Day one of Cape Breton Highlands National Park

From Boutouche I headed into Nova Scotia and arrived at St Anns, Cape Breton Island, to a perfect sunset over St Anns Harbour. The Cabot Trail was on my doorstep, but a few kilometres up the Trans-Canada Highway, a ferry crossed the harbour to a restaurant further north where I had breakfast next morning before tackling the national park.

On the northern end of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island was 950 square kilometres of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The park was home to three different types of forests—Acadian, Boreal, and Taiga. The Cabot Trail cut through the park following the coast and highlands. Twenty-six trails were marked on the park’s brochure, so I began on the western side of the park against rugged cliffs facing the Gulf of St Lawrence that covered a quarter of a million square kilometres and bordered five Canadian provinces.

I hiked the short Bog Trail before entering the seven-and-a-half-kilometre Skyline Trail. At the trail entrance a weird sound like the twang of an elastic band came from a nearby brook, the same as I’d heard along the Bog Trail. They were frogs calling to each other—not croaking like the sound I’d grown up hearing. 

Much of the Boreal forest had been depleted by hungry moose so a section had been fenced off to allow newly planted trees to survive. Because the moose had no predators in the park, their numbers had increased along with grasslands rather than forest. Budworm infestations had also taken its toll on the Boreal Forest. Beyond the fenced off section, the trail dipped to the edge of a cliff. Anyone suffering from acrophobia might have found this section daunting because not far along the wooden trail, the land dropped more than one hundred metres on both sides.

Also on the western side was MacIntosh Brook, an under two-kilometre hike through lush forest and running water. This was one of the most beautiful hikes through an old growth hardwood forest to the MacIntosh Brook Waterfall. Unlike the Skyline Trail that had been full of hikers, there was almost no one along this trail. It had been an extra warm hike on the Skyline Trail because there had been little shade, but MacIntosh Brook was shady all the way along the creek and back—the perfect hike to end the day.