MacDonalds Glen Road


MacDonalds Glen Road
Cape Mabou Highlands
Brief Description
This trail follows a partially abandoned road that runs northwest to southeast through the Cape Mabou Highlands, connecting MacDonalds Glen (beyond Mabou Coal Mines) to Northeast Mabou.
Trail Head
From Route 19 in Mabou, turn onto Mabou Harbour Road in Mabou Village and proceed past St Marys Church and the Mabou Arena until you come to the bridge over the Northeast Mabou River, 2.25 km (1.4 mi). You then have your choice:
  • Turn right onto Northeast Mabou Road, a gravel road, and proceed northeast about 0.6 km (0.4 mi). You will cross a small bridge, shortly after which you will see a white garage with the number 110 above its door on your right and a road across from it on your left. Turn onto that road and park at its side. This is the southeastern terminus of MacDonalds Glen Road.
  • Continue on Mabou Harbour Road for 2.9 km (1.8 mi) more to its junction with the Mabou Coal Mines Road, a gravel road; you will see a hiking sign at the junction. Turn right onto Mabou Coal Mines Road and drive north 7 km (4.1 mi), at which point you will be at the road down to the harbour at Finlay Point. Continue beyond this road, cross the small bridge over MacDonalds Glen Brook, and look for a black mailbox on your left bearing the numbers 1426-1500, about 1.1 km (0.7 mi) past the Finlay Point Road. Directly across from the mailbox, you will see a road and, looking up that road, you will see a two-storey white house with dark green trim. Park beside Mabou Coal Mines Road. This is the northwestern terminus of MacDonalds Glen Road.
Trail Length
approximately 7.7 km (4.8 mi)¹ from MacDonalds Glen to Northeast Mabou
Generally excellent: a car could drive the initial quarter and all of the last half of the road with little difficulty²; the second quarter of the road is impassible for either car or truck. About forty minutes in from MacDonalds Glen, there is one short stretch where a brook has taken over the road bed, making it very difficult to cross this patch in oxfords whilst keeping one’s feet dry, so take waterproof boots. Except for this same patch, a mountain bike should have few problems.
The road climbs from perhaps 10 m (33 ft) at MacDonalds Glen to 200 m (656 ft) at the Cape Mabou Road junction and then descends back to perhaps 5 m (16 ft) at Northeast Mabou. Except for a V-shaped glen about twenty minutes from MacDonalds Glen, there is no up-and-down; it is all steadily up or steadily down, but with no steep climbing.
Topographic Map
Lake Ainslie (11 K/3): this map shows the entire course of MacDonalds Glen Road as a thin red line.
Reference Times
None known.
My Times
  • 2006 August 3 (MacDonalds Glen to Cape Mabou Road [uphill]): hiking time: 0h50; clock time: 1h32
  • 2007 July 2 (MacDonalds Glen to Cape Mabou Road [uphill]): hiking time: 0h52; clock time: 1h42
  • 2007 July 2 (Cape Mabou Road to Northeast Mabou [downhill]): hiking time:0h49; clock time: 1h02
  • 2007 July 2 (Northeast Mabou to Cape Mabou Road [uphill]): hiking time:0h54; clock time: 1h27
  • 2006 August 3 (Cape Mabou Road to MacDonalds Glen [downhill]): hiking time: 1h01; clock time: 1h02
  • 2007 July 2 (Cape Mabou Road to MacDonalds Glen [downhill]): hiking time: 0h40; clock time: 1h03
None known.

¹ Estimated from the topographic map.

² In June of 2008, I attempted to drive the last half and found the road severely rutted by one or more large-tired vehicles beyond the sluice and gravel pit shown in the photo section below (about twenty-five minutes by foot below the junction of the Cape Mabou Road), to the point that I did not dare continue in my car; had I had a jeep or a higher-slung vehicle, I would have been less daunted by the ruts. The damage was confined to a single location and did not continue very far; the road before and after the rutting was still fine for driving in my car.

