CAPE BRETON, NOVA SCOTIA - Like a chunk of Scotland broken off by ancient giants and hurled onto North America's northeast coast, Cape Breton is a misty, mossy, exquisitely wild place at the top of Nova Scotia that's not nearly as far away as it feels. Salmon-choked rivers, moose-roamed highlands, and remote sea-kayaking routes have conspired with the locals' fierce guardianship of Gaelic culture to raise the island's profile, especially among autumn leaf gazers. But go during the long, still days of summer; you'll need the extra daylight to see the island the right way: cycling around the Cabot Trail, a spectacular 185-mile road ride with Big Sur views and some of the most brutal climbs west of L'Alpe d'Huez.
Fly into Sydney, pick up a car, and rent touring bikes and a trunk rack at FrameWork Cycle & Fitness (bikes, US$35 per day; frameworkfitness.com). Drive west an hour to Baddeck and set up camp at the Chanterelle Country Inn, a solar-heated B&B where the organic dinners mean wild mushrooms, fresh mussels from the harbor out back, and, until July 15, lobster; for the rest of the month you're stuck with the snow crab (doubles, US$158, including breakfast; chanterelleinn.com). Then load up your bike and drive out to 200-year-old Acadian villages, through Highlands National Park, and, if 18 percent grades don't dissuade you, to the majestic north end, where you can take a guided sea-kayak tour through pilot whale feed zones (US$100; kayakingcapebreton.ca). Before leaving Baddeck, unwind at a ceilidh, the old Celtic precursor to the rave, with fiddles, tin whistles, and (in place of ecstasy) the island's own single-malt whiskies.