The tiny settlement of Red River is technically part of Pleasant Bay which is English-speaking settlement. The 2 mile gravel road called the Lower End of Red River is even tinier with less than a dozen houses not counting the Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Gampo Abbey. It's very quiet and remote, and at the end of the road is the trailhead for the Pollets Cove - Aspy Fault Wilderness Area. All in all it's a hiker and nature lover's paradise, and when you've exhausted the neighborhood trails there's plenty more to explore along the Cabot Trail and in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park just up the road. Even more adventures are right here if you bring your mountain bike or sea kayak. Some intrepid cyclists are nuts about the Cabot Trail, especially the dramatic section between Pleasant Bay and Cheticamp.

To help orient you, the retreat Lookout is smack in the middle of this pic taken from a mountain trail about a mile away on the way to Otter Brook and Pollets Cove. At the very bottom right edge, that little patch of smooth green is where the road ends and folks park to begin the hike I'm on, that's also where the rope goes down to the beach where you can walk back to the waterfall below the house (pic below). Middle left are my closest neighbors' houses who live right along the road. And all the red roofs behind the Lookout and going up the road are the various retreat cabins and other parts of Gampo Abbey.

Here's another orientation pic. To the left is the little parking lot for the Lookout, to the right is a fishcrate for garbage pickup and the driveway going down to the house. Straight ahead and back up the road is a hill locals call "The Jimmy's Mountain." The Buddhists call it something else but we don't mind. They have a small trail right across from the main Abbey entrance that climbs to a little shrine at the top. It's a sweet little hike of perhaps a mile each way from here, so you can be home for tea after just an hour.

Gampo Abbey's "Stupa of Enlightenment" back up the gravel road will give you a doubletake, especially if you happen along at night and find it lit up by a hundred tealights. It's only a five minute walk from the Lookout and a good place to meet local or visiting Boods.

Across from the stupa is a shortcut trail leading to the Abbey proper. This bridge over Jessies Brook was built 25 years ago by my good friend Alfred and 2 Buddhist carpenters from the Abbey. It's the same brook that eventually becomes my waterfall.

The nearest beach access is Archies Brook—a 10 minute walk from the Lookout to where the road ends and the Pollets Cove trail begins. Looks scary first time you go down but not as hard as you'd think, and coming up is easier. Bring a picnic for an afternoon of swimming in warm saltwater and hanging out on some big rocks, then rinsing off with cold fresh in one of the pools right here before you walk back home. The ocean temps reach the 70s in the summertime! If the wind and seas are calm enough in late June, July, Aug, and even early September, and the sun's out it's time for a swim! I could spend a week doing this every day being perfectly content without going anywhere or doing anything else. The beach here is stony but very private. You'll want to wear sneakers, Tevas, or watershoes to keep your footing in the water. (guest photo)

The cathedral rocks below Kerr's Point are one of many secluded spots along the coastline that are only accessible by boat, with tiny coves, peculiar rock formations, and beaches you can paddle into and explore with total privacy. Kayaking here isn't really for beginners unless the water is real calm. Waves, winds, and currents can change suddenly, and it may be easy paddling one-way, but a whole different story trying to paddle back.


An easier beach access is Red River Beach—either a 2 mile walk, bike, or drive back towards civilization. Park in the little public lot across from the white house where the road begins to turn upriver toward the bridge and walk down the meadow trail. Where the river crosses the beach is a fresh water pool which changes every year but is often large enough for rinsing, wading, and floating around in. The beach here is mostly gravel and a bit more public. (guest photo)

Another great secluded swimming hole is Red River Falls, a 4 mile hike from the cabin, but you can also drive or bike here most of the way. Very cool fresh water, with some big brookies lurking under those spillways. Best for swimming mid-afternoon when the sun penetrates the canopy breaks over the river to help warm you back up and dry off.

Pollets Cove, which you can only see a small part of here, is the must-do 6 mile wilderness hike where you can overnight if you pack a tent. If the wind's right you can sometimes get here by boat from Pleasant Bay, and then hike back. If just a daytrip, plan on 2+ hrs hiking each way with some steep climbs. Pollets Cove has a mile long beach, 2 wild salmon rivers, mountains to climb, canyons to explore, feral cows and ponies, and acres of wild meadows. It's a popular Nova Scotia hiking spot but there's lots of room to spread out and unlike the Nat'l Park it's unmanaged. Just past my place is the trailhead and the number of cars parked there will give you an idea of how many hikers are there. If it looks crowded, consider stopping half way at Otter Brook and having a smaller awesome place all to yourselves. 100 years ago Pollets Cove was a year-round pioneer settlement accesible only by boat and totally locked in by drift ice in winter. After the Cabot Trail was built far-flung settlements like this were abandoned. If you're especially adventurous, there's a not very well maintained 15 mile trail that goes up the mountains and across the highland barrens to Meat Cove and/or Lowland Cove.

Roberts Mountain is a great little hike If you want a view of all Pleasant Bay. The trail begins along the coast road in the center of this photo right next to Windswept B&B. The views from the top overlook the Grande Anse River valley starting at Pleasant Bay Harbour going upstream into the CB Highlands Nat'l Park and the Cabot Trail climbing up the North Mountain, or looking left is the Red River Glen going back to the Icy Mountain. The western views of course will be ocean.

Whatever's happening in Pleasant Bay is usually happening here at the harbour. Over by that bait building in the upper right is where lobster and crab are landed mid to late mornings where you can get fresh seafood for a song. Below me to the right which you can't really see are the docks where the whale watches and tour boats leave from, and behind me is a small whale museum for the tourists. It's a very friendly place (this is Canada!) so just hang out or wander around and meet some of the local folks working on their boats or talking fish and politics. The harbour is also where you want to come with your laptop to get your internet fix with its 24/7 free local WiFi.

This isn't the Lower End neighbourhood but what locals call 'the other side.' I'm near a place called Dingwall, looking across Aspy Bay toward Cabots Landing in the Nat'l Park. The lookout would be on the back side of those headlands. There are miles of sandy beaches here and though the water temps are a bit cooler than on the Gulf side (being closer to the Atlantic), in summer it will still be warmer water than any beach in New England. Sometimes fog and drizzle will pile into the highlands around Pleasant Bay and get stuck, keeping the sky dreary for days. If you get sick of that pattern, consider taking a half hour drive through the park as it'll often look like this on the other side.

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