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: Stiles Cove Path

When I first started hiking the East Coast Trail, I did a lot of the trails near St. John’s. It’s a long drive to get down to some of the hikes on the Southern Shore (especially since you need 2 cars for a lot of them), so it was easier to do hikes close to home. Stiles Cove Path runs from Flatrock to Pouch Cove; however, at 15.1km, it’s one of the longest trails on the northern part of the East Coast Trail, which means it was one of the last ones I did.

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When I was home this summer (2021), I decided it was finally time to tackle Stiles Cove. The weather was extremely variable the entire time I was home, meaning it was hard to predict if you would have a clear day, a foggy day, or a rainy day (or more likely, all three!). Most of my friends were working during the weekdays, so I decided to hike Stiles Cove solo. I’ve been doing a lot of solo hiking in NL in recent years and have come to really enjoy it. There are much fewer wild animals to worry about in Newfoundland – black bear encounters are very unlikely (and the black bears are very small and skittish) – so your most likely encounter is probably a moose. It’s scary when you see them due to their size, but usually they don’t have much interest in you.

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It was foggy almost every morning, but on the morning I decided to hike Stiles Cove, the forecast was predicting the weather would clear up, so I decided to go for it. My Mom dropped me out to Flatrock on her lunch break and agreed to come back to get me 5 hours later when she got off work. It was drizzling on the drive out and Mom was convinced it was going to rain for my whole hike (she really hates the rain) and that I would regret it. Fortunately, she was wrong! It was pretty misty when I started the trail and the fog was hanging along the coast, so there wasn’t a whole lot to see at first. The trail starts along the rocky coast and you go inland briefly near the beginning to cross the river, where there’s a nice little waterfall. I hiked about a kilometer before stopping for a quick lunch. It was still overcast, but I could tell the fog was already starting to lift a bit and I had a nice view back into Flatrock.

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From there the trail hikes up towards Red Head Cliff. It’s only a few kilometres into the trail and already, I had a trip highlight! Red Head is beautiful! It’s a sheer red cliff descending into the ocean, with a big grassy head to explore around. What made it so beautiful when I visited is that the fog had moved out enough that it was now hanging around the horizon, making it hard to tell where the ocean ended and the sky began. I thought it was incredibly beautiful and I love getting out of the trees and hiking along grassy knolls, so I was already very satisfied.

The trail continues down the head and along the edge of a cliff around Red Head Cove where I stumbled upon a few trail workers. They were working on improving some of the boards over the muddy section and were the only people I saw the entire day until I started the hike into Pouch Cove.

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The next part of the hike is between Read Head Cove and Stiles Cove and is mostly in the woods. It breaks out of the woods a few times and I stopped to have another snack before continuing on. You can’t get to Stiles Cove on the trail, but the view down to the beach is gorgeous. It was still overcast when I passed by, but I can imagine that on a sunny day the water would be the brightest blue!

Again, the trail goes back into the woods as you continue towards Spout Cove, which marks the halfway point of the trail (7.5km). There are beautiful views through the trees as you approach the head and then you pop out on another grassy knoll. I could see this being a good camping spot if you wanted to do it overnight. There are no facilities, but I did notice a stream less than a kilometre away. I wasn’t progressing as quickly as I needed to to meet Mom at the end of the trail, but I couldn’t help stopping at Spout Cove because I had finally spotted some whales!

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Whale-watching seems to be all about timing in Newfoundland. Some trips I don’t see a single whale, and other trips (this one), it’s like I can’t get away from them! There were several of them fishing further out and eventually I had to tear myself away to continue the hike. I didn’t make it far though as I was walking closer to the whales I’d been watching. Every now and then there would be a break in the trees and I would take a peep out to check on their progress. I knew I was getting closer because I could hear them spouting and spraying water through the trees! Eventually I came to a small viewpoint and hiked down the stairs to try my luck again. It ended up being the best show of the day! I was so close to the whales and there were 4 or 5 swimming around and diving, so I watched for as long as my schedule could spare.

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After that it was back into the trees around Black Head North and I started making a better pace. The trail went in and out of the trees more, offering up some truly gorgeous grassy cliffside views (I’m a sucker for meadows if you haven’t noticed how much I talk about the grass). There are lots of sea stacks between Chimney Gulch and Shoe Cove – by now the clouds had finally broken up and I had a gorgeous sunny, blue sky day in which to finish the hike. I spent most of it chuckling at Mom and being very pleased with myself for starting the hike in the drizzle.

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Even though I was still running behind, I couldn’t help but stop again when I arrived at Shoe Cove. Though Stiles Cove Path is 15km long, Shoe Cove is the only part of the trail that actually descends to a beach. The rest of the trail is along the bluffs, which makes for beautiful views, but every now and then it’s nice to actually go down to the water. Shoe Cove is a very narrow sheltered beach with a river pooling at the end of the beach before running into the ocean. There was no one around and I couldn’t resist going for a swim. First I thought I would just go in the river, which was insanely warm, but I decided to try the ocean too since it was so sheltered and was pleased to find that that water was actually pretty warm too! I didn’t have a swimsuit, so I went in my birthday suit, which is really such a freeing experience when you’re the only one around. I let the sun dry me off on the beach before continuing on to finish the last 3 kilometers of the hike. I had service, so I let Mom know I was running a little late.

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But I didn’t need to worry, there’s an uphill section after Shoe Cove and then it’s a pretty easy hike into Pouch Cove. There’s one more viewpoint at George’s Point that I hiked down to, but regretted because then I had to hike back up again. The views coming into Pouch Cove are excellent! The trail is exposed as you come into town, which makes for a scenic end to the trail. My Dad picked me up at the Church in Pouch Cove and in all, my GPS tracked exactly 15km and 250m total in elevation gain. It took me just over 5 hours to hike the entire trail – I took lots of breaks, so I did have to hike pretty fast to finish in 5 hours. Also, the more people you hike with, the slower you will go, so I recommend giving yourself a bit more time if you’re hiking this trail.

Overall, Stiles Cove Path is incredibly scenic. It is a longer trail, at 15km, but I didn’t find it to be a very difficult trail and has minimal elevation gain overall, so I definitely recommend it!

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