If a fun weekend away is on your summer wish-list, then look no further than one of Canada’s most stunning national parks, located at the tip of our own beautiful province. And, with options like equipped camping and the oTENTiks, you don’t even have to bring a tent! Our top recommendation? #1, of course! -A brand new family camping experience at Ingonish Beach. Here’s our list of 12 Ways to Have Fun with the Family in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
1. Camp at the NEW Family Campground at Ingonish Beach
The Just Beachy! program at Ingonish Beach is new for 2016, offering regular tent sites, oTENTiks or convenient ready-to-camp tents. Swim at either a saltwater and freshwater beach (the ocean-side is supervised by lifeguards) or explore the new playground, canteen, library and tennis courts! Let your kids wake up with a hug from Parka, the Park Canada mascot, on her daily morning walkabout. (If you like Yogi Bear, you’ll LOVE Parka!) Book through Parks Canada Reservations: 1-877-737-3783
2. Tell Stories Around the Campfire
On Saturday nights at 8:00 pm, head to Ingonish Beach for a group campfire with stories and songs led by a Parks Canada guide. There’s also a group campfire in Broad Cove, Wednesday nights at 8:00 pm. Or, just enjoy some well-deserved family time around your own fire pit!
3. Make Acadian Potato Pancakes
Learn to make Acadian potato pancakes or “crêpes au rampage”, while you sing along to traditional Acadian songs. Monday evenings at 7:00 pm (July) and 6:30 pm (August).
4. Boil a Lobster
Enjoy a lobster boil every Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm (July) and 6:30pm (August), as the sun sets over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Parks Canada interpreters will help you boil, cool and crack the lobster, while entertaining you with stories, music and local knowledge. Call 902-224-2306 to book.
5. Hook a Mackerel
Go Mackerel fishing – and eating!- with the Parks Canada team, who will help you hook, prepare and cook your catch. Thursday evenings at 7:00 pm (July) and 6:30 pm (August). Call 902-224-2306 to book.
6. Hike the Skyline Trail
Take the family along one of Nova Scotia’s most dramatic hikes – the beautiful Skyline Trail, where you can see wildlife, woods, water and the majestic forests of the Cape Breton Highlands. On a clear day, you can even see the Magdalen Islands across the Gulf! For hikers over 12 years old, consider a special guided sunset tour. (Call 902-224-2306 for tickets for the sunset tour only).
7. Enjoy a Perfect Picnic!
Cooler empty? Parks Canada has a Perfect Picnic planned for you! Just order your delicious lunch from The Keltic Lodge or Chéticamp Harbour Restaurant and head to a nearby trail to enjoy. Your family gets to keep the cute baskets and durable checked tablecloths! Call 902-285-2880 (Keltic Lodge) or 902-224-1144 (Cheticamp Restaurant) to book.
8. Find a Magical Waterfall
There are plenty of great trails in the Cape Breton Highland’s, but our favourite is MacIntosh Brook: a short, easy hike through fairy-tale-like Old Growth Acadian forest, with a beautiful gift at the end: a magical clear, sparkling waterfall. This is only one of 5 recommended waterfalls in the park. While we’re on the subject of water, we also love the flush toilets, picnic area and small playground at MacIntosh Brook. Tip: you can camp here too.
9. Unearth a Geocache
There are plenty of caches around the Cape Breton Highlands. Begin your quest at a park visitor centre or at geocaching.com. Our top pick is Parka’s Campground Kid Cache: a great introduction to geocaching. Stop by a visitor centre or the Broad Cove or Ingonish Beach visitor centres for more information.
10. Go on a (Friendly) Ghost Walk
There aren’t really any ghosts on the Lantern Walk in Time, just friendly people dressed up like ghosts, sharing with you the stories of the past. It’s a very cool thing to do for kids 8 and older, and a great excuse to stay up late! Tour leaves Freshwater Lake Trailhead three times per week. Phone 902-285-2535 for more details and to book.
11. Retreat to a Luxurious Hotel
It’s so crazy that inside one of our most stunning National Parks is one of our province’s most delectably fancy hotels. If you’re not into roughing it, book a family retreat at the Keltic Lodge, from where you can enjoy of The Cape Breton Highlands, plus an outdoor swimming pool, fine dining, recreation and golf. Tip: The Middle Head Trail, is at the edge of the Lodge’s parking lot, with a guided hike every day at 10:00 am (Free with your Parks Pass).
12. Camp in Bubble
While we’re talking crazy, how about a night swinging in the trees inside this wonderful camping bubble: The Parks Canada Cocoon Tree Bed? Great for Mom, Dad and adventurous older kids; definitely not recommended for babies and toddlers! Click here to learn more, or call 1-902-285-2535 to book.
If you have never been to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, you’re in for a treat. It’s one of the biggest, best and most dynamic parks we’ve ever visited. Have you already visited Cape Breton Highlands? Did you try the the new “Just Beachy!” family campsite at Ingonish? Please tell us in the comments!
Cape Breton Highlands National Park Details:
Where: Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
Phone Direct: 1-902-285-2535
Reservations: www.pccamping.ca or 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783)
Helen Earley is a Halifax-based writer. She was a guest of Cape Breton Highlands National Park.