The northernmost road in Nova Scotia finishes at the steep, emerald coast of Meat Cove, 13km northwest of Bay St Lawrence (the last 7km of the road is gravel). As well as watching for frolicking whales in unbelievably clear water, keep an eye on the earth for orchids – some rare species here aren't found anywhere else in Nova Scotia.
A perfect base for exploring the park, Pleasant Bay is a carved-out bit of civilization hemmed in on all sides by wilderness. It's an active fishing harbor known for its whale-watching tours and Tibetan monastery. If you are in the area on Canada Day (July 1), try to be in the stands for the annual monks versus townspeople baseball game.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
One-third of the Cabot Trail runs through this extensive park of woodland, tundra, bog and startling sea views. Established in 1936 and encompassing 20% of Cape Breton's landmass, it's the fancy feather in Nova Scotia's island cap. There are two park entrances: one at Chéticamp and one at Ingonish. Purchase an entry permit at either park entrance.
At the eastern entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park are Ingonish and Ingonish Beach, small towns lost in the background of motels and cottages. This is a long-standing popular destination, but there are few real attractions. There are several hiking trails and an information center nearby in the national park.
St Ann’s Loop
Settle into the artsy calm of winding roads, serene lakes, eagles soaring overhead and a never-ending collection of artists' workshops that dot the Cabot Trail like Easter eggs. Although you could skip the drive around St Ann's Bay and take a $5.50 ferry to Englishtown, you'd be missing a unique leg of the trail.
Bay St Lawrence
Bay St Lawrence is a picturesque little fishing village at the very north edge of Cape Breton Island. Captain Cox has been taking people to see whales aboard the 35ft Northern Gannet since 1986. He does trips at 10:30am, 1:30pm and 4:30pm in July and August. Call for spring and fall schedules.