North Highlands Road Trail Description


North Highlands Road
Cape Mabou Highlands
Brief Description
This trail follows an old pioneer road that runs generally east to west through the Cape Mabou Highlands, connecting Foot Cape to the Cape Mabou Road.
Trail Head
At GPS 46°10.991'N 61°17.242'W on the Cèilidh Trail (Route 19) in Strathlorne (southeast of Inverness village), turn onto North Highlands Road and proceed 1.4 km (0.9 mi) until you reach a Y junction (at GPS 46°11.113'N 61°18.281'W). Take the left fork and drive 0.8 km (0.5 mi) to house number 410 (GPS 46°10.972'N 61°18.818'W). Park on the shoulder of the road there; this is the trail head.
Trail Length
approximately 5.3 km (3.3 mi)¹ from 410 North Highlands Road to Cape Mabou Road
Generally fine on foot. The first 0.6 km (0.4 mi) is drivable by car; thereafter, a high-slung pick-up truck or jeep could make some further progress, but would definitely be scratched by downed trees protruding into the road on the ascent, which is badly rutted and eroded in places; one curve is banked badly enough it might pose a problem even for a truck, though trucks have clearly been through here in past years. Once on the summit, the road is of farm road quality, problematic in places for a car but drivable by a truck. An ATV or a mountain bike should have little problem throughout its length. Five deep puddles occur approaching the Cape Mabou Road; they require woods boots or equivalent to traverse.
The road climbs from perhaps 80 m (262 ft) at 410 North Highlands Road to 350.5 m (1,150 ft) near the Cape Mabou Road junction. About 1.25 km (0.8 mi) from the trail head, there is a sharp ascent of 120 m (394 ft) over 0.5 km (0.3 mi); both before and after the ascent, the trail is easy to moderate uphill and, once one reaches the plateau, essentially flat thereafter.
Topographic Map
Lake Ainslie (11 K/3): this map shows the entire course of North Highlands Road as a thin red line.
Reference Times
None known.
My Times
  • 2007 July 30 (410 North Highlands Road to Cape Mabou Road [uphill]): hiking time: 1h23; clock time: 1h53
  • 2007 July 30 (Cape Mabou Road to 410 North Highlands Road [downhill]): hiking time: 1h14; clock time: 1h54
None known.

¹ Estimated from the topographic map.

Extended Description

As I described here, in 2006, I noticed what proved to be North Highlands Road on a hike along Cape Mabou Road that started at the Cape Mabou Trail Head of the Cape Mabou Trail Club’s magnificent system of trails in the Cape Mabou Highlands and ended above Broad Cove Banks (southwest of Inverness village). I added it to my “to-do” list at that time out of simple curiosity to see where it went.

I scouted out the Foot Cape end of North Highlands Road on 2007 July 24 by car, noted that 410 North Highlands Road would be a good place to leave the car on a hike, and drove as far beyond there as I thought wise (0.6 km (0.4 mi)). It looked like a very nice hike, so I decided to return when the occasion offered itself.

The summer of 2007 was much rainier than previous years and since my previous hike along the Cape Mabou Road led me to not expect many distant views, I picked a cloudy day to check out North Highlands Road so as to keep the better days for trails with views. On 2007 July 30, a warm cloudy day with some rain showers, I set off down the North Highlands Road.

0.3 km (0.2 mi) beyond 410 North Highlands Road, one passes through the lovely shaded grove of trees I discovered on my scouting trip here; a large stand of gorgeous evergreens on the right¹ faces an equally large stand of deciduous trees on the left. Three thrashers caught my eye as I passed beyond the grove and I heard, though I did not see, an eagle above. The road climbs first gently and then moderately some 60 m (197 ft) over 1.25 km (0.8 mi) to reach the base of the hillside up which it will subsequently ascend.

And ascend it does! At this point, the road starts sharply up, climbing 120 m (394 ft) in 0.5 km (0.3 mi); it literally left me breathless—I stopped four times for extended rests (seventeen minutes of hiking time and fifteen minutes of rest). The gravel road here has several sharp turns as it winds its way up the hillside; there are some trees downed which protrude into the road and some erosion is noticeable where water has washed away parts of the gravel surface, in one case leaving a curve banked badly enough that it might pose a problem even for a truck, though trucks have clearly been through here in past years. There are occasional tree-shrouded views of the area to the south and, as one approaches the summit, one can see the sky begin to appear above the road.

