We'd already enjoyed some beautiful scenery on the way up to Cheticamp, as we followed the Cabot Trail north. I didn't know enough about Canada's first national park in the Maritimes to have any expectations, but within the first ten minutes of our drive through Cape Breton National Park, I was surprised and delighted at every bend as dramatic mountains spilled down to the ocean.
A third of the Cabot Trail passes through Cape Breton National Park. You can choose to experience the drive going clockwise or counter-clockwise. Counter-clockwise has the advantage of driving on the outside edge of the road, plus you end up on western side for the sunset. Clockwise is a better bet if you're ready for some dramatic scenery straight away, or want to hike the Skyline Trail earlier in the day.
We decided to loop around clockwise. After the initial drama of coast, with beaches, inlets, and even a few small sea stacks, we turned inland and began to climb. Soon we passed the road out to the popular Skyline Trail. Due to time constraints, we skipped it this time round - the views from the road were amazing enough.
At a few points, the trail winds out of the park, and you drive through or near little fishing communities. Lots of places advertise whale watching tours up on this northern end. We took a little detour down to Pleasant Bay, a picturesque harbour, on the western edge of this 'un-park' section and stopped at Neil's Harbour on the eastern edge to buy water at a little ice cream shop at the foot of a lighthouse.
Our final stop of the day was at the Keltic Lodge near Ingonish. The famous resort perches on a narrow peninsula just inside the park, with views of the mountains and ocean on both sides. We went in, as Mom had memories of great ice cream on their last visit, but alas, they don't make it any more. We enjoyed a look around, regardless. We were tempted to call it an afternoon and spend the night here, but decided to press on so that we'd be closer to our destination on the second day, Louisbourg Fortress.