Chance Cove Coastal Trail

I recently made my annual summer trip home to Newfoundland for 10 days in early June and had the best time exploring some new trails! I wasn’t thrilled about going home in June because it’s not the nicest weather in Newfoundland at that time, but I ended up having to eat my words because I had really good luck while I was home! I got such fine weather I ended up doing 55km worth of hikes in just 7 days – the first of which was Chance Cove Coastal Trail.

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Chance Cove is located about an hour and half outside of St. John’s on the far end of the Avalon peninsula on the isthmus. Chance Cove has definitely been trending on Newfoundland social media throughout the pandemic and I was starting to feel like everyone I knew on the island had been there over the past year. It looks incredibly scenic in photos, so I admit to being drawn to this hike by Instagram and I was determined to check it out for myself.

We got nice weather on our first weekend home and I convinced both mine and Seth’s families to do the hike with us. It’s only ~4km round trip and is fairly easy terrain, but it’s so scenic it ended up taking us 2.5 hours to do the whole thing!

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What makes this hike especially nice is that it’s a double loop hike (kind of like a figure 8), so you get different topography along the entire hike. We started by climbing up into the woods until we reached Chance Cove Beach, which extends across the cove to the main road, then we switched back to the coastal route up towards Green Head. It was overcast and extremely windy when we started, with Green Head being the most blustery part of the trail. We hiked up to the head, but didn’t stay long because it was so cold, though it was cool to watch the wind swirl erratic patterns through the water.

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From Green Head, you continue along the headland past Chance Cove Island to Island Cove Beach, where fortunately, the headland shelters you from the worst of the wind. There’s a newly constructed set of stairs going down to Island Cove Beach, so we took a long break on the beach to eat our snacks and enjoy the warmer (less windy) weather. As we continued on, the clouds started breaking up and pretty soon the sun was shining down on us!

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The next attraction is Patrick’s Cove (also known as Big Cove), but first you can hike up to a series of viewpoints between the two coves. With the sun shining, it completely transforms the landscape and the water turned the most vibrant shade of blue! You could almost be tricked into thinking you were somewhere tropical, if not for the wind.

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You can also hike down to Big Cove, which has a huge sea stack that is centered in most of the photos I’ve seen on social media. Unfortunately, there are no stairs going to Big Cove, just a large rope guiding you down the bank. I really wanted to see it, so I climbed down, but it’s still really steep and not for the faint of heart. The rope is positioned pretty awkwardly and some of my family members had some trouble, so I wouldn’t go down there if you’re not confident in your abilities. Definitely use caution.

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If you do decide to climb down to beach, it is very lovely and would make a great place for a swim. Me and Emily toyed briefly with the idea of going for a dip, but we didn’t have swimsuits and it was a bit too breezy to air dry. We opted instead to wade out up to our knees. It wasn’t quite as cold as I was expecting at first, but it quickly starts to numb your feet and I had to stumble back to the beach to defrost!

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From there we hiked back up the bank to get what I’d call the “money shot” of the hike. A view from above of the curved beach and sea stack. It was no longer sunny when we got there, but no less scenic! After that it’s a pretty easy walk back to the parking lot. There’s a small climb and then you head back down towards Chance Cove. You can cross the beach if you prefer, but given the wind, we decided to just hike back along the water instead.

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We concluded our day with a visit to Baccalieu Trail Brewing Co. in Bay Roberts to sample some of their beer and “legendary” cod chowder. The sun returned while we sipped our beers on the patio and we congratulated ourselves on a very successful day. Chance Cove Coastal Trail definitely lives up to the hype and I would recommend it to pretty much anyone. Use caution if climbing down to the beach, but otherwise it’s a fairly easy hike that’s great for beginners! We had a great time.

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ECT Series: Mickeleen’s Path

In my opinion, Mickeleen’s Path is one of the best mid-length day hikes for when you only have one vehicle. This section of the trail goes from Bay Bulls to Witless Bay, so it’s only about a 40 minute drive from St. John’s and it has a convenient ATV trail that you can use to loop back to where you started instead of having to hike back along the entire trail. There’s nothing to see on loop back, so the official ECT section is a lot more scenic, but if you want to cut some time off, you can walk back along the ATV track instead.

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When driving there, turn left off the highway and into Bay Balls harbour and follow Southside Road to the very end, where there is a small parking lot. I believe you have to walk a bit further down the road to get to the trailhead, but then follow the left trail branch along the coast. Most of the first part of the trail is in the woods, but around the 2km mark you reach the grassy bluffs and can continue around the headland. The trail does continue to pop in and out of the woods, but it’s very scenic for a solid 3-4km as you go around South Head.

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I hiked it solo in early August and made my first pit stop in Island Cove for a small lunch. I saw several whales right at the edge of the harbour as I was eating and I had a good laugh when O’Brien’s whale watching tour blazed right past when the whales were diving without being any the wiser. I’m sure they knew where else to find whales since I later spotted both the boat and the whales on the other side of South Head, but it was still comical to watch them motor right over where the whales were feeding.

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For some reason I thought Mickeleen’s Path wasn’t very scenic, so I was thrilled at the views as I continued along the coast. It was extremely windy on the day that I visited, but I also got some blue skies, so it made for really nice photos. I stopped for a second lunch on the bluffs past Upper Red Cove that look out towards Gull Island. One of my favourite parts of hiking around Witless Bay is the ecological reserve and I loved spotting the puffins frantically flapping over the top of the water.

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If you’re doing the trail as a one-way, you can end on Bear’s Cove Road in Witless Bay and drive home from there. In that scenario, it’s approximately a 7km hike. However, since I was solo and only had the one vehicle, Sean had given me a tip about the ATV track, so I decided to continue on along that route. To find the track, take a left on the road when you get off the main trail and then very shortly after, take a right to get on the ATV trail. It’s a lot like Shoal Bay Road if you’ve ever hiked the Spout – gravelly with lots of potholes – so if it’s rained recently, you may have a lot of large puddles to navigate around. The road follows a horse shoe shape around the headland and eventually connects back in with the original trail just before you get back to the parking lot in Bay Bulls. This route is just over 11km, so it definitely beats going the whole way back and is pretty flat.

Overall I’m definitely a fan of Mickeleen’s Path and recommend it as a great solo hike or for when you only have one car. The whole route took me just under 3.5 hours, with 2 breaks, so budget 4 hours if you’re doing the loop trail. And keep your eyes open for puffins and whales!

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ECT Series: Piccos Ridge

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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