When you hang out on an island, you’re always surrounded by water. On Cape Breton, the waters surrounding you, as well as those you find inland, provide some great opportunities for outdoor adventure. Here are five ideas to help you enjoy Cape Breton’s waters.


Kayak to Kidston Island

John Geary 

We paddled out into the waters of Bras d’Or Lake, in the heart of Cape Breton Island. Although it’s called a lake, it’s really a unique inland sea—and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We were supposed to paddle the evening before, but a lightning storm ended that plan. It was time for plan “B.” Instead of an island dinner supplied by hosts North River Kayak Tours, we ended up having a second breakfast on Kidston Island. But first, we had to paddle around the island.

While there was no storm, it did drizzle slightly; however, that didn’t stop us from seeing bald eagles soar overhead. As we came around the southeast side of the island, my eyes caught a mink scampering along the shore among the trees.

John Geary 

We pulled in around the lighthouse on the north tip of the island, then took out on the beach nearby for our picnic. Of course, after polishing off the food and heading back to the shore of Baddeck Bay, the sun began to come out.


SUP Along the Margaree River

John Geary 

Many like to fish this river, but it’s also a great place for paddling. I’ve fished it (poorly!), but I don’t know if my balance on a stand-up paddleboard is any better. Having grown up paddling canoes and kayaks, I find it hard to get off my knees on a SUP. However, the folks at Live Life in Tents are used to working with SUP newbies. They can quickly put you at ease so you can enjoy yourself as you paddle the river.

“About 60 per cent of the people we get showing up to paddleboard are beginners,” Lee Fraser, the owner, says. “Some may have paddled once or twice on really calm, flat water. On guided tours, we take them down the river’s slower sections and provide mini workshops so they gain confidence and learn how to handle the boards properly.”

Starting from the Margaree Forks, you’ll paddle past rolling farmlands. It’s not uncommon to see bald eagles and jumping trout. In some of the more remote areas, you may be lucky enough to spot an otter, beavers or maybe even a moose.

If you’re really lucky, you might even manage to complete a trip without falling in...


Cruise Bras d’Or Lake on a Sailboat

John Geary 

Sailing adventures on this lake range from a three-hour tour to multi-day adventures. Whatever you choose, you get out with the breeze in your hair and sunshine on your face.

Cruising out into the bay from the dock, the captain—part comedian, surely—pulled out a copy of Sailing for Dummies, letting people know he’s well read, if maybe not experienced at sailing (which he is).

When nearing Kidston Island, he tossed fish out into the water. Soon after, the eagle we saw perched in a tree dove down to the water to snatch a snack.

Along with eagles, we spotted numerous cormorants and gulls along small islands.

John Geary 

There’s human history as well as natural history. We sailed past Beinn Bhreagh, a castle-like building where inventor Alexander Graham Bell once lived. He’s not just the inventor of the telephone—he helped build the first Canadian airplane, the Silver Dart, which flew on Cape Breton.

There are numerous options for sailing trips both on the Bras d’Or Lake and off the coast: Sailing Cape Breton Island, Sail Cape Breton and Cape Breton Sailing Charters.


Look for Whales in Pleasant Bay

John Geary 

Like any trip involving wildlife, there’s never a guarantee you’ll see anything. Heading out into Pleasant Bay in a zodiac, we hoped to see minke whales, and maybe some humpback, fin or pilot whales.

On any whale-watching adventure, you don’t get a long look at the whales when they surface. I’ve seen minkes in Quebec and humpbacks in BC; pilot whales or fin whales I’ve not seen.

After this particular trip, that’s still the case.

Wildlife enthusiasts are happy with any kind of critter of course, whether it has fins, feathers or fur. If we didn’t see whales, we could at least see some seals or watch gannets dive for fish—spectacular to see.

Unfortunately, our three-hour tour did not produce any of those, either. Luck of the draw—the day before there’d been plenty of sightings.

Just getting out on the water is sometimes its own reward.


Go Birdwatching for Puffins

John Geary 

Heading out into St. Ann’s Bay from Englishtown aboard the Highland Lass, we were looking forward to seeing those somewhat comical-looking seabirds sometimes called “sea parrots.” The first five minutes into our cruise, a bald eagle circled overhead. We hoped that was a good sign.

Before we got to where the puffins hang out, we were treated to views of several other sea birds: a cormorant zipped along, passing our boat just inches above the bay’s surface. Farther on, we saw more of that species along with black guillemots, razorbills—also known as “Cape Breton penguins”—and several gulls.

John Geary 

Then we spotted it: our first puffin, floating on the water, grooming calmly. In the next several minutes, we saw several more, some in pairs and some by themselves, along the rocky shores. We also cruised past some grey seals that were basking on the rocks.

On our return, about 15 minutes from the dock, the bald eagle ambassador appeared again, sitting on a rock by a waterfall. It cocked its head at us, giving us a look that said, “What took you so long?” 


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