Victoria County encompasses some of the wildest places in Cape Breton. The Cape Breton Highlands Park is the major feature, but you’ll also find adventures on the Cabot Trail and the Bras D’Or Lakes around Baddeck. Wherever you go, make sure you’re ready to take pictures, explore, and enjoy natural beauty of all kinds.
Important Note: Since the Cape Breton Highlands Park is so big, there are several entries here for different places within its borders. Having been several times, I can assure you that you could spend several days within the Park and still not see all it has to offer.
Sail on the Amoeba
The Bras D’Or Lakes are a beautiful part of Cape Breton, and if you want to experience them up close and personal, head out on an Amoeba sailing tour. The schooner Amoeba has been touring the lakes for over thirty years with Captain John at the helm, so the tour has been perfected over all those years. Some of the highlights of the tour include seeing Alexander Graham Bell’s summer mansion, Spectacle Island, and watching Captain John feed bald eagles! Bring your ginger Gravol and sunscreen and get ready to have a watery adventure.
Cost: 30$ for adults, 15$ for children 5-14, first child under 5 is free
Address: Jones Street, Baddeck (end of the Baddeck Community Wharf)
Golf With Bells On
If you’re in Baddeck and you love to golf, you should head straight to Bell Bay Golf Course. It was designed by Thomas McBroom, a Canadian golf course architect that designs courses all over the world. The course is beautiful with views of the Bras D’Or Lakes and rolling greens surrounded by beautiful pines. If you’re looking to improve your golf game, you can take lessons here, either private or in a group of up to four.
Address: 761 Highway 205, Baddeck
Sail to the Birds
So Bird Island might not be the most creative name, but it’s certainly the most appropriate; all kinds of seabirds make their nests here, including Atlantic Puffins! The Bird Island Boat Tour will take you all around the island so you can watch the birds (and sometimes seals) enjoy the island and the water surrounding it. The Van Schaick family has been running this tour since the 1970s, and their experience ensures that your experience will be one for the books!
Cost: 49$ for adults, 29$ for children 7-12, free for children 0-6
Address: 1672 Old Route 5, Big Bras D’Or
Phone: 1-800-661-6680 or 1-902-674-2384
Visit a Brook-Bordered Beach
Beaches are often bordered by grass or rocks replacing the sand, but Black Brook Beach has a different kind of border: an actual waterfall! It’s a popular beach within the park, with a picnic shelter that has a stove, fire pits (check the postings for fire permission), and access to hiking rails close by when you’ve got your fill of the beach. It’s a soft, sandy beach, but bring some water shoes just in case, because the water itself can get a bit rocky. It’s a great place to end your day at the park, because you can enjoy the ocean sunset uninterrupted by land for hundreds of miles.
Cost:Rates for the park
Address: 33637 Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Camping in the Park
If you really want to experience the Highlands National Park, why not stay in it? Broad Cove Campground is close to the village of Ingonish, but it’s also in the forest right alongside the beach, so you get the best of both worlds. The campground has all the regular amenities, and it also offers ocean swimming, geocaching opportunities, and even outdoor theatre. And if you’re not sure you’ll love camping, they also have oTENTiks, which are a cross between a cabin and a tent, perfect for beginners (and people like me, who want a ceiling).
Cost:Rates for the park
Address: 35479 Cabot Trail, Igonish
Discover the Cabot Trail
The Cabot Trail is a 298km trail, one of the longest in all of Nova Scotia. But it’s more than that—it’s a path to enjoying all the Cape Breton cultures that surround it (and yup, there are different Cape Breton cultures, you’ll understand when you get there). If you want to explore with purpose, Cabot Discovery Tours is ready to lend a hand. From day tours along the trail to Celtic music tours to shore excursions, you’ll find the adventure you most desire, and get a chance to experience the Cabot Trail your way.
Address: 43 Old Margaree Road, Baddeck
Land at the Park
Even with the Highlands National Park, there’s still room for several provincial parks in Victoria County; this one is called Cabot’s Landing. It’s a picnic and beach park, so that means it combines all the fun of both of those activities. This site has historical significance; it was the traditional launching site for Mi’kmaq people when they were paddling to Newfoundland, and it’s also where John Cabot landed (hence the name). You can see the Pollets Cove-Aspy Fault Wilderness Area from here, and if you’re doing any kind of kayaking or hiking trek in the area, this is a great place to catch your breath.
Address: 1904 Bay St. Lawrence Road, Sugarloaf
Adventure the Cabot Trail
The Cabot Trail has plenty of things to do, and if you’re not feeling like Discovering, why not try an Adventure? Cabot Trail Adventures provides tours by sea (kayaks), wheels (biking), and feet (hiking). You can simply rent the equipment, or you can take part in one of their guided adventures that reach through the entire county. Like they say in Up, adventure is out there, and Cabot Trail Adventures is there to make sure your adventure is safe, fun, and beautiful.
