I have a bias towards waterfalls, spectacular trail-side views of water and old growth forests. Here are my top three choices of must-see waterfalls:
#1 Indian Brook Falls
# 2 North River Falls
#3 Black Brook Falls & Mary Ann Falls
It may be winter, but I am thinking of these waterfalls during all kinds of weather…
1. Indian Brook Falls Hike (Challenging | 4-5 hours)
The Cabot Trail goes along the coast on the east (Atlantic) side of Cape Breton Island. Take the Cabot Trail to our community of Indian Brook. A landmark to look for to begin this trail is the bridge over Indian Brook. The Indian Brook waterfall trail starts on the northwest side.
As you follow the brook there are great swimming holes and wild strawberries along the sides. Some folks canoe or kayak until the water gets too shallow and the rocks too slippery even to portage. Some swim part of the way! At Church Pond (a small lake fed by the Indian Brook and located at Cabot Shores) you will see eagles flying, often with fish in their mouths for their young. Duration is 4-5 hours round trip depending on how often you stop for wild strawberries, swims or the occasional photo.
2. North River Falls (Moderate but long | 16km round trip)
South and West on the Cabot Trail is the North River Wilderness, which is actually part of the protected lands of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Turn off the Cabot Trail onto Oregon Road and there is a clearly marked entrance to the North River Falls trail. There is a handy placard and map of the area, and local maps that you can take for free available at tourist centres and Cabot Shores.
Be sure to wear good boots and be ready for a swim anytime between May and mid-October (if you are a hardy hiker). The trail goes through an exquisite forest and winds around through beautiful land, some privately owned but mostly Crown land. The Trail has been re-routed in recent years but is well marked and easy to follow.
The hike takes you above a raging brook that has some beautiful spots for resting, picnicking and even sunning yourself (dare I say taking a nap?)
Once you arrive at the North River Falls you will be ready for a swim. Like Indian Brook Falls, the water is almost black but refreshing and clean. Bring your camera, the hike is long but breathtaking. Duration 3.5-5 hours and moderate in difficulty.
3. Black Brook Beach Falls & Mary Ann Falls (Easy)
Black Brook Beach is a Cape Breton Highlands National Park location on the Atlantic with a waterfall feeding into it. The walk is short and it is mostly along the beach with pic nic area, bathrooms and benches to sit and enjoy the views. You can swim in the salty ocean and then shower in a small freshwater waterfall! Near the entrance to the Coastal Trail and Jack Pine Trail.
Not far away is Mary Ann Falls (a short drive from Black Brook Beach), where you can climb down from one set of falls to another. These hikes are easy and take about fifteen to twenty minutes to reach each viewing location. Once you arrive at the falls, it is worth lingering around and exploring around the rocks. More tourists here, but a nice spot to experience the fresh air, the huge rocks and the relaxing sounds of the waterfalls.