Wednesday, July 5, 2017

My Cape Breton Bucket List

I've noticed that some of my fellow Cape Breton bloggers recently came out with some Cape Breton Island bucket lists.  Years ago, when I was young and naive and took what I had in my backyard for granted, I would never have thought of creating a Cape Breton Bucket List.  My bucket list was  made up of exotic places far, far away.  Now Cape Breton is considered one of those exotic places of the world and people from all over have added it to their bucket lists.  Imagine.  That little island tucked away at the far end of the continent where I had my quiet upbringing a top world attraction.   Years ago, I wouldn't have thought there would be enough things to see and do on this island to make any kind of list let alone a bucket list, my wanderings and explorations of my little island home have made me think twice.  This little gem has more to offer than any other place I can think of and the world is starting to catch on.  2016 was a record-breaking tourist season for the island and 2017 is shaping out to be much of the same.  So here is my list of must-see places in Cape Breton for those of you who are planning to visit or you locals who need some inspiration on new things to see and do this summer.  I consider myself an expert on all things Cape Breton so perhaps this can be your go-to list of things you must do in Cape Breton or at least inspiration to get out there and explore this beautiful little island.  Here is my list of favourite beaches, restaurants, trails, attractions and experiences around my fair isle.

The Skyline Trail
If you can only do one hiking trail on your entire trip to Cape Breton, let it be the Skyline Trail.  I'm not saying this is the best trail on the island because there are many great trails that aren't listed in the guidebooks and are not well-known to many people.  What I am saying is this trail is one of the best and that is because it incorporates everything one could want in a hike.  Scenery, wildlife and easy terrain that almost anyone can hike.  I've seen moose nearly every time I've hiked this trail and I've hiked it a lot.  The views at the end of the trail are spectacular.  I know that sounds cliche but you gotta believe me...This is where the mountains literally meet the sea and sometimes, as an added bonus, bald eagles are soaring above and whales can be seen close to the shore below.

Whale Cove Beach
Not only is Whale Cove, in my opinion, one of Cape Breton's nicest beaches, it is also home to one of my favourite spots on the island.  First, let me tell you about the beach itself.  Soft, light sand. Clear, usually calm, relatively shallow waters mostly free of rocks, seaweed and other debris.  It's not a long beach but it's rarely crowded.  Mid-way down the beach, there is a walking trail that lead to the top of a hill.  At the top of this hill is a big field on top of a high cliff with some of the best views around.

Coastal Restaurant
Featured on the TV show You Gotta Eat Here a few years back, Coastal Restaurant is one of my favourite restaurants on the Island and has been since I can remember.  They serve great food with a wide variety of items to choose from (even vegetarians can find many things to eat!  I know because I am one!) and the service is friendly and fast.  The place has a nice atmosphere too and you can enjoy your meal while also enjoying some live, local talent on certain nights of the week.

Inverness Beach at Sunset
Not that Inverness Beach is not Fabulous all the's just at it's most spectacular when the sun is disappearing over the horizon.  The west coast of Cape Breton is known for it's beautiful sunsets.  Combine one of these sunsets with the beautiful, long, sandy beach in Inverness and you get a summer evening that is second to none.  I've been to the Caribbean many times and yes they have nice sunsets but the ones at Inverness Beach even beat them.  

MaryAnne Falls
I love all waterfalls but Maryanne Falls near Ingonish are my favourite.  Not only are they a pretty sight, there are two beautiful pools at the bottom of each falls that are deep enough to jump into from the nearby rocks and the water is clean and refreshing for swimming.  I also love to walk along the river and the little trail that goes above the falls to get a beautiful view of the entire area. 

Kidston Island
From the boardwalk in Baddeck, I often seen people roaming this little island and wondered how they got there.  I recently discovered that there is a little shuttle boat run by The Baddeck Lion's Club that takes passengers back and forth from the wharfs in Baddeck to the island.  I went one day last year and finally got to see what I was missing.  Strangely enough, I think I was the only one of the island at that time so I felt like a real castaway.  A little building with bathrooms and picnic tables stands near the shore and some signs guided me to a walking trail.  I walked all around the little island and went right up to the iconic lighthouse and than sat on the beach for a couple of hours with a book.  Now I know where to go if I want to escape the crowds in Baddeck!

Sqeaker's Hole
Although this is a marked trail at Black Brook Beach in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park  I rarely see many people hiking there...and I don't know why!  I love this trail.  It's not very long, it's fairly easy and there are several different ways to go that all bring you somewhere different.  One trail takes you to the little waterfalls above the beach (and yes you can wade into the little pool at the bottom of the falls too!), another trail takes you to the bottom of Squeaker's Hole and another one takes you to the top where there are beautiful ocean views and tons of great spots to sit on the rocks and relax and enjoy the beautiful ocean views.  