Cost: See site for details
Address: 299 Shore Road, South Harbour
Head for the Highlands
The Cape Breton Highlands National Park, as I mentioned in the introduction, contains a multitude of sites, many of which are featured on this list. However, this park as a whole is worthy of its own entry thanks to the wide variety of adventures you can have. Explore the hiking trails, participate in a lobster boil, fish for speckled trout, and more. It’s a big park that offers unlimited options, so if you’re not fussy about where you go in the park, just drive in, get settled at one of the campgrounds, and pull out a map. You’re sure to find your way to precious memories of fun in the park.
Cost:Rates for the park
Address: 37639 Cabot Trail Road, Ingonish Beach
Tour for Fish and Lobster
If you’re looking to fish from a boat, you should check out Cape Breton Lobster Tours. If you’re looking to see how lobster trapping is done and lend a hand, you should check out Cape Breton Lobster Tours. If you want to do either of these activities privately, just with your own group, you should check out…well, you get the idea. Seriously, this company offers educational and fun tours around the Bras D’Or Lakes in search of seafood. Captain Brian has over thirty years’ experience in these waters, so come ready to catch your dinner!
Address: 2 Jones Street, Baddeck
Phone: 902-295-7201 or 902-295-2564
Climb to the Smokey Park
Cape Smokey holds a lot of great memories for me—it was the first place my family went on a ski trip, and every time we go to Ingonish we drive over the Cape. Cape Smokey Provincial Park can also be explored on top of the hill (it’s not technically a mountain), with nice picnic tables and incredible views. This park is right on the edge of the Highlands National Park, as well as being on the Cabot Trail, so you’re technically engaged in three outdoor adventures at the same time! Pro tip: make sure that you bring ginger Gravol or some other nausea aid, because the road to Cape Smokey is a twisty one.
Address: 40301 Cabot Trail, Cape Smokey
Have A Dalem at the Lake
If you enjoy a day at the lake, you should head to Dalem Lake Provincial Park. Though the lake is relatively small, there’s lots to do. You can swim off the white sand beach and then enjoy a picnic at the shady tables, or you can bring a water vehicle of your choosing (provided it has no motor). There’s also hiking to do if you’re done with the water, and you’ll be delighted by the park’s flora and fauna in the water, on the land, and in the sky.
Address: 220 New Dominion Road, Boularderie
Go on a Seafari
I’ve written before about how great Zodiac wildlife tours are, and Dixon’s Zodiac Seafari is another great example. I love the new word seafari, and Dixon’s lives up to it, leaving from Neil’s Harbour for a two-hour tour around the coast. Here’s some potential sights: Leatherback Turtles, Killer Whales, dolphins, and even Blue Whales (which must feel like an out of body experience when you’re that close to the water). So hop aboard, wear get-wettable clothes, and brush up on your whale-speak for the safari.
Cost: Contact for details
Address: 36 Lighthouse Road, Neil’s Harbour
Go Boating for Puffins
If you’re specifically interested in puffins, you should check out Donelda’s Puffin Boat Tours. This tour will also take you to Bird Island, but as the name suggests, they’re focused on puffins. This tour will take you to the Atlantic Puffin’s nesting ground on Bird Island, and along the way you’ll see other seabirds and seals. Puffins are awesome, and they are adorable as babies, so this is your chance to see the little fluffballs!
Phone: 1-902-929-2563 or 1-877-278-3346
Camp Out and Eat Oysters
Camping is great, and oysters are great. Hideaway Campground & Oyster Market is proud to combine the two. The campground is right on the edge of the Highland National Park, and they have 58 camping sites, which includes 7 camping cabins. All the sites are private and have a bunch of space, but they’re also all quite close to the main area, which includes the toilets, showers, dishwashing station, laundromat, and the rec hall. And of course, the Aspy Bay Oysters, produced by the owners of the campground, are right next door and available with different sauces at the campground office. And hey, if oysters aren’t your thing, they also have cooked snow crab and lobster.
Address: 401 Shore Road, South Harbour
Find the Highland Links
The Keltic Lodge has a well-deserved reputation for being a beautiful place to stay in northern Cape Breton. One of their signature offerings is the Highland Links Golf Course, recognized as one of Canada’s most beautiful courses. It’s an 18 hole course carved out of wilderness, so nature surrounds every inch. This may make it difficult to find errant balls, so make sure you bring a big bag with you. The views are worth it though, and since you can play from 6AM to dusk, you can pick your favourite time of day to play golf and enjoy an expertly crafted course that’s been around since 1941.
Address: 247 Keltic Inn, Middle Head Peninsula
Phone: 1-800-441-1118 or 1-902-285-2600
Get the Best of Both Worlds
Ingonish is one of my favourite places on earth; it’s a village nestled within the Highlands National Park. It’s famous for its beaches, and Ingonish Beach is the first one that comes to mind for many visitors. It’s a unique beach, because you can swim in both fresh water and salt water and not have to move your towel! Just a few quick steps over a barachois (which is a lagoon) and you’re at Freshwater Lake. The ocean water at Ingonish can be bracingly cold some days, but with a lake that close it’s easy to find some warmer water.
