Five must-do Canadian rides

Nova Scotia

The Cabot Trail

No matter what bike you have, the Cabot Trail is fun, even on a race-bred, high-strung enduro.

The Cabot Trail is probably the best-known motorcycling route in north-eastern North America; you’d have to go all the way down to the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina to find another road with similar hype.

There are a couple of reasons for this, but it’s mainly because of the stellar cliffside riding. There are other areas with curvy roads or gorgeous scenery, but you’ve got to travel a long way to find another road that puts those curves and views right on the edge of a cliff. Run off the road on one side and you’ll hit a rock wall. Run off the other side, and you’ll hit the ocean, but only after falling for a few hundred feet. It’s like riding in California, but with a lot more frost heaves, and a lot less heat.

It also helps that the Cabot Trail runs through a fairly remote corner of Nova Scotia; Cape Breton Island is proud of its heritage, and the Celtic and Acadian cultures are still strong. Here, Netflix hasn’t quite pushed out all interest in fiddle playing or bagpipes, at least not yet. In some areas, you’ll still see road signs in Gaelic.

A few finer points to note on this route: you’ll find people who say it’s best to run it clockwise because the scenery up ahead is better; others say counter-clockwise, to ride in the lane next to the ocean. Do whichever suits you best, as it’s fun either way. When Editor ‘Arris did it in 2011, he ran it both directions.

Also, remember there are a couple of worthwhile diversions en route. It’s a good idea to take the White Point Road through Neils Harbour to South Harbour, as it’s better riding than the main section of the Trail, and has better scenery. It’s also possible to go on a side leg to the interesting town of Meat Cove, but part of this road is gravel, and maybe not suited for some riders or bikes.

It’s also worthwhile doing the ride early in the morning, before the motor homes start to clog up the road. Do you want to get stuck behind an RV going 30 km/h below the speed limit in the twisties? No, so lay off the booze the night before and get up with the sun if you’re doing this ride.

If you’re left wanting more when this ride is done, you can have another excellent day of street riding on Cape Breton by going for a scoot around Bras d’Or Lake, and if you’re on an adventure bike or dual sport, there’s even more fun to be had on the island’s interior gravel roads. And when it’s time to go, make sure you head along the Northumberland Strait, taking Route 337 out of Antigonish to do what local riders call the “Mini Cape” along Cape George. It’ll take away some of the sting of having to leave the Cabot Trail behind.


  1. I am sorry but my OCD has gotten the best of me. The sign in the first picture is from the Hantsport hill going downhill toward Wolfville and the Annapolis Valley. I remember well that my youthful top speed runs were done here. Just to the right of the sign in the distance is Blomidon, which is beautiful and incredible to visit. Ride all of the valley and then out to the Balancing Rock past Digby, on to Yarmouth and back up the south shore to Halifax. History, quiet and interesting roads, vineyards, friendly people, amazing food, stunning beaches. If you like rugged ocean scenery and a beautiful farming valley you should go. Close from Ontario and east. Cam

      • Thanks Zac, I now dimly recall reading this excellent story of this beautiful area. The LaHave River ferry is very close to one of my accidents. From Wolfville I ran to this area often, one beautiful summer day in the early 80’s I was on the Lunenburg side of the road going hard toward Bridgetown, as I knew this road well. And, fresh pavement!! Which also meant fresh gravel at the sides, some of which washed on to the road. As I was leaning off the bike in a right hand corner I hit gravel and the bike went down, sliding nicely on my engine guard. When I got up I was on the road and fine, but the bike was in the river, quite a ways out. It had hit the gravel on the river side of the road, stood up and launched way out. A local came over and said “Geez boy, I thought youze was gonna go right into that river, let me get my dory and we’ll get your bike” Dory, long hook and we got it out and up the steep bank (Yamaha Seca 550, and I have no idea how we did that?) Anyway the river was partly salt water there and now I had salt water in everything. Sold the Seca and bought a Kawi GPZ 550. I truly loved both of those bikes and that is still some of the best riding roads and area I have ever done. Shockingly I have been very aware (scared) of gravel wash up ever since. LOL. Cam

        • Was it fresh chipseal? That’s a major problem here–you either have potholes, or fresh chipseal and loose gravel, in most of the twisties.

