Guide Books

This section describes guide books that present Cape Breton’s areas in some detail; I have found all of them useful in one way or another. They are listed alphabetically. If you know of other works not described here that should be added, please so notify me using the address in the footer at the bottom of this page.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park:
A Park Lover’s Companion

Cape Breton Highlands National Park: A Park Lover’s Companion by Clarence Barrett, Breton Books, Wreck Cove, Cape Breton, 2002, paperback, 184 pages. Includes photographs and sketches by the author and maps. Lacks an index. ISBN 1-895415-62-4.

This book describes the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in six chapters entitled:

  1. Discovering the Park
  2. Before the Park: A Short History
  3. Geology: The Park’s Landscape and How It Got That Way
  4. Animal Life
  5. Hiking and Ski Trails
  6. Off-Trail Exploring

Appendices contain pertinent mail and web addresses, phone numbers, and a visual guide to identifying the whales seen in Cape Breton’s waters.

This book is an interesting read from cover to cover; it is full of Barrett’s personal comments and experiences that lead him to discuss the park’s denizens, both plants and animals. His deep knowledge of the park’s geology and history allows him to vividly bring the park to life. The trail descriptions are excellent and have often answered questions that arose as I hiked them. My only criticism is that the book lacks an index: a good one would be very useful to me, as I spend way too much time attempting to locate something I know I have read. I have heavily relied on this book for those photo essays and other parts of this web site which relate to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I recommend it highly.

The book was priced at $16.95 when I bought it several years ago at the book store run by Les Amis du Plein Air. I have seen it in other book stores and gift shops throughout Cape Breton Island. It can be ordered on-line from the publisher’s web site for $16.95.

Explore More!

Explore More! A Guide to Hiking and Outdoor Adventure in Cape Breton by Pat O’Neil, The Cape Bretoner Publications, Box 220, Sydney, Cape Breton, 2003, paperback, 192 pages. Previous edition published in 1994 as Explore Cape Breton. Includes photos, several in colour, and trail maps. Has a two-page index. ISBN: 0-9733042-0-0.

This book is not entirely tailored to hikers, though that is its primary emphasis. Nor is it a general guide book, but concentrates on “outdoor adventure” in Cape Breton and is very useful for families with children. It provides forty-three different activities, many of them hikes, but often involving other activities at the end of the hike, each with a convenient tabular summary. It is perhaps noteworthy that none of these activities takes place in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (a three-page very brief summary of the trails is the total park coverage), allowing the book to concentrate on many of the more neglected, but still very compelling, corners of Cape Breton.

The book was priced at $14.95 when I bought it several years ago at the book store run by Les Amis du Plein Air. I have seen it in other book stores and gift shops throughout Cape Breton Island. Its publisher’s web site is no longer on-line and, although the Chapters-Indigo web site continues to list the book, as of 2011 February 22, it was marked as “unavailable” there.

Exploring Nova Scotia:
A Guide to Unique Adventures and Activities

Exploring Nova Scotia: A Guide to Unique Adventures and Activities, fith edition, by Dale Dunlop and Alison Scott, Formac Publishing Company Limited, Halifax, 2006, paperback, 328 pages. Includes one map of Nova Scotia. Has an eight-page index. ISBN 10: 0-88780-694-5; ISBN 13: 978-0-88780-694-0.

This book's coverage is all of Nova Scotia, not just Cape Breton. It is divided into three parts entitled:

  1. Introducing Nova Scotia
  2. What to See and Do
  3. The Routes

The first two parts are of general interest: the first covers the geography and history of Nova Scotia, and provides general information for the traveller to Nova Scotia; the second describes in general the kinds of things visitors to the province can do while they are there. The third part is the real meat of the book and is organized around the many provincial “Trails” in Nova Scotia, with one section for each Trail. Within each of these trail descriptions, there are headings for those activities discussed in the second part that are available on that Trail. Accommodations and dining sections conclude each trail’s description. Cape Breton’s coverage runs from page 262 through page 302.

The parts of this book I have enough familiarity to judge are generally on the mark, highlighting the principal items of interest. Taking the Cèilidh Trail as an example: unlike the provincial publications, this book knows the importance of the Cape Mabou Trail Club system and describes it well (though it could use a slight update); its description of West Mabou Beach Provincial Park is pretty sketchy, but at least there’s a description; it omits any mention of the Red Shoe Pub or the Mull in Mabou, both serious lacunæ. Its accommodations listings tend to the pricier establishments that are well beyond my budget. Its dining listings omit several very good restaurants (there’s no mention of Le Gabriel in Chéticamp in the Cabot Trail description, for example). In short, what it does, it generally does well, but it’s very much an incomplete work.

The book was priced at $16.95 when I bought it in 2007 online at Amazon. I had seen it available for sale in bookstores in Cape Breton, but didn’t buy it there as I judged its Cape Breton coverage as too sketchy. I changed my mind when I found during online searches of Cape Breton topics that it kept popping up in Google Books, often providing me with information I didn’t have.