Ferguson Beach
I'm a little iffy about sharing this one because not many people know about it and I kinda want to keep it all to myself!  Chances are if you go looking for it, you won't find it anyway as it is not well-marked and the road is not for the faint at heart.  If you like remote beaches where you can walk for miles and not see a soul for days than than perhaps the benefits outweigh the risks.  Once there, you can walk to the left or right on the beach or on the trail above the beach in either direction.  If you are the adventurous type, you can keep going and going and going and when you reach a river or stream, you may just want to find a way across so you can see what's around the next bend.  The last time I was there, I saw a herd of deer in a field and seals are regular visitors.

The Carrot Cake at the Bean Barn Cafe
The Bean Barn Cafe in Ingonish is always the first and last stop of the day for me whenever I am in Ingonish.  Before anything else, I grab a coffee to go and head over to Ingonish Beach to drink it while enjoy my favourite view on the island - Cape Smokey Mountain.  When I make the last stop of the day, it is to sit inside the cozy little cafe with my laptop to catch up on emails and enjoy some more coffee with a giant piece of their delicious, homemade carrot cake.  It is, in my opinion and the opinion of many others I introduced this cake to, the best carrot cake on the island...and I've eaten carrot cake in many places.

North River Falls
By far one of my most memorable hikes to date.  The trail is long (about 19 km's return), rugged and not well-maintained at times.  But it's all worth it when you reach the falls which are the tallest in Nova Scotia.  Because the trail is so long and rugged, the odds that someone else will be there at the same time as you are slim so you will most likely have the falls all to yourself!

Glace Bay Miner's Museum
This is one of the most interesting, interactive museums in Cape Breton in my opinion.  Not only do you get to see a number of exhibits outlining the history and culture of coal mining on the island (the biggest industry at one time), you even get to tour a real mine and actually go underground with a retired miner and hear both funny and heartbreaking stories from years gone by,  If you are lucky, you may even be there on one of the days when the famed Men of Deeps are practicing for one of their upcoming concerts which take place at the museum throughout the summer and fall.

Celtic Colours International Festival
Cape Breton's top music and cultural festival but also one of Canada's top festivals.  People from all over the world travel to the island each fall to enjoy world-class entertainment that just happens to coincide with another popular fall event in Cape Breton...colourful fall foliage.  This is one of my favorite times of the year and I make sure to leave my schedule free for the entire duration of the festival so I can take in as many events as possible. While the festival is mostly known for it's concerts featuring local and international talent, the festival also hosts art exhibits, guided hikes, storytelling events, community meals and other cultural events all over the island.

The Yellow Cello Cafe
This little cafe/restaurant in Baddeck is another favourite of mine.  My mother and I started going there for dinner on summer weekends when I was still in high school.  I still go there every chance I get and it's one of the places I always take visitors who are visiting from away.  The menu is extensive, the service is friendly, the atmosphere is lively (there is often live music during the evening mealtime) and the food is delicious and plentiful.

Black Brook Beach
Another one of my favourite beaches in the Ingonish area of Cape Breton.   Most of the time, I like to just relax on the beach and have a nice relaxing swim in calm waters but sometimes, I like waves too.  Some of the best waves around are at Black Brook and you can also enjoy hiking trails, a waterfall, a freshwater lake and a picnic area nearby

The Wraps at Downtown Nutrition
Downtown Nutrition has been around for a while but I only recently discovered it.  I was looking for somewhere to get a good veggie wrap in Cape Breton and a friend suggested I try the ones at Downtown Nutrition and they are, in my opinion, the best wraps around.  My favourite is the Mediterranean Wrap.

Hiking around Freshwater Lake and/or Warren Lake at Night
Yes I am mentioning two hikes in one paragraph.  I've done both of these hikes at night but hiking around either one of these lakes at night (especially during a full moon!) is quite the experience.  For one, they are both located in a national park, The Cape Breton Highlands.  If you've ever had the opportunity to spend time in a national park, you know how wild, quiet, pristine and untouched the area is.  Imagine hiking around a beautiful lake in a place where there is no traffic, hardly any people, no buildings and no noise except the nearby call of a loon or howl of a coyote.  Just make sure you take someone with you or at least have a stick or bear spray as the critters (the type that may eat you if they are hungry) tend to come out at night.

The Fortress of Louisbourg
 I visit the Fortress at least once a year.  Why?  Because I love to take a trip back to the 18th century every once and a while.  With an 18th century-inspired restaurant and bakery on-site, "residents" in period costumes acting out the roles they would have had over 200 years ago and grounds that were the site of historic battles, there's no better place in North America to get a true feeling of what life was like under those conditions.

