It’s true. Even if, like me, you know that Cape Breton is supposed to be lovely and picturesque and scenic and all that, it is still jaw dropping. I mean, it’s spectacular. That’s what we kept saying over and over, for the entire four days we were there. L or I, or both of us, would look out at the view and say “Well. That’s friggin’ spectacular,” and then shake our heads.
We arrived in Cape Breton late Saturday afternoon. We flew into Halifax (and, if we’re being honest, very nearly missed our flight out of Toronto. We had to run, and arrived gasping at the check in, and only just managed to board. It was uncomfortably tight, and I was so flustered it took me three tries to get the cast-on right for the Spruce Jaywalkers.) and picked up our rental and drove to Baddeck. We got in around 5 and I must say I was thrilled to see we were staying here:
Before heading into the woods for two nights, it’s nice to spend in a night in a good bed, you know?
On Sunday morning, we left Baddeck and headed for the famous Cabot Trail, which just so happens to be the only good way to get to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. They aren’t kidding when they call this drive scenic. We stopped a few times to take in the views (and stretch our legs).
We made it to the park around midday and loaded up our packs. The hike into our campsite was 6 km, almost entirely downhill. We started at the top of Mackenzie Mountain (335 m) and hiked down to sea level. The forest there is kind of striated, with spruce at the top giving way to birch trees surrounded by a carpet of ferns, which gives way to more spruce, which ends with a mix of oak, maple and birch (and a few spruce) at the bottom of the river valley.
It was a lovely hike, and it took us here, to Fishing Cove, which was our home for two days and nights.
On the first night we sat up on the cliff and watched the sun set and were lucky enough to see a pod of porpoises (like dolphins) swim across the mouth of the cove just as the water was reflecting all the red and pink and yellow light of setting sun. It was, well, spectacular.
Fishing Cove has eight sites, and on our first night, they were all filled. Ours was tucked a little bit back up the hill – still within view of the beach, but on its own – so it didn’t feel crowded. On our second night, though, we were the only campers, which made the cove feel wilder and more ours.
The next day, we got up early and hike out of Fishing Cove (6 km back up to where we left the car). From Fishing Cove there isn’t really anywhere to go, and we wanted to do some day hikes. We hiked the Skyline – all the along the spine of a mountain that juts out into the ocean. Part way into the hike, L and I were chatting when all of a sudden he said “moose!” and I turned around and say a lady moose having a snack about two metres away from me off the side of the trail.
It seemed not at all concerned that we were there. I wasn’t sure it could get much better than that, but then when we got to the end we saw whales. Sure, we were at the top of the cliff and they were basking in the water down below, but still. We didn’t have binoculars, so I can’t say for sure, but I tend to think they were pilot whales, which are common off the coast and bigger than the equally as common mink whales, making them easier to see.
After we got back to the car, I was about ready to collapse. It turns out that the combination of sleeping on the ground (I do have a good sleeping mat, but still), hiking more or less uphill for 6 km and then hiking an additional 9 km pretty much immediately after has an adverse affect on my legs and hips. Who knew? Needless to say, I was in pain. Of course, we still had to hike back down to our campsite. There are two ways into Fishing Cove: the short way and the long way. We took the long way in on Sunday because we wanted a good hike and L wasn’t sure if his ankle (which he injured a few weeks ago) would be up to a steeper hike. On Monday, though, we decided to try the shorter hike. It’s the same vertical difference (335 m to sea level), but over 3 km instead of 6. Thus, much steeper, but also much shorter.
It’s also how we were going to hike out with all our gear on Tuesday, because the parking lots for the two trails are pretty far apart. I won’t lie, I was dreading it. The trail was steep (as expected) and also quite rocky. A good chunk of it looks like it used to be a creek bed (and almost certainly becomes one in the spring), so the rocks were loose underfoot. Between that and the pain in my legs, well, I was worried.
As it turns out, I needn’t have been. Up is easier than down, and we hiked up and out with all our gear in under an hour! Honestly, if I were to camp at Fishing Cove again (and I think I would – it was gorgeous), I would do it this way again. The long trail is definitely a better downhill hike, because the ground is firmer and the incline not as steep, which made walking down with a pack not too treacherous. However, when climbing out I will take short and tough over long and just-about-as-tough any day. Fifty minutes of pain is, for me, preferable to two hours of pain. Otherwise, both are quite nice hikes through lovely woods, and I would recommend them.
In case you skimmed your way through this whole post wondering about the knitting for heaven’s sake! Don’t worry, there was knitting, and wool shopping, and it will get its own dedicated post. It’s worth the wait, I promise.
Love your photos – It’s been a few years since we visited Cape Breton but I felt the same way! We even stayed at The Inverary in Baddeck. We just returned from another trip to the east coast but weren’t able to get to Cape Breton this time.
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