Hiking Trails of Cape Breton

Hiking Trails of Cape Breton, revised edition by Michael Haynes, Goose Lane Editions, 469 King Street, Fredericton, New Brunswick, 2002, paperback, 302 pages. Includes black and white photos and trail maps. Has an eight-page index. ISBN: 0-86492-350-3.

This book is not a general guide book, but is tailored to the needs of hikers alone, providing very comprehensive coverage of fifty-one of Cape Breton’s hiking trails, including such ancillary topics as cell phone coverage. Each of its trail descriptions normally runs for four to six pages and, in my experience, the maps and detailed information provided have been both accurate and very helpful. While Haynes does not cover every trail in Cape Breton, those that he does include most of the major trails or trail systems on Cape Breton Island and range from the easy to the very difficult. Although the book is now dated and has been replaced by a second edition (see the following entry), its descriptions of fifteen trails not included in the second edition remain current, so the book is definitely worth having, but needs to be read in conjunction with the second edition.

It is perhaps worth noting that Haynes has also written Hiking Trails of Nova Scotia, now in its eighth edition (2002).¹ I do not have this book, but even if it covers Cape Breton trails, its wider scope would necessarily make it less useful to the Cape Breton hiker than the book of the same date which focusses exclusively on Cape Breton trails. Of course, if you also plan to hike on the mainland, this calculus would change.

The book was priced at $16.95 when I bought it several years ago at the book store run by Les Amis du Plein Air. I have seen it in other book stores and gift shops throughout Cape Breton Island. It is listed for $14.95 on the publisher’s web site and as “unavailable” on the Chapters-Indigo web site, but, as of 2013 February 17, is still available used from Amazon.com and from Amazon.ca.


¹ According to the Preface of Hiking Trails of Cape Breton, 2nd edition (see the next entry), the ninth edition of Hiking Trails of Nova Scotia, has been published in three separate volumes, presumably with no overlap between them: Trails of the Halifax Regional Municipality; Hiking Trails of Mainland Nova Scotia; and Hiking Trails of Cape Breton, 2nd edition.

Hiking Trails of Cape Breton, 2nd edition

Hiking Trails of Cape Breton, 2nd edition by Michael Haynes, Goose Lane Editions, 500 Beaverbrook Court, Suite 330, Fredericton, New Brunswick, 2012, paperback, 240 pages. Includes black and white photos, two eight-page colour photo inserts, and trail maps. Has a select bibliography, list of relevant Internet links, index of user tips and sidebars, and an eight-page name index. ISBN: 978-0-86492-670-8.

This is a completely rewritten version of the revised edition of Hiking Trails of Cape Breton, described above. It does not replace the revised edition, as fifteen of the hikes described there are not included in the second edition, “but remain essentially the same as previously described and are still recommended” [p. 225] Another fourteen hikes described there, however, “have changed dramatically over the years and are NOT recommended.” [id.] The second edition describes forty hikes in Cape Breton, all over the island; the format is similar to the revised edition, described in the previous entry; each description is based on his experiences in 2011, so the information is much more up to date than many of those in the ten-year-old revised edition.

I received the book as a gift; its cover price is $19.95 and I saw it in book stores all over Cape Breton Island in 2012. It is listed as a replacement on the web sites linked to in the description of the revised edition (see the previous entry). Highly recommended.

A Nature and Hiking Guide to Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail

A Nature and Hiking Guide to Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail by David Lawley, Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1994, paperback, 195 pages. Includes sketches by three artists and the Canadian Parks Service, maps, and compendia of Cape Breton’s flora and fauna (with their scientific names). Has a nine-page index. ISBN-10: 1-55109-105-4; ISBN-13: 978-1-55109-105-1.

This book describes the Cabot Trail in two parts. Part One is a tour of the Cabot Trail, starting at Belle-Côte and continuing clockwise around the Cabot Trail until it returns to Belle-Côte. Interspersed in the descriptions of the Cabot Trail tour are twenty-eight hiking trail descriptions, the great majority of which lie in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Part Two consists of background material, with sections entitled:

A goodly portion of the second part consists of lists of plants and animals with minimal comments, which I do not find particularly useful.

This book’s focus is somewhat wider than Barrett’s Cape Breton Highlands National Park: A Park Lover’s Companion, since it covers the complete Cabot Trail, whereas Barrett’s book is largely confined to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, through which parts of the Cabot Trail wind. I find its coverage, particularly of the hiking trails, somewhat shallow, especially when compared to Barrett’s longer and more useful descriptions. Still, while there is plenty of overlap with Barrett’s book, there is information here that is not in Barrett, although some of the Cabot Trail description is dated (e.g., page 97 describes Farley Mowat’s boat near the old Margaree River Bridge, which was removed when the new bridge was built): note the publication date is 1994. If you have to restrict yourself to one book, I would go with Barrett’s.

The book was priced at $18.95 when I bought it several years ago at the book store run by Les Amis du Plein Air. I have seen it in other book stores and gift shops throughout Cape Breton Island. My copy has a blue cover with a hiker, perhaps the author, sitting on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic coast; the version available for $14.95 from this web site has a green cover with a picture of the two central dividing lines on a section of the Cabot Trail, though it has same ISBN number and probably therefore has the same contents.