Clockwise or Counter-clockwise: which way should I drive Cape Breton Island’s Cabot Trail

Par msears, sur Wed, 1 Jun 2016 | 0 Comments

This question has been asked countless times and depending on who you ask, there are countless answers. The truth is - BOTH ways are amazing - but that really doesn't help someone who is looking for hidden gems, photo spots, top hiking trails, and more while planning their trip around the Cabot Trail. It also doesn't answer other frequently asked questions, such as:

Which way is the best way to get to the Cabot Trail?

  • Take the Ceilidh Trail (Route 19) to meet the Cabot Trail in Margaree Forks, OR
  • Drive along Hwy 105, passing the Bras d’Or Lake and hop on the Cabot Trail in Nyanza/Baddeck at Exit 7, OR
  • Jump on the Cabot Trail at St. Ann’s Bay (Hwy 105 Exit 11), OR
  • Take the Englishtown Ferry (Hwy 105, Exit 12)

Do you recommend any stops, attractions, places to eat, etc. along the Cabot Trail?

What should I see and do after I finish the Cabot Trail?

You’ve asked...so WE'VE asked Travel Counsellors at each of the six Nova Scotia Visitor Information Centres and the Tourism Nova Scotia Contact Centre as well as fellow Nova Scotians what their recommendations are to experience the best of Cape Breton Island’s famous Cabot Trail. We've compiled their suggestions below to help you plan your trip around the Cabot Trail.

1. Which is the best way to travel around the Cabot Trail – clockwise or counter-clockwise?

The Doers & Dreamers travel guide covers the Cabot Trail in a clockwise direction from Baddeck, along the Margarees to Chéticamp, through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park with a detour to Bay St. Lawrence and Meat Cove, then down through Ingonish to St. Ann’s Bay.

To help plan Cape Breton vacations, staff at the Port Hastings Visitor Information Centre, located at the entrance to Cape Breton Island from mainland Nova Scotia, ask visitors their interests, timeline, and what accommodations they have booked.

Both ways provide great scenery and a number of spots to pull over and enjoy walking/hiking trails, views from the look-offs, and the numerous coastal villages along the route. The direction the visitor takes will depend on what they plan to see prior to their trip around the Cabot Trail such as experiencing the Acadian charm and culture of Chéticamp or the Scottish culture of Cape Breton which would lead to a visit at the St. Ann’s Gaelic College.
- Yarmouth Contact Centre Travel Counsellors

I prefer to travel counter-clockwise because it gives passengers a thrilling ride. As the driver, I love going up and down Cape Smokey Mountain near Ingonish.
- Jo-Ann, Peggy's Cove Visitor Information Centre

My favourite way to experience the Cabot Trail is clockwise because I have always travelled the Cabot Trail by bicycle as a guide with Freewheeling Adventures. This works best with the prevailing winds on the west side, and you get to climb Cape Smokey the more gradual way from Ingonish Ferry.
- Alana, Halifax Waterfront Visitor Information Centre

Drive along the coast for the entire Cabot Trail: head across the Causeway toward Baddeck, take the Englishtown Ferry and enjoy the view, by car or bike! This is recommended as one of Lonely Planet’s top bike rides in the world - go with Freewheeling Adventures, a Canadian Signature Experience.
- Heather Y.

We usually suggest counter-clockwise unless you are driving in a larger vehicle (5th wheel or an RV), as clockwise makes the climb easier. Also, driving counter-clockwise can be a bit daunting for those scared of heights!
- Amherst Visitor Information Centre staff

I prefer to drive the Cabot Trail clockwise as I like the view although some prefer the feeling that you are hugging the mountains as it's less intimating.
- Bev, Peggy's Cove Visitor Information Centre

Counter-clockwise – I love driving UP Cape Smokey and the view overlooking Ingonish on the way down and I love the views as you come around the west side of Cape Breton as you get closer to Chéticamp. You also have easy access to a number of look-offs in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park by going in this direction as many will be on the right side.

Going clockwise – again beautiful views, some of my favourites being between Margaree and the National Park entrance just past Chéticamp, with a few look-offs to the right, especially the one that overlooks Pleasant Bay – breathtaking! Oh, and I love driving DOWN Cape Smokey too – hang on tight and enjoy the ride. I really don’t think there is a wrong way to travel the Cabot Trail.
- Michelle S.

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2. Which way is the best way to get to the Cabot Trail?

  • Take the Ceilidh Trail (Route 19) to meet the Cabot Trail in Margaree Forks, OR
  • Drive along Hwy 105, passing the Bras d’Or Lake and hop on the Cabot Trail in Nyanza/Baddeck at Exit 7, OR
  • Jump on the Cabot Trail at St. Ann’s Bay (Hwy 105 Exit 11), OR
  • Take the Englishtown Ferry (Hwy 105, Exit 12)

Depending on where you are arriving from - mainland Nova Scotia or elsewhere on Cape Breton Island - you have a number of options where you can hop on the Cabot Trail.

