Hiking the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton is an incredible experience. It’s one of the most popular trails in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and once you hike it, you’ll see why!
An easy to moderate trail that’s not too technical, the Skyline Trail is a great way to experience the beauty of the area, with stunning views of the Gulf of St.Lawrence and the Cabot Trail.
And while it’s not a short hike, the Skyline Trail is relatively flat and easy, making it a great option for everyone in the family.
If hiking the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton isn’t already on your bucket list, it should be!
Here’s everything you need to know about hiking the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, as well as some tips to make your hike more enjoyable.
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Where is the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton?
The Skyline Trail is located along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, on the west coast of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada.
If you are driving the Cabot Trail clockwise, the trailhead for the Skyline Trail is just a 15 minute drive past the Cheticamp Visitor Centre on the west side of Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
How long is the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton?
The Skyline Trail is a looped trail but you can also hike it as an out-and-back trail.
If you hike the entire loop, it is just over 8km (5 miles) long.
However if you want a shorter hike, you can choose to hike out to the boardwalk and then back, which makes it just over 6km (4 miles) long.
How long does it take to hike the Skyline Trail?
While it’s not a difficult hike, there are plenty of lookout spots, including the stunning views from the boardwalk.
We recommend allowing 2-3 hours to hike the Skyline Trail, as you’ll want to take time to admire the views.
Distance: 8.2km (5.1miles) loop or 6.5km (4 miles) out and back
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time: 2-3 hours
Dogs: No dogs are allowed on this trail.
Hiking the Skyline Trail
After parking in the lot, there is a short path that takes you to the Skyline trailhead.
In the summer, there is often park staff at the trailhead, so if you have any questions, this is a perfect spot to ask!
The Skyline Trail begins with a short walk through a forested area. The trail is flat and while I wouldn’t say the whole loop is stroller-friendly, there were people pushing strollers on the out-and-back portion of the trail.
Once you reach the fork in the trail, the left trail leads to the boardwalk, which will make it an out-and-back trail, or you can stay to the right to hike the Skyline trail loop.
If you choose to hike the Skyline loop trail, stay to the right where you’ll pass through forest. The trail isn’t too technical, but there are some exposed roots and rocks to be mindful of.
If you’re hiking in early August, there will be plenty of raspberries along the side of the trail. They make a great snack to enjoy while hiking!
The trail remains fairly level, at least on this part of the loop. it then begins to turn and follow the edge of the coast, where you’ll pass a few lookout points with views of the water.
After approximately 5 kilometres, you’ll reach the highlight of the trail – and the one that you’ll see in any photo of the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton – the boardwalk stretching down the side of the cliff.
Here, the trail is wide open with no trees – just endless views of the Gulf of St.Lawrence to one side and the Cabot Trail winding it’s way through Cape Breton on the other side.
And while there’s a wooden boardwalk, this is where the trail gets a bit trickier. The steps don’t seem that steep, until you have to start back up!
Take your time, stop and rest at the benches and admire the views. You’ll see people of all ages, from infants to seniors to kids.
Once you climb up the steps along the boardwalk, continue along the trail to reach the parking lot.
You’ll pass through a fenced area, designed to keep moose out.
Inside this area, there’s also a lookout, and while the view is nice, it’s nothing compared to the view on the boardwalk.
From here, it’s just over 2km back to the trailhead and parking lot.
If you’re looking for a shorter hike, instead of hiking the whole loop, stay to the left at the fork and this will take you right out to the boardwalk. It’s about 45 minutes to the boardwalk along this section of the trail.
Tips for Hiking the Skyline Trail
- The Skyline Trail is one of the most popular trails on Cape Breton Island and it will get busy, especially on weekends in the summer. There is plenty of room on the trail for everyone, but the boardwalk is narrow and you may have to wait and let people pass.
- The boardwalk has no railings, and there are spots with steep drop offs. Be mindful of children staying on the boardwalk and aways from the edge. – Please stay on the boardwalk, as this is a fragile area and there are signs asking you to respect and preserve the area by staying on the boardwalk. (Fines may be issued if you are off the boardwalk).
