Cabot Trail
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CABOT TRAIL

P The Cabot Trail is 298 km and loops around the northern tip of Cape Breton Island. The most dramatic section of the Cabot Trail is the section that traverses Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Here you will find the rugged slopes of North Mountain, the switchbacks of MacKenzie Mountain and the famous rolling road that hugs the rugged coastline which then rises to the heights of French Mountain. Two towns service this internationally known region: Cheticamp, located on the west side of the island and Ingonish, which is located in the east.

Another unique section of the trail is the one that traverses the Margaree Valley. Located at the southern tip of the Cabot Trail you'll find the terrain here flatter than up north, but it provides beautiful views of the sloping valley walls that is home to the Margaree River. The valley starts at Margaree Forks, in the west, just south of Cheticamp, and comes out in the east where you will find Bras d'Or Lake and the Village of Baddeck. If good food and higher end accommodation is what you seek you will find it in Baddeck.

The final section of the Cabot Trail goes north from Baddeck and finishes in the area of Ingonish. Most of the this section hugs a fairly flat shoreline before ascending the switchbacks of Cape Smokey Provincial Park then descending into the beaches and harbours of Ingonish.

CABOT TRAIL CYCLING ROUTES

Town/CityDistance (km)Elevation Gain (m)Categorized Climbs
ViewIngonish105 km1805 m2-Cat.2 | 1-Cat.3 | 2-Cat.4 | 1-Cat.5
ViewCheticamp90 km764 m1 - Cat. 4
ViewBaddeck103 km1096 m1 - Cat. 3

CABOT TRAIL INFORMATION

Suggested Accommodations


I have stayed in all of the above noted properties and have found them all to be well worth the money. Accommodations tend to be a bit cheaper with "motel like" properties in Cheticamp, but you can't beat the location to the mountains and the famous features of the park. The Margaree Valley also has fairly cheap prices, but who resist staying at the slightly more expensive Normaway Inn. I stayed in one of the "Green Chalets" and found them earthy, but very clean and cosy. The food in the main dining is hearty and well cooked, although I found the wine list minimalistic. If you're looking for a wide range of accommodation options, then Baddeck is for you. You'll get cheap motel like properties alongside higher end Inns and B & B's. We stayed at the Silver Dart Lodge, in one of the chalets, and found it very comfortable and clean. As for Ingonish, by far the best choice is the Keltic Lodge. Everything about this property is higher end than the competition. If it's too much for your pocket book, there are many other "cabin like" properties to choose from as well.

Please refer to the FAQ section below for a complete listing of accommodation options.

Tour Operators


Due to the lengthy nature of the Cabot Trail, logistics become a primary concern when dealing with trip planning. I'm fortunate enough that my wife and dog provide a support vehicle so at the end of the day I simply put my bike on the roof and drive to our accommodations for the night. For others, this type of set up is not always available. That's where tour operators come in. I have listed a few of them above. It seems most of them cater to the causal cyclist. I cycle the trail in 2 or 3 days, as most road cyclists would, but these companies, on average, take about a week. In my experience, a simple phone call will usually provide an answer to most problems. Some companies will offer a shuttle service where they will simply pick you up at the end of the day and return you to your base. This option will appeal to "roadies" who want independence and who are always self sufficient on long cycling stages.

GALLERY

FAQ

Where can I find cycling stores?

Sydney, Cape Btn, NS  |  Framework Fitness (1-866-567-1909)
     Bike rental, repair, sales
Cheticamp, Cape Btn, NS  |  Velo Max Cycling (902-224-3010)
     Bike Rental, repair, limited sales
Halifax, NS  |  Cyclesmith (1-877-425-1756)
     Sales, repair
Halifax, NS  |  Bikes by Dave (902-455-1677)
     Sales, repair

Where you go for your cycling needs will depend on what type of bike you have. As this site is geared toward the "road cyclist" I would suggest "Framework Cycle" if you are already on the Cabot Trail and "Cyclesmith" if you are en route and have come by way of Halifax. Both of these stores can accommodate road cycling requirements. As for bike rentals, both "Framework Cycle" and "Velo Max Cycling" have options to suit most cycling needs.

How do I get to the Cabot Trail?

