The Cèilidh Trail is one of Nova Scotia’s designated scenic driving trails, passing along the gorgeous southwestern and central western coasts of Cape Breton Island and reaching from the Canso Causeway at Port Hastings to the Cabot Trail at Margaree Harbour. It comprises the southern 91.7 km (56.9 mi) of Highway 19 and all of Highway 219.
“Cèilidh”, pronounced [ˈkeɪ.lɪ], is the Gaelic word for a visit with friends and neighbours, spiced with music and dance. Organized cèilidhs, which the public is welcome to attend, are central to the cultural life of the communities along the Cèilidh Trail, presenting many of Cape Breton’s world-class traditional musicians in settings less formal than a concert: in the summer, they occur on a daily basis and the rest of the year at least weekly, weather permitting. Although they offer tourists an excellent introduction to Cape Breton’s Scottish traditional music and dance, which are seen most purely in its square dances, where step dancing is integral to the square dance figures, they also attract the locals and the repeat visitors like myself who rejoice in these cultural celebrations. The living Gaelic culture of the area greatly enhances the scenic beauty of the region if you but stop and sample it.
The area’s scenic plenty offers a great variety of landscapes, many fine hiking trails, and beautiful backcountry drives. If you spend much time on this site, you will be familiar with the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail, which parallels much of the Cèilidh Trail, and the hiking trails of Cape Mabou with their majestic views from the heights of the Cape Mabou Highlands, as well as the much easier trails at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park. Fine sand beaches line these coasts, with major public beaches at Port Hood, West Mabou, and Inverness, and many other private beaches along the shoreline.
The province’s Doers and Dreamers Travel Guide offers much more information for tourists about the Cèilidh Trail; you can download the PDF version for offline viewing here. An excerpt pertaining solely to the Cèilidh Trail is also available here.
Google Maps Name
Cèilidh Trail (the entire route); Highway 19 (the southern portion of the route); Highway 219, Shore Road (the northern portion of the route)
Cèilidh Trail (the entire route); Highway 19 (the southern portion of the route); Highway 219 and Shore Road (the northern portion of the route)
South to North
45°38.804′N 61°24.237′W, on the round-about at Port Hastings
46°25.999′N 61°06.372′W, at its junction with the Cabot Trail in Margaree Harbour east of the bridge over the Margaree River
112.1 km (69⅝ mi): 91.7 km (56.9 mi) from Port Hastings to Highway 219 in Dunvegan; 20.4 km (12⅔ mi) from Dunvegan to the Cabot Trail in Margaree Harbour
Varies: portions have been recently resurfaced and are in excellent condition; some portions are in need of attention; still others are in between.
See the catalogue web pages for Highway 19 (Port Hastings to Dunvegan) and for Highway 219 (Dunvegan to Margaree Harbour)
Vic’s Scenic Rating
Since I am addicted to the music, I spend most of my time along the Cèilidh Trail once the music has begun at the end of June. Because the music moves around from community to community during the week, I have occasion to drive some part of it nearly every day in the summer. I spend a good part of my days there driving adjacent back roads and hiking on the numerous fine trails in the area. The kindness and friendliness of the welcoming people all along this beautiful scenic road only add to its appeal. Don’t rush through this area to get to the Cabot Trail—plan on spending time to really savour this area’s splendid scenery, culture, and people. The Cabot Trail is indeed a scenic wonder, but so is the Cèilidh Trail—and a cultural wonder to boot.
The inclusion of Highway 219 as part of the Cèilidh Trail apparently dates from an earlier time when music open to the public was to be found along it; these days, however, no musical events of which I am aware are scheduled along Highway 219, leaving Highway 19 from Dunvegan to Margaree Forks with a better claim to the title, since Southwest Margaree offers weekly Friday square dances in the summer. However, the signage still shows the Cèilidh Trail leaving Highway 19 at Dunvegan and following Highway 219 to Margaree Harbour.