Ingonish, Canada

Lobster rolls, whale watching, and maybe even a moose sighting. Sounds like the ideal Maine getaway. This time of year though, every exit off I-95 is backed up. Reservations were made months ago. But keep driving. Cross the Canadian border. Drive through New Brunswick, into Nova Scotia, and north to Cape Breton Island. Follow the Cabot Trail along the Atlantic Coast. And then stop. Inhale the salty air, gaze at the shimmering blue water, and watch waves crash against the rocky coastline. Welcome to Canada’s second-smallest province.

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

It’s late by the time you check into the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish. After a long drive, you’ll quickly fall asleep though. Set an alarm for the morning. You don’t want to miss the sunrise here. Wear layers. It may be summer, but the coastal breeze is damp and chilly. Hike out to Middle Head Peninsula for views of Cape Smokey, Tern Rock, and the seemingly endless Atlantic. Seagulls follow fishing boats gliding through the water. A few seals bobble in the waves. Watch the grey, misty sky slowly turn orange and pink to welcome the new day. It’s a good excuse to start moving early.

Return to the lodge for a quick breakfast and a packed picnic lunch, and then head inland to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, a small but diverse area. Bike through wildflower-filled meadows and hardwood forests. Bald Eagles fly overhead. Fish for trout in crystal-clear lakes. The sun will be out one moment, the wind whipping the next. Scan the ocean for minke whales and dolphins. Keep an eye out for black bears and coyotes. Don’t forget, you’re on their turf.

If the weather cooperates, spend the next day on the water. Sea kayak into small coves. Go whale watching to see fin and pilot whales, porpoises, sea turtles, and a gorgeous view of the coastline. Or take a boat tour to see the nesting grounds of Atlantic Puffins. And stick your toes in the water on Ingonish Beach. The freshwater side along the lake is calm; the saltwater side along the ocean disappears each winter when the sand is washed away. It’s later redeposited.

Photo: Nova Scotia Signature Resorts
Photo: Nova Scotia Signature Resorts

There’s only one way to cap off a day on Cape Breton Island: eat lobster. Go to the lodge’s Purple Thistle Dining Room for a glass of crisp Nova Scotia Seyval Blanc, seafood chowder, and lobster from South Bay. You can see South Bay from the dining room’s picture windows–it doesn’t get much fresher. Move to the Highland Sitting Room for a single malt from the nearby Glenora Distillers–North America’s first single malt whiskey distillery–and live Celtic music, a nod to the early settlers of the area.

Everything on your Maine list has been checked off on Cape Breton Island except for one thing: the elusive moose. Dusk is the best time spot moose, though. Maybe you should hold off on that glass of single malt to drive along the Cabot Trail again.

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