Hiking Cape Breton Island – The 7 Best Trails

Cape Breton Island Road
The view of the Atlantic Ocean from the north end of the Cape Breton Island. This is where many of the best hikes are found.

When we set off on our trip around Nova Scotia we knew very little about the northern island of Cape Breton. In fact, I was shocked to realize that it was an island since the landmass is located so close to the mainland. It is hard to distinguish as an island when looking at the map. Crossing the water gap requires a short drive across a small bridge. We crossed over and the landscape only got better as we headed north into the Cape Breton Highlands. While the Ceilidh Coastal Trail is an amazing drive up the west coast, the real beauty of the Canadian island is found when hiking Cape Breton Island on these 7 amazing trails.

#1 – Middle Head Trail

Hiking Cape Breton Island's Middle Head Trail
Jennifer rests on a boulder during the hike on the Middle Head Trail. A great vantage point to look for sea life
  • Trailhead: Middle Head Trailhead (just past the Keltic Lodge)
  • Rating: Easy
  • Distance: 2.5-miles
  • Type: Loop Trail with a spur
    • The hike is called a loop trail, but it is really a small loop with a very long out and back spur. The spur is where most of the scenery can be found.
  • Total Elevation Gain: 190′
  • Park Pass Needed: Yes

The 2.5-mile Middle Head Trail is a very easy hike with tons of scenic rewards for very little effort. The Middle Head Trail starts from a small parking lot towards the tip of a thin peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. It is found in the southeastern corner of Cape Breton Islands National Park. The trail undulates through a thick forest but has stunning views of the coastal landmass. Birds and sea life can be seen in abundance from the stunning rocky cliffs that line the peninsula. We watched as sea lions popped their heads up out of the crashing waves before taking a deep breath and continuing their hunt for fish below the churn. At the tip of the peninsula lies a narrow channel that separates it from Steering Island. I found the ability to watch the waves surge through this narrow passage mesmerizing and very unique.

#2 – Meat Cove Mountain

Meat Cove Mountain
The view from the top of Meat Cove Mountain provides sweeping views of the Highlands. The autumn is a great time to see the colorful forest that blanket these mountains.
  • Trailhead: Meat Cove Mountain (aka: Mountain Trail)
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: 2.25-miles (roundtrip)
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Total Elevation Gain: 1,032′
  • Park Pass Needed: No

The trail up Meat Cove Mountain isn’t for the faint of heart. It is a steep slog through the woods up nearly 900’ in about half a mile. The trail is a well-worn path with very little signs of actual intended trail maintenance or layout. The only thing here to assist those who journey up this lonely path is the occasional rope handrail fastened to the hillside with long pieces of metal rebar. Those who do make it up this steep ascent are rewarded with stunning views of the northern tip of Cape Breton and the Atlantic Ocean. The Highlands stretch out to the south and the ocean to the north. Every direction you turn is a stunning panorama.

#3 – Hiking Cape Breton Highland’s Skyline Trail

Hiking Cape Breton Highland's Skyline Trail
The Skyline trail rewards hikers with a great vantage point for spotting wildlife. Don’t forget your binoculars on this adventure.
  • Trailhead: Skyline Trailhead
  • Rating: Moderately-Easy
  • Distance:
    • 4-miles Total Out and Back
    • 5.1-mile Loop
  • Type: Out and Back or Loop
    • Out and Back is the most common, but I recommend the Loop Trail. It adds very little distance but gives more opportunity to see moose and other wildlife.
  • Total Elevation Gain: 420′
  • Park Pass Needed: Yes

The Skyline Trail is a world-class and world-renown trail. Tourists flock here to this remote location in large numbers so don’t expect to have this trail to yourself. Its popularity is well deserved and is very much worth a visit. The Skyline Trail starts in a parking lot at the top of a ridge on the west side of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The trail is an easy walk through the woods out to a stunning boardwalk on the ridge overlooking the ocean below. Wildlife on this trail is abundant. Moose frequent the wooded area and eagles are at home along the cliff edge. Pilot Whales can be seen in the waters from the cliffs above although I recommend a good set of binoculars.

