When I drove up Fielding Road, I still hadn't made up my mind whether I was heading for Cape Clear or the Chéticamp Flowage at the north end of Highlands Road. When I reached Second Forks Brook Road, where I had to choose, I bore left and headed for Cape Clear, even though by now there were plenty of puffy white clouds littering the sky, some of which were tinged with grey. Photo #1 shows the start of the Second Forks Brook Road. I am not sure why there is an ‘s’ after ‘Fork’ on the road sign, as the topographical map shows a Second Fork Brook (as well as a First Fork Brook), both referring to branches of the upper Northeast Margaree River; numerous side brooks enter Second Fork Brook along its course, so perhaps that’s why the ‘s’ is there. Google Maps does not name Second Forks Brook Road nor any of the other roads off it on the way to Cape Clear; I’m therefore unsure just how far Second Forks Brook Road runs, so hereafter, I refer to the further end of the route as the Cape Clear Road. The entire route from Highlands Road to Cape Clear is shown on the snowmobile trail maps as route 817.
Photo #2 shows Highlands Road just as it reaches Second Forks Brook Road from the south; I’m standing at the side of the road directly across from Second Forks Brook Road. Highlands Road is a very wide gravel road in generally excellent shape throughout its course from here south—it comes out on the Cabot Trail at the top of Hunters Mountain (further north of this junction, the road is not in as great shape, but you’ll see that it narrows as it gets rougher). It is posted for 80 km/h (50 mph) and I have met vehicles—pick-ups, cars, and logging trucks–doing all of that and more; not knowing the road as well, I tend to be considerably more conservative, as there are certainly spots where potholes and the effects of running water require me to slow down and pay close attention. But, generally speaking, one can make very good time on this road. The signage in photo #1 is fairly typical of that along Highlands Road: spare, but sufficient, with many of the crossroads as clearly marked as this one is. Similar signage is seen along Fielding Road, but on the roads off these two major roads, it is usually lacking altogether. The route to Cape Clear, however, is an exception, being unmistakably marked at any point one might go astray.
The first 2.7 km (1.7 mi) of the route to Cape Clear are in generally good shape, not as fine as Highlands Road, but still quite good. At the end of this stretch (at GPS 46°28.340'N 60°48.882'W), you will see a sign labelled 817 in the trees, marking a sharp left turn. Just before this point, a road, which might be the continuation of Second Forks Brook Road, forks off to the right towards the ridge above Second Fork Brook; the route to Cape Clear continues past that and then veers sharply to the left (from a generally northwest course to a west course). From this point onward, the road deteriorates the further one goes, but gradually: it becomes necessary to avoid large stones and small rocks in the road’s surface and to be on constant watch for ruts and eroded spots caused by storm run-off. At 6.7 km (4.2 mi) (at GPS 46°29.488'N 60°51.153'W), the roads bends sharply (from the northwest to the south). At 8.5 km (5.3 mi) (at GPS 46°28.594'N 60°51.625'W), you will reach a four-corners, where you must turn right; signage is present to mark the turn. Once you do turn, you will have to go quite slowly, as the road is in poor shape, though driveable with care, as it crosses up and down (mostly down) over the terrain. At 10.1 km (6.3 mi) (at GPS 46°28.608'N 60°52.942'W), you will turn left (from west to south) for the final stretch; once you make the turn, the road becomes somewhat better, though still not good, as you climb up to the top of the ridge at Cape Clear. If you are in a car, you should stop at 10.7 km (6.6 mi) (at GPS 46°28.357'N 60°53.248'W) and park beside the road: from this point onwards, you will find protruding boulders in the roadbed and deep ruts and potholes, resulting in serious bottom scrapes (I speak from experience!); for a higher slung vehicle, you can probably continue on another 0.2 km (0.1 mi) to the parking area at GPS 46°28.357'N 60°53.248'W. A short trail from the parking area leads to the cliff above a deep ravine carved by First Fork Brook; you can continue along the cliff out to a promontory that overlooks the valley of the Northeast Margaree Valley below. The spectacular views much more than justify the drive!
Photo #3 is taken from the top of a mountain after turning right at the four corners; it looks off to the southeast across the Cape Breton Highlands Plateau. The road seen in the foreground of the photo is where one would end up if one had not turned right at the four corners. At the far right of the photo is the upper portion of the ravine carved by First Fork Brook.
Photo #4 is taken from a short distance further west along the Cape Clear Road. The bottom of the hill seen here is a col between two ridges; the road can be seen turning to the left and climbing back up to the ridge left of centre in the photo, where Cape Clear is. The Cape Breton Highlands along the Aspy Fault run from southwest to northeast across the Northeast Margaree River Valley in the far distance. This stretch of road requires particular care; when I drove it this year, I found a significant washout just before the point where the road turns left: I managed to cross it without bottoming out, but I had to get out of the car to plot how to do so first.
Photo #5 is taken looking back, i.e., to the north, after rounding the curve seen in photo #4. The ravine carved by Second Fork Brook is straight ahead down below; the Northeast Margaree River valley is to the left of the photo and outside its scope. The highlands across are on the far side of the brook. The Margaree River Wilderness Area encompasses much of the land along the First Fork Brook, the Second Fork Brook, and this northern portion of the Northeast Margaree River. One can follow the East Big Intervale Road to Kingross and Big Intervale and turn north (right) across the bridge onto West Big Intervale Road and then drive along the Northeast Margaree River north to Forest Glen, which is just south of the Margaree River Wilderness Area; I saw a hiking sign there, but haven’t hiked any of the trails. Photos of a gorgeous waterfall on Second Fork Brook and a map of the trail there from Forest Glen can be found here. The accompanying map places Second Fork Brook Falls behind the trees at the right of the photo down in the ravine.