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Two Days in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Last summer, we visited Cape Breton Nova Scotia as part of our Prince Edward Island trip, which you can read about here, and we absolutely loved it. I said it in our PEI post, and I'll say it again, the Canadian Maritimes such an underrated part of the world. I'm shocked that it's not a more popular travel destination because there's so much natural beauty everywhere. Our biggest regret was not having more time to explore Nova Scotia, and we both hope to get back to experience the entire province, with our top wish list destinations being Halifax, Peggy's Cove and Luenburg.

Until then, the amazing memories from this trip will have to suffice! And it's a good thing we have so many. Here's our trip recap.

We spent two nights camping in Cape Breton, and did a whale watch, hiked the Skyline Trail and White Point.

Mid-July/2018. Summer is the warmest and driest season for Nova Scotia, making it a great time to visit. Ocean temperatures were still pretty chilly, but felt great during 80-degree days, which we were told was a heatwave for that area. We also thought Cape Breton was surprisingly more crowded than PEI. We visited some more remote locations during our stay, but all along the Cabot Trail, we saw people everywhere, and all the lots at the popular hiking trail heads were pretty packed. We thought it would be the exact opposite with PEI being more crowded, so something to consider.

We drove from PEI to Cape Breton, which was about a 7-hour drive. There are only two ways to get into Cape Breton once you're in Nova Scotia: Through Cheticamp or Ingonish. We went up the Ingonish way, and we highly recommend you stop for some cash at a bank ATM before getting too far into the park. Many restaurants were cash only, and thankfully, we thought of this ahead of time. But we didn't have a lot of options for ATMs once we were far into the park, so plan accordingly. On your way in, you'll also want to pull over into a visitor's center (can't miss 'em either way you come in), and get your park visitor's pass. They don't sell them at the actual trail heads, and the last thing you want is to be ready and super excited about your hike that day, only to find out you have to drive all the way back to the entrance of the park to enter (which could be as much as an hour each way depending on where you are).

We chose to set up camp at Hide Away Campground, which was one of the Northern-most campgrounds on Cape Breton. We also debated staying at Meat Cove which was actually the most Northern campground there, but we couldn't ever get through to them on the phone, so Hide Away it was! And we loved our time here. The owners were very friendly and helpful, and they took our request for a water-view site before we arrived. They have both open-air sites overlooking the water, wooded sites, and also cabins available to rent, one of which is a tiny lighthouse! We were both tempted by staying in a tiny lighthouse, but since we were lugging our tent all the way through Canada, we decided we should probably use it as much as possible. One thing to note is that the camp sites overlooking the water were very windy. When we got there, the people next to us couldn't get get their tent up, and had to go back to the lodge and get a wooded site. Thankfully, ours was able to withstand the wind and we were okay, but just something to think about.

The campgrounds also have a very, very highly-rated little seafood cafe in their main lodge, and I regret not getting some crab legs during our stay because they looked amazing. The bathrooms were also very clean, and I loved that they were individual rooms with your own changing area, sink, toilet and shower for yourself. Just bring Canadian coins with you to operate them, which we learned the hard way during our camping adventure on PEI.

We barely scratched the surface while here with such a short time frame, but we still feel like we had an amazing experience and maximized our time. Here are our suggestions.

Cabot Trail
If you go to Cape Breton, the one thing you'll definitely do is drive the Cabot Trail because you'll need to be on it to get from place to place. But we suggest budgeting some extra time to get off at the many overlooks and really take in the views and drive as much of it as possible and it really is extraordinary. The views are as spectacular as they seem, and they're worth every second spent there. When we were driving around, we kept saying, "Is this place real?" because it seemed like it was a painting.

Skyline Trail
This is probably the most popular trail in Cape Breton, and it was actually what made me want to go. I saw photos online and I just needed to experience it because it seemed like you were walking toward the end of the world. When we got there, the views really didn't disappoint at all. The walk to the end of the trail, where all the amazing views are, is through some wooded areas, as well as open fields with paths. It took us about 45 minutes one way, walking at a brisk pace. One thing to note is that this trail was packed when we went mid-day, so be prepared, or try to get there early. Once we got to the end, it was so hard to get a good picture without tons of people everywhere, and also, it did kind of take away a little bit of the peacefulness I was hoping to experience. That said, though, it was still worth every minute of our time, and we both highly recommend it.

