Lace up your hiking boots for a hike up Franey Mountain in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Read our review to see why the spectacular 360-degree views of the Clyburn Brook Canyon and Atlantic coast from the top of the Franey Trail make the climb worth it!
Good to Know
Location: South of Ingonish, Cape Breton
Distance: 7.4 km loop OR 6.19 km up and back
Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty (Scale of 1-10): 7
Family friendly? Yes, although not suitable for younger children. Ensure older children are prepared for long, steep hike.
Pet friendly? Dog friendly, but dogs must be kept on leash.
Cell Service: Limited in some parts of the hike
Best Time To Go: Open mid-May until mid-October but most spectacular in fall.
Cost: Free! 😊
Important Tip: No recreational drone operation is allowed inside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The fine for using a drone without special permission is up to $25,000.
Getting to the Franey Trail
Important Tip: Franey Trail is located inside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. There is an entrance fee to enter the park, even for a hike. You can find the current entrance fees for the park here.
The trails within the Cape Breton Highlands National Park are well marked, but if you need a bit more detail:
Just north of the Clyburn River, turn off onto the fire access road and follow it for about a kilometer to the Franey Trailhead parking lot.
- If you are driving north from southern Cape Breton: you'll drive through Ingonish Beach, pass the road to the Keltic Lodge, Highland Links and a small church on your right. Just before you reach Ingonish Centre, the fire access road to the trailhead will be on your left.
- If you're driving south, from northern Cape Breton: you'll pass through Ingonish Centre, pass a road for North Bay Beach on your left, and then the fire access road to the trailhead will be on your right. If you pass a small white church on your left you've gone too far.
Important Tip: It is possible that you may encounter wild animals, including moose, while hiking this trail. Never approach wild animals, or attempt to touch or feed wild animals. Parks Canada provides more safety tips in the "Keep it Wild, Keep it Safe" section of their website.
What to Bring on this Hike
Franey is a hike with a large elevation gain (for east coast Canada, anyway). You'll go from 95 meters (310 feet) above sea level, all the way to 430 meters (1410 feet) above.
Sweater or Windbreaker: The top of the trail can be much windier than the bottom. Unless hiking in the dead heat of summer, bring along a sweater or windbreaker for the top part of the trail where the wind could be high.
Bug Spray: Any time you're walking in the woods, you'll probably want to have some bug spray handy. This hike is no exception, especially in the summertime.
Footwear: This is a fairly challenging trail, with a number of steep areas or spots where you are climbing up tree roots. At the very least, sneakers or ideally hiking shoes/boots are definitely recommended. If they're waterproof that's a bonus!
Water/Sunscreen/Hat: The usual, for when you're hiking. Especially water, as this hike is quite a workout.
Trekking/Hiking Poles: Not necessary, but some people find they are helpful on this trail, which is mostly uphill.
Important: This is a pack in/pack out hike. Make sure you don't leave garbage, food wrappers (or food) or anything else on this trail - please take it home to dispose of properly.
Franey Trail Review
Almost immediately on the trail you start to ascend up Franey Mountain.
Autumn is a particularly beautiful time to visit the Franey Trail because it's cooler and the leaves are turning so many beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red (and there are usually no bugs!).
Even on your way up the mountain you often encounter beautiful views if you pause to look back.
Many parts of the trail have stairs built in, to make it easier to climb up areas that would be very challenging otherwise.
Part way up the mountain (about 1.3 km in) there is a lookoff, where you can start to see the spectacular view you're climbing toward. On clear days you can see the Atlantic ocean, the Clyburn River and Cape Smokey, along with the beautiful, rolling hills of Cape Breton countryside.
Have a little rest at this lookoff, because beyond this point the trail gets harder. Alternatively, if you're satisfied at this point, you could always turn back and return to the trailhead.
Important Tip: Wood, leaves, rocks and ground can be very slippery when wet - use extreme caution if you're doing this hike after rain.
There are also a number of boardwalks that cover boggy or areas that would be hard to walk through.
In some areas the walkways have even been built in to help you cross over streams without getting wet.
Although at times you are still walking over rocky areas (which, once again, can be slippery). This is one of the reason why hiking boots are recommended for this trail.
The trail was fairly wet the day we went, so we were happy to have waterproof footwear.
Along the way you encounter several little waterfalls that are lovely to see, and make for nice pausing points.
Throughout the trail you can hear the sound of the river flowing. It is very quiet and peaceful.
The stairs, although challenging at times, are one of the things that make this hike such a unique experience.
One of my favourite characteristics of this trail is how the roots of the trees are sometimes incorporated into the steps uphill.
It's a tough hike, but the views from the top of the mountain make the effort worthwhile!
Take some time to enjoy the views of the entire Clyburn Brook canyon, the Clyburn River and the Atlantic ocean coastline from Ingonish to Cape Smokey! Pat yourself on the back for making it to the top!
This is also a great spot to relax over a (pack in pack out) picnic, before starting your descent.
Descending the Franey Trail
There are two options when it comes time to descend the trail, with pros and cons to each option:
- You can go back down through the woods, the same way you came up. This will technically result in a shorter hike (6.19 km instead of 7.4 km) although it is definitely the tougher option physically.
However, if you're in great shape the beauty of the trail and the lookoffs might outweigh the slightly more commonplace surroundings of the loop option descent.
- You can complete the loop hike, descending via the wide ATV trail. This results in a slightly longer hike (7.4 km instead of 6.19 km) but it is definitely easier.
However, it is a less exciting walk (no waterfalls, streams, stairs or boardwalks), but still a very nice walk in the woods, especially in the fall. If you're tired, this is the best option for you.
If you have mobility challenges, want to try to bring a heavy duty stroller or want a less strenuous hike to the top lookoff, you could also choose to go up and down the ATV trail.
Definitely note though that it is considered less exciting compared to the main trail up the mountain, but can still be a good option..
Franey Trail FAQ
The Franey Trail is a fairly challenging hike with a lot of elevation as you work your way up the mountain. The average completion time is 2-3 hours. Add more time if you want an extended rest or picnic at the top.
Yes, you can take your dog on the trail, but they have to be on a leash.
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Originally from Arichat but living in Baddeck for more than 6 years, 29-year old Carly is married and has 2 handsome golden retrievers, Snoopy and Kovie. She works as a medical office administrator and in her free time enjoys kayaking, hiking, taking care of her house plants, and trying to capture the beauty that surrounds her! You can follow her adventures on Instagram.