The Thrifty Traveler: Making The Most Of Cape Breton Highlands National Park
By Myscha Theriault, Tribune News Service (TNS)
While Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is a noteworthy destination in its own right, those looking for a fun fall getaway will find few locations more inspiring than the area in and around Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Featuring spectacular scenery that borders on the spiritual, abundant wildlife and jaw-dropping geological formations, a trip to this part of the province will make a multitude of memories for adventurous newlyweds in search of a unique honeymoon.
Sights: Before you tackle the park’s dozens of trails and embrace a few nights of camping, consider prefacing your experience with a day or two in the town of Cheticamp, near the western entrance. This charming fishing village is the heart of the French Acadian community on the island, and a great place to relax and unwind. There are also accommodations here if rustic camping doesn’t exactly suit your honeymoon style. The park can easily be explored from the town on a daily basis.
Les Trois Pignons is the town’s cultural center and also houses a museum featuring historical Acadian exhibits and the hooked rugs the local artisans are known for. These works of art include rug portraits commissioned by some of the most famous names in history, and artist demonstrations are done in period costumes, making the venue a charming introduction to the area’s heritage. Another unique heritage experience can be found at the Mi-Careme center, which celebrates the annual masked merriment festival where locals go door to door trying to disguise their true identity from friends and family who do their best to guess.
Cheticamp is one of the few Acadian communities where Mi-Careme is still celebrated, and the center features exhibits of a wide variety of mask designs and special classes for those who wish to create their own. Parking is free, and admission is $5 per adult. Don’t be surprised if one of the decorated mannequins adorning the center’s front yard turns out to be a live actor in a mischievous mood.
Savings: Of the dozens of hiking trails available to visitors of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, none is more spectacular than Skyline Trail. While guided sunset tours are available for a fee, you can hike it at no charge on your own during the day. Crashing waves, wandering moose and a stretch of footpath that will leave you convinced you’re walking on top of the world come built into the experience. If you only have time for one hike on your honeymoon excursion, make sure this is the one. At less than eight miles and only a light-to-moderate level of difficulty, it provides bucket-list beauty for a minimal time commitment.
If you decide to base the bulk of your park exploration out of the town of Cheticamp, make time to stop by historic St. Peter’s Church. Free to visit with a tone-on-tone interior that will make you feel like you walked into a vintage wedding cake, it’s a pleasant place to gather your thoughts and is located across the street from a quiet dock where you can enjoy the fishing boats bobbing in the water.
While the park’s scenery is sensational at any time of the tourist season, scheduling your visit during the autumn foliage provides wondrous wow factor at no additional charge. Driving the perimeter of the park is also an affordable way to score some great photo-ops while still saving your pennies for a stop at the Rusty Anchor near Pleasant Bay for an over-stuffed lobster roll or veggie sandwich. While in the general area, consider swinging by Gampo Abbey, a Buddhist spiritual retreat perched in the middle of nature with monks in residence. Apparently, tourists aren’t the only ones who find these vacation visuals sacred. Visitation information is available on the abbey’s website.
After Pleasant Bay, make your way to the town of Ingonish for some time along the rugged beach that provides access to the highlands and a chance to reflect upon your visit to this phenomenal place.
Splurges: Couples headed to Cape Breton Highlands National Park as part of their honeymoon itinerary may wish to indulge a bit when it comes to where they rest their heads at night. In addition to the abbey, a couple of options stand out. Maison Fiset, located on the Cheticamp side of the park, offers charming rooms, a great breakfast and plenty of romantic atmosphere for newlyweds. At less than $200 per night, it’s an affordable splurge. It’s also a short distance from Harbour Restaurant and Bar, which offers affordable seafood dinners with entree items fresh off the boat.
Starting at roughly $100 more per night, the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish features private rooms or cabins with access to live music in the bar and a full menu. Situated on a narrow prominence of land with the surf smashing against the rocks all around you with a view of the beach just a short distance away, it’s easy to pretend you are indeed across the ocean in the land of the Celts as you grab a spa treatment and recover from the more arduous hiking trails the park has to offer.
(Myscha Theriault is a best-selling author and avid traveler. Having just finished a yearlong trip throughout the United States with her husband and Labrador retriever, Theriault is busy planning her next long-term adventure. Readers can follow her adventures on Twitter by following @MyschaTheriault.)
(c)2015 Myscha Theriault. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Fishing boats bob along the shore in the waterfront village of Cheticamp. (Myscha Theriault/TNS)