PAUL MACDOUGALL: The Cape Breton Highlands from the Sky


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The fall colors of Cape Breton are upon us and by mid-October the highlands will be illuminated with yellow, gold, orange and red foliage, as most parts of the world can only wish.

Fall has always been one of my favorite times and there are many ways and places to experience our annual color extravaganza.

One way is from above.

In August, Atlantic Canada’s First Gondola was opened at Ski Cape Smokey in Ingonish Beach. The pandemic slowed down construction, but it could not be stopped.

Visitors climb in an eight-seater gondola cabin to the top of the ski slope, then can wander around the summit for as long as they want. There are two viewing areas on either side of the exit area at the top and there are Adirondack chairs to relax in.

A view of the lake, park office and Smokey Mountain from the top of the Freshwater Lake observation trail in October 2020. Contribution • Paul MacDougall – Contribution

It is a spectacular place to view the fall foliage.

Prices range from $ 20 to $ 45 depending on your age, kids under five, and crowd over 80 for free. A family rate is available.

Next year’s plans are in place to build a tree-top walkway at the top that will provide an even higher and more majestic look on the Cape Breton Highlands as well as at sea. Trails will be set up around the summit, space for coffee and snacks, and a mountain bike trail is already being developed.

Downhill mountain biking has taken off in recent years and next season will be ready for the hill. State-of-the-art gondolas have hangers inside to carry your bikes to the top.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park Warden Building, Ingonish in October 2020. Contribution • Paul MacDougall - Contribution
Cape Breton Highlands National Park Warden Building, Ingonish in October 2020. Contribution • Paul MacDougall – Contribution

Hobbies

Down the road from Wreck Cove Ski Resort, a new company – Shoreline Adventure Center – which rents cabins, is building a series of trails that will soon be open to business. The “adventure park” will host mountain biking, fat biking, snowshoeing, off-piste skiing and trail running.

Exploring the woods on foot or by bike through the vibrant colors of a Cape Breton autumn is an exciting adventure for many.

Hiking the National Park trails is also a wonderful way to enjoy the fall and incredible views can be seen from the peaks of Franey Mountain and Broad Cove Mountain around Ingonish and the Acadian Trail in Chéticamp. The short trail in front of the park office in Ingonish is only a five minute walk, but the views are world class. You climb up pretty quickly and the views are worth it.

Another way to get high in the highlands is to take a helicopter tour with Air Breton. Created in 2016, Breton Air is based at Sydney Airport. They started organizing short trips from Ingonish across from the harbor ski resort in 2019. Flights are 10 to 60 minutes long, although the cost increases the longer you choose to stay on your feet.

A helicopter view of North Bay Harbor, Ingonish with Middle Head and Smokey Mountain in the background in 2019. Contribution • Paul MacDougall - Contribution
A helicopter view of North Bay Harbor, Ingonish with Middle Head and Smokey Mountain in the background in 2019. Contribution • Paul MacDougall – Contribution

Helicopters are expensive to buy and maintain, much more than a fixed-wing airplane, and use a lot of fuel to spin those heavy rotor blades, but if you can afford to splurge and want to gift someone something amazing, then this opportunity exists.

The Bell 260 Long Ranger helicopter can accommodate up to five adults and offers breathtaking views. We chose to follow the coast in 2019, although you can choose to fly over the ski resort. An option allows you to disembark for a picnic and be picked up later. The longer flights provide even more spectacular views of the hills and valleys of the highlands and the two weeks after Thanksgiving would be the most colorful – guaranteed.

This is most often when deciduous trees pick up recurring seasonal signals – the lack of daylight and the decrease in heat and sunlight, which causes them to stop making the green pigment of photosynthesis, the chlorophyll. This allows the yellow and orange carotenoids to show their colors for a few weeks and then the red anthocyanins. Not all trees have this pigment, luckily ours does.

Our fall colors are so consistent in their timing that I think the shorter day length is the most important trigger of all. Go out in the next few weeks and see, it’ll be perfect.

Paul MacDougall is a local writer and senior health science instructor at Cape Breton University.

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