Epic Cape Breton guided tours to see fall colours

8 epic Cape Breton guided tours to enjoy 2022 fall colours


With the change of fall colours fast approaching, many of you (us included) may be planning a trip to tree-filled lands to enjoy nature’s fall grandeur. Last year, we went to Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton, a prime place for truly awe-inspiring fall colours.

There’s so much to see in Cape Breton Island that you’ll never see it all in one trip. We proved that to ourselves last year when we allocated three days to see the island and barely scratched the surface. So this time we’re looking to Cape Breton guided tours to help us plan a better trip.

Guided tours, really? Yes — a group tour is a great way to explore this stunning part of Nova Scotia. With Cape Breton guided tours you get experienced guides that can point out the best sights and, because you’re not doing the driving, you have more time to soak in the views.

But there are a ton of different guided tours to choose from — how do you know which ones will suit you best?

I’ve listed my favourite Cape Breton guided tours for you to consider in planning your fall colours holiday. These reviews are based on availability, popularity with tourists, and perceived value.

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My top picks for the best Cape Breton guided tours

Here are my top picks for Cape Breton guided tours for this fall:

The Cabot Trail is world famous for fall colours

If you’ve considered a trip to Cape Breton, then you’ve likely heard of the world-famous Cabot Trail, a 298 km (185 mi) scenic highway loop that runs through the Cape Breton Highlands and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

It’s one of the world’s most scenic road trips, with colourful old-growth forests, rugged and picturesque coastlines, access to quaint towns and parks, and beautiful vistas of whale-inhabited waters in the Atlantic and Gulf of St. Lawrence. Most visitors spend several days stopping for hikes, wildlife tours, or simply soaking up the scenery along the route.

Cabot Trail tours are some the best Cape Breton guided tours — each have their own focus and features.

1. Cabot Trail Discovery Tour, and …

2. Cabot Trail Discovery Private Tour

You get to sit back in an air-conditioned vehicle while your guide drives and regales you with tales of the scenery and history of the region. On this tour you’ll see Cape Breton Highlands National Park, mountains and fishing villages, rugged coastlines, and more.

Guides often offer personal stories that bring the region to life. Although the tour is scheduled for six hours, some travelers report that the tour has gone on longer.

If you’d prefer a bit of exclusivity, there’s a private version of this Discovery tour. Obviously this is more expensive than the public Discovery tour, but it can be customized to what you’d like to see. In a private tour, only you and your friends participate.

In each of these Cape Breton guided tours you’ll:

  • Tour the Cape Breton Highlands National Park enjoying the many look-off points and learning about the park’s flora and fauna.
  • While traveling the picturesque Cabot Trail, your driver will stop along the way for those photo-ops you’ll want to show your friends back home.
Key FeaturesOffered in: English
Air-conditioned vehicle
Infant seats available
Service animals allowed
Stroller accessible
Duration:Discovery tour: 6 hours – starts 8:45 am
Private tour: 8-10 hours – starts 9:00 am
What to bring:-Lunch
-Layered clothing as the weather can vary
-Rain jacket or warm coat

Follow this link to book the Discovery tour.

Follow this link to book the Private tour.

3. Six-hour Cabot Trail Tour

Your air-conditioned ride will take you along winding roads, through dazzling tree colours, and past amazing coastline and ocean views.

You’ll see such destinations as St. Ann’s Bay United Church, the Glass Artisans’ Gallery (which is one of many local craft sites along the north shore of Cape Breton), the little village of Ingonish, the Keltic Lodge and the Highland Links golf course, and enjoy a ride up the cable car at Cape Smokey Provincial Park.

Key Features:Offered in: English
Air-conditioned vehicle
Infant seats available
Service animals allowed
Stroller accessible
Duration:6 hours
What to bring:-Meals/ snacks/ beverages (not included in tour)
-Layered clothing as the weather can vary
-Rain jacket or warm coat

Follow this link to book this Cabot Trail tour.

4. A self-paced smartphone audio tour of the Cabot Trail

Fall colours in Nova Scotia are best in Cape Breton

Of all the Cabot Trail Tours, this is the most economical way to get an extensive guided tour (although virtual) through the Cabot Trail.

Download the app/file and it will give you an audio tour as you drive your vehicle around the trail. The commentary plays automatically as you drive, using an easy-to-navigate live GPS map.

You’ll need a good network connection (mobile or Wifi) when you download the tour app/file. Once it’s downloaded, you won’t need a cell signal and the app won’t use any of your data plan during the tour.

Some cars will let you connect your phone to its audio system. If yours doesn’t, you can use a bluetooth speaker in the car for better sound.

