West Mabou Beach Provincial Park

[Original] Introduction

The photos in this essay celebrate a precious place as their subject: West Mabou Beach Provincial Park. Most of them were taken in the park itself; some were taken from vantage points that lie outside, but adjacent to, the park in order to better show its siting and features.

West Mabou Beach Provincial Park was saved from subdivision and commercial development and preserved as a wild place for the enjoyment of the general public through the efforts of a dedicated cadre of volunteers, now operating as the West Mabou Beach Committee. Within the compass of its 215 hectares (530 acres), the park contains a number of diverse ecosystems: ”sandy and rocky beaches, sand dunes, alkaline ponds, estuaries, tidal flats, a small bird island, woodlands, and coves”, in the words of the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park leaflet. Its designation as a provincial park is relatively recent, dating only from 2001, though its beautiful sand beach had been a popular recreation area long before that. While it has walking trails, benches, and picnic tables, it remains largely untouched by man and is a beautiful natural place that is easily accessible to all. It is a day-use park only; overnight camping is not allowed.

In addition to its fine beach, the park has a well-developed and extensive walking trail system. All of the trails are easy, with either no or only very short climbs—the highest point anywhere in the park is 56 m (183 ft). The coastal trails above the beach are almost always walkable in oxfords or even beach wear; the interior trails, particularly after a rain, can be wet and waterproof footware is then a wise choice, though I have often hiked them without problem in oxfords. The volunteers who have built these trails have provided planks over muddy areas, bridges over streams, picnic tables at some of the many gorgeous views, excellent signage, and interpretive information at the extensive parking areas; these amenities testify to their wise use of the very skimpy financial resources available to them. There are still places on the trails that need improvement, but the volunteers are constantly adding to the already solid foundations in place. Any contributions you can make to assist their efforts can be directed to

West Mabou Beach Committee
Box 165
Mabou, NS B0E 1X0

Two accesses to the trail system, both marked with blue signs, are reached from the West Mabou Road, which passes through West Mabou and then follows along the Colindale shore, where it is referred to as the Colindale Road, to its end at Port Hood, well worth driving on its own just for its many splendid views.¹ Coming from Mabou, the first entrance at the top of the long hill leads to a parking area (the “river trails” parking area) from which the Mabou River trails are directly accessible; the second, further down the road at the bottom of that long hill, leads to the parking area at the beach (the “beach” parking area), from which both the coastal trails above the beach and inland trails along the Mabou River are readily reached.

The views from the coastal trails above the beach are gorgeous; I have spent many an hour wool-gathering there, soaking in the natural beauty of the beach, Green Point, the mouth of the Mabou River, the Northumberland Strait (Gulf of St Lawrence), the Cape Mabou Highlands, and the coast to the south. On the hot sunny days of summer, the beach can be busy, but the coastal trails are high enough above the beach that any noise on the beach does not interfere with one’s enjoyment of the peaceful scenery.

For the first couple of years I visited the park, I was unaware of the trails along the Mabou River, which are equally beautiful, but of a very different character. They are highly recommended for their marvellous views of the river and the Cape Mabou Highlands rising above it, for their relative solitude and wildness, and for the teeming bird life seen along the shore; prepare to spend an afternoon and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the several picnic tables placed along the Mabou River shore.

The park is suitable to visit in any weather, for it is far more than just a beach; even in chilly, windy, cloudy weather, its beauty is breath-taking. If you are in the area, do yourself a favour and sample the natural beauty this park offers in such great variety and abundance. If you do no more than just walk from the parking lot to the bluff above the beach, less than a minute’s walk, you will still come away the richer.

Feedback on the photos and the accompanying commentary, including corrections, is welcome.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2006 January 19

¹ Officially, this road is known as the Little Mabou Road, from one end to the other, but it is rarely so called by those who live in the area, except occasionally to designate that section closest to Port Hood, northeast of which the locality of Little Mabou is found.

Revision of 2012

Not a great deal required changing in this revision. In a few cases, I have added one or more paragraphs introduced by the bracketed text “[2012]” to discuss changes that have occurred since this photo essay was originally written.

The spruce bark budworm has caused some damage within the park boundaries, but far less than in many other locations in Cape Breton Island; most of the terrain appears very much as it did in 2005 and before. It has impacted the access to the Old Ferry Road Trail, whose southwestern end is closed, and a few other spots, but most of the trails I have hiked in recent years do not show significant damage, though I have not recently hiked several of the inland river trails.

Work continues to be done in the park. Since this essay was written, the river trails access road was improved and a parking area added at the southern end of the Whale Cove Trail. The beach access road was completely redone and widened in 2011. In 2010, an abominable gate was placed across this road which, in the winter, I understand, is locked, as also occurs in the rest of Nova Scotia’s provincial parks. Other than posing a continual annoyance and irritant, it is hard to see what use this gate is; it’s easy enough for any active person to get around it, should anyone wish to, but it is a serious hindrance to the elderly and less hale who used to go there to walk a short distance along the beach when the weather allowed, something they are now precluded from doing as it is too far for them to walk in from the West Mabou Road. I did not get to spend much time in the park in 2011, but the day I was on the Deer Trail, I noticed a new wooden plank bridge had been installed since I was last there; I assume similar improvements have been made elsewhere in the park recently.

I hope the weather in 2012 permits me to spend more time there in this gorgeous place.

Victor Maurice Faubert
2012 January 11

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Note 1: If you are unfamiliar with the place names mentioned in this essay, a list of map resources is given here. Of these, the best computer-readable map of Cape Breton Island that I currently know about is the Cape Breton Travel Map, produced by Destination Cape Breton and, thanks to their express written permission, available as a PDF file here; I strongly urge you to download it. This map scales nicely, allowing you to zoom in on an area of interest, has a very helpful place name index, and provides a level of detail, both of back roads and streams, that is quite good.

Note 2: See the description here for the notation I use for GPS (Global Positioning System) coördinates. I did not have a GPS device when I took the photos in this essay; the coördinates found here are those written down on later trips or computed from Google Maps; when no coördinate is given, I have been unable to reconstruct where I was exactly when the photo was taken.

Feedback on the photos and the accompanying commentary, including corrections, is always welcome; send it to the address in the footer below. All of the essays in this series are archived here.


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