Stretching 57 miles from the southern tip of Canada’s Cape Breton Island to the town of Inverness, the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail in the province of Nova Scotia is a (mostly) flat dirt path that is just begging to be toured by bike.
Closed to cars, the trail is safe and relatively easy to travel with plenty to see along the way, from ocean views to quaint towns to vast, open fields.
The Celtic Shores Coastal Trail is a unique way to experience parts of popular Cape Breton that simply can’t be seen from the car. Before you hit the trail, double check your saddlebags to make sure you pack the following items that will take your tour to the next level.
This isn’t a technical mountain biking trail by any means—it’s a mostly dirt trail that follows an old railroad path—but the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail isn’t paved, and a flat tire or other mechanical mishap is an easy way to put a kink in your plans.
There is a bike rental shop at the Inverness end of the trail, but plan to bring your own multi-tool, spare tube, patch kit, hand pump, and other bike tools to see you through any issues on the trail. If you’re traveling in a group, you can split the gear to lighten your load.
From the shores of the Atlantic to bridges with lots of character, from flowery meadows to the scenic Lake Ainslie—there are plenty of primo photo ops along the route and you’ll want to pull over every so often to snap a picture. Sure, you can get away with your phone’s camera, but when the views are this stunning, it’s worth busting out your good camera (if you’ve got one).
Here’s the secret to the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail: the trail itself is awesome, but it is best experienced if you take the time to pop off the trail and visit the local communities along the route.
The trail passes through Judique, home to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre—a spot well worthy of a detour to learn more about the culture of Cape Breton and perhaps to drop in for a half-hour stepdance lesson. You don’t technically need your fancy shoes in order to learn a basic jig—whatever you’re biking in should suffice!
Be sure to bring your ID along with you-you’ll need to prove you’re the legal drinking age (19 in Nova Scotia) if you want to sample the delectable whisky (no “e” in the Canadian spelling!) at Glenora Distillery in Mabou.
A visit to Glenora requires a slight detour off the main trail, involving a couple of heartrate-raising hills, but the effort is worth it to taste this liquid gold. Pop by for a tour between May to October—even non-whisky lovers will enjoy a break in the air conditioning before heading back out on the trail.
Cash for Meals
After sampling the finest offerings at Glenora, stop by the infamous Red Shoe Pub, also located in Mabou.
The Red Shoe Pub is a bit of an institution, as it is run by the Rankin family, a legendary family in the Canadian music scene. The pub is known for its live fiddle-heavy music and step dancing, so you’ll be able to apply some of your newly acquired moves while you wait for your meal to arrive.
If you’re unsure of what to get, you can’t go wrong with the seafood. It’s really fresh.
A Tent (and Camping Gear)
If you do the trail properly—that is, stopping in the local towns to soak up life with the locals—it’ll likely take you two days to tackle, tip to tip. Camping directly on the trail is a no-go, but there are a few designated campsites in Port Hood and Mabou. For those preferring to travel light, there are also B&Bs that you can book into.