          One thing we never explored on that trip was the roads in between 101 and 103. I need to go back and check them out, but I suspect they’re not as good as the stuff along the coast.

          • This was around 1983/84 but I believe it was actual fresh pavement, I know I slid about 300 feet, very smooth. I will save you the time on the connecting roads, boring straight roads through trees, ugly but effective. Only used because I lived in Wolfville and did much of my riding on the south shore. Rather like my present home of Calgary, 500 km of mostly boring paved roads to get to Creston to go north/west or Revelstoke to go north or south. Hence the ownership of a BMW R1200RT, a true gentlemen’s express, the roads are more fun, when proceeding at the ton. I have my KLX for the amazing gravel roads in the foothills and mountains of the eastern slope of the Rockies. If you ever wish to visit I am happy to show you around, I also have a ’98 VFR. Cam

            • Only roads that cross between that I am familiar with are the 340, which isn’t bad, but isn’t conveniently located, and the 203, AKA the Ohio Road, which was a deathtrap 15 years ago and most likely hasn’t improved. Some of those roads that head north-south between 8, 10 and 12 look quite interesting, but I have never managed to find the time to explore there. And why would you? There’s so much fantastic riding in NS that it’s hard to squander a weekend looking for new stuff.

              Every year, I try to add a new piece of NS to my riding inventory, though, and maybe this will be the year I better explore the interior of the south shore area. I have wanted to go “adventure riding” on all the gravel roads around Advocate for a while, though, and Cape Breton/Cape George/Advocate Loop/Little Salmon River Road are always, always calling. I need to take a month off just to ride NS. It’s such an unknown treasure trove of curves.

              • One big advantage of NS is that there are lots of roads to explore, the disadvantage is that the population is aging and the tax base is shrinking, ie poorly maintained roads. #8, 10, 12, 14 are not compelling to my recollection. There are a group out west that ride and then rate roads (6 rating categories), called Destination Highways. I am not associated with them, the books are pricy, and worth every penny, pick roads according to your riding style and criteria. I have BC, Washington state books, I would like to do this in NS, or maybe you folks at CMG could. Roads rated, places to stay and eat. Baby Boomers love to travel and travel in style. I think the Maritimes in general are missing a big opportunity, esp NS. If/when I retire I would love to take this on, especially going around the province on every road that is closest to the ocean, that would be super cool. Really love it there, people are just so nice and friendly. Cam

                • There IS a “ride guide” to Nova Scotia, but it’s basically just advertisements for restaurants. I am working on a plan to put together a comprehensive motorcycle guide to the entire region, but I have to find a few people to help me with it, and I’m a busy guy already.

  2. The road to Tofino is ok if you can dodge the summer-Germans-in-camper-vans thing, but there isn’t a lot of Canadian motorcycle season on either side of it and the road itself is either under construction or should be.

    If you’re riding Vancouver Island I’d suggest avoiding that whole mess and doing Sooke to Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan. It’s startlingly empty by comparison, better quality tarmac and even twistier! It’s about 250kms of constant bends. If you’re enjoying yourself it makes for a great out and back ride in a single day. In the middle you’ve got Botanical Beach Park for a nice walk.

    • I whole heartedly agree with Tim. Great day on the bike. Watch your speed on hwy 14 along the Juan de Fuca straight, there are sudden sharp dips that can throw you or at least give you a sore back… There’s a great pub in Port Renfrew and crazy scenery on your way along to Sooke and Victoria.

  3. Hwy 101 from Langdale to Lund. Scenic ferries and twisty. Avoid traffic filled weekends and ride between the ferry traffic race track.