#4 – White Point Trail

Hiking Cape Breton Island's White Point Trail
The ocean waves relentlessly batter the White Point coastline.
  • Trailhead: White Point Trailhead
  • Rating: Easy (most reward for the effort)
  • Distance: 1.5-Miles Total
  • Type: Out and Back with opportunities for many spurs.
  • Total Elevation Gain: 170′
  • Park Pass Needed: No

White Point is one of the most beautiful cliff walks I have ever seen. It is also the easiest trail in this hiking Cape Breton list. The trail ventures out onto the cliffs of the western part of Cape Breton Island. Here the rough Atlantic Ocean bashes into the jagged, rocky coastline in its endless task of erosion. There is no set trail. It quickly makes its way from a small parking area out on to the cliffs where it then splits into many paths as it meanders around the tip of the nearly barren peninsula. On a nice clear day, hikers are rewarded with stunningly gorgeous ocean vistas for very little effort.

#5 – Franey Trail

Franey Trail Overlook
The overlook at the top of the steep Franey Trail. I love these red Adirondack chairs the Canadian National parks have placed in these amazing locals.
  • Trailhead: Franey Trailhead
  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 5-Miles Total
  • Type: Loop
  • Total Elevation Gain: 1,100′
  • Park Pass Needed: Yes

The Franey Trail is another easily accessed hiking path located on the east side of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. While the terrain is rather steep on the southern portion of the hiking loop the sweeping views from the top back across the coastal landscape and the Highland valleys are well worth the effort. If you prefer hiking up steep terrain rather than down like we do take the loop clockwise. The northern side of the loop has a much gentler slope to it. Be careful not to miss the spur trail to MacDougalls Lake accessed from the northern section of the loop. The lake can be seen through the trees but it is easy to miss.

#6 – Uisge Ban Falls

Uisge Ban Falls
The Uisge Ban Falls is a beautiful remote waterfall located in the heart of the Cape Breton Island.
  • Trailhead: Uisge Ban Falls Trailhead
  • Rating: Moderately-Easy
  • Distance: 1.75-Miles Total
  • Type: Out and back
  • Total Elevation Gain: 390′
  • Park Pass Needed: No

The Uisge Ban Falls hike is the only trail on the list located to the south of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Getting to this remote trailhead is half of the fun. It requires driving for several miles on dirt roads through a seemingly endless forest. It is beautiful during the autumn season. The path starts from the Uisge Ban Falls Provincial Park. This remote location has no cell service. There is a campground within the boundaries of the park which is very nice due to the seclusion.

The path meanders through a lush forest mostly following the flow of the creek as it passes through the forest. The trail leads into a small gorge where under the right conditions water seemingly rushes down from every surrounding cliff wall into the small stream at the bottom. Once in the gorge, it is a short distance to the end of the trail and the very impressive Uisge Ban Falls which is a two-tier waterfall that then cascades down the creek at the floor of the gorge. This is a trail well worth the effort of the hike as well as the drive.

#7 – Kauzmann Trail

Kauzmann Trail Overlook
The Kauzmann Trail provides hikers with a bird’s eye view on the cliffs above the crashing waves. We even saw a bald eagle gliding along the ridge in the updraft.
  • Trailhead: Kauzmann Trailhead (difficult to find)
    • The trailhead is obscured by a dense forest but marked with a marine buoy of all things. The parking area is on the left beyond the trailhead and is only big enough for a few vehicles. There are spots located along the access road with fire rings for dispersed camping.
  • Rating: Easy
  • Distance: 2.5-Miles Total
  • Type: Out and back
  • Total Elevation Gain: 280′
  • Park Pass Needed: No  

The Kauzmann Trail is another hike on Cape Breton Island were getting to the trailhead may prove more difficult than the hike itself. This is the only trail on this list where a 4-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended. However, if the weather has been nice a high clearance vehicle without 4×4 capabilities would probably be sufficient. Those who are able to locate and hike this trail are rewarded with some amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean from the highest perch right on the cliffs above the crashing waves.

The Kauzmann trail is an easy stroll through the woods as the access road takes care of the climb. The path passes through the dense foliage for the majority of the trail before emerging from the woods on top of a ridgeline that parallels the Atlantic. The steep drop off to the east plunges straight into the ocean with another steep drop on the west side into a valley far below. The path proceeds along the ridgeline for about a fourth of a mile. The views from the top are nothing short of incredible.

Conclusion for Hiking Cape Breton

Hiking Cape Breton Island
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No matter your skill level there is a beautiful trail awaiting you on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. The rolling hills of the highlands plunging into the surf create breathtaking panoramas all around the island. While part of the island is a large Canadian National Park there are lots of places to explore outside the boundaries. The Cape Breton Highlands National Park is still fairly obscure making the crowds smaller than those found in more well-known areas. If you have never been, the island should be on your bucket list of places to go and explore. Now is the time to discover the beauty of this place by hiking Cape Breton Island’s best trails.

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