Hiking ECT: Deadman’s Bay Path

I haven’t hiked Deadman’s Bay Path since 2019, but it is one of my favourite trail sections on the ECT and I’ve done it 3 times. Most recently I did it with Lien and Brandon when they visited Newfoundland for my wedding, but I’ve also solo hiked it in the past. This section of the trail runs from Fort Amherst to Blackhead and is approximately 10.5km in length. I feel like it has a bit of a bad rep because of the steep climb out of Fort Amherst, but I think it’s unjustified because it’s only a steep climb and the views from the top and along most of the trail are really unparalleled.

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You can hike the trail in either direction, but I’ve always done it from Fort Amherst to Blackhead. If you try to logic that the other direction will avoid the steep climb, you’ll just have to do it out of Freshwater Bay instead, so either option is basically the same. I definitely recommend 2 vehicles for this trail since you won’t want to have to turn around and go back the entire trail, but given the proximity to St. John’s, it’s easy to get dropped off or picked up on one end. If you’re looking for a shorter day, you could also exit at Freshwater Bay or just turn around at Freshwater Bay and only do half the trail. I haven’t done the Freshwater Bay access trail in years, but I believe it’s about a 45 minute walk.

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If you start in Fort Amherst, you can visit the lighthouse and get the climb out of the way early. It only takes me about 15 minutes to climb up to the top of the bluff and once there, you’ll have an amazing view of Signal Hill and downtown St. John’s. One time I started the trail around noon and ate my lunch once I reached the top so I could enjoy the view a bit longer. If you don’t want to do the whole trail and are just looking for an hour long walk to get some exercise, I suggest doing the climb up to the top and just enjoying the view before turning around. It’s a great workout and will help build up your stamina.

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After that, the trail meanders along the top of the cliff without too much up or down. It goes in and out of the trees and past a few water holes, all with fantastic views of the coastline. Right around the 4.5km mark you start the downhill section into Freshwater Bay (which is the worst uphill part if you go the opposite direction). Freshwater Bay is another lovely short hike on it’s own if you want to park off Blackhead Road on the way to Signal Hill and hike in. It’s marked by the long strip of beach that separates Freshwater Bay Pond from Freshwater Bay – I’ve never swam in the pond myself, but Emily has and it makes for a good cool down on a nice day.

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I had a minor breakdown at Freshwater Bay when I hiked it with Lien and Brandon because I forgot sunscreen and was petrified of getting a sunburn or awful tan lines before the wedding, but fortunately a kind stranger happened upon us at the exact right moment and lent me some! Freshwater Bay is located at ~5.5km, so it makes for a good halfway point to stop and have lunch if you’re doing the whole trail.

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After crossing the beach, you head back up into the woods and traverse along the edge of the bay. The trail comes out of the woods at the end and I recommend following the trail out to the viewpoint on Small Point for amazing views back to St. John’s and out to Cape Spear. After Small Point the views are more about Cape Spear than St. John’s and the trail winds it’s way around Deadman’s Bay before finally heading into Blackhead. The trail is pretty exposed walking into Blackhead, so gets pretty windy and you can get hit with ocean spray on a particularly blustery day.

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If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can continue for another 4-5km to Cape Spear on Blackhead Path. I did this once when I was hiking solo and I was ahead of schedule for when my Dad was going to pick me up. It’s not a difficult trail, but it will significantly lengthen the hike, so most often I just end at Blackhead. I’m about 60% through the East Coast Trail to date, but Deadman’s Bay Path remains one of my favourite trails, and given it’s proximity to the city, I definitely recommend!

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