The Stunning Skyline Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Written By: The Planet D

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

map cabot trail
Photo courtesy of CabotTrial.com

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.

How long does the Skyline Trail take to hike?

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.

What should I bring with me when hiking the Skyline Trail?

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.

When is the best time to hike the Skyline Trail?

The best time to hike the Skyline Trail is at sunset. The crowds are less and the views are superb facing west.

How long is the Skyline hike?

The hike is 7.5 km (4.6 miles) return.

Sunset at the Skyline Trail, Cape Breton

sunset at skyline trail deb
The Skyline Trail in Cape Breton at sunset

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.

skyline trail sunset
The perfect spot for sunset

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 Trail

skyline trail wooden path
The Skyline trail is well marked and an easy hike.

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.

Crowds are Thin at Sunset

skyline trail nova scotia
The Skyline Trail has a well maintained boardwalk as well.

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

skyline trail tips

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

skyline trail sun
Sunset from the Skyline Trail was magnificent.

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

skyline trail cape breton
Skyline Trail sunset

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

dave deb
We really enjoyed the Skyline Trail.

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.

Watch our Tour of the Skyline Trail, Nova Scotia

tips for hiking 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

skyline trail home
Island Sunset Inn in Margaree Harbour

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.

skyline trail lobster
Deb digging into some lobster at the Island Sunset Inn before our hike on the Skyline Trail.

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.

cape breton skyline trail
Welcome to the Skyline Trail of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

19 thoughts on “The Stunning Skyline Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia”

  1. Hi, Deb and Dave! Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and experiences. My family and I will be walking the Skyline Trail later this summer. It seems that you walked the loop, rather than walking to the vantage point and then doubling back. If that’s the case, was the second half of the loop worth taking, especially if it offers different views and maybe a better chance to see wildlife? We’re trying to decide whether to take the loop (which is a longer route), or just double back to save some time. Thank you for your advice.

    Reply
  2. Hi, Dave and Deb
    I just came across through your website and I really find it amazing This post is so amazing. great way to get knowledge about this place with stunning pics.

    Reply
  3. Hi, Dave and Deb !
    wow… the sunset view is amazing . Your post is very amazing as the way you are describing your words its amazing. I am also a traveler every time I am looking for a travel Idea. Finally one I got from here.Thank you so much for this post.Keep it up.

    Reply
  4. This is nice collection of video and pictures to tell a story. I love it. Feeling like travelling and leave this very board environment.

    Reply
  5. This is a very beautiful place. Well done shots & writing & video.
    This site is a big worth to me. Lots & lots of info on travel. Mind blown away! Thank you very much for sharing.
    Cheers, Firasz

    Reply
  6. Wow!! Look at that sunset from afar. Same as you @Zach, I didn’t know if this view exists too. The seas shine brightly as the golden color of the sun. I wonder if somebody could sleep in skyline trail overnight. It would be great if somebody could, you know, to watch the morning dawn as well.

    Reply