This page has a lot of information so it has it's own MENU
Planning Your Trip
There is way more riding in Nova Scotia than just the Cabot Trail.
Make sure you get your copy of the Motorcycle Guide. It is a publication made by bikers that lays out every detail you want to know as you travel through Nova Scotia. Instead of chopping the map up into counties, it has a section for each of our themed highways. It doesn’t matter if you have GPS or tank maps or whatever – the guide is a must have and fun to read while breaking for lunch. That site also has a FREE download of the guide, and the App runs great on your phone or tablet. If you are looking for a conventional map of most of the provinces or all of Canada, I sell them for $5.95ea + shipping on my 'shop' page.
Figure out how many days you’d like to be in Nova Scotia. If you are here for 4 days or more, and are looking for as much riding as possible, plan two days for the trail. The Trail is a loop, and a true Trail Blazer will ride the loop clockwise and counterclockwise. The second key thing about riding the trail twice is that you can stay in the same spot two nights in a row (can unpack the bike a bit, have a cooler in the room for when you get back, have a place where you can cook, all that good stuff). If you are only going to ride the Trail once, then watch the forecast and pick the clearest day for your ride. When you get to Nova Scotia, pick your nicest day in the forecast, and get to bed in Antigonish (as the farthest away you want to be the night before) or any point closer to the Trail. I go with a group twice a year and we stay at the Keltic Quay in Whycocomagh. It’s amazing. If you have a big group, call Renie and see if you can stay there…it adds a lot to the experience.
Click here to see what they’re all about. Being that close to the trail lets you have a slow morning. The trail gives you 4ish hours of riding, so you don’t want to enter the loop before 10am. I live in Antigonish, so when I want to do the trail I leave town at 8am. That gives me a perfect, very full day of riding. If you are doing the loop once, I strongly recommend that you don’t stay on the Trail…you may end up doing the loop and not feel like you got enough riding in. I’d stay an hour or two away from Baddeck, ride the Trail and then ride on till you feel like you had your fill that day.
Don’t miss Route 19! It is an awesome way of getting to or leaving the Trail. Even if it makes you miss the bottom little section, it is a great ride with really good twisty roads.
Row of bikes at Keltic Quay, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
When you are going up mountains and then back to ocean level, into the shade, then into the sun, you’ll find the temperature changing a lot. Just cause it’s hot in the morning doesn’t mean you should leave your jacket in your room.
Which Way? Clockwise? Counter-Clockwise?
This is a huge debate. Some folks say it has better views one way over the other. I think some have had better experiences with weather or traffic and just credit the direction they were going that day. BMW forums suggest to always go counter-clockwise to enjoy the ride. My favourite way is Counter-clockwise. I love the climb at Cape Smokey, and if you go the otherway, it is a slow rise up and fast downhill while standing on the brake. This is just my opinion. But here’s a fact: Less tourists drive counter-clockwise. The reason is that to go this route, you have to pass a huge sign that reads “Cabot Trail – LEFT”. Most tourists go left and therefore complete the trail clockwise. If you pass that sign, 20 mins down the road is the entrance to go counter-clockwise. Because of this, I find you come up on RV’s way less if you travel counter clockwise. If I was your guide for one trip only, that’s the route we’d go. Lots of riders disagree with me, but that’s my 2 cents. If you are a small group on Hayabusa’s, having to pass people is less of a hassle than it is for a low and slow guy like me. (updated May 26th, 2010…)Since posting this site, I’ve opened a can of worms on this one! A 20 year veteran tour guide said he always went Clockwise if the group only had one go-around. I don’t have that much experience, that’s for sure! Business wise, I’d sell a lot more shirts if you went with his advice since Coastal Waters Restaurant only opens at 11am in the spring (they’re serving breakfast now during peak season), and you might get there too early going counter clockwise. If you’re making good time clockwise, or entering early counter clockwise, don’t miss The Clucking Hen Cafe & Bakery. There’s a young girl working there that’s done a life’s worth of motorcycle trips and I think she’s done some editorials for Motorcycle Mojo magazine. Stopping at the Clucking Hen for a coffee and a chat might be able to slow you down enough for hitting the Coastal Waters Restaurant at lunch time to pick up some grub and one of my shirts or the riding sunglasses, or caps, or patches, or stickers, or lapel pins…man, I’ve added a lot of stuff!
