2021 was my first Christmas home in Newfoundland since 2018, so I had lots of plans for my visit. Unfortunately they were, of course, all dashed by Omicron, but I still got to spend time with my immediate family and fortunately, the outdoors is always open, so I managed to do a little bit of hiking.
There was some snow when I visited, but pretty much nothing had accumulated yet. I brought my microspikes with me to do some hiking along the ECT, but they were overkill and I ended up just using my mom’s studs. The trail had the lightest dusting of snow and ice, but on the sunny day I hiked there, it made for the most picturesque photos!
Beaches is a 7 kilometre trail between Witless Bay and Mobile that is ranked as easy. I only tracked 50metres of elevation gain over the whole thing and it was definitely a nice and simple trail. I went with my mom and it took us about 2.5 hours to hike one way. We started in Witless Bay and arranged to get picked up in Mobile. It’s nice to only have to hike one way, but given the ease of trail and distance, you could hike there and back if you don’t mind committing ~5 hours to the trail.
I really liked this section of the East Coast Trail. In addition to being an easier trail, it’s incredibly scenic! it was a beautiful blue sky day when we visited and the first half of the trail out of Witless Bay takes you along several different beaches and along a few bluffs and cliff-sides. There are small sections through the woods, but for the most part you are directly along the coastline. The second half of the trail is a bit less scenic and has longer wooded sections, but there is one really nice viewpoint at Herring Cove that is worth walking down to. We still liked the entire trail, but if you only have 1 vehicle and don’t want to hike a full 14km, I would recommend hiking halfway along the Witless Bay side of the trail instead.
This entire trail looks out towards the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. From the Witless Bay side of the trail there’s a nice view of Gull Island (see if you can spot the researchers cabin, Seth has done research here in the past!) and we could see a few puffins flying around from the Mobile side, even though it was winter. I haven’t hiked this trail in the summer, but I suspect there should be good bird-watching and whale-watching along the trail when it’s warmer. If not, it’s totally worth taking a boat tour of the area with either O’Brien’s or Gatheralls. We also spotted a seal hanging out in the water around the halfway point of the trail. This is a common occurrence in Vancouver, but I’ve never seen a seal from shore (and rarely from boat) in Newfoundland, so it was an exciting occasion!
Overall, Beaches Path makes for a great day hike. It’s a good length and the drive from St. John’s is reasonable (~45 minutes). It’s a very scenic trail, particularly on the Witless Bay side and I would love to return on a warm summer day. If you decide to do in the off season, I just recommend bringing some kind of traction (spikes or studs) if there’s any snow or ice down on the trail.
I’ve been trying to do an overnight hike on the ECT for a few years now and I finally succeeded with Cape Broyle Head. Emily’s done more of the ECT than me and this was the only section with a campsite she hadn’t done, so we went for it in early August of 2021. In total, there’s only 5 official campsites on the entirety of the ECT, but you can generally free camp along other parts of the trail if you can find a good spot for it.
The campsites are located on longer sections of trail, which Cape Broyle Head is at 18km. It’s listed on the ECT website as difficult to strenuous. It’s a bit of a drive from St. John’s and at the time my family was all sharing one car, so Mom and Dad decided to drive out with us on Saturday, hike a few kilometres, and then turn around and return the next day to pick us up on the other end. The trail runs from Cape Broyle to Calvert. We didn’t put too much thought into direction – the campsite is located 7km from Cape Broyle, so we decided to start in Calvert to get the longer distance (11km) done on the first day.
There’s a nice view out towards Ferryland as you leave Calvert. On this particular day it was extremely windy, but there’s a viewpoint located approximately 1km past the trailhead, which we made a visit to. After that you climb up and over the headland. It’s a bit of a slog uphill, but honestly it’s not that bad and we didn’t really think much of it. Probably about 15 minutes in total. Mom and Dad hiked over with us in hopes of another viewpoint. Sadly though, after the headland it’s a pretty steady hike through the forest with no viewpoints, so we stopped in the woods and had lunch and then Mom and Dad turned around to go back to Calvert.
