Cape Breton is technically an island encompassing the northern reaches of Nova Scotia. It is reached by crossing the narrow Canso Causeway. The island itself is full of large inlets and major lakes effectively making it into a series of smaller islands. The westernmost of these is the first place we visited, and is home to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. But before we went there, we stopped at the Glenora Distillery. Located a little south of the town of Inverness the Glenora Distillery has a hotel, cabins, a restaurant and pub, and of course a distillery. Claiming to be the only single malt distillery in North America (the term Scotch cannot technically be used), Glenora actually imports their peat from Scotland. We stayed here, ate in the restaurant, sampled the whiskey and the next morning took the distillery tour. It's a tad remote but a very nice place to stay, as the source of the water used in the distillery runs past most of the rooms on its way down the mountain. Plus it's a short walk to your room after some time spent in the pub listening to local Gaelic music and sampling the wares. If you're really lucky, you'll get Chris as a bartender too.
Inverness is a big town for Cape Breton. Nearly all the towns are located along the coast at reasonable intervals. A few thousand people is easily enough to make it a major town in the area. Inverness, like so many of Cape Breton's towns is primarily a fishing and lobstering village. This is the beach located in 'downtown' Inverness.
North of Inverness the Gaelic influence decreases a bit and the Acadian influence returns culminating in the town of Cheticamp. Cheticamp is primarily French speaking and also acts as the visitor center to the national park which begins just on the north side of the town. We stopped at an Acadian bakery here to pick up some snacks for in the park. The smell of the cinnamon rolls probably had something to do with the fact that we stopped at the very first picnic area in the park.
The 'highlands' are easily noticeable as you drive into them. The coast road begins a series of climbs over mountains alternating with steep descents to cross small inlets. For the most part it's a steep cliff down to the water but where there are inlets, there are generally coves with small villages.
The park itself covers most of this area except for where the few villages exist. The vast bulk of the park is in the center of the island and is inaccessible by paved road, forest road, or even hiking trail. We can't quite figure out why there are not backpacking routes across the center of the park. Perhaps it has to do with the boggy nature of the inland areas. The windswept marshy terrain shown here (on the bog trail) seems to be pretty indicative of the plateau areas.
One of the 'towns' along the way is Pleasant Bay seen here on the way down the mountain. As one of the larger towns, Pleasant Bay features a few seafood restaurants, a general store and about 12 whale-watching 'operations'. Mostly anyone with a boat has a potential whale-watching tour.
Crossing the north side of the park, the road finally heads inland for a few brief miles. North of this single road crossing is even less accessible and some towns on the island's far northern edge are accessible only by water or on foot. There are plenty of spur hiking trails that penetrate short distances into the interior. Nearly all of them seem to end at a steep cliff and a waterfall, like this one. The forest here is not thick enough to discourage a bit of wandering though. We saw precious little wildlife on any of the hiking trails, but more on that shortly.
The eastern shore of the park is a little different. The road is mostly at water level and rocky spits dot the coast. We stopped somewhere around here for lunch, or maybe dinner. Lobster, as one might suspect, is really really cheap. Melanie had a lobster sandwich, which consisted of about an entire pound of lobster on two insignificant slices of white bread.
Standing on the rocks along the coast here involves a steady wind strong enough to force you backwards (or forwards) if you stand erect. Walking out here involves a lot of leaning and something like the feeling of sky-diving. There are also more lobster traps than can really be comprehended, all marked by an elaborate system of buoys so their owners can (presumably) find them again. Alas, they don't really show up well in pictures.
We took several lake hikes in this part of the park, mostly hoping to see some (or one) moose. We didn't. We saw so many signs of moose that a person who didn't know what they were could've easily deduced their existence. Obviously, the moose use the hiking trails as well, probably more than humans do. Some of these hikes are longer than advertised, so take along some oat cakes (found in every bakery in Nova Scotia as far as we can tell). We're pretty certain J.R.R. Tolkein had some of these before he came up with Lembas.
In the southeast corner of the park is Ingonish, which is a bit resorty but only compared to the utter remoteness of the rest of the park. Ingonish is the only beach where we saw other people, at least in June. We're told it becomes a lot more crowded in late summer. There are a few campgrounds around as well although not as many as you'd expect and there is no primitive camping allowed in the park.