We recently spent a week road-tripping across Southern Cape Breton and what a trip that was!
This was our fourth summer exploring Nova Scotia, and this time around we focused on the southern part of Cape Breton Island, specifically the area between St. Peter’s and Port Hastings.
I think this is a really interesting area because of its accessibility. Port Hastings is the first town you hit if you’re crossing to the island via the Canso Causeway (the only land access point), so it’s a logical starting point, especially for travellers who want a taste of Cape Breton beyond driving the Cabot Trail.
We spent our week in Southern Cape Breton doing an iconic sail from lake to sea, feasting on seafood at every meal, tackling different hiking trails, and enjoying the warm hospitality that Cape Breton is known for. This is our travel guide to the southern part of the island.
Southern Cape Breton Travel Guide
If you’re going to be travelling around Isle Madame, you need to make time to eat a meal at The Groundswell Pub & Inn! This place had some of the best food of the whole trip, plus, it’s just a really cozy seaside pub that makes you want to linger.
We went for dinner and got their bourbon maple bacon-wrapped scallops as an appetizer – they were divine! Then for our mains, Sam got the Cajun linguine with shrimp (the sauce was so creamy and I kept stealing bites!), and I went for the Thai green curry with haddock and rice (I loved this Asian dish done with a Cape Breton twist).
We also enjoyed some local craft beers and ciders with our meal, and it was fun listening to some 90s tunes. If you can be there on a night when there’s live music even better!
Aside from being a pub, The Groundswell also offers accommodations. You can choose between rooms at the inn (all named after different songs by The Beatles), or their 2-bedroom cottage by the sea (which is where we stayed).
During our visit to Isle Madame, we visited the LeNoir Forge Museum. This heritage building is associated with the LeNoir family and it dates back to sometime before 1826. Over the years it has been a ship’s chandlery, an ice house, a tavern, and now a museum.
Twice a week during the summer months, they have blacksmithing demonstrations. The schedule is Tuesday and Thursday from 2:00 – 4:00 during July and August, but be sure to check for updated information before you visit.
They also offer a 30-minute walk-in blacksmithing experience, where participants get to make a small souvenir under the guidance of the blacksmith. You can learn more about the blacksmithing experience here.
Aside from the forge, they have additional buildings like a one-room schoolhouse and a kitchen, where visitors can see what life would have been like in this part of Cape Breton Island in the 1800s.
Lennox Passage Provincial Park
Another place to visit on Isle Madame is Lennox Passage Provincial Park. This park is located on the north part of Isle Madame, so it’s one of the first places you come across when you drive onto the island.
The park is home to Grandique Point Lighthouse where visitors can enjoy 2 kilometres of shoreline as well as hiking trails through the forest.
Drive the Fleur-de-Lis Trail
The Fleur-de-Lis Trail is a scenic drive on Cape Breton through the Acadian region in the southeastern part of the island.
The trail runs 182 kilometres if you drive it straight from the Canso Causeway to Louisbourg, however, it’s 263 kilometres if you take some of the detours along the way, including part of which does a full loop around Isle Madame.
We did the whole drive around Isle Madame and it was a beautiful journey following the coast and going past islands and coves.
The Island Nest
While driving the Fleur-de-Lis Trail on Isle Madame, we stopped to eat at The Island Nest.
We got their Fisherman Platter with haddock, scallops, shrimp and clam strips, with a side of French fries and coleslaw. Their portions are pretty big, so you can probably share! Their menu also features fish and chips, fish burgers, breaded shrimp. You basically come here for the seafood.
Sailing Tour of St. Peter’s Canal
One of the highlights of our visit to St. Peter’s was going on a sailboat tour of the St. Peter’s Canal National Historic Site, which is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the waters of the Bras d’Or Lake.
The St. Peter’s Canal traces its history back to a traditional Mi’kmaq portage route, and later a fortified 17th-century French trading post.
This 800-metre tidal lock canal is one of the oldest in North America and it’s designed to compensate for the tidal differences between the ocean and the lake.
We did our tour through Richmond Adventure Planning – Sailboat Tours. We met Gordon at his home – you park in his driveway and then walk around the back to his boat Cu Na Mara, which is a Celtic word meaning “Hound of the Sea.”
