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: Cobblers Path

Cobbler’s Path was one of the first sections of the East Coast Trail I ever did and I kind of forgot about it in my zeal to hike new sections I hadn’t done yet. However, I’m so glad I returned to this trail over the holidays because I remembered very little of it and it’s such a great trail! Cobblers Path is only 5km long and runs from Red Cliff to Outer Cove. There’s a bit of climbing on the Outer Cove side of the trail, but overall, it’s a pretty easy trail that is extremely close to St. John’s.

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My friends Philippa and Justin are avid hikers as well and convinced me and Sean to join them for a hike at the tail end of December. We all met at the parking lot in Red Cliff and started from there. The trailhead has changed in recent years as the area has developed – the old parking lot on Red Cliff Road has been replaced with a new one at Cobblers Crescent. You hike up through the trees from the parking lot to connect with the coastal trail. You can turn right to go down to “Logy Bay Viewpoint”, but it’s a dead-end because one of the crotchety old land owners won’t let the trail pass over the edge of their land, so the association haven’t been able to connect through to the Ocean Sciences Centre and Sugarloaf Path.

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We opted to just continue on towards Outer Cove. It was a classic Newfoundland weather day when we hiked and we got every season in one day. It was pretty cold when we started and there was a bit of snow down on the trail. We opted to wear studs because it was pretty slippery, but most of the covered tree sections didn’t have any snow. It was overcast when we started and we caught glimpses of blue sky overhead as the day progressed. The trail passes by some old graffitied buildings and there is another lookout bunker at Red Cliff that dates back to the war (same as on Sugarloaf and many other sections of the trail). At the same location there’s an excellent view back towards Logy Bay and we had a bit of a photoshoot.

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I have to say, I do think the cliffs on Cobblers Path are some of the most iconic on the East Coast Trail. That might sound a bit random, but I say it because they are visible from so many other sections of the trail. Even though I hadn’t done the trail in about 10 years, I can always identify it from other parts of the trail. The cliff-side has a sharp diagonal slope in this section and the stratigraphy of the rock looks almost perpendicular to the ocean.

After Red Cliff, the trail descends towards Shooting Point Cove and Cobblers Brook – this was the only other part of the trail I could remember from my first visit and I swore it was my favourite section of Cobblers Path. You climb down through the forest and then cross a bit of a meadow area before starting to hike back up towards Outer Cove. On this day, it was really windy and the ocean was looking extremely unforgiving. The waves were crashing up onto the rocks and there was so much wind that it was blowing all of the salt water spray up onto the trail. A little cold, but a beautiful section of coastline.

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I would say the section after Shooting Point Cove is the only challenging part of the trail. You immediately start hiking back up through the trees and it’s a bit of a climb until you poke out at the first viewpoint of Torbay Point. The clouds were breaking up more at this point and there was quite a bit of blue sky overhead, so we crossed our fingers that the sun would come out.

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I thought Shooting Point Cove was my favourite part of the trail, but I must have skipped Torbay Point on my first visit because that quickly replaced Shooting Point as my favourite and I’m sure I would have remembered it. Philippa and Justin didn’t have time to go down the point because they had a scheduled pick-up, but me and Sean had lots of time to kill, so we said goodbye and hurried down the trail.

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“Hurry” is the key word here because the weather was quickly changing again and despite the recent blue sky, we could see a lot of clouds moving in towards the point. I wanted to get some photos at the end of the point and as I ran down towards it, the wind was so strong it literally brought tears to my eyes and I had to shield my face. We got our shots and then started back up towards the main trail as the clouds blew sideways sleet at us. The weather had majorly deteriorated in a matter of 10 minutes and we hid behind some rocks at the trail junction for shelter. We were pretty hungry (or at least I was) and wanted to eat my lunch before we finished the trail.

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In the time it took me to eat my sandwich, the clouds moved down the coast and the sun finally broke through and completely transformed the landscape. It burned off the rest of the clouds in a matter of minutes and I cursed that I now wanted to take all the same photos again in the improved conditions. I held off though because I did quite like the moody cloudy ones we’d already taken and just snapped a few photos of the sun drenched cliffs instead.

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It’s only a short walk out from Torbay Point and Philippa mentioned they visit every year just to hike out to the point – so it’s a great alternative if you’re just looking for a short jaunt with epic views. The trail pops back out on Doran’s Lane, which is filled with more crotchety homeowners, so be careful where you park. In the summer you can park on the right side of Doran’s Lane (not the left), but in the winter there’s no parking on either side due to snow clearing. Personally I think this is a bit bogus, but the town asks you park down at Outer Cove Beach instead.

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In our case, Sean’s family lives in Outer Cove, so we just hoofed it a few extra kilometres to his house and then returned to pick up my car from there. If you don’t want to bring 2 cars or do a return trip, you can also hike back along the highway – it’s quicker that hiking 5k back along the trail, but there’s not much for sidewalks so be cautious. To conclude, I’m thrilled I took the time to return to this trail, it was so much more scenic than I remembered and makes for such a great hike only minutes from my parent’s house! Definitely recommend.

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ECT Series: Beaches Path

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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