Extended Description

As I described here, I discovered MacDonalds Glen Road on a hike in 2006 that started on Cape Mabou Road 0.3 km (0.2 mi) southwest of its junction with the Glenora Falls Road in the Cape Mabou Highlands. That hike taught me where the northwestern terminus of MacDonalds Glen Road is located on the Mabou Coal Mines Road, just a short distance before it ends at the Mabou Post Road Trail Head of the Cape Mabou Trail Club’s wonderful system of trails in the Cape Mabou Highlands. Since I had been unable by other means to determine where its southeastern terminus in Northeast Mabou was,¹ I resolved to find out by hiking the road from MacDonalds Glen. (The level of detail in The Nova Scotia Atlas, while good, wasn’t sufficient to resolve the location of southeastern terminus, while the topographic map, which I did not have at the time, is.)

Accordingly, on 2007 July 2, I drove out to MacDonalds Glen and parked at the side of the road across from the black mailbox bearing the numbers 1426-1500. Having already hiked from here to the Cape Mabou Road the previous year, I knew what to expect and made sure that my woods boots were in my backpack, as I knew I was going to need them, and set off. At that point, the skies were somewhat inscrutable, with a warm sun playing hide-’n’-seek among a slew of clouds, and a nice cool breeze blowing that made a perfect day for a hike through the Cape Mabou Highlands; some days like this turn cloudy, damp, and rainy while others become very fine days: I hoped for the latter, but was prepared for either.

Four minutes up from the road, I was beside the white house trimmed in green, puffing and noticeably warmer, as there is a gain of roughly 20 m (66 ft) in a relatively short distance. The house is a good point to catch one’s breath, as it offers fine views of Finlay Point, MacDonalds Glen, the Gulf, and of Beinn Alasdair Bhain (Fair Alistair’s Mountain), which will be very familiar to anyone who has hiked up to the glorious look-off there.

Beyond the house, the road levels out considerably, but continues inexorably uphill. After fifteen minutes of easy climbing, one is at 100 m (328 ft) on the western ridge of a V-shaped glen. There is a semi-open view here of the highlands to the southwest, which reach more than 280 m (919 ft). At the bottom of the V some 30 m (98 ft) below and an easy two minutes downhill hike later, an unnamed brook from the east runs underneath a wooden bridge and one hears for the first time the waters of MacDonalds Glen Brook into which the unnamed brook empties a few metres/yards to the west of the road. The height one has just given up has, of course, to be made up as one ascends to the eastern ridge of the glen. Both on the way down and the way up, the road now has ruts caused by run-off that would require very careful attention in a car, but it remains otherwise in generally quite good condition.

Six minutes beyond the bridge, one arrives at a wooden gate, presumably once (and perhaps still) the entrance to a pasture for cattle or sheep. Somewhat before the gate, the road approaches the gully carved by MacDonalds Glen Brook and runs for quite some distance close to and along its edge. On both sides of the brook’s course, the flanks of the mountains are now quite close and one notes the transition from an open road to a tree-covered forest path. The previously gravel road becomes much grassier here and travel by car is now if not completely impossible then both very problematic and unwise.

For me, the gate marks the start of the most beautiful part of this hike: like MacIsaacs Glen along the Trap à Mhathain (Bear Trap) Trail and the Gleann Sidh (Enchanted Valley) Trail in the Cape Mabou Trail Club system, this too is a magical place that boosts my spirits each time I pass through it. The brook’s song fills the air beneath the canopy of the trees overhead through which the sun’s filtered light adds sparkles and movement to a scene in which one would not be greatly surprised to hear a whimsical leprechaun’s mischievous greeting. The brook here is very shy: my camera captures mostly leaves and dark hues and only glimpses of the water flowing below, as the light does not penetrate very far into the gully. My eyes do little better, so it is very tricky trying to judge how much water is coursing down below—the sound makes one believe that there must be a fair amount. Indeed, the topographic map shows that numerous unnamed rills run down from the mountains above on both sides to empty into MacDonalds Glen Brook all along this stretch of the road.

