North Side of Cabot Trail: Aspy Fault, Paquette Lake

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The north side of the Cabot Trail isn’t its most exciting part.  A quick glance at the park map shows long stretches of road, with very few attractions along the way.  But, it is a great place to check out some fall foliage, if you arrive at just the right time.  You can check out an interesting geological formation, the Aspy Fault.  And, there are some worthwhile trails in this area.

Location

The Cabot Trail makes a loop around the northern end of Cape Breton Island.  On this page, we’re talking about the east-west portion of the road near the northern end of the island — between Neils Harbour and Pleasant Bay.

My Visit

On my first day on Cape Breton Island, I took the scenic Coastal Route alternative to the Cabot Trail between Neils Harbour and South Harbour.  That’s about half of this part of the route — and it’s definitely more scenic.  While the Cabot Trail through this area lacks those spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of St. Lawrence…

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… there are some pretty great places along this winding road.

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And while the road is great…

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… the look-offs (that’s Canadian for overlooks) are even better.

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I almost arrived at the peak of fall colors — just a week later and these trees would have been even more brilliant.  I did notice that the colors were better in this area, than the coastal areas of Cape Breton Island.  I’m guessing the leaves change here first, since it’s slightly further away from the warming effects of the water.

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One particular look-off gives you a view of the Aspy Fault.  The interpretive sign at this turnout isn’t very helpful — and at the time, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, so I just took a picture of what I thought might be the Aspy Fault.  Now, I’m fairly certain that the Aspy Fault was the valley I had just driven out of — the valley you see running from left to right in the photo.  The smaller valley in the distance is just that — a smaller valley that drains into the Aspy River, which is at the bottom of the Aspy Fault.

The Aspy Fault is a strike-slip fault that runs for about 40 kilometers, from the middle of Cape Breton National Park to the northern coast. It’s very noticeable on the park map.

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Aside from the curvy road and the giant fault line, you will find a couple of hikes to waterfalls in this area (MacIntosh Brook, which I hiked on Day 6, and the Aspy trail, which follows the fault to a few waterfalls).  Also, there’s…

Paquette Lake and Mica Hill

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On Day 7, I took the side road off of Cabot Trail to Paquette Lake, just to see what was there.  I found excellent fall colors at the lake…

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… and along the dirt road that leads out to the trailhead.

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It certainly paid off to get away from the coast, to see some fall leaves!

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I wish I had been able to take the hike up to Mica Hill.  I’m pretty sure the views would be like this one, or even better.  But, I didn’t have time, and when I stopped here on Day 7, I was feeling pretty worn down.

The Mica Hill trailhead is at the end of the dirt road, at Paquette Lake.  If you want to hike all the way out and back, it’s 7.9 kilometers (or about 5 miles).  You can also hike a 3 kilometer loop, or use the loop to provide a slightly longer alternative hike on the way back.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive from Pleasant Bay to Ingonish:

The Bottom Line

If you’re spending a few days on Cape Breton, you’ll probably end up crossing this road several times.  Take your time on the curves and enjoy the ride.  I’d definitely suggest taking the Coastal Route alternative at least once, but also try to find time to hike to some of the waterfalls, and maybe Mica Hill.

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