- There is wildlife in the park, so be aware. You will pass through a gated area that’s designed to keep moose out, but chances are slim that you’ll see a moose while hiking the skyline trail, especially if you’re hoping to see one!
- Bring plenty of water. There is nowhere along the trail to refill your water and, especially in the summer, it can be hot on the trail!
- Vault toilets are located at the edge of the parking area, but there are no facilities along the trail.
- While this isn’t a very technical trail, you will still need good hiking shoes or boots. Flip flops and open toed shoes aren’t a good idea, as there are rocks and roots on the trail.
- Bug spray is a good idea as well, especially if you are hiking the Skyline trail in the late spring or summer months.
- The Skyline Trail is in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. To hike the trail, you will have to buy a day pass for the National Park, unless you have a Parks Canada Pass.
How to get to the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton
The Skyline Trail is located in Cape Breton Highlands National Park at the top of French Mountain. It’s just 15 minutes past the Cheticamp Visitor Centre and the western entrance to the National Park.
It’s about 22km from Cheticamp to the Skyline trail and takes about between 20 -25 minutes, if you don’t stop at any of the lookouts.
Where to Stay Near the Skyline Trail
The Skyline trail is only a few kilometres from the Cheticamp campground. This is a great spot to stay if you enjoy camping. There’s also Corney Brook campground nearby, which is a small campground with no facilities and no reservations – it’s just first come, first serve.
In Chéticamp, we recommend La Digue Suites. All suites have a separate bedroom and either a kitchenette or full kitchen, and some suites even include a fireplace.
In Pleasant Bay, the Mountain View Motel & Cottages is a good choice, and only a 15-minute drive from the Skyline Trail. There is an on-site restaurant, as well as tennis courts and a children’s playground.
Other Hikes Near the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton
If you are looking to add some other nearby hikes to your Cabot Trail itinerary, there are plenty of options!
Le Buttereau is an easy trail through forest and fields to a small hill that overlooks the Cheticamp River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s a short trail and takes about 30-45 minutes to complete. Across the road, there’s Le Chemin du Buttereau trail that ??
Corney Brook Trail follows the brook through the forest to a waterfall, which is one of the best waterfalls in Cape Breton. It’s a 6.5km out-and-back trail that takes about 2 hours to complete.
Benji’s Lake is a short 3km trail, just past the Skyline Trail. It passes through forest and there are boardwalks in some sections to keep your feet dry. There is a good chance you could see moose on this trail.
Just outside of the National Park, Gypsum Mine Hike is another popular hike in Cape Breton. The trail follows an ATV trail to an old gypsum mine that is now filled with water. It’s a gorgeous spot, with a tricky climb up a dirt path for this view, but the dip in the water after makes the hike up worthwhile!
FAQs: Hiking the Skyline Trail
The Skyline Trail is 6.5 km (4 miles) if you do the out-and-back route, or 8.2 km (5.1 miles) if you hike the full loop. It takes between 2-3 hours to hike the Skyline Trail.
Absolutely! The Skyline Trail is one of the most popular trails in Cape Breton, and while it can be busy, especially in the summer months, it’s worth hiking! The incredible views of the Cabot Trail winding through the Highlands, and set against the backdrop of the Gulf of St. Lawrence create a memory that you won’t forget.
The Skyline Trail is in Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the trailhead can be found along the Cabot Trail between Corney Brook Campground and the French Lake Lookout.
Yes, kids can definitely hike the Skyline Trail! My two boys hiked it when they were 7, but there were younger kids on the trail as well. Be sure to stay on the boardwalk though, as there are some drop-offs and no railings.
Yes, you can take a stroller on the Skyline Trail. The out-and-back portion of the trail is not paved but is suitable for a stroller, although once you reach the boardwalk stairs, you will have to leave the stroller at the top.
You don’t need hiking boots to hike the Skyline Trail, but it’s always a good idea to have proper footwear.
Final Thoughts: Hiking the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton
The Cape Breton Highlands are a rugged and beautiful part of the province, and the Skyline Trail is one of the best ways to experience them. It’s a great hike and one that’s good for everyone in the family. Be sure to add it to your Cabot Trail itinerary!
Do you have any tips for hiking the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton? Let us know in the comments below!
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