Eight minutes beyond the gate, the road badly deteriorates, as the ground becomes ever wetter and muckier. Delicate small wildflowers abound here, showing their blues and whites and yellows to the passer-by. In another five minutes, one reaches the point where the brook has preferred the road to its former course; here, the road’s original surface is now gone, washed away, and one is left with a jumble of small rocks and boulders over and past which the water flows. At this point, I switched out of my oxfords and into my woods boots, as the water reaches well above one’s ankles here in places. The many minutes it took me last year to cross this stretch were reduced with proper footwear to two this year and I enjoyed splashing through the water much more than clinging to the trees and trying to hop from rock to boulder to rock without either slipping or getting my feet wet.

A couple of minutes beyond this bad stretch, the road’s character changes yet again. MacDonalds Glen Brook has just crossed to the east side of the road and flows some distance from it, so that its cheerful song fades away nearly as soon as one starts uphill. The road is again in fine condition, though still definitely a forest pathway and not a gravel road, and quite dry. From the gate, the road has been climbing gently, gaining perhaps 20 m (66 ft) over a kilometre (0.6 mi). One is now about to climb up along the side of the mountain that was earlier to the west of MacDonalds Glen Brook in order to reach Cape Mabou Road; the road climbs about 80 m (262 ft) over roughly 0.8 km (0.5 mi). After about three minutes of easy uphill hiking, one traverses a noticeable C curve, passing over a sluice in the middle of the curve. Seven minutes more of moderate uphill climbing, punctuated by three stops to recover my breath, I found myself coming into a grassy meadow and two minutes later I arrived at the junction with Cape Mabou Road, roughly the midpoint of MacDonalds Glen Road, warm from the climb, ready for a lunch, and very pleased to be able to enjoy it in the sun under a lovely blue sky: though plenty of clouds were still there, it was clear that they were going to remain benign for the rest of the day.

Lunch done, my wind recovered, my legs rested, and back in my oxfords (while they do keep one’s feet dry, woods boots also become uncomfortably hot in the summer time!), I then set off towards Northeast Mabou. Just as the hike to Cape Mabou Road was (with one exception) all uphill, that to Northeast Mabou is all downhill. One is now back on a good gravel road that is readily drivable by a car. While trees line the road for nearly all of the rest of its descent into Northeast Mabou, there is usually open sky above. At the junction with Cape Mabou Road, there are fairly open views, one allowing a glimpse of the Creignish Hills in the far distance between the profiles of two prominences in the Cape Mabou Highlands. Such views diminish thereafter, being replaced by brooks that enter from the side or cross in sluices beneath the road, wild flowers, individual trees of distinctive form or colour, birds, and small animals such as red squirrels scurrying across the road in search of food or mate—in other words, all the things one sees during a normal walk along a back country road. What makes this walk different is that one is passing through the beautiful Cape Mabou Highlands, though it is rather more often their sides than their summits that are in view.

From Cape Mabou Road, in about twenty-five minutes time and 1.8 km (1.1 mi), one descends 100 m (328 ft). A stream crosses underneath the road near here through a sluice that enters a brook which follows the road much of the way into Northeast Mabou, where it will empty into the Northeast Mabou River, though distant enough from the road that one only occasionally hears it flowing along. A small gravel pit lies near the sluice off the side of the road. Not far above this sluice I met the only vehicle I encountered on MacDonalds Glen Road this day: an ATV.

In another nine minutes, one arrives at a Y junction, with a road entering from the left. (When returning from Northeast Mabou, one must remember to take the left fork here as the right fork, though it looks to be the better road, dead-ends after a kilometre (0.6 mi) at a private home.) As one continues on towards Northeast Mabou, the side of Mabou Mountain now rises in the distance above the road, so one knows that one is fast approaching Northeast Mabou. Indeed, about seven minutes later, one passes the first house on the road. At the next house down, my arrival was noticed by two large dogs, who set up a loud clamour and, thankfully, were called indoors while I passed by. To the west, a fine vista opens up showing the Northeast Mabou River, Northeast Cove, the Mabou River, and West Mabou. The road then makes a sharp curve to the right and descends past a fine patch of lupins, in bloom this day, to reach its southeastern end at 110 Northeast Mabou Road, eight minutes below the first house on the road. From the sluice above the Y junction to Northeast Mabou Road, another 95 m (312 ft) of elevation has been lost over a distance of some 1.7 km (1 mi).