One of the points the experience guide raised was that bikers seem to be early risers. You just can’t enter the Trail before 10 am in my opinion. But, if you go clockwise…on the pretty drive to the trail…with perfect sunny weather…you might see mist dance on the water between the Red Barn exit and the trail. It’s at a certain time when the sun comes over the mountains(or hills, if you’re from a true mountain range). I guess it is mind blowing – let us know if you see it. Keep in mind, 100% say going around both ways is the solution to the problem…
For the first 5 years of hosting this site, I set up a survey on which way people preferred to ride the Trail. The results are as follows:
60% Counter Clockwise
22% No Preference
*Please note – the never argued, absolutely, guaranteed, correct way to enjoy the trail is to travel both ways.
Ferry at Englishtown
In 2010 I wrote: Don’t take the Englishtown Ferry, you’d be missing good riding. However, since I’ve toured with a few of you guys/gals in different weather or have been running late… the ferry does save you 20 minutes. If it is sunny, and you have lots of time, I suggest skipping the ferry. If you are going to go on the ferry, here is what to expect…
The ferry is on a cable that stretches about 500′ across the channel. If you just miss the ferry when you arrive, it will be back and forth in about 12 minutes (a smoke and a pee). There is a small building there with washrooms. You still save time even if you just miss the boat.
When you get on the ferry, you will be charged $7.50 to cross. The 10 punch card increased dramatically in 2015 to $35. If you are 6 or more bikes, buy a punch card and leave any cards with unpunched holes with your gas attendants or servers that you like.
See the land in front of me? Then the land behind the boat?
That is how short the cable ferry is.
Get gas in Whycocomagh, Baddeck, or Cheticamp before entering the trail. A couple of stations on the trail don’t have supreme (High Octane), so I’d feel better topping up first. In Nova Scotia, you’ll notice that our Supreme Fuel is usually 91 Octane. Regular is 87 Octane. It is always labeled on the pumps. Don’t worry about running out of gas. Check out the Map section, click on the image to make it big… Gas stations in Ingonish, and in Cheticamp, and that is only an hour and a half or so of riding. If you want to explore all of Nova Scotia on a limited range motorcycle, click here to see every gas station in Nova Scotia. REMEMBER, not all gas stations are 24hrs!!!
Don’t ride in the evening – you’ll be on the lookout for moose and will be too distracted to enjoy.
Buy a Park pass if you want to get photos. If you stop your bike inside the National Park, even if just to take a photo, there are guys in pickup trucks that check to see if you have a pass. They cost around $10 and save you a big fine.
Eating, or Refreshing
I need you and your group to stop at Coastal Waters Restaurant. I’m all about welcoming fellow bikers to enjoy Nova Scotia, but I’ve got to pay the bills. I started a T-Shirt business when I was 16, and my best one ever is the Original Cabot Trail Biker T-Shirt. It used to be only available at this restaurant, but now you can pick them up at my shop, or on this site. I want to ensure that only those who rode the Trail get to wear the shirt. The restaurant is in Ingonish. They are an hour and a bit from Cheticamp, so you’d likely be stopping in those two towns anyway. Please take you and your buddies there in case someone needs the shirt. As my business’ ads always say…naked sucks, buy our stuff! There are no bike dealerships on your Cabot Trail travels, it’s your only spot for a nice shirt for men and/or ladies.
The Trail is really twisty, and pretty, and all that great stuff – but there is another great feature that no one ever mentions – there’s hardly anyone there. It is so much like this that you’ll be thinking “is this pavement laid here just for bikers like me?”. The speed zone is reduced in only 2 spots – Cheticamp and Ingonish. Other than that, you pretty much pace yourself to your ability. I’m not saying to disobey the speed limit and go as fast as you want. The point is, if you are in a group, and you are going slower than you want because of someone’s ability in front of you, the day can be ruined. I go with a group of 20 each year. First group is of all the sport bikes. Second group, is the aggressive cruisers. The last 10 or so of us are in 3 more groups yet. We had to do this to make sure we could all just ride our own pace. Even if you are a small group – put the fastest in the front and make it clear on the day where you are stopping and make sure everyone is okay if you split up.
Motorcycle Rentals for the Cabot Trail
....Because. Covid. You can not rent motorcycles in or close to Nova Scotia!
There were 4 locations to rent in Nova Scotia. As of riding season 2021, there are none. We lost Cape Bretons Harley-Davidson dealership and they used to rent. Now, I'm guess Montreal or the New England states are the closest for motorcycle rentals.
