Cape Breton’s ultimate wilderness experience

Although being the second smallest province in all of Canada, Nova Scotia contains some of the most diverse landscapes and wildlife in the whole country. The crown jewel of all these landscapes goes to Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail – widely known as “Nova Scotia’s Masterpiece.” The scenery of the Cabot Trail is captivating and inspiring as you twist and turn through steep valleys, past rugged coastlines and high up into the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Once in the park the ocean and mountains meet face to face. Think Maine’s Acadia National Park meets California’s Big Sur Coast. The heavily wooded highlands rise dramatically from the Gulf of St Lawrence where jagged coastal cliffs give way to deep blue waters.


Some of the locals you may spot along your drive are the elusive bobcat, lynx, black bear, coyote and the enormous yet graceful highland moose. One is almost certain to see bald eagles’ soaring high in the sky as Cape Breton has one of the highest concentration of these birds of prey in all of North America.

Picture #2 - Eagles

A pair of Bald Eagles on the hunt for dinner.
The Cabot Trail also offers some of finest terrain on the eastern seaboard for hiking for all levels of fitness. While the national park has 26 designated hiking trails, locals will tell you first hand that the best trails are actually not located in the park at all.

Just off the beaten track of this famous driving route is one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes in Eastern Canada – the Pollet’s Cove hike. Those willing to tackle the 18km (11 mile) round trip hike into the north western highlands just outside of Pleasant Bay will embark on a journey through some of Canada’s finest coastal scenery, Acadian forests and challenging highland landscapes.

Picture #2 - Moose

Moose are regular sightings.
The trail starts just above sea level but quickly climbs into the mountains and a seemingly endless trek uphill ensues. Within the first mile you climb nearly 400 metres where a break in the trees gives you a sense of your accomplishment with views back to the open ocean, surrounding highlands and the Gambo Abbey – The Shambhala Buddhist Monastery. Yes you read that right, a Buddhist Retreat in the highlands of Cape Breton, which should tell you something about how special this place really is.

Picture #3 - Otter Brook

Otter Brook.
The trail passes over a number of brooks and rivers that are fed by hidden lakes far in the high country as they make their way towards the Gulf of St Lawrence. While much of the hike is through a mixed forest of coniferous and deciduous trees, when you come out at Otter Brook Cove the scenery is world class. Towering tree covered mountains, rushing brooks and the expanse of the western highlands reaching towards the horizon, getting higher and higher until they reach the “High Capes”, the highest sea cliffs in Nova Scotia at 440 metres – roughly the same height as the Empire State Building. From the cove keep your eyes peeled for curious seals playing far below these near vertical coastal cliffs in the mesmerizing waters of aqua blues and opal greens.


Curious little buggers aren’t ya!
With each step onward, your legs begging you for a rest, you suddenly arrive at a site that will quite literally take your breath away – having just hiked a grueling 5.5 miles might have something to do with that as well. The trail exits the mixed forest and you pop out of the trees and out onto a grassy knoll with a panoramic view of Pollett’s Cove. It’s even possible to spot pods of Pilot Whales passing by the cove from high up on this vantage point.

Picture #5 - Polletts Cove Panorama

A Pollets Cove panorama after a challenging hike.
The beauty of this place is hard to capture in words alone. One simply has to experience the moment when you first arrive at the top of this hill, overlooking the vibrant blue waters of the Gulf, the ancient weathered mountains and meandering rivers flowing through this picturesque cove. If you’re lucky you may even get to see the legendary wild horses of Pollett’s Cove. Although not quite totally wild, as they are brought in here by the Buddhist Monks in the spring, they do stay here to roam freely for 6-7 months of the year and are the highlight of many peoples visit to the cove. The horses graze the open fields in the cove during daylight hours and at night retreat up the mountains and into the forest for protection against the elements. Time it right and you can get the sun setting behind the horses as they make their way up the hills, creating silhouettes of these majestic creatures with a palette of crimson reds and intense orange hues as their backdrop.

Picture #6 - Pollett's Cove Sunset

Mother Nature showing off her artistic talents.
As night falls prepare yourself for one of the best displays of star clustered skies you will ever witness. With no light pollution at all in this true untouched wilderness, take the time to lie on the beach or sit on one of the perfectly placed driftwood logs and marvel at the Milky Way and frequent shooting stars as they streak across the silver dotted sky.

This place just has Canada written all over it – ocean, mountains, wildlife and the peace of mind knowing that places like this still exist on earth today, makes Pollett’s Cove an enchanting place for adventure seekers looking to escape the confines of city life and once again embrace the natural wonders of the this vibrant earth we all call home.

Ryan Barry is the owner of an adventure tour company in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada. His knowledge and travel experience has contributed to his success in becoming a college instructor on the subject of tourism at NSCC and is now looking to share his travels through his writing on outdoor pursuits, active living and nature photography from around the globe.

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  • November 21 2014

    How stunning! What a beautiful part of the world. I’ll forever be kicking myself I didn’t visit when I lived some much closer by than I do now.

  • November 21 2014

    How I love my province!

  • November 22 2014
    Lauren @BonVoyageLauren

    Omg look at their little heads!!! I’m in love. I really need to get myself over to Canada. Absolutely stunning photos!

    Happy travels :)