Rocky Bluffs and shallow coves were typical on the park’s eastern side where winds off the Atlantic Ocean battered the coastline. Green Cove had warnings that large waves could crash against the headland at any time. Near the ocean, plant life was stunted due to thin soil and salt spray. Offshore, humpback whales travelled north from the Caribbean. Leatherback turtles were common and harp seals returned to the Gulf of St Lawrence for two months of the year. While on land, as well as an abundance of moose in the park, there were lynx, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, hermit thrush, American marten, boreal chickadee and gray jay. Twice I spotted moose the previous day, standing like statues in the middle of the road until I drove closer before they finally sauntered off into the forest.
Lone Shieling Trail was a short hike through sugar maples. For the Mi’kmaq maple sap was vital in regaining strength after a harsh winter. This 1,600-hectare region of the park had the largest old hardwood forest in the Maritimes, so access was restricted to a short loop. At the end of the loop was a stone shepherd’s hut commemorating the Scottish heritage of nearby Pleasant Bay.
Freshwater Lake Trail (featured image) just past the park’s entrance skirted a lake that was only about one hundred metres from the Atlantic Ocean. It had once been a bay. Halfway along one side, the trail ended near the lookout, but another section followed the stony beach for a few hundred metres. This was a picturesque trail but segmented.
Middle Head Trail followed a narrow peninsula that separated two bays and headed five kilometres towards the ocean. The peninsula was made up of hard igneous rocks, granites, gabbro, and diorites that were able to withstand the pounding sea. At nearly every turn there were views of the Atlantic Ocean through the trees, jagged cliffs dropping a hundred metres or more, and carpets of wildflowers covering the forest floor. The view from the trail head gave a panoramic outlook of both bays and a rocky shoreline that jutted into the sea. This trail offered the best of the east coast and I shared it with four other hikers whose home was close to mine back on the west coast. Of all the trails on the eastern side, this one should not be missed.
I didn’t realize until the end of my three weeks in the Maritimes, that Cape Breton Island offered the most impressive national park of all I visited.