Cape Breton Island is linked to mainland Nova Scotia by the Canso Causeway, a mile-long road and railway system that is part of the Trans Canada Highway. From Canada you can follow the Trans Canada Highway #2 to the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border, then follow the Trans-Canada Highway #104 to Cape Breton Island.

From the United States you can follow Interstate 95 north to the US/New Brunswick border. Follow the Trans Canada Highway #2 to the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border, and then follow the Trans Canada Highway #104 to Cape Breton Island.

Airports
Halifax International Airport (902-873-4422)
Sydney Airport (902-564-7720)
If you are arriving from another country you will have to go through Halifax International Airport, assuming your country of origin flies into Halifax. If it does not you will more than likely have to fly into Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal and then transfer from there. If you are flying from within Canada you might be able to fly into Sydney Airport depending on where in Canada you are flying from. Both airports have car rental services. It's about a 3 1/2 drive from Halifax Airport to Baddeck and about 1 hour drive from Sydney Airport to Baddeck.

Shuttle and Car Services
Cape Shuttle Service Ltd. (1-800-349-1698)
East Cost Shuttle (1-800-873-5551)
B&N Atlantic Shuttle Service (1-800-330-4223)
MacLeod's Shuttle Service (1-800-262-9723)
Scotia Shuttle (1-800-898-5883)
Bernie's Shuttle Service (1-800-742-6101)
If you would prefer to leave the driving to someone else, there is whole host of shuttles and car services that would be happy to get you to where you need to be. Some of them are shuttles from Halifax to Sydney and some of them will take you directly to Baddeck or anywhere else you would like to go.

Bus Services
Maritime Bus (1-800-575-1807)
If you really want to save money then take the bus. They have stops directly in Baddeck. if you are traveling with your bike please check with Maritime Bus to see if they will accommodate your bike.

What is the best time to go?

The typical season to cycle the Cabot Trail is from May to October. Temperatures in May, especially first thing in the morning, can be quite cool for cycling. The same can be said for the higher mountain elevations. The weather can change quite rapidly in this area, so please come prepared with a multitude of weather gear. You won't need a winter riding jacket in July and August, but you will need arm warmers and a wind proof rain jacket if the weather turns. The standard clothing options apply. Always dress in layers and always be prepared for just about anything.

For historical Cheticamp weather information please click here

Other accommodations options?

Baddeck
Inverary Resort (1-800-565-5660)
Ceilidh Country Lodge (1-800-565-5660)
Silver Dart Lodge (1-888-662-7484)
Lynwood Inn (1-877-666-1995)
Telegraph House (1-888-263-9840)
The Dunlop Inn (1-888-290-1988)
The Waters Edge Inn (1-866-439-2529)
Green Highlander Lodge (1-866-470-5333)
Broadwater Inn (1-877-818-3474)
High Street Inn (1-902-295-1400)
Baddeck Inn (1-902-295-2200)
Trailsman Motel ((1-888-245-5253)
Castle Moffet (1-888-756-9070)
Cabot Trail Motel (1-902-295-2580)
McIntyre's Cottages and Cameron House (1-866-566-1133)

Cheticamp
Maison Fiset House (1-855-292-1794)
Auberge Doucet Inn (1-800-646-8668)
Merry's Motel (1-902-224-2456)
Ocean View Motel and Chalets (1-877-743-4404)
Lauries Inn (1-800-959-4253)
Sea and Golf Chalets (1-877-224-1777)
Pilot Whales Chalets (1-902-224-1040)
Cornerstone Motel (1-844-224-3232)
Cheticamp island Cottages (1-902-224-1152)

Ingonish
Keltic Lodge (1-800-565-0444)
Ingonish Chalets (1-888-505-0552)
Knotty Pine Cottages (1-800-455-2058)
Castle Rock Inn (1-888-884-7625)
Glenhorm Beach Resort (1-855-285-4631)
Lantern Hill and Hollow (1-888-663-0225)
Sea Breeze Cottages and Motel (1-888-743-4443)
Seascape Coastal Retreat (1-866-385-3003)
Sleepy Hollow Cottages (1-888-832-1112)
Rocky Bay Cottages Driftwood Lodge (1-877-285-2558)
Skyline Cabins (1-902-285-2055)
The Point Cottages by the Sea (1-902-285-2804)