I like to take Highway 105 to Baddeck then head towards Margaree by taking Exit 7 in Nyanza/Baddeck. To complete the loop, I like to end with the Englishtown Ferry.
- Alana, Halifax Waterfront Visitor Information Centre

  • For visitors that want to drive along the coast, the Ceilidh Trail will bring you past beautiful ocean views of the Northumberland Strait.
  • Hopping on the Cabot Trail at Exit 7 in Nyanza/Baddeck will bring you through the lush greenery of the Margarees and its famous Margaree River that attracts people from all over the world to try their luck at salmon fishing.
  • Taking Exit 11 St. Ann's Bay or Exit 12 Englishtown Ferry are the closest entrances to the Cabot Trail for someone travelling from the Sydney area. By going through St Ann’s, they will be able to explore the many artisans in this area and the St. Ann's Gaelic College. The Englishtown Ferry is a fun experience and one of only four cable ferries still in existence in Nova Scotia.
    - Port Hastings Visitor Information Centre staff

I love heading north on the Ceilidh Trail from the Canso Causeway. The views of the ocean are wonderful, and the scenery as you enter the village of Mabou is unforgettable (especially in the fall when the colours are at their best!) Going clockwise around the trail also rewards you with great views as you come down the mountains in Cape Breton Highlands National Park towards Pleasant Bay. You also get sweeping views of the ocean on the eastern side of the trail as you descend Cape Smokey, just past Ingonish.
- Mike M.


I like to meet up with the Cabot Trail after travelling the Ceilidh Trail because the view is in front of you as you climb into the Highlands.
- Candace, Halifax Waterfront Visitor Information Centre

Looking over St. Ann's Bay to the Jersey Cove peninsula where the Englishtown Ferry runs to.

I've always enjoyed taking the Bras d'Or Lake Scenic Drive (Route 4) from Port Hawkesbury to Sydney then catching Highway 105 and taking the Englishtown Ferry to start my Cabot Trail journey going counter-clockwise.
- Jennifer H.

My favourite way to get to the Cabot Trail is to follow Highway 105 from the Canso Causeway to Exit 12 to take the Englishtown Ferry. It is a cable ferry that gives you a cool experience and costs less than $10. 
- Jo-Ann, Peggy's Cove Visitor Information Centre


My two favourite ways are driving the Ceilidh Trail and meeting the Cabot Trail in Margaree Forks then continuing clockwise around the Cabot Trail AND I love taking the Englishtown Ferry (clockwise or counter-clockwise). The Ceilidh Trail from Port Hastings, the entrance to Cape Breton Island, takes you past beautiful beaches in Port Hood and Inverness. Discover some of Nova Scotia's don’t miss attractions such as the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, Glenora Distillery where you can tour, sample and purchase North America’s first single malt whisky, and for the golfers, past Canada’s only true links golf courses, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs. Oh – and when you hit the Cabot Trail, stop by the Dancing Goat Café in nearby Margaree Valley and try their amazing porridge bread.

The Englishtown Ferry is a quick 5 minute trip across St. Ann’s Bay channel that provides a picture perfect view of the Cape Breton Highlands mountain range. I literally get goosebumps I get so excited waiting to cross on the ferry because I know I am going to the Highlands again!
- Michelle S.

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Some of Heather's favourite stops include:

Big Spruce Brewing in Nyanza on Cape Breton Island's Cabot Trail

Caitlin at the Amherst Visitor Information Centre shared three of her favourite places to stop on the Cabot Trail:

Jo-Ann at Peggy's Cove Visitor Information Centre's favourite stops along the Cabot Trail are:

Ingonish Beach

I love the picnic park at Lake O’Law Provincial Park in Margaree - it’s a great place for a lake swim. There are so many places to stop for photos but, most importantly, at the top of French Mountain and North Mountain when you’ve climbed them by bike!

I would also recommend the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck and, if you are there between July 2 and August 2, try to take in a performance of the new music-drama 'The Bells of Baddeck' at the site!
- Alana, Halifax Waterfront Visitor Information Centre


Bev at the Peggy's Cove Visitor Information Centre recommends:

Skyline Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park

My all time favourite stopping point along the trail is the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. Where would be without the telephone?! The white glove tour offered by the museum is the greatest experience. You get to read love letters between Bell and his wife Mable and I even got to hold his hat and walking stick!
- Candace, Halifax Waterfront Visitor Information Centre
 


Tania, Natalie, and Kelly at the Halifax Airport Visitor Information Centre recommend the following Cabot Trail stops:

Leather Works by Jolene in Indian Brook on Cape Breton Island's Cabot Trail

In no particular order:

My favourite stops/detours outside of the 26 look-offs inside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park are all in the ‘Top of the Island’ (as the locals call it) region along the top portion of the Cabot Trail. Take 10 minutes and drive through the small village of Dingwall to the Markland Coastal Beach Cottages and take in the million dollar view of the Cape Breton Highlands and Four Mile Beach. I always take the Cape North exit off the Cabot Trail to visit the seaside communities of Bay St. Lawrence and Meat Cove, the most northern point of Cape Breton Island. I’ve taken 2 whale watching tours with Oshan Whale Watch out of Bay St. Lawrence and the stunning natural beauty of Cape Breton Island from the water will literally take your breath away (oh – and the whales and dolphins are pretty amazing too!).