The St Peter’s Canal sailing tour runs 1.5 hours in length. Over the course of the tour you get to learn about the history of the canal, some of the fun events that take place during the year like Swim the Canal, and you also get to experience the lock system in action as you go from lake to ocean and wait for the water levels to be adjusted in the canal lock.
Battery Provincial Park
Another place not to be missed in St. Peter’s is Battery Provincial Park, which can be accessed from the St. Peter’s Canal. You just have to walk across the lock bridge to the east side and you’re there.
This provincial park sits on a hill overlooking St. Peter’s Bay and it is home to Jerome Point Lighthouse. You can enjoy some really nice panoramic views of the town of St. Peter’s from this point, plus you can watch the sailboats and fishing boats make their way through the canal and out to sea.
The park also offers plenty of hiking trails to enjoy, plus lots of epic camp sites with spectacular sea views.
St. Peter’s Coastal Trail
Another nice activity to enjoy in St. Peter’s is a walk along the St. Peter’s Coastal Trail. This is a 3.5-kilometre trail (one-way) that stretches from St. Peter’s Canal to River Tillard along the St. Peter’s Bay.
The trail is on a converted railway bed and it’s a grassy trail with several access points to the beach. You also get some really nice views of Battery Provincial Park and the Jerome Point Lighthouse, plus it’s just so nice to listen to those rolling waves and enjoy the sea breeze.
Lockmaster’s Pub at Bras d’Or Lakes Inn
During our visit to St. Peter’s, we ate at the Lockmaster’s Pub which is located at the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn. Sam got the Surf ‘N Turf which came with steak and a lobster claw, and a side of mashed potato swirls. Meanwhile, I got their pan-seared scallops served with a pea and lobster risotto.
Their menu also features all the pub food classics, plus lots of seafood pasta. The pub has a very cozy feel with lots of wood, and the best part was that they had live music at dinnertime!
Pepperell Place Inn
We stayed at the Pepperell Place Inn, which is centrally-located in St. Peter’s. We got the Bald Eagle room (their rooms are named after birds!) and it was bright, cozy, and relaxing. We also really enjoyed their home-cooked breakfast and warm hospitality.
Aside from accommodations, they also have a tea and chocolate shop on site called Chocolatea. You can taste a variety of specialty teas curated by their tea sommelier, plus you can stock up on their hand-crafted chocolates!
Port Hawkesbury Community Hiking Trails
One of the highlights of our visit to Port Hawkesbury was enjoying the network of hiking trails. We’re avid hikers and love spending time in nature any chance we get, so this was a real treat.
The Port Hawkesbury Community Trails are made up of a 10-kilometre trail system that goes through both hardwood and softwood forests, and each trail is named after the different species of trees hikers can spot along the trails. We walked part of the Hemlock Trail, Maple Trail and Tamarac Trail, plus you also have Spruce Trail and the Centennial Woodland Trail.
Along the way you get to see rivers, lakes, waterfalls and some old growth forest, so plenty to see and enjoy!
And the best part is that these community trails are all-seasons, meaning you can hike in the summertime and go cross-country skiing in the wintertime.
One restaurant we really enjoyed in Port Hawkesbury was Miller’s Seafood & Chophouse.
We ate quite a bit of chowder during our road trip across Southern Cape Breton, and we can confirm that this was some of the best we had. The chowder was creamy and loaded with seafood! It had haddock, scallops, shrimp, salmon, savoury cream, and roasted red pepper.
We also got two mains there. Sam opted for the Lobster Mac and Cheese featuring Atlantic lobster in a rich cream sauce, topped with cheese and baked. Meanwhile, I got the Seafood Carbonara with Digby scallops, black tiger shrimp, Atlantic mussels, bacon, green onion, and Parmesan cheese, in a white wine and garlic cream sauce, served with garlic toast.
It was as decadent as it sounds and we ate every last bite!
Country Kitchen Restaurant
Another restaurant we ate at was Country Kitchen in Port Hastings. If you’re driving into Cape Breton, this will be one of the first places you come across once you’ve gone over the Canso Causeway.
Country Kitchen opened back in 1955 and it’s a diner-style restaurant specializing in classic comfort foods in a casual setting.
We ate here twice. For breakfast they have your classic eggs with bacon and home fries, or pancakes if you’re craving something sweet. Plus the coffee refills keep flowing all breakfast long.