This is the ultimate in touring freedom: you go as fast or as slow as you like and stop when you want to take in more of the sights. You own the touring app forever and can use it whenever you want.

  • Hear about the huge Bras d’Or Lake, the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, the history of Plaister Mines, Saint Anns and the impact of the Scots in Cape Breton, Goose Cove and the waterfalls long the brook, the 12,000-acre North River Wilderness Area, Cape Smokey and it’s cable cars, the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and it’s beaches, the Keltic Lodge, the Skyline Trail, and much, much more (46 in all)!
Start/End:Start the audio at Buckwheat Corner (intersection of Cabot Trail Road and the Trans Canada Highway). You can stop or pause the tour anywhere, but the full tour will return you to this spot.
Key features:– The tour is yours to keep and enjoy anytime
– Only one tour booking needed per vehicle.
Duration:No time constraints; take as long as you like to complete the tour.
What to bring:-An Apple or Android smartphone or tablet (make sure it’s charged up)
-An in-car charger.
-A bluetooth speaker if your car’s sound system doesn’t connect to your phone.
-Your own vehicle
-Layered clothing as the weather can vary
-Rain jacket or warm coat

Follow this link to book the Cabot Trail audio tour.

Scenic, cultural, and historic Cape Breton guided tours

5. The Fortress of Louisbourg

This is a history-buff’s dream. The Fortress of Louisbourg is the restored fort used by the French in the 17th century in the great struggle for North America between France and Britain, who were based in the Halifax Citadel. It’s a a designated historical landmark of Canada.

In the fortress, you’ll find characters dressed in period colonial wear who recreate the daily lives of the people so you can see what 17th-century life was like.

While at the fortress, the French befriended the indigenous people and traded knowledge for furs and food — there’s a display showing that relationship. The fortress also has a bakery, an eatery, a blacksmith shop, stables, and gardens. Learn to fire an antique musket or a cannon as they did 300 years ago. There are even tours for tasting Fortress Rum.

With this Cape Breton guided tour, you’ll see it all. After the Fortress, you’ll continue with:

  • Spectacular views from the Louisbourg Lighthouse, the first lighthouse erected in Canada.
  • A drive along the Mira River cottage country.
  • Driving over the Marion Bridge, famous for its song, and a gathering place for concerts and family gatherings.
  • A drive through Membertou First Nation reservation, voted the #1 reservation in Canada five years in a row for social and economic developments as the Mi’kmaq community.
Key Features:– Offered in: English (French may be available if you request it).
– Stroller accessible
– Limited to 40 travelers
Duration:6 hours
What to bring:-Lunch is not included so you’ll need cash or a card for lunch and gift/souvenir shops.
-Water or your favourite beverage with you.
-Layered clothing as the weather can vary
-Rain jacket or warm coat
-Comfortable walking shoes

Follow this link to book the Fortress of Louisbourg tour.

6. Highland Village, Baddeck, and Alexander Graham Bell Museum

This is several Cape Breton guided tours rolled into one! You’ll see vistas of the Bras d’Or Lake (a Unesco-designated Biosphere) as well as a number of significant places on its shores, including:

  • The 17th-century Highland Village, set during the time when the first Scottish settlers befriended the Mi’kmaq people of Atlantic Canada. Like the Fortress of Louisbourg, you’ll find characters simulating 17th century life, dressed in period clothing, and speaking the Gaelic language.
  • You’ll enjoy a short ride on one of the few remaining Nova Scotia cable ferries as you visit the Little Narrows Presbyterian Church.
  • Baddeck: a quaint but bustling village with shops and restaurants with delicious seafood.
  • The Alexander Graham Bell Museum, where you can see historical artifacts from airplanes (he formed the association that built the original Silver Dart that achieved the first controlled powered flight in Canada in Baddeck) and kites, to deaf education and artificial respiration. There are remarkable artifacts, photos, and full-scale replicas.
  • At St. Anns Look-off you can see the Englishtown Ferry which marks the entry to the Cabot Trail circular route.
  • From the Seal Island bridge look-off you can see where the Atlantic’s salt water meets with the brackish/fresh water of Bras d’Or Lake.
  • On the drive back to Sydney, you’ll pass views of the ocean and mountains with perfect views of the amazing fall colours and, perhaps, even wildlife.
Key features:– Offered in: English
– Stroller accessible
Duration:6 hours incl. travel
What to bring:-Lunch is not included so you’ll need cash or a card for lunch and gift/souvenir shops.
-Water or your favourite beverage with you.
-Layered clothing as the weather can vary
-Rain jacket or warm coat
-Comfortable walking shoes

Follow this link to book the Highland Village, Baddeck, and Alexander Graham Bell Museum tour.

