Looking for a winter get away on Cape Breton Island?
Lazy days on the beach are a distant memory and the last of the leaves have long since fallen, but there are still plenty of reasons to make your way up to Ingonish and the Cape Breton Highlands. Savvy travelers are increasingly realizing that Ingonish and area is a great place to rest, recreate and rejuvenate. With a little bit of planning and an appetite for outdoor adventure, you are sure to have a dream winter getaway and are sure to make memories to last a life time.
The Cabot Trail in Winter
The Cabot Trail remains open year round and is looked after by teams of dedicated snowplow operators and trucks busy salting and sanding. With the exception of the odd winter storm that can shutdown the road temporarily, especially in the area around Cape North, you can access all of the Cape Breton Highlands and Ingonish area at all times, and the off-season has the bonus of no entry fees to access the park!
Once you have made your way up the North Shore and over the summit of Cape Smokey Provincial Park, you will slowly descend back down to the sea, where there are endless outdoor diversions for you.
Things to do in Ingonish in Winter
The first stop on the trail as you come down the hill is of course the Cape Smokey Ski Resort - home to the Maritimes only gondola and home to a 1000- foot vertical drop for all of your skiing and shredding needs. And if skiing and snowboarding aren't your thing, there is also snowshoeing to be had, with access to the plateaus of the Highlands from the summit of the gondola.
Going past the Cape Smokey ski hill you will soon find your self in the Cape Breton Highland National Park, which has numerous options to get you out and active in the great outdoors. Whether snowshoeing in the Clyburn Valley or the Middle Head Trail at the Keltic Lodge, or enjoying some wintering hiking at popular trails, such as Warren's Lake loop and Freshwater Lake Trail, the National Park offers numerous recreational opportunities.
Still in the village of Ingonish, nestled in the heart of the village, is the Ingonish Outdoor Rink, which offers a great chance to skate out under the stars, just be sure to check Facebook for opening times!
If all of this self-propelled recreation sounds a bit tiring, there are also hundreds of kilometers of snowmobile trails (https://sans.evtrails.com/) that you can access from just outside of Ingonish or just south of Cape Smokey, along the North Shore.
If you have kids in tow that are looking for some fun, a local tobogganing hot spot is the Highland Links Golf Course and we're told that the fifth hole is the best! While there are numerous cross country ski trails within the National Park, the North Highlands Nordic Centre in Cape North has some of the heaviest snowfalls on the island and offers miles of groomed and track set trails to enjoy.
For the truly adventurous and a bit more off the beaten path, there is winter surfing here in Ingonish. This part of northern Cape Breton is becoming an increasingly popular destination for winter surfing. You will have to have an extra thick wet suit to brave the cold North Atlantic waves, but for those who do, they will be amply rewarded. Though some folks will shake their heads in amazement and disbelief, the true surfing aficionados know that winter time surfing in Cape Breton is the best time of year to surf. It's not just the allure of having deserted beaches all to yourself, it's the big winter storms that bring the big waves that is real draw. The nor'easters that barrel up the Atlantic coast of the United States in winter are the Holy Grail for Cape Breton surfers and when most folks are at home battening down the hatches, these hardy souls are hitting the beaches to catch the biggest waves of the year.
Speaking of storms and battening down the hatches, after all of this vigorous winter activity (or not!), you may just want to sit back and take in all of this Cape Breton weather from the comfort of a warm and cozy hotel room. Though there may not be as many accommodation options as in the summer, there is still a great cross section of inns, bed and breakfasts and hotels ready to give you great views and warm, cozy rooms.
The world famous Keltic Lodge will be opening for the winter season on December 26th, with some great packages for skiers and spa lovers alike and with the Spa at Keltic, offering three hot-tubs, including one outside, with bar service, your apres skiing, snowboard, sledding and skating needs will be well met. And if storm watching from an ocean-side cottage sounds like a good plan, the Lantern Hill and Hollow Cottages, nestled right at the shoreline is a great option.
As you can see, we highly recommend Ingonish in the winter!!