This summer, in part due to curiosity aroused by reading my Facebook posts, one of my college roommates at what was then the State University College at Albany toured Newfoundland and Cape Breton with a colleague, both retired science teachers at the Stuyvesant High School, an elite public school in New York City for gifted students. They were in Sydney awaiting the departure for the ferry to Newfoundland the following day, so we met up in Baddeck for lunch, after which we toured some of the backcountry behind Baddeck and drove to the Uisge Bàn Falls Provincial Park. As I was preparing this essay, I was amazed to discover that I had not included photos of this beautiful park in any previous photo essay. In addition to the Falls Trail, the park also offers a River Trail, a longer and more challenging loop trail that gives one good views of the North Branch of the Baddeck River, both of which I have hiked several times in the past. The park’s name comes from the Gaelic uisge bàn, meaning ‘white water’, an appropriate name encompassing both trails, as there is plenty of white water along both Falls Brook and the North Branch of the Baddeck River, though the falls at the end of the Falls Trail are responsible for the name.
Since they are both a bit older than I and have problems with any but level trails, the River Trail was clearly out, but they were game to give the more or less level Falls Trail a try, with the option of turning around anytime they’d had enough. I was surprised that they kept on all the way to the falls, a distance of 1.3 km (⅚ mi) from the parking lot according to the park map, though our pace was very leisurely (finally, I found someone who hikes even slower than I do) and we took advantage of the benches placed along the trail. Both enjoyed looking at the lichens, fungi, ferns, and other plants that line the trail, though a few stony spots gave my roommate’s knee some grief. The falls put on a fine display in spite of the low water levels and both adjudged the falls worth the effort of the walk. The photos on this page were taken on that hike.
The Falls Trail traverses a glen at the edge of the Cape Breton Highlands Plateau that runs from southeast to northwest along Falls Brook. Photo #1 is a look at Falls Brook from a bridge about three fifths of the way between the parking lot and the end of the Falls Trail; this is one of the two accesses to the River Trail from the Falls Trail—the other we had already passed at 235 m (⅙ mi) from the parking lot. The brook is pretty placid and its shallow water made me wonder what we would see when we got to the falls.
Photo #2 shows a huge head-high boulder entwined in the amazing root systems of the trees which have taken up residence on top of it. The roots extend down to where the water is and help anchor the trees to the boulder. Pretty amazing!
Photo #3 shows another amazing root system, again anchoring a tree in place over another huge shoulder-high boulder. Here, the roots descend into the ground, as Falls Brook is behind me, but on the same quest for water. Note that there is actually a goodly space above the boulder where the lateral root joins the main trunk that one can see through. It’s also of note how the thick trunk tapers to a much smaller root at the lower centre of the photo, almost like a thigh above and a leg below. Alas, I have no GPS coördinates for this photo; all I can say is that it was taken on the return from the falls and looks to be in more or less the same area as the trees in photo #2. If you hike the trail, you can’t miss it as it’s right beside the trail.
Photo #4 was taken from another bridge: up until this point, the Falls Trail has been on the west side of the glen, but here it crosses over to the east side. This view gives a good idea of the rocky nature of the brook bed; the park engineers have done a fine job of making the trail as level as possible and much easier than walking up the brook bed would be. At this point, I was quite concerned that the falls might disappoint, as so little water is flowing here—it had been a very dry summer and water was scarce in all the streams. However, this point is within earshot of the falls and they sounded as if there was water there.
Photo #5 is getting closer to the end of the Falls Trail and looks at a pretty, if small, cascade over the rocks that gird the brook on both sides. The musical sounds of such small cascades is always a joy to my ears.
Photo #6 shows the first view of the falls from the Falls Trail. The upper falls is just left of centre in this photo and continues down to the right of centre where a small piece of the lower falls can be seen across the base of the trees. At this point, the glen has narrowed to a small circular area whose walls tower above on all sides; however, the upper falls starts its descent in a gap between these walls, and so is not of that height. This Wikipedia article gives the height of the walls as 150 m (500 ft); it also says that the waterfall is 16 m (50 ft) in height, though it is not clear whether this refers to just the upper waterfall or to the entire cascade. From this very wide-angled view, it would appear that the total height of the falls is greater than 16 m. This is also the best vantage point to see the entire falls; once closer to the falls, foliage and the narrowness of the area conspire to make it very difficult to see the entire falls at once.
Photo #7 shows Falls Brook just below the pool at the base of the falls as seen from the boulders at the edge of the brook. Another set of small cascades are found here, as the outflow from the falls splashes over the boulders and rocks here on its way down the glen.
Photo #8 is a telephoto view of the upper falls taken from the boulders in Falls Brook at about the same point as photo #7. The trees on the east side of the gorge obscure the upper falls when seen from most angles below, so going out onto the boulders in the brook helps somewhat in avoiding them. There was less water flowing here than I had seen on previous hikes—the black area of the rock face left of centre has been covered with water on previous trips—but it was still loud enough to roar and quite pretty all the same. (Check out the Wikipedia article for a couple of photos showing greater water flow.)
At the east end of the viewing area, a narrow ledge climbs a small way up the gorge walls. It is precarious, but also avoids some of the vegetation and brings the lower falls into better focus. Photo #9 was taken from there and shows most of the lower falls; directly above the cascade seen here is the pool at the base of the upper falls, which comes down through this narrow chute to end in the pool at the base of the lower falls, which is directly beside the viewing area.
Photo #10, also taken from the ledge, shows the upper portion of the lower falls, with the pool of the upper falls behind the boulders seen at the top of the photo. Again, I have seen considerably more water flowing here than was present this day, but it is still an impressive sight when one is there in person.
Photo #11 shows the bottom of the lower falls from the pool at the base of the falls, which can be approached without any acrobatics. When more water is flowing, the whole base of the area is covered with water, which then spills out over the edges of the chute, enough of which has worn away that even with this lesser flow, water is still dribbling down across the whole of the base.
Photo #12, taken from the ledge above the pool at the base of the lower falls, shows the end of the trail and part of the viewing area, with a view of the boulders from which two of the previous photos were taken. This is a very popular hike; I have never been here without several others being present as well. The River Trail, which is also interesting in its own right, is much less frequented, though I have met a few people there each time I have hiked it. In the words of the previously cited Wikipedia article, it follows “along the banks of the North Branch Baddeck River [and] winds through a climax sugar maple, yellow birch, and beech forest at the foot of the river valley’s steep slope.” If you have not explored this beautiful park, you owe it to yourself to do so.