Motorcycle riders who have never ridden the Cabot Trail get this look of longing in their eyes when they think about the two-wheeled paradise. Well, I’m here to tell you two cold hard truths about it:
1. It’s a LONG way away: 1,950 km from Toronto’s Pearson Airport travelling exclusively on major highways. That’s two 1,000 km days if you choose the fastest route.
2. The Trail itself is not that long: 263 km tip to tip. That’s four hours at a relaxed pace, or less than three if you want to ride it like a hooligan. Pro tip: start with a full tank of gas and you may not need to stop for fuel.
Is it worth making the trip? One hundred percent absolutely, positively, yes. I've now ridden it 4 times (missed two years due to COVID) both solo and two-up. I intend on riding it every year for the foreseeable future; this is one of my favourite trips. Let me tell you how I approach this expedition.
First, I avoid major highways as much as possible. My route takes me to Cheticamp, NS in four days travelling 2,350 km; that extra 400 km is well worth it. Out of that total, less than 300 km is spent travelling on major highways, and it includes some amazing roads and scenery in eastern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. But the trip really starts when you enter Nova Scotia at Tidnish Bridge, just past the Confederation Bridge to PEI.
I like to hug the northern coastline of the Northumberland Straight, passing though some towns with interesting names: Pugwash, Tatamagouche, and my favourite: Malignant Cove. The scenery is gorgeous, and the roads are winding and smooth. Dropping down to Antigonish, I jump on Highway 104 for 80 km of slab riding till I get to Cape Breton itself.
Here’s where my prior experience becomes valuable. Instead of continuing along Highway 105 for another 80 km to the western end of the Cabot Trail, I now take the Ceilidh Trail from Port Hastings up the west coast of Cape Breton, running alongside the Gulf of St Lawrence, joining the Cabot Trail at Margaree Harbour. This run is wonderful, as much of it is wide open running very close to the water through little villages on the sea. However, it can also be brutal if the weather turns nasty; the wind and rain can whip at you as it comes off the water. Not a fun ride. So, you pays your money and you takes your chances. A worthwhile bet.
Normally I stay in Cheticamp, the only “big” town on the Cabot Trail. You'll find many restaurants, bars, and accommodations in this quaint town, but book early since it fills up quickly in the summer. That sets me up for “the” day I rode all this way for. It’s north of Cheticamp that the truly incredible beauty of this scenic ride starts. There are numerous pull-offs where you’ll take pic after pic of the road itself as it winds along the coast. A Go Pro or any other video camera will provide you with stunning footage of the winding rollercoaster ride you’ll watch long after you return home. The downhill run as you head to Pleasant Bay will certainly bring a smile to your face. Seven 180-degree switchbacks drop you down over a thousand feet from the top of a ridge back to sea level. I must admit, the first time I rode here, I turned around & went back up just so I could do it again. Actually, there were many places along the trail where I did that.
Heading across the northern part of the Trail, most people will just head down the east coast, but I discovered a worthwhile side trip. Heading north on Bay St Lawrence Road at Cape North treats you to 30 km of delightfully winding road up to the northernmost town on Cape Breton Island: St Margaret Village. I could have sat on the pier all day watching the waves crash and soaking up the beauty of the land. A Selfie stick is a must, but as always, the pictures don’t do it justice, but simply jog your memory of that happy place. Before leaving, check out the Community Centre. They have a wonderful small restaurant to fuel up on coffee and sandwiches before continuing. The eastern leg of the trail is more populated; you’re never looking too long to find a nice tearoom or restaurant to stop for a break. And the roller coaster riding continues. Some of the sections rival anything you’ll find in West Virginia. But alas, the Cabot Trail ends too soon, even with the stop/go back/repeat sections.
Don’t despair, there are still two more jewels to be explored: the Marconi Trail, and the Fleur-de-Lis Trail. Heading east from Sydney, you pick up the Marconi Trail in Glace Bay, and hug the coastline down to Louisburg. The vistas are stunning as you ride the top of ridgelines, only to plummet down to the ocean time and again. While the routing of the road is spectacular, the condition: not so much. You’ve got to watch where you’re going and don’t get too distracted by the scenery. Past Louisburg, you pick up the Fleur-de-Lis Trail and head inland. My one overriding memory of this trail is that it’s a “set it and forget it” ride: put your bike in either fourth or fifth gear (depending on how much torque you have) and enjoy the road. Again, the road isn’t in pristine condition, but the constant left-right-left makes it one of my favourite sections.
I’ll normally spend the night in either Richmond or Port Hawkesbury, making for a 500 km day. If I lived there, I’d do this run every weekend, and I don’t think I’d get tired of it.
Once you finish that day, there’s a bit of a let-down knowing it’s over. However, there are still a lot of outstanding motorcycle roads to be ridden on the four-day 2,400 km ride back home without repeating anything we did on the way out.
Come with me this year: I guarantee you’ll have the time of your life.