There are numerous places to explore in Cape Breton. Here are just some of the on and off trail options for guided walks. Difficulty level is rated from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.
Kidston Island (2)
Kidston Island is just a few hundred meters from Baddeck. It is known for its lighthouse, trails and sandy crescent beach complete with lifeguard. A free shuttle boat transports visitors to the island from July 1 to Labour Day.
Kidston has 2-3 km of walking trails, including a short hike to the tip of the island to view the lighthouse, a path to the east side with wonderful views of the lovely Washabuck Peninsula and Beinn Bhreagh (Alexander Graham Bell’s summer home), and a longer trail that circumnavigates the entire island. When the woods are quiet elsewhere, Kidston Island is hopping with birdlife. Woodpeckers, warblers and eagles are all common. Plant life is abundant, and there’s even a fringed orchid species on the island.
Old Big Harbour Road (1)
This walk (up to 8 km return) is along an old road that passes wetlands and spectacular karst features, including large gypsum sinkholes, talus outcrops, and caves. Old mixed and hardwood forests cover the highly uneven terrain. At least six species of rare plants associated with gypsum occur at this site. At the Big Harbour end, the road crosses Surprise Cove, an area teaming with aquatic life and gypsum cliffs. This walk can begin and end in Big Harbour, 15 km from Baddeck, or from the Plaister Mines Road, 8 km from Baddeck.
Uisge Ban Falls (2)
Uisge Ban Falls is in a wooded provincial park 14 km from Baddeck. The park has 4 km of well-kept walking trails, including a fairly easy path to the 16 meter falls, and another loop along North Branch Baddeck River. This trail has something for bird watchers, botanists and simple nature lovers. The Early Coralroot Orchid and Braun’s Holly Fern are just two of the many special sights along the trail.
Red Island Trail (1)
The Red Island trail network is a nice relaxed hike that starts off on a cart path, follows the Barachois River, and winds through the woods beside large barachois ponds. There are several spur trails and loops and they all come out to a cobblestone beach on St. Ann’s Bay. The views are beautiful in all directions.
The Red Island trail is 39 km from Baddeck and has 6 km of walking trails.
MacPherson Brook (1)
The old Lewis Mountain Road was an important travel route between Lake Ainslie and Little Narrows. Today, the trail is still in relatively good condition, and makes for an attractive, woodland walk through one of Cape Breton’s many beautiful hardwood valleys. The trailhead, located 28 km from Baddeck, follows MacPherson Brook, gently climbing 80 meters in elevation over a distance of 1.5 km to the remains of an ancient grist mill and an old conduit for directing water to the mill.
This trail has numerous views and photo ops of clear, fast-moving, and boulder-strewn MacPherson Brook, and of steep valley slopes cloaked with hardwood forests.
Salt Mountain (3)
This trail (up to 7 km return trip) follows Middle River up an old cart track to a long abandoned gold mine in the Middle River Wilderness Area. The beauty and remoteness of this walk are spell-binding. This trail is 30 km from Baddeck. There is a washout along this trail, requiring a little detour up and down a steep slope.
North River Falls (4)
This well-known hike (up to 18 km return) follows North River to the base of the highest waterfall in the province: the 32-meter North River Falls. Along the way, the trail provides scenic views of pools, steep canyon slopes and fascinating river-side habitats, including groves of old hemlock trees (some greater than 250 years old).
North River is one of the few rivers left in Nova Scotia with healthy salmon runs. Gravel spawning beds, deep pools and cold temperatures support this increasingly uncommon species. The first five km of foot paths have been used by generations of anglers travelling up and down the river to popular salmon pools.
The last 4 km to the falls are fairly difficult. The last km is a series of hills and drops and the sound of the falls is not an uncommon occurrence. In the spring, butterflies are abundant. The entire trail is in the North River Wilderness Area. The trail head is 40 km from Baddeck.
Bald Mountain (2-3)
Cape Smokey (2)
The 11 km Smokey trail in Cape Smokey Provincial Park offers many lookoffs and a very enjoyable hike. The trail goes through an area devastated by a forest fire in 1968. A white birch forest has since grown back. There is evidence of moose, bobcat and coyote along the trail. The trail eventually leads over the top of Smokey with amazing views of Middle Head and the Keltic Lodge. The trailhead is 83 km from Baddeck (roughly an hour drive).
Cape Mabou Highlands (2-4)
The wondrous Cape Mabou trail network has 30 km of old cart tracks and footpaths connecting pioneer settlements and old farms, along ocean side cliffs and down to isolated beaches. You will go up and down mountains, through hardwood forests, along scree slopes, and through meadows.
The trail system has several trail heads and many route possibilities. Afterwards, the cheerful towns of Mabou and Inverness have much to offer: great food and local craft beer at the Red Shoe Pub and Cabot Links golf course, amazing hamburgers at the Coal Miners Cafe, tasty coffee and baked goods at the Downstreet Coffee Company.
The trail heads are 90 km from Baddeck (over an hour drive).
Cape Dauphin (3)
The 6 km return trail to Cape Dauphin, also known as the “Fairy Hole”, is moderately difficult, with rocks, roots and a few windfalls along the path. Close to the end, hikers shimmy down a steeply eroding bank (a rope is in place to help) and follow a brook to the ocean where you will find a quaint little beach with a view of the Atlantic Ocean and the Bird Islands.
This trail is 44 km from Baddeck.
MacRae Brook Nature Reserve (3)
Humes River Falls (5)
Quarry St Ann’s (2-4)
This walk is through an old growth Acadian Forest with large old hemlocks, pine and red spruce clasping to ravine slopes. The pristine Goose Cove Brook flows through this ravine from the North River Wilderness Area. Old growth, gypsum sinkholes, steep wooded slopes, edible chanterelle mushrooms, and beaver ponds are just some of the interesting features. This walk starts in Goose Cove, 28 km from Baddeck and varies in length depending on the experience of participants and the amount of time available.