Once past the hard climb, the gravel road levels off considerably and becomes first a sandy lane and then a grassy one, though it does continue to climb, gaining another 60 m (196 ft) over the next 0.7 km (0.4 mi). I did not notice them on the way up, but they were impossible to miss on the return trip: about ten minutes past the end of the gravel road, there are views behind one of Lake Ainslie and of the mountains beyond. About four minutes further on, there are also views on the left of the mountains to the south towards Riverville, Smithville, Hillsboro, Mull River, Glencoe Mills, and River Denys Mountain; given the very dark skies (I got rained on during the return trip), it is hard to tell what mountains I did see or how far away one could see on a good day. Moreover, the photos I did get were taken by balancing on small boulders at the side of the road—it would have been great to have been high enough to see over the trees! But I was expecting no distant views at all and instead got two different sets, so I really have no cause for complaint.

The last 2.7 km (1.7 mi) gains only 20 m (66 ft) in elevation as it traverses forested land and passes beside a fenced hayfield that looks as if it hasn’t had any attention in several years to reach Cape Mabou Road, turning back into a gravel road well before it reaches the junction. J. L. MacDougall’s History of Inverness County, originally published in 1922, tells us of “the daring and devoted pioneers,—the Frasers, McKinnons, McQuarries, McKays, McLeans, McInnises, the Burkes, McNeils, McDonalds and McIntyres” [p. 603; spellings and punctuation are as in the text] who once populated the “fine old farms” of this plateau and laments their loss, “now deserted and forlorn”. As one passes along North Highlands Road towards its junction with Cape Mabou Road, one can make out several cleared areas wherein it looks as if habitations might once have been nestled. Because it was misting and raining lightly and threatening worse, I didn’t explore any of them to see whether I could find old foundations or not, but I’d not be at all surprised to see them lying there amidst the brush and grass.

This area was very pleasant to walk through and enjoy, in spite of the weather. Unfortunately, there were also five great and deep puddles lying in this part of the road (so big I somewhat hyperbolically called them “ponds” in my trail notes). In my hiking oxfords, they took me some time and effort to sidle past, as it was necessary to hold onto brush and tree branches as one inched along the slippery ground above the puddle. On the return trip, I managed to slip and get one foot wet, not that it mattered all that much as both shoes had already been soaked in the wet grass and rain. Still, it should be noted that woods boots would be well advised for traversing this part of the road even on a dry day. I had stupidly left them in the car, not thinking about the two other hikes on the Cape Mabou Road where I also needed them!

Near the Cape Mabou Road junction, I was surprised to notice that I could see across the White Brook ravine to the communications towers in the pastures at the South Highlands, just past the Cape Mabou Trail Head. I didn’t remember that that was possible on my previous hike—I must have had my head down when it should have been up! Several vehicles had passed me that day on the Cape Mabou Road; there were none this day on the North Highlands Road.

All in all, this turned out to be a much better hike than I had anticipated when I had first seen the road last year. The beautiful grove, the unexpected views of Lake Ainslie and the hills to the south, the captivating back country walk beside field and through forest haunted by memories of the original pioneers, all contributed to mitigate the unpleasant weather and make for an enjoyable hike. I did indeed find the climb arduous, but that is the case for many of my hikes these days; I suspect I will most likely return here on a good day to see just what the views really offer and perhaps even to do some exploring of the sites that I thought might be old homesteads.

¹ Sadly, this beautiful stand of evergreens, like so many other white spruce groves elsewhere in Cape Breton Island, has since been destroyed by spruce bark beetles.

Side Trips

Anyone who finds this hike too short can easily extend it in three ways:


Given the poor weather, I did not take many pictures on this hike, so I don’t have a lot of photos to share. I begin with some photos taken from near the Cèilidh Trail (Route 19) to offer some context and then show those photos I do have of the area of the hike from 410 North Highlands Road to the Cape Mabou Road. Click here to view the first photo; use the navigation block in that page to view the subsequent photos.