Piccos Ridge is the most recent section I’ve done on the East Coast Trail. It runs from Portugal Cove to Bauline on the west side of the northern Avalon Peninsula. The trail has been around for many years, but it is one of the newer trails and the ECT association has been doing trail expansion on the northern side of Bauline Line recently as well.
At 14.5km, Piccos Ridge is one of the longer trail sections and it has a bit of a reputation of being one of the more challenging trails due to the steep uphill at both ends of the trail (and throughout). Emily hates this section and when I was out for dinner in July with my family, my cousin started bragging about how he had done Piccos Ridge and therefore could pretty much do any other trail. I was skeptical that Piccos Ridge was the pinnacle of Newfoundland’s challenging hikes, so I figured I’d bump it up my bucket list. I ended up having to make a surprise trip home again in September and decided to give the trail a try to see if it lived up to my cousin’s assessment.
I will admit, Piccos Ridge is harder than some of the other trails of similar length, such as Stiles Cove. I didn’t find it as challenging as some of the other sections I’ve done (the Spout kicked my ass), and I’ve definitely done more strenuous mountain climbs in BC, but I can definitely see where it gets its reputation. It is very steep climbing up the trail out of Bauline and there is a fair bit of undulation across the rest of the trail, so it feels like a lot of climbing throughout. I read a few reviews on AllTrails before going and they all strongly recommended starting the trail in Portugal Cove and going north because the last stretch into Bauline “was very difficult to even climb down it”. Friends, can I let you in on a secret? It is so much safer to go up steep sections than down. Also, I have bad knees and I prefer going up over going down, so I decided to buck the trend and start my hike in Bauline.
It took me about an hour to get from Bauline to the first lookout. That is the most strenuous part of the hike, so I was glad to get it over with early and it got much easier after that. I went on this hike solo and it was interesting because I hiked shortly after Hurricane Larry had passed through Newfoundland, so there was a lot of blowdown along the trail. I debated a few times if I was maybe getting myself into trouble climbing over the trees and would potentially get stuck somewhere further along the trail, but the first section was the worst and I didn’t encounter too much more downfall after that.
From the first lookout, you hike back down a little bit before ascending up to Piccos Ridge, which is the highest point along the trail. Even though it was getting later in September, I encountered quite a few berries in this section, particularly partridgeberries! You continue along the ridge for awhile before making a big decent through the trees towards several ponds. There is an unofficial campsite located at Brock’s Head Pond at about the 8.5km mark. I could only see room for 1 or 2 tents in the trees, but there is a bit more open space just past the pond at the river, which is the water source. There are no facilities.
There’s one last uphill climb after the campsite, but then it’s smooth sailing after that! I think this was my favourite section of the hike because it’s all wide open and barren at the top. Piccos Ridge has a lot of different viewpoints, but large parts of the trail are in the trees, so I love hiking along the barren rock with the Atlantic stretched out alongside you. The view from this trail is into Conception Bay, so on a clear day you can see over to the other side of the peninsula and there are great views of Bell Island.
The rest of the trail is a steady downhill, so I can see how it’s a strenuous trail from either end, though the uphill is more gradual on the Portugal Cove side, which is why most people prefer that direction. Unfortunately I didn’t end up making it quite to the end of the trail. A few things came up and I decided to get off the trail a little early to try and make another appointment. Shortly after the 12km mark (so 2km before the trailhead in Portugal Cove), there’s a branch that exits off to Blast Hole Pond Road. The very top section of the road is gated, but then it’s gravel road which turns to asphalt. My knees were really bothering me, so I figured this would be an easier and quicker exit along the road, which was definitely the case. Mom was going to pick me up at the top, but I ended up powering it down the entire road before she got there. So overall I did the same distance, but skipped the last 2km to the official trailhead.
I would definitely go back sometime and hike up from the Portugal Cove side just to get the views. The highest view on that end is at 4km, but there’s views along most of the trail here, so you could hike as far as you want and then turn around for a shorter hike. In total it took me 5 hours, but I didn’t stop very much and I would recommend more time if you’re in a group or want to pick some berries. I did really like this section of the trail though considering Emily has been bad-mouthing it to me for years. There’s some ECT sections I wouldn’t want to do twice, but this definitely isn’t one of them!