7. UTV Trail Tour to Cape Clear, and…

8. UTV Golden Leaf Evening Tour to Cape Clear

For the so-called “petrol-head”, or “gear-heads” in the crowd (that’s me!), here are several Cape Breton guided tours based around UTVs (utility task vehicles). UTVs can take you through the unspoiled wilderness like few other vehicles can and these tours are available until mid-December.

Both the daytime and evening guided tours are private, allowing you to tour exclusively with your family and/or friends. The tours can accommodate up to five people.

Starting from the base of Crowdis Mountain Wilderness, you’ll arrive at the Cape Clear look-off for a spectacular view of the Highland plateaus and the Margaree’s below. The guides have chosen rest stops based on where to capture the best photos of your adventure.

You’ll drive in Polaris side-by-side UTVs. Gear is included and the guides carefully sanitize all equipment between tours.

  • Start at the base of Crowdis Mountain and climb the highlands in a six-seater side-by-side driven by your guide.
  • Keep an eye out (and your camera ready) for wildlife!
  • Stop for a tasty trail-side lunch provided by your guide.
  • Arrive at the Cape Clear look-off with a spectacular view of the highland plateaus and the Margaree’s below.
  • Soak up the natural beauty on the way back down the mountain to base camp for coffee, hot chocolate, or tea.
Start/End:Hunters Mountain
Key features:– Offered in: English
– Private tour-only you and your family/friends participate
– Your guide is Canadian Safety Council qualified.
– Helmets and safety glasses provided
– Service animals allowed
– includes lunch, coffee, and/or tea
Duration:Morning tour:
4-5 hours (approx.)
starts: 9:00 AM
Evening tour:
2-3 hours (approx.)
starts: 4:00 PM
What to bring:-Layered clothing as the weather can vary
-Rain jacket or warm coat

Follow this link to book the UTV Trail Tour to Cape Clear.

Follow this link to book the UTV Golden Leaf Evening Tour to Cape Clear.

Other tours for your list:

Best whale watching in Cape Breton

There’s nothing like seeing whales in their natural setting. It’s funny when the whales appear that all the adults on the boat suddenly turn into little excited children! There are two companies offering Cape Breton guided tours for whale watching:

Pleasant Bay Whale watching: These folks run 1.5 to 2-hour tours four times a day and are open until mid-October.

Capt Mark’s Whale and Seal Cruise: While Cape Mark’s provide full service whale watching, their program is done for the year on September 15 — so they are typically not available during the season for fall colour trips.

Puffins and other wildlife

Two companies offer Puffin tours, but they are also closed by the time the fall colours season arrives. They are Donelda’s Puffin Boat Tours and Bird Island Boat Tours. In these cases, it’s the Puffins that are not around — they’ll be back in the spring and tours start again in May.

When is the best time to visit Cape Breton for fall colours?

People always ask about the timing of the fall colours. There’s a lot of factors involved and it’s an imprecise answer, but the leaves have already started to change and usually peak around mid-October. This year, hurricane Fiona may blow away some of the foliage, but there should still be a lot left to see.

Last year we chose the weekend AFTER Canadian thanksgiving, surmising that there wouldn’t be as many cars on the road and that amenities might be more available. At least in that instance, we were correct — the colours were bright and saturated and we had an amazing, but all-too-short trip.

Which Cape Breton guided tours leave from where?

This table might be able to help you organize several tours during your vacation depending on where you are staying:

(One question often asked is whether there are Cape Breton tours from Halifax. As far as I can find at the moment, there are no tours to Cape Breton from Halifax.)

Tips for your Cape Breton guided tours

Here’s a few things to keep in mind when booking Cape Breton guided tours in the fall:

  • Some attractions are seasonal and may not operate in the fall, and even some of the places cited in the tour descriptions may be closed. Check with the tour company when booking.
  • The weather is unpredictable in the fall; we recommend a rain jacket and a warm fleecy or other jacket.
  • Bring your camera – you won’t regret it!
  • Note that tours starting in Sydney usually cater to cruise line arrivals, so make sure you arrive at the prescribed start time.
  • Be sure to check current details with your tour company when booking as weather and other unpredictable elements may affect they can offer.

That’s it for my picks of Cape Breton guided tours

That’s it! Those were my top picks for the best Cape Breton guided tours. Your mileage may vary, as they say, depending on what you want to see, how long you have to enjoy Cape Breton, and many other factors. Review the information and choose the ones that speak to you the most to make the right selection for you. And enjoy your trip!

Thanks for joining us on this new adventure! Got a question or a comment? Go to the comments page where you can find our email address and drop us a line.

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