If you like taking scenic detours, you’ll appreciate taking the coastal route between South Harbour and Neil’s Harbour where you’ll discover White Point, the most picture perfect fishing village one could ever wish for. In Neil's Harbour, stop by the lighthouse and treat yourself to ice cream.  Seriously - there is an ice cream shop in the lighthouse!
- Michelle S.

Stopping along the trail is a must. The trip is not to be rushed. We suggest that when visitors get out of their vehicles at the pull-offs, to turn around and enjoy where they came from because sometimes the best views are behind you!
- Yarmouth Visitor Information Centre Travel Counsellors

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Fortress of Louisbourg National HIstoric Site

4. What should I see and do after I finish the Cabot Trail?

Depending on the direction you travelled around the Cabot Trail, you've got a whole island of adventures awaiting you!

Discover Cape Breton Island

I highly recommend the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site and the Cape Breton Miners' Museum, then stop at Rita’s Tea Room on your way back down the eastern side of the Bras d’Or Lakes for tea and oatcakes. Oh, and Highland Village Museum in Iona for the Gaelic/Scottish history and Isle Madame for tiny Acadian island communities off the beaten path… too many choices in Cape Breton - you can’t go wrong!
- Alana, Halifax Waterfront Visitor Information Centre 

Glenora Distillery in Glenville, Cape Breton Island

Jo-Ann at Peggy's Cove Visitor Information Centre recommends:

Jacob, Caitlin, Brenda, Janis at the Amherst Visitor Information Centre recommend the following stops:

Celtic Shores Coastal Trail in Cape Breton Island

As you leave the Cabot Trail for the Ceilidh Trail, head for Inverness and pick up a Larch Wood cutting board at the Gazebo Shop. Be sure to bike the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail between Inverness and Troy, with beautiful coastal biking on a flat rail trail, connecting with the villages of Mabou, Port Hood and Judique. Grab a snack at Inverness Beach canteen, or at one of the many pubs and restaurants along the route, like the Red Shoe Pub or Clove Hitch Bistro. Camp at MacLeod’s Beach Campsite near Inverness (ask for a site with trees, overlooking the beach), and enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches and glorious sunsets.
- Heather Y.


On the Ceilidh Trail I enjoy stopping at Port Hood beach. It’s a beautiful sandy beach with warm water in the summer. Nearby, the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou does a great lunch with nightly entertainment. On my to-do list for this summer is firing a cannon at Fortress of Louisbourg - it looks like a great time!
- Candace, Halifax Waterfront Visitor Information Centre

Everyone needs to visit the Highland Village Museum in Iona, the historic St. Peter's Canal in St. Peter's... and you can't leave Cape Breton without a stop in Big Pond at Rita's Tea Room.
- Bev, Peggy's Cove Visitor Information Centre

The Big Fiddle on the Sydney Waterfront in Cape Breton Island

Heading towards Sydney? Take a boat tour to the Bird Islands to see puffins, eagles, and more with Donelda’s Bird Island Puffin Tours or Bird Island Boat Tours. My favourite stop in Sydney, next to the waterfront and the Big Fiddle, is the Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design where you can peruse art and crafts by Cape Breton artisans. Near Sydney – the Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail is a popular hiking trail close to the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Walk throughout the fortress and imagine what life was like back when Louisbourg was the busiest town in North America. Did I mention the historic chocolate making experience and the Fortress rum that is aging in barrels at the Fortress?
- Michelle S.

There is so much more to see and do around the Cabot Trail!

View all Cabot Trail experiences

To help you with your travel planning, Nova Scotia Travel Counsellors are available by calling 1-800-565-0000 (in North America), by email at explore@novascotia.ca, and through Live Chat on NovaScotia.com. When you arrive in Nova Scotia, be sure to stop by any of our six provincial tourism visitor information centres or at any of the community visitor information centres to get even more ideas than those mentioned here.

Pick up the printed Doers & Dreamers travel guide, if you don't already have one.  For those who would like a digital copy, to download travel region sections from the travel guide (PDF format) and view the the full digital Doers & Dreamers flipbook guide, visit NovaScotia.com.

Happy trip planning!

 

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