The Cabot Trail

The Cabot Trail is a 300 kilometer loop around Cape Breton Island in northern Nova Scotia. To be honest, I hadn’t realized that the northern part of Nova Scotia was a separate island from the rest of the province until writing this article. Cape Breton Island makes up about 19% of Nova Scotia and is connected to the rest of the mainland by the Canso Causeway. One of the benefits of keeping this blog is I typically learn much more about a place fact checking my posts or researching more context to provide! This is how I learned that John Cabot, the Venetian explorer, supposedly landed on Cape Breton Island in 1497 and claimed it for the King of England. However, logs are incomplete and he may actually have been in Newfoundland (or Labrador or Maine). I’ll admit I didn’t know the reasoning behind the name of the Cabot Trail until writing this.

The Cabot Trail is largely known for its scenic viewpoints and hiking, which we enjoyed much of. However, one of my favorite parts of the Trail was the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. As a side note, the annual pass for national parks in Canada is especially great because it includes all kinds of historic sites like this one! I never remember to take photos at museums, but the site had some really neat models and actual examples of planes that Bell worked on. I had no idea of the scope of his inventions, which include much more than just the telephone. He also worked extensively with the deaf, using his dad’s visible speech system, which is a mind-boggling method for representing the position of the organs involved in speech. Bell worked on hydrofoils, tetrahedral box kites, early airplane models, and a variety of other odds and ends. I was especially interested to learn that Bell experimented with a number of environmentally-minded inventions, including methods for purifying salt water and composting toilets. What an impressive guy and certainly an inspiration!

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.

Alexander Graham Bell

Cape Breton Highlands National Park makes up a sizable portion of the Cabot Trail. We did a hike on both the east and west side of the park to get a feel of the environment in both areas. The first day we hiked the Franey Trail on the east side of the park, which is about 4.5 miles. We thought we would have plenty of time for the hike, but like most days time sped by and we didn’t end up starting the hike until late afternoon. On the plus side, this led to some nice colors from the top of the hike and zero crowds! We spent most of the hike in the trees, but at the top looked out over the Clyburn Brook canyon and coastline. After spending the last few weeks in cities and small towns, getting back out into nature was very needed. I find myself missing the wild nature and backpacking from the first part of our trip and longing to capture that awe and excitement. I’m worried as the fall and winter come closer that it will be awhile before we experience anything like the Bugaboos, Glacier National Park of Canada, or the North Cascades again. The mountains are definitely my happy place and I find I am most content when hiking as far from civilization as possible!

Our second day on the Cabot Trail we hiked the Skyline Trail on the west side of the park. The landscape was very different here, with fewer trees and more fragile headland plants. A section of the trail is all boardwalk to protect the vegetation. We were both pretty upset to see a few people wandering off the boardwalk to take pictures, despite the multitude of signs urging you to stay on the trail. Leaving the trail has become one of my biggest hiking pet peeves! A section of the forest was gated as part of a test the park is conducting to determine the impact moose are having on the boreal forest. The moose population in the area has gotten too high and is adversely impacting the forest ecosystem. I was curious about this effort and found a lot more information online here. Below is a short summary of the problem:

Hyperabundance occurs when a population grows unnaturally large and begins to have a negative impact on other species and the health of the ecosystem. A healthy, balanced forest typically supports around 0.5 moose/km2. Moose density in Cape Breton Highlands National Park was 1.9 moose/km2 and the forest ecosystem was severely impacted by these high numbers. This was a huge concern, and the reason why we took actions to restore the forest such as the moose harvest. 

Parks Canada

We didn’t take any pictures, unfortunately, but we ended our time on the Cabot Trail at the very delicious Aucoin Bakery. Based on our experience, we can recommend the baguette, whole wheat bread, and brownies. I have to imagine anything there would be delicious.

While we had a great time on the Cabot Trail, we couldn’t help but think many times how much more beautiful the views would be a little later in the fall. We saw a few hints of the coming color change, but were too early for the dramatic views we had seen in pictures online. More reason for a return trip in the future!

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