Off-grid Cape Breton cabins and pub serving low-carbon pints, tourism boost

Off-grid Cape Breton cabins and pub serving low-carbon pints, tourism boost

Beer-loving outdoor adventurers looking to curb their carbon footprint have a brand new option in Cape Breton. Sitting in the mountains about 270 metres above the town of Whycocomagh, southwest of Baddeck in the centre of the island, Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins offer five fully off-grid cabins and a central pub and lodge that runs entirely on solar power.

On tap is four beers from Unfiltered Brewing in Halifax.

“It’s like we’re still trying to believe it,” says Jessica KleinHerenbrink, who opened Iron Mountain with her partner Grant Haverstock, just after Labour Day.

Each of the cabins has a queen-sized bed, a pair of bunk beds, a small table for food preparation and a larger table for dining. Outside, each has its own deck chairs, as well as a picnic table, a fire pit and a barbecue. The lodge uses a propane furnace to stay toasty and each cabin comes with a small propane heater.

Vacationers are asked to bring their own bedding and sleeping bags (so KleinHerenbrink and Haverstock aren’t draining the solar power cells with endless laundry), and to head to the lodge, which fits 30 in the main pub and eating area, to use bathrooms or sinks.

KleinHerenbrink hopes a stay at Iron Mountain will ultimately be an educational experience where vacationers realize that leaving certain comforts like television or non-stop internet access behind opens up different experiences.

“In return I think you get the experience of being in a place that’s completely natural. There’s no sound pollution, there’s no noise pollution,” she said. “And what do you really get from spending time in a hotel room?”

Hoping to develop winter tourism

The cabins overlook the mountainside, down the sunny slopes of the basin, and sit right along the Great Trail and along a developed snowmobile trail maintained by the Snowmobilers Association of Nova Scotia, making the area a year-round attraction. People staying in the cabins can lace up their hiking boots or strap on their cross country skis and set out into the woods right from their doorstep. 

KleinHerenbrink is particularly excited about the winter tourism possibilities, saying that until Iron Mountain opened, winter tourism in the area was largely underserviced. Being on the SANS trail, the area was already a big draw for snowmobilers. People in neighbouring communities would drive out with their machines in tow on the weekends, parking wherever they could find. 

Now they can grab a beer and stay overnight in a cozy cabin, she said.

A ‘brutal marathon’

She and Haverstock, a blacksmith who runs a small shop in Whycocomagh, first saw the 200-acre property two years ago and knew it was perfect. They put together a business plan, locked down some financing and set to work building their dream.

It was a “long, brutal marathon” between then and now, she said. “A lot of hurdles had to be jumped over and barriers had to be broken through. When you’re trying to do something that people haven’t done before, it’s very much a lot more complicated.”

She and Haverstock hope to move his blacksmithing shop up the mountain someday, too.

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