebreton01 is offline  
Sep 15th, 2003, 05:41 AM
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CapeBreton01: As I anticipate my Cape Breton/Halifax trip during October 9-17th, the early appearance of fall colors this year leads me to believe that the "show" may be over by my arrival (this despite the fact that Cape Breton's Colours Festival will take place during my visit). What's your best guess as to whether the Cabot Trail will still be in all its glory at that time?
ForkinMouth is offline  
Sep 17th, 2003, 06:32 PM
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Dear ForkinMouth, You'll be here for Celtic Colors which in itself is a Highlight. For youre trip down here from the 9 th to the 17 th of Oct. I would venture to say the Colrs on the Cabot Trail will still be in full swing. as of todays date I was in Baddeck & the colors are only begining to change in some but not all areas. I would believe you'd have a real good chance as long as we don't have a wind storm before then. Anyway enjoy Cape Breton to its fullest while your here, Sit back & relax, have a beer & enjoy our unique style of music while surounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery the Island has to offer. Have fun & enjoy Cape Breton Hospitality.
capebreton01 is offline  
Oct 10th, 2003, 12:17 PM
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Interesting comments from everyone. We're from Alberta and just returned 2 wks ago from beautiful Cape Breton. I fell in love with it - Baddeck, whale trips,sails,the music,the people. The night before we leftPEI, we had a $100 meal which was only so/so - we went to The Mull in Mabou and had a wonderful home cooked meal for less than 1/2 the price - best meal we had in 3 wks. We found the service in restaurants in all the Maritimes friendly but extremely slow (it was nothing to wait for 20 min. to have a waitress attend to you) That would never happen here but we just had to sit back and realize that this is what living is about in the Maritimes - we were initially perplexed, wondering why we were being ignored!!It's a wonderful place.
jumpy is offline  
Jan 8th, 2004, 07:28 PM
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To the top for rubigayle.
Borealis is offline  

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