The Skyline Trail of Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia is the most scenic hike on the Cabot Trail. What is the Cabot Trail you ask? This epic drive is often considered one of the best road trips in the world.
If you are planning on doing only one hike when driving around the Cabot Trail this is the trail to do!
Skyline Trail, Nova Scotia
The Skyline Trail is located between Pleasant Bay and Cheticamp on the North East side of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. We drove the Cabot Trail in a counter-clockwise direction so after spending an afternoon enjoying the north end of Cape Breton Highlands National Park from Ingonish to Pleasant Bay, we made it in time for sunset at the Skyline Trail.
Sunset is the best time to hike the Skyline Trail as the sun goes down over the Gulf of St. Lawrence offering up the most stunning views you’ll see in Nova Scotia.
Skyline Trail Tips
Before we get started telling you all about our experience, here are some frequently asked questions about Nova Scotia ‘s skyline trail.
The trail takes two hours return. But give yourself more time as you may see wildlife along and it is uphill on the way back.
There are no vendors on the Skyline Trail so pack water, and snacks if you like. Bring a flashlight for the walk back after sunset and insect repellent.
The best time to hike the Skyline Trail is at sunset. The crowds are less and the views are superb facing west.
The hike is 7.5 km (4.6 miles) return.
Sunset at the Skyline Trail, Cape Breton
The beauty of driving the Cabot Trail in the summer is that the days are long and you can pack a lot of scenic stops into one day. During the height of summer, the sun didn’t set until well after 9:00 pm, so we could take our time exploring the 7.5 km loop beginning at 7pm.
When hiking out to the skyline trail in Nova Scotia for sunset, I would suggest giving 2 hours before the actual sunset. It can be done faster but to truly take in the stop and to enjoy every viewpoint, two hours is perfect. Plus, if you arrive before the people that only give an hour, you’ll have already scouted the perfect spot to watch sunset.
The hike starts on a wide gravel road that is quite wide. Keep an eye out for Park’s Canada vehicles who might be passing by. You are on this for a short time before it turns into a well-groomed path cutting through evergreens.
It is an easy hike over well-maintained trails meandering through forests and shrublands set on a high plateau. The area is protected and you will even walk through a fenced-in stretch of shrubbery to protect the grass from moose trampling the fragile ecosystem.
The trail has many boardwalks set e to keep people off the fragile land and allow for regrowth. The boardwalk also makes it an easier walk on the stepper stretch of the trail. The boardwalk then leads down the steep headland cliff giving panoramic views of the famous winding road and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
- Enjoy reading about another famous Nova Scotia Attraction: Peggy’s Cove
Crowds are Thin at Sunset
There were few people on the trail when we arrived but most people were heading out. We drove the Cabot Trail in prime tourist season, but when doing the sunset hike, we had the lookout nearly all to ourselves. It seems that most people do this hike during the day.
I can understand their reason, if you go out for sunset, you are hiking back in the dark, but it is completely worth it to have these views all to yourself. Just remember to pack a flashlight! By the time the sun set, there were may be 20 people on the trail, but it never felt crowded.
A Guided Tour is Suggested
Park’s Canada offers guided sunset walks if you are interested in learning more about the flora and fauna. There are moose and other wildlife on the trail and the group with Park’s Canada that we talked with did manage to spot a moose and her cub in the bush. Dave and I missed seeing it and it was probably because we didn’t have the trained eye of a park ranger.
Arrive Before Sunset
We were happy to arrive a solid half an hour before another tour group at the lookout. Being there a half hour before and a half-hour after offered us views of the ever-changing light.
We arrived before sunset and witnessed the golden glow setting over the rolling green landscape just before it changed to a spectacular display of orange and pink hues lighting up the sky.
Different Platforms to Watch From
There are several different platforms on the boardwalk spread out along the top of the French Mountain of Cape Breton Highland’s National Park.
You can pick a spot on a wooden bench and watch in solitude as Mother Nature puts on her best display or you can continue to hike the trails keeping an eye out for different perspectives. If you really want to get away from the crowds, you can even walk farther down from the boardwalk to a dirt trail that leads far out to the end of the trailhead.
Perfect for Couples
We were quite content with our view. We spied the road of the Cabot Trail cutting through the deep valleys from our high vantage point. As everyone remained silent, we marveled at the beauty of the Cabot Trail’s most spectacular lookout.
Tips for Hiking Skyline Trail, Cape Breton
- Be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp for the hike back. It can get very dark.
- Dave and I were one of the last people off the trail. We waited for that final ray to go below the horizon before making our way back to the car.
- There’s something about hiking in the dark that makes a person walk faster and we were back within an hour.
- Hiking boots or good sturdy shoes are a must. Even though the trail is easy, there is still some uneven terrain.
- Bugs can be brutal in Nova Scotia at this time of year, so bring insect repellant and wear long sleeve shirts and pants to protect from mosquito bites.
- Bring plenty of water. There aren’t any vendors in the area, so be prepared. Even though it is a relatively easy hike, you still want to remain hydrated.
- Keep an eye out for moose. Many people think moose are harmless, but if you do see them, give wildlife a wide berth. These moose may be used to people, but they are still wild animals and you are in their house.
- This is still a national park and the middle of nature.
- Always follow proper safety guidelines when hiking anywhere. Read: 8 Things that Can Make or Break Your Hiking Adventure
Watch our Tour of the Skyline Trail, Nova Scotia
Photos don’t do the skyline trail justice, so enjoy our video capturing our time on the Skyline Trail Hike
Where to Stay near the Skyline Trail
The Island Sunset Inn at Margaree Harbour was located quite close to the Skyline Trail Their luxury seaside cottages make for an excellent reprieve from camping and the more basic accommodations on the Cabot Trail. Plus, the Island Sunset Inn is an excellent base for exploring this side of the Cabot Trail.
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We especially enjoyed their Seaside Dining Room where we savoured locally caught lobster and crab trapped by our server’s very own boyfriend himself!
I love the friendliness of Nova Scotian’s.
Our server explained that this catch came from a lobster boat that her boyfriend worked on and it was one of the last catches of the season.
We then talked about life on Cape Breton and in Nova Scotia and how a lot of the culture still very much revolves around the fishing tradition.
Check out Where to Stay on Nova Scotia’s South Shore
The Skyline Trail is not to be missed when visiting Nova Scotia.