Chimney Corner Beach
A recent find but a good one.  Chimney Corner Beach is currently my favourite beach for ocean swimming.  Never over-crowded, nice scenery, rarely any jelly fish, little seaweed, sandy, warm and hardly any rocks...what more could you want in a beach.

Strolling the streets of Baddeck in the evening
I love Baddeck at all times of the day but it's the evening I love most.  The water is at it's calmest, the main street the main street is at it's liveliest, live music can be heard coming from the yacht club near the wharves and the little boardwalk along the shores of the Bras d'Or Lakes is the perfect place to sit and watch the boats coming and going on warm summer evenings. 

Wabo's Pizza Cheticamp
Wabo's doesn't only sell pizza.  A full menu of salads, pastas and pretty much everything you can imagine is available at the restaurant at the back of the property.  However, it's not just the main courses that draw me in. Wabo's is, as far as I know, one of the only places around that sells deep fried cheesecake...and yes that's as delicious as it sounds.  Bonus: The restaurant is located right on the boardwalk which is a great place to watch the sunset after dinner.

Watch the Sun Set/Moon Rise at Ingonish Beach
In my opinion, the best place on Cape Breton Island to watch the sun set and moon rise within the same hour is the lifeguard chair at Ingonish Beach.  That is if no one else claimed it first.  However, anywhere on Ingonish Beach is a great place to sit and watch the night sky.

Cape Clear
I first heard about Cape Clear about ten years ago but wasn't able to find out any information about it because, until recently, it was a well-guarded secret for the few who did know about it.  In recent years, it has gained popularity and now pretty much everyone on the island has at least an idea where it is.  My dad and I went searching for it about 5 years ago and found it after quite a few days of looking.  Was it worth the effort.  You bet it was.   Access is via The Highland Road at Hunter's Mountain near Margaree.  The scenery, which includes an aerial view of the northeast Margaree River Valley, is spectacular.  Bonus: you will likely be the only person there when you arrive.  It's just that remote.

Le Gabriel Restaurant
Delicious food, fantastic service, lively atmosphere and a taste of true Acadian cuisine....expect all this and more (such as live entertainment during certain evenings of the week) when you visit Le Gabriel in Cheticamp.  Look for the lighthouse in the middle of town.

Camping at Broad Cove Campground
This is my favorite campground on the island.  It's a perfect mix of remote isolation and modern comforts.  Heavily forested with lots of wildlife and a beach nearby makes it feel like you are in the middle of nowhere (which, really you are) and full bathrooms with showers and flush toilets mean you are not completely roughing it.  The campground is huge with plenty of trails and wood roads to walk or bike, there is an outdoor theatre, playground, fire pits and a beach path...and speaking of the beach.  Did I mention you will fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing ashore every night?

Hike the Skyline Trail at Sunset
Actually, hike the Skyline trail anytime...but if you want to get the absolute most out of a hike on one of Eastern Canada's top hiking trails, it's best to start the hike about an hour and a half before sunset so you can watch it from the top of the trail where the scenery is.  The added bonus of doing the trail at this time is you are more likely to see wildlife at dusk than any other time of day. 

North River Kayak
Whether you have ever kayaked before or not, I highly recommend you take an excursion with North River Kayak.  There are short trips of only a few hours and longer ones for more seasoned kayakers. Lessons and safety instructions are provided.  I never kayaked before when I took my first excursion with this company and I did fine.  It is really almost impossible to tip a kayak!  Waterfalls, beaches, bald eagles and other seabirds are just some of the things you can expect to see during a relaxing paddle in St. Anne's Bay.  

The Bayside Canteen
This place has been around forever and serves everything including some of the best ice cream around.  I highly recommend the onion rings and the banana splits and I recommend you take your food and park around back of the building to enjoy the beautiful view on Lingan Bay or park directly across the street in the little park to get an equally nice view.

Ice Cream at the Lighthouse in Neil's Harbour
A tradition when taking a trip around the Cabot Trail is to stop and get ice cream at the old lighthouse-turned-ice-cream-parlour in Neil's Harbour.  Many flavors, huge scoops, friendly service and a fantastic view!

Swimming at Marble Mountain
I only found this place along the Bras d'Or Lakes late last summer but it is now one of my favourite freshwater swimming holes.  Crystal clear, calm, refreshing waters with beautiful scenery all around make this a great place to spend an afternoon or evening.

The Fairy Hole/Glooscap Caves
A longish drive and a slightly challenging hike are well-worth the time and effort it takes to reach these remote caves.  Best to go at low tide if you want to get inside the area where the caves are.  You know you are close when you reach the little beach.  The water is a little rough at times but it's only a short swim to the opening in the rocks that takes you to a beautiful swimming hole and the opening to the caves.

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