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Five Easy Hikes in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Story by: Éric Le Bel

We all need some motivation to leave the house, put our boots on and hit the trails.  Some do it to stay in shape, some do it to meet fellow hikers and some do it just to reconnect with Mother Nature. I do it for all of the above, but my main motivation is photography.  The Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a gem for hikers and photographers alike.  Here are my top 5 photogenic ½ day trails in the park.

1. Acadian Trail

When you walk from the bottom to the top of a mountain you will undoubtedly walk through different landscapes.  The Acadian Trail provides that amazing diversity of habitat and it has another big advantage: It is a loop!  Don’t you love loops? I always hike it counter-clockwise because I find it easier and you will be in the shade all the way up, following a beautiful little brook with hundreds of tiny cascades.  When you’re almost at the top, you walk under gigantic oaks and maple trees in a beautiful old-growth forest.  After that, you are in moose paradise, on the plateau, and the rest is beautiful vistas all the way down with spectacular windows on the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

A green forest overlooking the ocean

2. Benjies Lake Trail

I like to do this one in the early morning or at dawn. The reason is simple; it’s one of the best trails to photograph wildlife and you have more chances to see them at that time of the day. If you’re lucky, you may even see a moose eating in the lake. This trail is easy and there’s always something to see. Just take the time to let nature adapt to your presence.

A large bull moose

3. Aspy Trail

This is one of the hidden gem trails in the park. If you want to avoid the Skyline Trail crowd, this is the trail for you. You walk through a beautiful Acadian forest, progressively climbing on one side of the Aspy fault. Soon, you are rewarded by one of the most beautiful views of that magnificent Aspy Valley. If you do it in the fall season it’s even better!

A rolling green forest

4. Jack Pine Trail

What I like about this one is the fact that it offers multiple options. It is a loop in a loop. It can be very short or if you do it all it can take a few hours. First, it starts and finishes at the Black Brook Beach. That’s a big bonus! Why not bring your swimsuit and dip into the Atlantic after your walk? That trail follows the rugged coast and gives you plenty of opportunities to capture the beautiful landscape. For the photographer, the vegetation exposed to the wind and the salty air will give you inspiration and even the rocks you walk on are a spectacle in themselves.

A rocky ocean landscape

5. Franey Trail

This one is spectacular. One of the toughest climbs in the park, but oh so rewarding. You have that famous red chair moment at the top but don’t forget to look for the hidden trail behind the chair. If you don’t do that very short trail, you will be missing an incredible view of the Clyburn Valley. Franey Mountain is a must, all seasons, but in the fall and early morning, it is simply magic. Don’t miss that one.

A hill dotted with autumn foliage overlooking the ocean
A man lays on a rock holding a camera

Éric Le Bel | Local Outdoor Ambassador

Éric Le Bel is a Local Outdoor Ambassador, a biologist, a passionate photographer and the Superintendent of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Nature is what inspires him the most and although he was not born in Cape Breton, his love for this Island is expressed in his photography.

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