Ancient Acadian Forest cloaks the slopes right down to the shore along the trail from Louisbourg Lighthouse to Big Lorraine on Cape Breton Island. This unique forest is one of six identified for protection by the World Wildlife Fund because, here, the northern boreal forest blends with the southern hardwood forest to create a diverse habitat supporting a wide range of plant and animal life. The forest is mostly home to balsam fir with some black spruce and tamarack. Many of the trees are stunted and twisted from exposure to severe weather conditions, salt spray and poor soil in this coastal stretch. The bare sun-bleached branches on stands of dead trees are frequently covered with thick layers of pale branching lichens.
Amongst the trees are wetland areas of bog with shallow pools of open water which transition to fen with thick mats of sphagnum mosses, ground juniper, cotton grass, crowberry, and carnivorous pitcher plants. Despite the beautiful blue skies it was a particularly late and cold spring at the time of my visit (2 June 2016) and flowers were scarce but rare alpine species are known to occur in this location.
The forest, bogs, and fens sit on top of very old rocks responsible for the spectacular scenery along the coast beside the trail. All are derived from extensive volcanic activity in Precambrian (Neoproterozoic) times and belong to the Main-à-Dieu sequence. They include layered volcanic ash in the form of tuff, and varying kinds of conglomerates and breccias from pyroclastic flows down the sides of an arcing series of volcanoes where two land masses collided.
We stayed at the most excellent Louisbourg Harbour Inn while we explored this part of Cape Breton Island.