When I reached Northeast Mabou Road, I knew exactly where I was but was bewildered at how it was possible that I had never tried to explore the road I had just descended. It was then that I saw the garbage bin at the side of the road and immediately answered my question: after having unintentionally driven up a number of private driveways during my first years on Cape Breton, I learned to recognize the trash bin by the road as signalling a private driveway and not a public road. In this case, however, the signal was wrong, as the trash bin belongs to the residents across the road and not to those up the road; it was this false sign that kept me from exploring this road in past years. Mystery solved!

It was a fine hike on what turned into a very nice day and one I would readily repeat. While the section from Northeast Mabou to Cape Mabou Road is easily drivable, one misses a lot in a car.² It may not have the magic of the stretch along MacDonalds Glen Brook, but it is very pretty nonetheless. I had fallen in love with the first half of this hike last year; I can now recommend both halves of this hike without hesitation.

So, should one do this hike from MacDonalds Glen to Northeast Mabou or the other way around? You will save some driving (and gas!) if you start from Northeast Mabou, but you will then miss the beautiful drive along Mabou Harbour to Mabou Coal Mines and back, which will only add to the beauty of your day. For the hike itself, I don’t think it much matters one way or the other. In either direction, you have an uphill climb followed by a downhill climb and, on the return trip, the same. Just enjoy it, whichever way you go!

¹ MacDonalds Glen is still a known locality in the Mabou Coal Mines area, but the name MacDonalds Glen Road no longer means anything to the folks in Mabou whom I had asked. As a result, my queries about it were met with a shrug. In part, this is doubtless because (a) the section from MacDonalds Glen to the Cape Mabou Road has not been usable for automobile traffic for many years now (if it ever was) and (b) because the grading at the junction where the MacDonalds Glen Road and the Cape Mabou Road meet now makes it appear that the Cape Mabou Road is the continuation from that point on, causing its name to also be applied to the portion of MacDonalds Glen Road from there to Northeast Mabou.

² In June of 2008, I attempted to drive the last half and found the road severely rutted by one or more large-tired vehicles beyond the sluice and gravel pit shown in the photo section below (about twenty-five minutes by foot below the junction of the Cape Mabou Road), to the point that I did not dare continue in my car; had I had a jeep or a higher-slung vehicle, I would have been less daunted by the ruts. The damage was confined to a single location and did not continue very far; the road before and after the rutting was still fine for driving in my car.

Side Trip

If one has the time, I highly recommend hiking up the Cape Mabou Road, which climbs sharply 120 m (394 ft) over a distance of 1.6 km (1 mi) to reach a previously logged area at the summit (320 m (1,050 ft)) from which one has an amazingly fine panorama:

My hiking time from the junction with MacDonalds Glen Road to the summit was sixteen minutes (clock time was forty minutes); in the reverse direction, it was eighteen minutes (clock time was twenty-eight minutes). It was, for me, a stiff climb, with a very steady moderate grade uphill, requiring four stops for rests. The road is tree-lined on the left, but there are obscured views through the leaves of the Gulf in the distance; I tried at several points both on the way up and the way down to get a decent photo, but succeeded mainly in capturing foliage. Cape Mabou Road is generally in good condition throughout most of its length, but I did not find its southern end drivable by car: on the summit, there are several (eight, if memory serves) very deep puddles (I quit when I found myself in water above the lower edge of my car door in the second of them) and the ascent/descent would likely be very problematical due to deep ruts and wash-outs; a truck or an equally high-slung vehicle should have no problems with either puddles or ruts, however. Note that, if you take this side trip, you need not worry about any of the puddles, as they are found between the summit and the Glenora Falls Road.


The photos are ordered from MacDonalds Glen to Northeast Mabou; those from Cape Mabou Road side trip appear together at the end. Click here to view the first photo; use the navigation block in that page to view the subsequent photos.