Address: 90 Beach Road, Ingonish Beach
Watch Whales in Ingonish
Ingonish has some fascinating waters around it, and if you’re looking for a marine life adventure, hop on one of the Keltic Express Zodiac Adventures (KEZA)! Apparently everyone’s learned the lesson about Zodiac boats being the best (which is good because whale watching from a boat deck that’s about thirty feet above the water is no fun), and KEZA will take you all around the area. KEZA knows their marine life, with a 95% success rate on their tours for sightings. On top of that, you’ll also learn about Ingonish Island, light keepers, and observe the cliffs by the Keltic lodge; there’s something for everyone!
Cost: 56$ per seat, 28$ for children under 10
Address: 101 Wharf Road, Ingonish
Adventure in the Pines
If you’re looking to get deeper into the wilderness around the Cabot Trail, you should check out Mountain Pine Adventures. They have three adventure tours (easy, medium, hard) that will take you to more isolated parts of the surrounding areas, and they provide a picnic lunch so all you have to carry is your water bottle, sunscreen, and picture taking device. If you want something more…airy…check out their ziplines! They have two different platforms, one at 15 feet and one at 50 feet that give you a great view of the ocean and the Appalachian mountains. Get out into the wild and start making some memories!
Cost(services tab on their Facebook page)
Address: 30001 Cabot Trail
Have a North Bay Day
Ingonish Beach is cool, but my favourite beach in Ingonish is North Bay Beach. It’s partly white sand and partly rocky—the ratio can change daily, I’ve seen it all rock and all sand. The waves are great here, and while the water can be cold it’s very refreshing on a summer day. If it’s really too cold to swim, there’s lots of beach to explore, where cool rocks and driftwood abound. With Whale Island and the Keltic Lodge framing the view out to the horizon, North Bay Beach is an experience you’ll never forget.
Cost:Rates for the park
Address: 37123 Cabot Trail
Kayak Up The River
There are so many tours in Cape Breton that are decades old, which is fantastic because that means they’re ready to put on the best of all shows. North River Kayak Tours is one of these tours; it’s been in operation for 26 years. Accessible to beginners, you have your choice of a half day or a full day tour; both come with snacks and the full day comes with lunch. You’ll see eagles, a paper mill, and waterfalls along the way. It’s a great chance to make friends, do some paddling, and explore the North River.
Address: RR#4 Baddeck, Nova Scotia
Phone: 902-929-2628 or1-888-865-2925
Follow the River Into the Park
If you’re not super into kayaking, never fear! You can still explore North River by spending a day at North River Provincial Park. You’ll find several trails within the park, several leading to a river canyon. You’ll find salmon pools in the canyon (not for fishing please and thank you), and you’ll see a gorgeous 104-foot waterfall. It’s only 3.5km off the Cabot Trail, so if you’re looking to stretch your legs to the point where they’re too tired to be fidgety anymore, this is a great place for a detour.
Address: Oregon Road, North River
Boat by the Market
If you’ve brought a boat with you (or any kind of water vehicle), Ross Ferry Marine Park is the perfect place to launch it. They’ve got plenty of docks and a boat launching ramp, so it’s easy to get into and stay in the water. There are snacks available on Sundays, showers available at all times, and plenty of water for everyone. There’s also a farmer’s market, which for the 2020 season has become a driving tour gate market, so you actually go to the properties where the food comes from. You’ll find local food, flowers, baking, and artisan products. Whether you’re coming to enjoy land or sea, Ross Ferry Marine Park guarantees a fun day.
Cost: By donation or buy a membership (15$ per person, or 25$ per family)
Address: 968 Kempt Head Road, Ross Ferry
Visit the Mobile Lighthouse Museum
Dingwall is an excellent place name, and when you visit Dingwall, you should drive up Dingwall Road. Not just for the fun of the name, but also to see the St. Paul Island Museum and Lighthouse. This lighthouse isn’t on St. Paul Island anymore, nor is it in Dartmouth, its other home. It was designed to be easy to move (which is why it had two homes), and its current resting place is just outside of Dingwall. The lighthouse also holds a museum all about St. Paul Island, so come and learn about the history of this well-traveled building and the way it protected sailors from the dangerous waters around. Well, I guess the water itself wasn’t the main danger, it was mostly the big rocks. But they’re in the water, so that counts!
Address: 575 Dingwall Road, Dingwall
Walk to White Water
You’ll find Gaelic words scattered all over Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton is full of them (mainly in Scottish Gaelic, which is similar to Irish but not quite the same). Uisge Ban is Gaelic for “white water”, so Uisge Ban Falls literally means “white water falls”, which is accurate. To get to these falls you take a pleasant 4km walk through a hardwood forest. It takes roughly an hour, and there are other trails that will take you closer to the falls and even above it, with picnic tables for you to refresh yourself.
Address: 715 North Branch Road, Baddeck Forks
By: Adrienne Colborne