I can’t predict the future, but I can help you glance at the past. Here are all the averages that we’ve experienced in the last 50 plus years. Riding Season is hi-lighted.
The Weather Network shows an averages calendar of each month that is updated constantly. It doesn’t show precipitation but it is neat the way it displays the info, including a graph. Long range is good for temps as well, predicted for 14 days out.
Check out Nova Scotia Highway Cameras to see if for yourself! Highway cameras from all over Nova Scotia!
If you are not here for specifically the Cabot Trail for your Motorcycle ride, and plan to ride other spots in Nova Scotia or Atlantic Canada, plan your trip so that the forecast is favorable for the Cabot Trail. For example, if you have 4 days planned, and you enter Nova Scotia from New Brunswick, take a peek at the next 4 days of weather. Based on the forecast, plan your trip from there…trust me – look at the photos and you’ll understand…
Maps and Stats of Cabot Trial
The Cabot Trail Loop is 186 miles.
The speed limit is 50 mph (80 km/hr) in tight stuff and 56 mph (90 km/hr) on larger rural roads. Highways are 62 mph (100 km/hr) when 2 way traffic, 68mph (110 km/hr) when divided (2 lanes).
About 1:40 of the Cabot Trail has no little towns to slow down for… just you and the road…fun stuff.
Distance & Speed
How Advanced is the Riding on the Cabot Trail?
The riding is very advanced if you drive real fast, awesome if you drive your own pace, and brutal if you are driving half of your desired speed. The road is mostly in great shape, they are not little, narrow paths, the visibility is quite good for how twisty it can get. As I meet more riders coming to the Trail, I start learning of new concerns. I’m so familiar with the Cabot Trail, that it hurts my site a little because I assume everyone is familiar with some of little things… that can be major.
Very Rarely do you have 6 bikes, with 6 equally skilled/equipped riders. This is a must read if you feel your skill, or your bike, make you feel like you are holding the rest of the gals or guys back.
I am so fortunate to have met Jim from Pennsylvania. He was losing sleep over the much anticipated Cabot Trail. Even the word ‘Trail’ had him worried that the road was dirt or, at least rough. Jim looks 50, but he’s 70, finally biking again after a productive family life. He’s driving the biggest bike of his life, an 1800 Wing. He’s with his son-in-law on a Beemer, and his friend on a decked out CVO Roadglide. “I am so worried about slowing these guys down, that I’m worried I will push the limitations of my skill level to keep up.” Jim told me. This is a dangerous predicament. Also, it pretty much guarantees that Jim will have a bad day on the Trail. Instead of having fun, appreciating the spectacles of nature around him, he’d be changing his shorts at every gas station.
I spoke to Jim the day before he entered the Cabot Trail and gave him the following advice. He said I ‘saved’ his trip, and this was even before he did the Trail. The reason is that by familiarizing himself with conditions and riding strategy, he eliminated the anxiety he had about the Trail. If you are Road Captain for your trip to the Trail, the three steps below are a must read that I would forward to your group. A good road captain (trip planner) improves the enjoyment of all riders.
How to Group Ride the Cabot Trail
Step 1. – Don’t Stagger
Single File Formation on our rural roads! Staggered formation on our rural roads puts you way too close in tight stuff. Single file, hugging the centerline to allow for mistakes in turns.
Step 2. – Break up!
In Cheticamp (when traveling clockwise), Ingonish, where the Coastal Waters Restaurant is (when traveling counter-clockwise), break up. The next 1:45 is awesome, awesome riding. You can stop and take pictures, drive half the speed limit to appreciate the coastline, open her up on some smooth, fast, twisties, have a pee in the woods, and so on. Nobody in front, nobody ‘picks up the tail’. When you get to the other point (Cheticamp or Ingonish), you take a count then. Do that part of the Trail solo. You are allowed to pass people in your group…just pretend you don’t know each other. You’ll stop at one look-off, then pass your friend at the next one. If I was in your group, I’d be the first one across because I don’t stop for photos. Wouldn’t matter a bit. Every biker for themselves, we’d all be having a beer in the end
Step 3. – Take control of
Your Bike Vacation!