This section is pretty flat and easy and continued to the 4km mark, where you can descend off the trail to a nice viewpoint. It might have made for a nicer lunch stop, but there’s not much room there, so I’d recommend continuing on and we only stopped briefly. The weather was pretty good for hiking, it was overcast and calling for rain later in the evening, but it hadn’t yet made an appearance. The trail continues to meander up and down around Church Cove, Shag Rock Cove, and Shipwreck Point. It’s a bit of a slog though – you get a few viewpoints down to each cove, but for the most part it’s in the trees. But we did make a lovely discovery at the top of Church Cove! There is a picnic table in this location, so it makes for a really nice rest point or lunch break. I can’t recall seeing many picnic tables along other sections of the ECT, so it was a nice surprise.
Just before you hit the 10km mark, you get a beautiful view down into Lance Cove. It was a pretty calm day on the water and there were a few boats that had pulled ashore with some families hanging out along the beach. Despite glimpsing lots of beaches on the ECT, often they’re not accessible from the trail. We assumed this to be the case for Lance Cove because it looked pretty sheltered, but we were thrilled to find a steep staircase heading down to the beach right at the 10km mark! We continued down the trail and found a nice place along the beach to drop our packs and go for a quick dip in the ocean. It was pretty cold, but it’s always nice on your tired muscles after a day of backpacking.
By this time, it was getting later in the day, about 5 or 6pm, so we packed up to hike the last kilometer to the campsite. The campsite is located at Freshwater Point which looks down to Lance Cove from the other side of the bluff. There’s an outhouse and it’s just a short walk down to the river to get water. I can’t remember exactly how many tent pads there were, but I want to say about 5. They’re all in the trees and there’s not really enough space to free camp on the ground anywhere, so we had to stay on one of the pads. Unfortunately the tent pads are kind of in rough shape, with missing boards and loose nails, but we were able to find enough space to set up the tent. There was one other woman camping overnight and she had set up on another pad and gone down to Lance Cove for supper.
There’s not a great view from the campsite, but you can peak down to Lance Cove through the trees. In this case, there was a storm coming in that night, so we were happy to be sheltered in the trees. We did also run into another couple while we were getting water and they told us they had happened upon a small cabin on the way in and decided to stay there. We passed it the next day and it had a couple of bunks, but I’m not sure the history of it or whether it’s supposed to be accessible. But it turns out, of everyone else we encountered on the trail, we were the only ones going from Calvert to Cape Broyle. Apparently the headland has a bit of a reputation from the Calvert side and the other campers were impressed we had hiked up over it. We were impressed they were saving the longer distance for Day 2 considering there was a fair bit of rain in the forecast for Sunday, but some of them were just turning around and going the same way back after Lance Cove.
We had a nice supper and hot chocolate before getting ready for bed. There’s no bear cache at the campsite, but there are bears in Newfoundland, so we decided to hang our food. It’s pretty rare to encounter bears, so I don’t really know anyone in Newfoundland who practices bear safety. I always like practicing my bear caching skills, so we went for it. I didn’t have the best luck though, I ended up with too strong a throw that wrapped itself around the branch twice and it took me a while to get it down again to hang it properly. Then in the morning, one of our carabiners had become stuck on a branch overnight and we ended up having to get a really long stick to poke our food out of the tree, so not the best bear cache I’ve ever made.
Unfortunately the rain moved in overnight and it was pretty wet when we got up the next morning. We did a tent breakfast before packing up to hike out in the rain. It did stop raining not too far into our hike, but there’s a lot of vegetation and mud along the trail and we still got soaking wet from rubbing against all the plants on the way out. We only had to hike 7km, but it resulted in a much slower pace than the previous day and we knew Mom was probably going to be waiting a little while for us on the other end.
Overall it was a bit of a miserable hike out. Aside from Lance Cove and the view right out of Calvert, there’s not really a lot to see on this long trail. It’s almost entirely forested and didn’t make for the most inspiring day. I did really love Lance Cove, but I think if I was ever to return, I’d probably just hike out to Lance Cove and back from Cape Broyle since that’s the only real highlight on the trail.
Eventually we stumbled into Mom on the trail, she’d decided to hike in and meet us and we hiked the last 1 or 2 kilometres out together. There is a nice beach right at the end of the trail, but if you’re coming from Cape Broyle, you don’t really have to hike far to get to it. We had a good time because we love hiking and camping and the two of us don’t really get to do it together very much anymore, but I wouldn’t rank it as one of my favourite sections of the ECT. Best done as an overnight.
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!