Cape Breton Island is commonly referred to as one of the most beautiful islands in the world, and after visiting the highlands it's easy to see why. Cape Breton Highlands National Park spans 235,000 acres on the western side of Cape Breton Island, and it features one breathtaking view after another. The world-famous Cabot Trail, known for it's stunning views, is the main road of that runs through the park. However, if you're looking to work a little harder for your views, there are 26 trails within the park. There are also six beaches, as well as six front country campgrounds and one for backcountry camping.
The highlands are known for being a beautiful area where the mountains meet the sea, and that description is spot on. From the east to the west of the park, if you're along the coast, you're in the mountains, as well. The mountains meet the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the west. The park is part of the Cape Breton plateau, giving it the drop off from the highlands to the ocean.
There is no shortage of wildlife in the park. Headlining the park's animals is a trio of creatures that make for incredible sightings: moose, bears, and eagles. Along with those three are coyotes, beavers, bobcats, foxes, cormorants, and great horned owls. For those who take more interest in marine wildlife, brook trout are abundant in the streams and Atlantic salmon spawn in the rivers of the park. Pilot whales can be seen from the shore and along the Cabot Trail, and even the rare sea turtle will make its way along the shores of the park.
While there are 26 different hiking trails in the park, there are two that stand out above the rest. On the east side is Middle Head, a 2.4-mile loop that leads you out to cliffs lining the Atlantic Ocean. It's an easy trail with very little elevation gain, but there are a few rocks along the way. There is plenty of wildlife to be seen, namely bald eagles and seabirds. Seals and whales can be seen, as well. On the west coast is Skyline, perhaps the most famous and popular trail in the park. The 5.7-mile loop always draws crowds, and it's easy to see why. After a fairly easy hike, you end up along the cliffs of the Gulf of St. Lawrence with a beautiful view of the coastline and the Cabot Trail. It's a phenomenal place to take in the view and enjoy a lunch break, and it makes the hike up there worth it. There are very few places to get the view that you get at the end of Skyline. Moose, bears, and eagles can be seen along the trail, and whales can be seen from the cliffs. It is important to stay on the boardwalk on the trail so that you do not cause further damage to the area, and while dogs are allowed in the park, they are not allowed on this trail due to the abundance of moose and bears. If you're hoping to see wildlife up close and get breathtaking views, Skyline is the trail for you.
If you are interested in plants, be sure to check out the Bog, a very short trail along the Cabot Trail north of Cheticamp, which features orchids and pitcher plants as well as the occassional moose.
Hiking boots and trekking poles are not necessary as most trails are not incredibly difficult, but they would make each hike a little easier, especially Middle Head. The trails are more known for their views and wildlife than for their difficulty. Certainly keep a camera handy as well as an abundance of water. Mosquitos and flies are plentiful, so bug spray is recommended. There is plenty of lodging for people who aren't interested in camping.