Then, we went back for lunch where I ordered their hot turkey sandwich covered in gravy and served with a side of corn and fries. Sam got the same hot gravy sandwich but with a hamburger instead. Simple, filling, and tasty!
Celtic Shores Coastal Trail
You’re probably sensing a theme here with all the hiking, but we really did seek out as many trails as we could during our visit to Southern Cape Breton.
Another place we enjoyed was the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, which stretches 92-kilometres from Port Hastings to Inverness along the west coast of Cape Breton Island. It mainly follows the coast going past scenic harbours and fishing communities.
This trail also forms part of the Trans Canada Trail (also known as The Great Trail) and the International Appalachian Trail, so you can say you’ve hiked part of 3 pretty epic trails!
We only hiked a small portion of the trail, joining the trailhead in the town of Troy. This is a very easy spot to access for those traveling around the southern part of Cape Breton, plus there’s a big parking lot and even picnic tables for a seaside lunch.
One place you can’t miss if you’re driving to Cape Breton is the Canso Causeway, since this is the only land access point to the island!
The Canso Causeway may look like a random bridge onto the island, but let me tell you, it’s actually a feat of engineering.
By definition, a causeway is a ‘raised road or track across low or wet ground’, and the Canso Causeway is a road across the Strait of Canso, which connects Cape Breton Island to the Nova Scotia peninsula.
Prior to construction of the causeway, crossing to Cape Breton involved taking a ferry. Even train carriages were loaded on the train ferry to complete their journey!
Ten million tonnes of rock were quarried to fill in the Strait of Canso which has a depth of 66 meters. It took 27 months of continuous work to create the world’s deepest causeway, and it opened to rail and road traffic in May 1955.
The Cove Restaurant
Since we wanted to drive across the Canso Causeway, we decided to have dinner on the other side. We went to The Cove Restaurant in Aulds Cove, a nice seaside restaurant with a strong nautical theme.
I got their Atlantic cod fish cakes with a side of sweet beans, and Sam opted for the Atlantic smoked salmon on rye. We were craving a lighter dinner and this did the trick. Good food and great views!
Dundee Resort & Golf Club
During our visit to Dundee, we stayed at the Dundee Resort & Golf Club. They offer rooms at the main lodge as well as private cottages up on the hill.
Our stay was kind of unusual because we weathered a pretty big storm here, so very minimal sightseeing was done. But that means we got to chat to a lot of the staff who showed us wonderful hospitality. That’s the core memory of our stay here: drinking coffee and chatting with staff while the rain and wind blew outside.
But for those who are fortunate to have better weather, it’s worth mentioning that this resort is known for their 18 hole golf course which offers amazing views of Bras d’Or Lake and the surrounding area. Plus they have a swimming pool, access to kayaks and canoes, and they put on cool events like Movies Under the Stars.
Mac Rae’s Dining Room
MacRae’s Dining Room is located in the Dundee Resort and they serve up some delicious meals! Sam got their beer-battered hand-cut haddock, served with fries and tartar sauce. It was the best fish and chips we had on the whole trip – crispy batter but soft and juicy fish.
Since I was on a roll sampling chowder across the island, I ordered their seafood chowder with haddock, shrimp, scallops, salmon, potatoes, onions, and celery. This one also made it to the top of the list for best chowders. It was rich, creamy and flavourful!
It’s worth eating here even if you’re not staying at the hotel.
West Bay to Roberta Coastal Drive
Another thing to do in Dundee is to enjoy the drive between the towns of West Bay and Roberta. This is a beautiful coastal drive that follows the shores of Bras d’Or Lake. Plus if you’re up for a little adventure, there are spots like Kayak Cape Breton where you can rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards.
Eileanan Brèagha Vineyards
Lastly, one place that we were hoping to visit in Dundee that we couldn’t make it to due to weather was Eileanan Brèagha Vineyards. The names translates to “beautiful islands” in Scottish Gaelic and refers to the islands on Bras d’Or Lake, which can be seen from the property.
Eileanan Brèagha Vineyards is Nova Scotia’s northernmost estate winery and Cape Breton’s first and only estate winery. Their tasting room is open daily during peak season or by appointment, and you can drop in to sample and purchase wine.
Wishing you happy travels as you explore this slice of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia!
This trip was made possible in partnership with Visit Nova Scotia.
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