ECT Series: Motion Path Backpacking Trip

The last few years I’ve been home I’ve brought all my camping gear with me in hopes of getting in an overnight on the East Coast Trail. Last year I was finally successful with Cape Broyle Head Trail and this year we were lucky enough to hike Motion Path overnight!

I feel like a broken record, but this may be one of my all time favourite sections! It’s definitely up there with the Spout and since they share the same coastline I hope to one day do them back to back. Together Motion Path and The Spout make up ~31km of continuous coastline between Petty Harbour and Bay Bulls – this is the longest uninterrupted stretch on the entire trail and there are two campsites, one on each path. I’m assuming they’ve been broken up into 2 trails due to the length, with Shoal Bay Road delineating between them. Shoal Bay Road is an old overgrown ATV road that runs from the Goulds to the midpoint of the trails. It’s not considered official ECT, so it adds ~7km to whichever hike you’re doing.

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We didn’t have enough time to do the whole thing, so we just did Motion Path, which runs from Shoal Bay Road to Petty Harbour, totaling ~21km. I went with Emily and because she’s working all week, we only had one shot at the trail and prayed the weather would cooperate. She worked until 3pm on Friday and then we picked her up and our Dad dropped us off at the entrance to Shoal Bay Road in the Goulds. We’ve both done Shoal Bay Road before when we day hiked The Spout and Emily has also done Motion Path as an overnight once before. So we knew what to expect with Shoal Bay Road. It’s completely in the woods with a lot of loose gravel and water ponding. It’s not difficult, but 7km of boring access road does feel like a slog. It’s usually very wet, but it hadn’t rained all week, so it was pretty dry and we only had to detour around large puddles twice.

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It was a really nice day and the sun was shining as we set out on the trail. It was around 4pm when we started and it took us about an hour and a half to reach the coast. It started to cloud over along the way and we could see the fog hanging out offshore as we started the 2km of coastal trail to the campsite at Miner’s Point. This section wasn’t particularly scenic, but we did see a few waterfalls and get some nice views looking north towards Heart’s Point.

It was a really nice day and the sun was shining as we set out on the trail. It was around 4pm when we started and it took us about an hour and a half to reach the coast. It started to cloud over along the way and we could see the fog hanging out offshore as we started the 2km of coastal trail to the campsite at Miner’s Point. This section wasn’t particularly scenic, but we did see a few waterfalls and get some nice views looking north towards Heart’s Point.

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It took us another hour to get to the campsite and we strolled into the sheltered birch forest where it’s located around 6:30pm. We fully expected to be the only people camping there, but there were two guys already set up and another couple showed up shortly after up – so pretty busy for the ECT! There is one premium camping spot, which the guys had snagged, but it’s pretty slim pickings after that. A lot of the ECT campsites have tent pads, but Miner’s Point just has some flat grassy spots. We counted 5 or 6 of them, but they were all pretty small and bumpy except for the one good one. Fortunately it was grassy though, so it made for a soft bed!

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We picked the best place to pitch the tent and then spent the rest of the night taking it easy and making supper. The fog rolled in really thick right after we arrived, but the wind kept changing direction and sent it rolling in and out of the campsite. When it was sunny, it was quite nice with the birch trees. There is a small stream running through the campsite, but it’s definitely not the best water source and I could see it running dry if there was a particular dry spell (although that’s pretty rare in NL). We were able to find one section that was running decent, but you definitely need a filter. If you continue on towards motion point, you will cross some better sources.

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It took us a little while to get warm overnight with the fog and we must have been on a slope because we woke up with both of us bunched to one side of the tent. It was an early wake up call because the sun was out in full force in the morning and it felt like we were being cooked inside the tent! I woke up at 6:30am and opened up the vestibules to get some air flowing, but we were both up and making breakfast shortly after 7am.