Do whatever it takes to relax, and enjoy where you are. Cape Breton Island was just voted by a travel magazine as the No. 1 island to visit in North America, No. 3 in the world (see below). Amidst this awesome piece of nature, is a gorgeous road, newly paved and well maintained. It really looks like it was made for us. If you are worried about your skill level, just stop worrying now. When you get to the Trail, you will have the time of your life, you will ride it at your pace, and you will meet up with the rest of the crew at the end of the loop to tell them how you ripped it up!
If you are an advanced rider, worried about being slowed down, the above strategy will save your trip. I’ve ridden with riders that say they’re fast, going top speeds on straights, and slowing down to a crawl in every apex. I love to burn 2 months off my tires every loop I make, and I do. When I get to the coast after leaving the mountains, I drive half the limit gazing at the scenery. If you were with me, all you’d have to do is pass. We are all on our own on the Trail. It’s our trip on our terms. We make it enjoyable, because it is the highlight of our trip, and maybe even our entire riding careers.
If you’re still worried, give me a call – I might make you feel at ease as Jim did. (I heard that he had a blast, by the way.)
When I built this site in 2010, I wanted to think of everything I could provide to riders going to Cape Breton on their motorcycles. I think I did cover pretty much everything from the get go. I went ‘down south’ for my first time with my wife (without kids). We were in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I was told not to drink water from a tap, don’t eat crazy stuff, etc…. or I’d end up in the bathroom.
Then I thought of you, my friends, thinking about just the biking. This little page of tidbits is intended to get you prepared for what to expect of Nova Scotia….
We’re probably the best recycling society in North America. We recycle plastic, paper, and miscellaneous containers. Anything that is organic, like a t-bone from a steak, is put in a green bin, to make compost. Our garbage for the curb is placed in a see-through bag, so that if we put the wrong thing in, the collectors put a note on the garbage and leave it – and we learn of the mistake and sort better. Since the tough implementation of these rules, our landfills have received 7 times less garbage. Our 7th generation landfills even treat the leachate (water runoff) to ensure the least impact on our environment.
The food here is really well done. Some of these little restaurants and deli’s really go out of their way to put good food out. Our servings aren’t as insanely generous of the restaurants in the States… but you can always ask for more. Just like anywhere else, ask the motel staff, gas attendants, locals, where to go for what you want. I don’t feel bad saying you won’t find any sushi bars on the Cabot Trail… I’ll assume you’re like me and more interested in throwing some miles on than chop sticking raw fish… man made fire…just sayin’.
The people here are drawn to bikers. Please have good spirits and be patient with the dumb questions and small talk. The people here are so fascinated with anyone that visits and how they heard of coming. Nova Scotians are very well traveled themselves, and when all this internet stuff came along, Nova Scotia was an early leader as far as most connected. Right now, 99% of Nova Scotians have access to High Speed internet – pretty big deal for such a dispersed population.
We’re not densely populated. Drink our water, in elevated quantities while hungover, and you won’t be sick. During our hot weather, the odd instance has restrictions on water use/consumption.
It sucks. It’s great! You can say that about our weather within 1 hour. The weather here changes a lot. I live 3 hours from the Cabot Trail. When Meat Cove flooded in torrential rains last year, tons of bikes ripped by my house in hot, sunny weather. If you came here for a motorcycle trip – my biggest advice – choose where you go depending on the weather. Be as vigilant as a sea captain on a boat. Don’t do laundry and errands on a sunny day.
We love American Money. If it is valued less than the Cdn dollar, I’d expect lots to take it as par. Your money is par with the shirts and sunglasses, guaranteed. Your Credit cards, and debit cards work no problem. It is a tipping culture, 15%-30% on meals is normal, depending on service. A few bucks in your hotel room is common. Our prices for stuff is a bit higher. Liquor is taxed to make it a bit expensive…. that’s why I’m so broke…
Our highway folks don’t pick on bikes. From what I know, there’s no fuss with loud pipes. I have loud pipes – I just make sure I never crack them in towns (preserve that for people that annoy you). As far as speed, most American riders find we drive a bit fast. In a 110 km/hr zone, I’d be surprised to be pulled over doing less than 122 km/hr. The cops won’t pick on you because you’re a biker, but they’d pick on a crotch rocket the same as they would a Corvette. One thing – Don’t drink and Drive! If you’re American, it will affect your ability to enter Canada if you’re caught. Beer tastes awesome when your bike is on the stand for the night. Man, you don’t want to have liquor on your breath here with our RCMP. Please be careful about this.