Margaree Valley and Area
The Normaway Inn (1-800-565-9463)
Margaree Riverview Inn(1-800-493-5151)
Brown's Suites and Cottages (1-800-575-2935)
Chimney Coastal Cottages (1-888-211-9061)
Cranton Cottages(1-902-248-2985)
Duck Cove Inn (1-800-565-9993)
island Sunset Resort (1-866-515-2900)
The Salmon Pool Inn (1-902-235-2737)
Whale Cove Summer Village

Vacation Home Rentals
Home Away (Phone# listed with property)
VRBO (Phone# listed with property)
Cottages in Canada (Phone# listed with property)
Flipkey (Phone# listed with property)

Suggested gearing?

This question is dependent entirely upon the skill level of the cyclist. The mountains in Cape Breton Highland National Park can be quite big if you are not used to mountainousness terrain, they are also quite steep. I run a standard 53/39 crank with a 25/11 cassette in Southern Ontario, but when I go to the Cabot Trail I put on a 28/12 climbing cassette. Most experienced cyclists will find this setup just fine. If you have doubts about your climbing ability, perhaps a compact crank might be better for you. If you are really new to the sport you might even use a triple crank and if that's the case, there won't be a mountain around you won't be able to get up. So to answer that question is difficult without knowing the skill level of the cyclist. I've always been a big fan of the standard 53/39 crank and a 25/11 cassette for most regions and in the mountains I use a 53/39 crank and 28/12 cassette. If I can't climb it I'll have a new goal and that's just fine with me.

Most touring companies will provide bikes that have really easy gearing, more like a mountain bike set up with a triple crank. You'll spin madly and seem to stand still, but you will most certainly get to the top. If you are hauling gear, a touring gear system is almost essential. I couldn't image panniers or a trailer on my set up. I'd be throwing up for sure. Know your bike and know your abilities. If in doubt use something that is easier. Better to enjoy yourself than suffer, unless you like to suffer, that is.

Clockwise or Counter Clockwise?

This is a debate no one can win. I once heard a "pro argument" for the counter clockwise camp that if you cycle counter clockwise you are always closer to the water and therefore will have better views. True enough. I think the only way to determine which way to go, and this is a personal one, is to decide what mountains you want to climb. I personally find that counter clockwise is harder. If cycling counter clockwise your climb up Cape Smokey is much harder from the south than the north, North Mountain is longer from the east side and almost as steep as the west side and I find Mackenzie Mountain is harder to climb than French Mountain. I have climbed all the mountains from both sides, so it's my personal opinion that counter clockwise is harder than clockwise. I'm sure the eyes are rolling now. Either way, if you cycle in the mountains you will find the climbs both challenging and beautiful. Go whichever way your heart desires and enjoy yourself along the way.

What's a categorized climb?

A categorized climb is a rating combining both length of the hill and its average gradient. The easiest is a category 5 increasing in difficulty towards a category 1 and then the ultimate cruelty of an HC (hors categorie), meaning it's so hard it's outside of classification. Most professional races never include category 5 climbs in their race profile as they would be too easy to be of any concern. But Map My Ride includes them in their profile calculations so I have included them here. The highest category you will find in Cape Breton is a category 2. Mountains that fall into this category in this region will have you cycling uphill 3 - 5 km, with average gradients near 9%. You wont see the top of the hill and at times there will be switchbacks, especially on MacKenzie Mountain. If you have never climbed a Cat. 2 you are in for a treat. It does seem to go on forever. As always, what goes up must come down, and there in lies your reward. Careful on the descents, the corners are tighter than you think.

Am I fit enough?

I would say that most people with average fitness can do most of the Cabot Trail with little difficulty, especially if they are spreading out their ride over 6 or 7 days. The only hard sections are French Mountain, MacKenzie Mountain either side of North Mountain and Cape Smokey. As was discussed in the "clockwise or counter clockwise" section you only climb two mountains in the National Park, not three as some people may think, and these are usually done on the same day if you follow my stage profiles. I'm sure touring companies split them up onto different days. Cape Smokey usually comes a different day either way. So if you are willing to walk your bike part way up the mountain if things get too tough, then I would say most fit people with enough determination will be successful in their attempt to complete the Cabot Trail.

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