  4. Prince Edward Island, go around the Island along the coast. Newfoundland the Burin Peninsula a must. Also the Avalon Peninsula. and the Northern Peninsula, and then there is the road across Labrador if your brave enough.
    All great rides and the people are some of the friendless you will ever meat. The Burin is like being in another would.

  5. Some good routes in there. I would replace the pacific rim with the duffy road at the moment due to construction and the traffic issues. If you get on the Pacific Rim at dawn it is quite fun with low traffic and the sun at your back.
    I’m surprised the icefields parkway didn’t make it.
    SOme Northern roads should be on a all-Canada list. What about the top of the world highway? It’s half in Canada and fully spectacular! Or the Canol road, or the first 600km of the dempster.

    • A friend and I rode the Duffy (hwy 99 ) in June 2008. We left Lillooet about 9:30 PM and headed for Whistler and on to Vancouver. We ran out of daylight soon enough but the scenery we did see was spectacular. The road in the dark was interesting, corners posted at 20kph surely they missed painting a period between the 2 and the 0. 2008 was the year the road from Whistler to Vancouver was under construction the entire length was lined with super reflective orange and black cones, I don’t know where they got so many cones. The Duffy Rd. is on my bucket list but I would prefer riding it in the day light.

  6. Good day!
    Good effort!!…. but, Hwy 99 from Squamish to Lillooet BC is far superior to Hwy 4(Parksville to Tofino) imho.
    It changes elevation 3 times from Sea level to 4,183 feet at Cayoosh Pass Summit.
    The climate changes from West Coast rugged rain-forest to glacial alpine in Whistler, BC, to high desert 3 inches of rain a year in Lillooet BC.
    Duffey Lake Road is the spectacular scenic riding section from Pemberton BC to Lillooet(native for “little onion”)
    I rode in BC since 1973, and find the Hwy 4 section from Parksville to Port Alberni a narrow speedway with semi drivers too often cutting corners, and car drivers taking dangerous chances.
    I recently moved to NS, and was looking for the Cabot Trail article. I hear ccw is the preferred direction.

    • Agreed, the Parksville/Tofino route is usually wall-to-wall traffic with few opportunities to pass. Hwy 99 (Duffy Lake) is a much better ride and less traffic. I especially like the Nelson, Kaslo, New Denver triangle route.

  7. Highway 4 out to Tofino is under construction and when I went last fall the corners were awash with gravel, still beautiful but the actual riding is not optimal. Highway 28 from Campbell River to Gold River is much better. Better road conditions, excellent corners, very little traffic. Also done last fall. Highway 40 through Kananaskis is quite beautiful but there are zero meaningful corners, same as Icefields Parkway. Pretty scenery on a profoundly boring road (if you like corners/technical riding). The gravel roads in western Alberta are amazing, bring your dual sport, not your street bike. Take your street bike to the West Kootenays, from Creston north and all the way to Vernon on Highway 6. Quebec the best technical riding I found was Parc National de Mauricie, north of Shawinigan, there is one 10 km stretch of linked corners, truly amazing. Ontario? sorry I fell asleep. Cabot Trail, beautiful but bumpy. Cam

    • Yes, Campbell River to Gold River is a better than Hwy 4 ride, imo. The ride from Campbell River to Port Hardy is better yet! Wide open, mountainous scenic, and almost zero traffic!

      • Hi Nigel, that is on my hit list. Up to Port Hardy, pick off Highway 30 out to Port Alice, then ferry to Bella Coola, highway 20 east to Williams Lake, south to highway 24, east to Little Fort, east and north to see Helmcken Falls. Back to Calgary. That would be lots of new roads for me. Southern BC has been 95% covered, pavement only. But it never gets old, best riding in the world. Great roads and scenery, low traffic and enforcement in the remote parts, magic. Icefields parkway is scenic, but zero corners and massive tourist traffic in summer, slow, boring and very dangerous (Rental RV’s!), worth doing once. If you do go, try to go Jasper to Lake Louise as the glaciers mainly face north. It can snow any month of the year so be prepared. Jasper is much nicer than Banff, unless you prefer crowds of tourists. Cam

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