Hiking Nova Scotia – Middle Head Trail

Middle Head is the third and final trail we hiked during our 2-day exploration of the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Why Middle Head? 1) Location – between Ingonish and Sydney, our route for the day; 2) Distance – easily done in under two hours, which fit our timeline for the day; and 3) Highly rated – average 4.6 across three review sites. As we hiked back from the turnaround point, we agreed that while Middle Head met our requirements for location and distance, we’d rate it more like 2.5 to 3 out of 5. With hindsight, we wish we’d tried Franey Trail instead.

Getting There

Travelling the Cabot Trail south of Ingonish, follow the signs for Ingonish Beach Campground, Cape Breton Highlands golf course and Keltic Lodge. Make the slow drive past all of these to the Middle Head trail parking lot, which accommodates maybe 20 vehicles.

The Trail

Middle Head trail starts from one side of the parking lot, up a few steps into the woods. It’s mostly a walk in the woods, gently downhill to start and then a series of ups and downs.

We stopped at the warning sign part way along. Dangerous cliff warnings aren’t common in the Canadian Rockies, so this was something new to us.

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A few minutes later, the sign made more sense. This peek-a-boo view might tempt some dangerous close to the cliff edge – perhaps in an attempt to get the perfect photo for social media.

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There is one short stretch of boardwalk, installed to minimize terrain damage in a particularly boggy section.

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There is a logical resting spot along Middle Head Trail. It’s the first time the view opens up. There are some well-positioned boulders and we stopped long enough to take a few photos.

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When we reached the end of Middle Head, a Parks Canada guide was finishing up his presentation to a group of about 15 hikers. We didn’t hang out there, opting to continue another 50 meters or so to the alternate viewpoint, which overlooks a small island with some nesting sea birds. Mr. GeoK broke out his long lens to photograph the birds.

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While Mr GeoK was studying the birds, I checked out this beetle, crawling nearby…

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…and took in the view of Cape Smokey Provincial Park.

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After taking in our fill of the scenery, we hustled back to the parking lot to resume our journey to Sydney. We took one short detour, along a dis-used trail, which offered a different angle on the birds’ island.

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Summary

Middle Head is a pretty easy out and back trail, mostly through the woods, with a couple of peek-a-boo views and a nice viewpoint at the end. It’s family friendly, located close to tourist accommodation and Parks Canada offers guided hikes on this trail. All of which means it’s fairly busy. Of the three hikes we did in Cape Breton, this was our least favourite.

Total distance – 4.5 km out and back (2.8 miles)
Elevation gain – 158 meters (36 net)
Hiking time – 1 hour 30 minutes, including 30 minutes for photography

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