RVing Cape Breton Island
It might be a little too early to be thinking about next summer’s travel plans, but, then again, maybe not. Especially when you’re planning a trip to one of those RV-bucket list destinations — Nova Scotia, Canada. Imagine it’s August, the hottest month of the summer; you’re traveling around the east coast of the U.S., enjoying all that the Northeast has to offer, until you can no longer bear the heat, humidity and the hordes of summer tourists. Where do you head next? For us, this was a no-brainer — Canada! Canada continues to be an amazing destination each and every summer while we are traveling by RV. Whether you are looking to escape the summer heat, trying to find incredible and diverse landscapes, or if you are looking for those incredible fall colors, eastern Canada has a little something for everyone.
The Cabot Trail
Throughout our travels, we have consistently heard great things about eastern Canada, more specifically about Nova Scotia. During our quick research of things to do and sights to see in Nova Scotia, we quickly discovered a roadway that piqued our interest, called the Cabot Trail. The world-famous Cabot Trail is located on the northeastern portion of Nova Scotia, known as Cape Breton Island. The entire loop is about 185 miles, and that’s if you decide to solely stay on the trail. The trail loops around the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. If you stay on the trail, you could do the drive in one day, and it could be completed within eight hours (though that is not recommended as you will surpass all the best parts of Cape Breton Island). If you have a strict time limit, for planning, we suggest giving yourself at least three to six days to explore the island. There are small towns and sites all along the island off of the Cabot Trail that could extend your trip a fair bit.
This scenic loop boasts of one of the most beautiful drives in the world, and that claim did not fall short. The Cabot Trail whips and twists around the steep cliffsides overlooking the ocean during the majority of the drive. It is known to be a hot spot for whale watching and even puffin spotting by small boat tours. Cape Breton Island is quite diverse with winding, rugged coastlines, and inclines with lush mountain views that will make you question which coast you are on. If you are looking for an RV trip within a small range of driving miles, but packed with views around every turn, Cape Breton Island will be a dream for you!
Getting To Cape Breton Island
When driving your RV north from the states, there are a few different ways you can get to Cape Breton Island. You can either take the major highways through the provinces, from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, you can take the longer scenic route in New Brunswick along the Bay of Fundy, or if you want to just skip the drive through New Brunswick entirely, you can hop on a ferry in Saint John, New Brunswick, to Digby, Nova Scotia. We chose to take the scenic route through New Brunswick, and would highly recommend this route. If you decide to take the scenic route, you will pass some incredible maritime towns, numerous lighthouses and tourist attractions, such as the St. Martins Sea Caves, Fundy National Park and Hopewell Rocks Park — these tourist attractions were highlights of our trip before we even reached our destination.
For an RVer, Cape Breton Island and the Cabot Trail are incredibly easy to travel to. We noticed during our drive that we were traveling among a plethora of other RVers, motorcyclists and campers. Most areas we visited seemed to be accessible by all sizes of recreational vehicles. Although, if you drive a larger RV, keep in mind that once you are on the Cabot Trail, the roads get steep and narrow quite quickly. If you are in a large Class A motorhome, it may be ideal to travel with a smaller car in tow to explore deeper into what Cape Breton Island has to offer.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
The Cabot Trail is open year-round. However, Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s operating season is from May to mid-October, with full services in July and August. The national park is located in the northern loop of the Cabot Trail. If you have a parks pass you will be able to access various amenities offered by Parks Canada.
Depending on which route you choose, it can take between six to eight hours to drive from Saint Stephen port of entry from the U.S. to Cape Breton Island. You will leave mainland Nova Scotia on the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 104) which leads eastward over the Canso Causeway bridge onto the island. And from there, your Cape Breton Island adventures begin!
Camping on the Cabot Trail
There’s enough to do and see on The Cabot Trail that you could explore for weeks. We had a little less than a week to spend exploring in this portion of Nova Scotia, so we tried to find areas congested with great food options, camping, multiple hiking trails, and of course great views never hurt. Spacing out our stopping points on the island helped us feel like we saw the most we could within a limited timeframe.
We decided to drive the loop around the island clockwise, so our first stop on the Cabot Trail was in the town of Chéticamp. Driving to Chéticamp from the Canso Causeway should take somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours depending on which route you take. Chéticamp is a fishing town on the west coast of the Cabot Trail. It is a quaint town scattered with coastal homes atop any and every hill with a view of the ocean. You will be able to find groceries, beaches to enjoy, trails to hike, and an RV park just a stone’s throw from the beach. Chéticamp was our very first taste of the amazing views that the Cabot Trail would reveal in the days to come.
If you are interested in getting away from the coastline on a hike, we recommend checking out the Gypsum Mine Lake trail. The lake is hidden about a mile into the woods, and it is a family-friendly (and dog-friendly) hike. This was such a fun way to start our morning in Chéticamp. It’s an easy hike, and is maintained by a local who is more than happy to chat with visitors and explain the history behind the old mine and now, recreational lake.
The next stop on our tour of the Cabot Trail, or off the trail for this stop, is a cove about two hours north of Chéticamp. Meat Cove was recommended to us by another traveler in passing, and became our favorite place to visit during our Cape Breton trip. It’s quite far off the beaten path of the Cabot Trail, but was worth the sidebar adventure. Tucked away in this cove is an incredibly small, but beautiful fishing village located on the northern tip of Cape Breton. Most of the drive to the cove is on a dirt road that weaves in and out of the tree-laced cliffside. This remote community is on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There is not a whole lot to this area besides the local community (maybe 25-30 homes total), the beach, the Chowder Hut, a few trails, and the cliffside campground, but with the views you get in Meat Cove, you don’t need much else!
We decided to walk the road in and out of town to check out the trail not far from the beach, and to our delight we found an even smaller trail by the visitor center with a sign that read “boardwalk to the beach.” We had not yet made it down to the Meat Cove beach, so we took this enchantingly creaky wooden path to the beach, and were beaming with smiles by the end. Someone spent a grand amount of time building the “boardwalk to the beach,” and it made for a unique way to find the cove on foot. If the small parking lot at the beach is full, this would be a great alternative for accessing the beach.
Ingonish was where we camped last on the Cabot Trail. It’s located closest to the eastern entrance of the Highlands National Park. We found this location to be interesting because of how much there was to do in close proximity to the Cabot Trail. Ingonish was one of the first areas settled on Cape Breton Island. It’s more widely known for its famous Keltic Lodge, and the Cape Smokey Provincial Park. There is easy access to the national park, access to beautiful beaches, as well as freshwater streams and lakes, waterfalls and more. This is another fishing village, so if you are looking to splurge on fresh seafood, this would be an ideal spot to do so. The campgrounds around this area are nothing to write home about; expect camping to be similar to that within any national park — not as much luxury as a pricey RV resort. The majority of camping in this area is within the national park, so there are a few campgrounds in this area without amenities like electric and sewer at your campsite. If you need to use hookups and dump your tanks on the end of your trip on the Cabot Trail, then we recommend checking out Broad Cove Campground.