This past weekend I decided to ease myself into the world of camping (having never done it before) with a two night trip to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I would love to have stayed longer (although I was missing my shower by the time day three rolled around) but it was over the Natal Day long weekend, so two nights had to suffice. We left early Saturday morning and drove back on the Monday around midday. The weekend away was definitely worth the trip.
Even though this was a small and easy camping expedition, I was nervous about what it would take to feel comfortable sleeping in a tent and was worried about the level of organization it would require–the trip was planned pretty last minute. But even with those factors, everything went very smoothly.
The Cape Breton National Park was the ideal place to kickstart my camping experience. The natural surroundings were absolutely breathtaking and the area was well-maintained and super accessible for campers. There are fees that come with entering the park and with some of the campsites, but you can tell that the money has gone into bettering the overall experience.
We left from Halifax and set out for the Chéticamp Visitor Centre at around 6am Saturday morning. Google Maps was telling us that it would take just under four and a half hours but it ended up taking us closer to five, even without proper stops. However, the journey didn’t feel too long and once we got on the Cabot Trail the scenery was beautiful and made for an enjoyable drive.
They gave us a bunch of free maps and information and pointed us toward our campsite which was only a ten-minute drive away. We chose to stay at the Corney Brook campsite and I was super happy with this decision. The site is located right on the ocean and there’s a beautiful pebble beach where the brook flows into the ocean from a waterfall in the forest.
I think some people tend to stay at different campsites if they are spending a longer stay in the park–there are many to choose from. However, since our visit was a short one, we decided to make the Corney Brook campsite our home base.
The campsite had proper bathrooms with flushing toilets–though no sinks or showers–and little mini barbeques and picnic tables for each group. We wanted to arrive quite early on the Saturday and I’m glad we got there when we did because the site operates on a first-come-first-serve basis (there are 20 camping spots total). So when we pulled up just before midday, the previous people had left and a lot of the plots were open for new campers to come in. We ended up getting a great spot right beside the shoreline with amazing ocean views. The daily cost of this site was $24.
This campsite was also a great choice because the mornings were nice and cool, as the sun was hidden behind the mountain still. This meant that when we woke up we weren’t a sweaty mess. Additionally, this also meant that the sunset was right over the ocean each evening and it was pretty spectacular.
The Corney Brook trail (one of over 20 trails in the area) is directly opposite the campsite, so you can walk across the main Cabot Trail road and begin your hike into the forest. I thought that this was a really beautiful hike and a great option. Most of the foot traffic for this trail came from the people staying at our campsite, which was nice because it meant that the trail was basically empty and was much more peaceful in comparison to some of the more popular options.
The hike leads you into the woods and up along the Corney Brook to a big waterfall. It was a 6.5k return hike so it was an easy one to fit in as soon as we had arrived and pitched our tent.
There were signs warning against coyotes but we didn’t see any. I think this trail is worth a visit even if you are staying farther away on a different site. It’s a really beautiful section of forest nestled in a box river canyon. Some of the other hikes had smaller and sparser trees but on this trail, the forest really enveloped us.
The Skyline trail seemed to be the one that was talked about the most when I was doing research beforehand, so we knew for sure that it had to be done. There are two ways to do this hike, one being a 7.5k return, the other being the longer 9.2k loop. We chose to do the loop as that would show us more of the scenery instead of forcing us to double back on ourselves.
On the website it said that the hike would take about two to three hours but definitely give yourself more time, not because the hike is difficult in any way, but because the view at the top of the trail is so spectacular. We packed a picnic to enjoy at the lookout.
I would recommend doing the full loop. We walked the “return option” stretch on our way back from the viewpoint and I felt that it did not compare to the section we had done at the beginning of the loop. Still, the return option is a good fit if you don’t have a lot of time or if you have kids. I should mention that there were a lot of families out on this trail so it’s definitly appropriate for kids.
Keep in mind that this is one of the trails where dogs are not allowed. This is because of the wildlife in the area which can include bears, coyotes and moose (meese?). Unfortunately/Fortunately we did not see any of these animals on our hike but we did see paw prints in the mud etc.
Despite the potential wildlife, I felt very calm on this hike. One of the reasons was because the trail was pretty busy (not so much on the loop, but definitely on the return section). This was also a bit of a negative for me because it took away from the experience a little bit. That’s why I really recommend the Corney Brook hike, it had much more privacy and tranquility.
The view at the end of the trail was unbeatable. We had clouds rolling over us and the Atlantic Ocean stretched out beside the mountains, cliffs and beaches. If you look out for long enough you have a good chance of spotting whales.
Many people also hike this trail closer to sunset as the view shows the sun sinking into the ocean and the colours in the sky are incredible.
This trail was a short one that we decided to throw in as we were passing it after our Skyline hike. Bog is a 0.5k loop that takes about 15 minutes to complete. Apparently, this is a fantastic area for spotting moose. We didn’t see any but we were told that if you come to the spot closer to dawn or dusk you have a high chance of seeing them in this area – many of them even sleep there.
The whole trail is a boardwalk that keeps you dry and elevated over the bog. There are many placards that explain the plants and wildlife around you. It was interesting to learn more about the nature we were seeing.
If I did this hike again, I’d make sure to go at dawn or dusk. Otherwise, I might give it a miss.
The rest of our trip consisted of driving around the Cabot Trail and visiting the other side of the park. It was a very scenic drive and we stopped at Black Brook Beach. It’s the perfect spot for a swim–if you’re not afraid of cold water!
We spent our last evening back at the Corney Brook campsite admiring the perfect sunset view.
Clean up the next day was simple and easy. All we had to do was pack up and clean out the barbecue. I one hundred percent recommend exploring this beautiful part of Nova Scotia and hope I get the chance to return again soon!