Hike Cape Breton's Skyline Trail

Skyline Trail Starting Point

Discover a mountain-top paradise where jaw-dropping views and serene wilderness converge.

About 1,330 feet atop the French Mountain along Nova Scotia's Cabot Trail lies the Skyline Trail, a secluded and serene hiking trail which will lead you to jaw-dropping views of both the Cabot Trail itself as well as the Gulf of St. Lawrence. What begins as a seemingly benign, well-manicured trail soon turns into a stunning and tranquil wilderness landscape where hikers can spot bear, moose, coyote, and a plethora of bird species you'll itch to capture with your camera. 

With scenic views, lush flora and wild fauna, both beginner and intermediate hikers will love the Skyline Trail for its seriously stunning vistas. The Trail is accessible via the Cabot Trail, which is essentially a long, winding highway which outlines the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. As you make your way along the Cabot Trail, you'll reach the French Mountain, where signs for the Skyline Trail will be posted pointing to a parking lot where RVs, cars, and other vehicles can park. A short walk uphill will bring you to the entrance of the Skyline Trail, where there are bathrooms, a rest area, and a small information booth. 

Here's where things get tricky! 

The Skyline Trail is a large, 9km loop. When you first enter the Trail, the trail itself is well cared for with gravel walkways which lead you to a fork. Going left will take you for a nice walk along a gravel and board-walk trail which eventually leads to viewing platforms at the top and edge of the French Mountain; here, you can view other parts of the Cabot Trail from above (approximately 1,330 feet) as well as the Gulf of St. Lawrence; there are sitting areas and plenty of opportunities to take pictures, but be careful of the mountain's edge, as there are no guardrails or barriers. This trail area is very open, windy, and allows for a cliff-top view of a beautiful vista. 

If you are to go right at the fork, you will take a more forest-rich trail which is not well maintained, as it is rock and grass (no gravel or boardwalk). This is a considerably longer part of the Skyline Trail and is likely where you will see wildlife (such as moose or bear). This portion of the Trail is more suited to those who can hike, run, or walk without difficulty, as the terrain is quite rocky and uneven. 

Both parts of the Trail do lead into one another to form a loop so, depending on which trail you take first, you may start on an uneven trail and end your hike on the boardwalk/gravel area. If you begin by going left at the fork (with the boardwalk/gravel trail), doing the entire loop will lead to the more uneven trail, which is mostly uphill. 

If you are a beginner, simply there to look around, or do not have proper hiking equipment/gear with you, my advice is to avoid going right at the fork and to stick to the left trail, which is more manicured and less difficult. For intermediate or experienced hikers, the entire loop (9km) is absolutely worth the trek! 

The loop takes approximately 2 hours to complete and is in full-sun, so here are a few tips for this Trail:

  • Bring lots of water if you plan on doing the entire loop 
  • Apply sunscreen before you hike the Trail and bring some with you to reapply 
  • Wear the right gear; this includes a good pair of running shoes or hiking boots, and weather-permitting clothing
  • Don't forget your camera, as the views are seriously unreal and you will want to capture them! 
  • If hiking this trail in the sunnier months, bring sunglasses (you will regret not having any, as it is full-sun exposure along this Trail) 


Things to note:

  1. Dogs and other pets are not permitted on the Skyline Trail, as they can disturb the local wildlife and the delicate flora there. So, don't bring your dog, because you will not be allowed to take him/her with you on the hike 
  2. Don't litter and please don't bring food for the wildlife; it is unfair to try to coax and feed the wildlife, as they will come to rely upon tourists for food, and this can lead to dangerous interactions 
  3. Bring at least a liter of water and protect yourself from the sun exposure of this Trail with lots of sunscreen
  4. Try to avoid stepping off the trail areas; there is a lot of flora (vegetation) along the Trail which the Park is trying to protect and conserve 
  5. If you're unsure about wildlife procedures, read the signs at the beginning of the trail carefully for advice on what to do if you are approached by or stumble across animals like moose, bear, coyotes, etc. 

Address:
19685 Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands NP, Cabot Trail

GPS Coordinates:
Lat: 46.737691 Long: -60.880377
Length:
9km (loop)
Trail Rating:
Easy (for experienced hikers)
Difficult (for beginner hikers)

Pack List

  • Water (at least a liter, if not more)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Footwear (hiking boots or running shoes)
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RT Distance 5.6 Miles
Elevation Gain 1330 Feet
Activities Chillin, Running, Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Lake
Scenic
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Easy and long

Great trail for fun with your friends and family. Beautiful views all the way through. Be sure to pack lots of water and bring your camera

Rugged headland cliff above the coastline of Cape Breton

Relatively easy, well-worn hiking trail. Part boardwalk. Watch for wildlife above, around and below you. Geat hike for families looking to stretch their legs, burn some kids' energy and get a good feel for the beauty in Cape Breton Highlands. If you're headed southwest from the Skyline Trail, stop in Chéticamp for some freshly caught seafood or a view of the sunset on the harbour.

Beautiful view of Cape Breton.

Great trail in Cape Breton that worth hiking if you don't have your dog with you. I believe it's the only hike in the park where dogs are not allowed. Start with the right trail if you plan to hike the loop so you will hike facing the see and it will be a lot less crowed. From the boardwalk on the top of the trail on a very clear day, you can see the Magdalen Islands in the middle of the golf. Look for them!


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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