The day we went was super windy, so much so that it was actually hard to walk. I'm not sure if that's an everyday occurrence or not since it's by the water, but just prepare.

White Point Hike
This isn't part of the National Park, so you won't need to provide your park pass in order to do the hike, and it's also free. And, it's amazing in a completely different way than the Skyline Trail. It's a bit tricky to find, but if you drive to White Point, you can use Google Maps to find the Two Tittles Inn, and parking is right around there (it's not really a lot, but a patch of dirt road). We went late afternoon, and maybe saw two other people, so we felt completely secluded.

I've never been to Ireland or Scotland, but White Point reminded me of what I picture those two countries to be like. It's not much of a hike, per se, because there's not really an incline, and you reach the cliffs pretty quickly, but it's more of an insanely picturesque walk that you'll never want to end. You'll get to walk right to the end of these cliffs overlooking the ocean, and every corner seems to be more beautiful than the other. The views are just amazing, and every time I think about our visit here, I can't help but feel happy. You may also be lucky enough to spot some seals in the water - we saw a few! Be sure to plan some time here because once we walked the whole thing, we just sat on a rock, and starred off into the horizon for a while to relax, and it was the best feeling. You'll leaving feeling so lucky you got to visit this little corner of the world.

Whale Watching
There are a few places that offer whale watching tours from Cape Breton, and we chose to go with Oshan for a few different reasons. One of the main reasons was they have amazing reviews online (5 stars out of over 100 reviews on TripAdvisor!). We also liked that the boat was small, which we felt would make it easier to see the whales if we got lucky and had sightings. We read on their website that after the family that runs Oshan rescued a Pilot whale, the whales don't shy away from their boat, so sightings were pretty frequent.

Our tour was on a day that was incredibly windy, and when we left, our captain told us they weren't sure how far out we could go because of the wind. Thankfully, it died down a little, and after cruising around, showing us some beautiful landscapes from the water, we were surrounded by little Pilot whales. And one of them was a mom with a newborn! It was just so fun and exciting to experience. Josh had never been on a whale watch before, and the last one I went on was a big ship where I think we maybe caught a glimpse of a tail in the water. This experience was more intimate because of the smaller boat, and we were always able to get a view regardless of what side the whales were on. We had the best time, and can't recommend it enough.

More Hiking
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to do any more hiking, but grab a trail map and take your pick of tons of trails. I'd love to go back and tackle a few more. I feel like this is one place where hiking would probably never get old because of the surrounding views.

One thing I hate to say about Cape Breton is that the food unfortunately left a little to be desired. But it's okay because that's not why we came here, and we anticipated that beforehand. We did a lot of Googling before getting here, and restaurants were few and far between, with no official hours posted anywhere, and many of them cash only. A few places we ventured to for breakfast one morning weren't open (at like, 9a), so it's just something to keep in mind while there.

The Rusty Anchor
We stopped here after our whale watch, and before doing the Skyline Trail and enjoyed it. They have an outdoor seating area with an amazing view of the water, but sadly, we had to sit inside because they didn't have their umbrellas up, and these two fair-skinned New Yorkers are terrified of skin cancer. Inside, the service was fast and friendly, and it was also pretty crowded, so I assume this is one of the more popular restaurants in the area. Our food was also very good - not the most amazing meal of our lives, but it was very tasty It was better than some of the smaller restaurants we visited.

Neil's Lighthouse Ice Cream
This isn't a restaurant, and it's cash only, but if you ever want to say that you got ice cream from inside an actual lighthouse, this is a must-do because that's exactly what it is. We stopped here after visiting White Point, and you actually just walk inside the lighthouse, place your order, and walk out with an ice cream cone. They have a small fridge with bottled waters and other drinks, and a very minimal selection of ice creams, but you also get a view of the water to enjoy while you eat your cone.

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