I haven’t done much overnighting in Newfoundland, but Emily would agree with me in saying we’ve never had such a warm morning on the trail in Newfoundland! There wasn’t any wind in the trees and the sun was shining right down on us, so I immediately put on shorts and sunscreen. Unfortunately the lack of wind also brought the flies, so it gave us the motivation for a quick breakfast and pack-up. We were all done and ready to hike at 8:30am, which must be a new record for us.

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Our plan for the rest of the day was to hike the 11.5km back along Motion Path to Petty Harbour. You leave the birch forest and then pretty much the entire rest of the hike is exposed along the coast. It would be brutal in the rain, but on a sunny day like we had, it was an absolute dream! 11.5km of unbroken coastal views!

I can see this trail being a bit challenging as a day hike due to the length, but as an overnight it makes for a really great day of hiking. There’s a few short climbs, but overall it’s an easy trail, you just need extra time to accommodate photographing all the amazing views along the way! There’s a few water sources right after the campsite and then you start climbing up towards Heart’s Point. From there you can see all the way back to the lighthouse in Bay Bulls and the trail undulates up and down once you get to the top of the bluff.

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My favourite part of the trail is coming down from Heart’s Point towards Lower Cove – you can see all the way out to Motion Point and it is really cool to see the ponds sitting so close to the ocean. On a nice day, I would love to try swimming in Lower Pond, but even though it was sunny, it was quite windy and we would get cold whenever we stopped (though it was comfortable in shorts when we were moving). The trail loops right around Motion Head and we were super enthused to hear some whales surfacing when we stopped for a snack break!

It took us a little while to find them, but we could see several offshore, which meant the caplin had finally arrived. I wasn’t expecting to see whales in mid-June, so I felt lucky to see them just as they arrived and I was getting ready to leave. Right before we hit Lower Cove Head we were treated to a real show! The trail descends pretty close to the water in this section and there just so happened to be a few whales fishing right off the coast! We think they were minke whales and saw a mama and calf from a very close distance!

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We passed 2 other hikers going in the other direction around Motion Head and anther trio close to the end of the trail, otherwise we didn’t see anyone else on the trail on day. We made pretty slow progress in the morning, but picked up the pace around Motion Head, where the trail is really flat and easy. At Motion Head we had the privilege of seeing a humpback whale breaching way off in the distance, but after we turned the corner towards Petty Harbour we didn’t see any more whales and the weather started to shift.

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The day had started out with blue skies and not a cloud to be seen, but things don’t often stay that way in Newfoundland and the clouds were blowing in over the trail. We still weren’t too concerned as we continued along Motion Bay and stopped for lunch at Merrymeeting Point. Unfortunately the wind was picking up, so it was chilly and we made it a quick break before starting the last climb into Petty Harbour. We made pretty quick time on the hike up because some pretty ugly looking rain clouds were rolling in and we quickly alerted Dad to come and pick us up before the rain began.

If you’re not used to climbing, this is definitely the most challenging part of the trail. The trail ascends about 120m up over the head, where there’s a short flat section and the final descent into Petty Harbour. It’s a bit steeper on the Petty Harbour side and more gradual going out towards Motion Head if that influences your decision about which direction to hike the trail. We didn’t like the steep drop into Petty Harbour, but it is very short and only took us about 10 minutes. It did start to drizzle as we were descending, but it was only a small amount of rain. Normally that wouldn’t both me, but I had a flight back to Vancouver early the next morning and didn’t want wet gear, so I put on my pack cover and hurried down the trail.

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We hit Petty Harbour after 4 hours of hiking and only had to wait 5 minutes for Dad to pick us up. The rain picked up right after we finished and it was a good reminder how quickly the weather can change! But lucky for us, we were dry at home after an excellent overnight trip. I’m so glad I got to squeeze this trail in and hope to return one day and do the entire section from Petty Harbour to Bay Bulls. It’s a bit on the long side for a day hike, but if you’re looking to try overnighting, this is a great trail! Super scenic and not too difficult, I’d recommend.

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