By Sherry Ott
Most multi-day coastal hikes have certain things you come to expect; magnificent views, remote beaches, and vast birdlife. However, multi-day hikes often also mean such things as carrying a big backpack, basic food options, and simple accommodations. The East Coast Trail in Newfoundland is a classic coastal long-distance hike; however, hiking it with Great Canadian Trails means you get all of the benefits of a remote hike, but none of the hardships.
This 6 or 10-day hike covers areas like the picturesque fishing village of Quidi Vidi, historic Signal Hill, hiking to dramatic Berry Head sea arch, testing you on the Flamber Head Path, and to the most easterly point of the continent on the Cape Spear Path. These are some of the best hikes of the entire East Coast Trail, and you’ll have a well-rounded experience full of nature and culture.
Hiking the East Coast Trail
As you would expect, you’ll find incredible views, sea cliffs, and challenging varied terrain that will challenge you. You’ll move from exposed windy areas into wetlands and dense boreal forests. The landscape is a combination of land, sea, ice, fog, and sky.
What Makes the East Coast Trail So Special?
There are a number of things that will surprise you about this hike. Even the most seasoned long-distance hikers have their expectations exceeded.
Whale Watching While Hiking
Normally when you go whale watching, you’ll head out on a boat. However, because the trail often goes right along the east coast and takes you up on high cliffs, it provides an incredible vantage point to see pods of migrating whales.
You’ll often spot humpbacks on the coast any time between May to September. Humpbacks are the most plentiful because the world’s largest population of feeding humpback whales is found in Newfoundland. You’ll also possibly see Minkes, Pilots, Fin, Sperm, and Orca whales. The water is so pristine near Signal Hill in St. Johns, you can see them swimming under water from the hiking trail!
This isn’t a traditional village to village hike, as the distances between villages are often too far to cover on foot. That’s where Great Canadian Trails comes in and assists with logistics to get you to/from trailheads and accommodations.
This need for logistics means you come into contact with many more locals than you normally do on long-distance hikes such as your drivers and accommodation owners. In addition, you often stay at one B&B for multiple nights at a time which gives you a great chance to get to know the owners.
It’s no secret that one of the best things about Newfoundland is its unique form of hospitality that oozes from the people there. They are charming, welcoming, and sometimes a bit hard to understand with their accent! Newfoundlanders are genuinely excited to show you their region and share a laugh with you. These encounters with locals are another surprise along the trail.
Going Beyond Driving
Normally when you think about transportation, it’s someone getting you from point A to B. Most of the time drivers are quickly forgotten after you return home, but it would be impossible to forget the Great Canadian Trails driver, Jamie, who will be your logistics wizard as well as a tour guide. Have a question? Ask Jamie. Need anything? Ask Jamie. Need to know how to pronounce Newfoundland like a local? Ask Jamie!
Jamie not only gets you to/from the airport, but he’ll get you to/from trailheads, to your accommodations, and to the best ice cream shops near the trail! He will fill your head with Newfoundland facts and cultural oddities, and the time in the car will fly by. Plus, thanks to how this itinerary is organized, you will only have to carry a daypack on the trails as Jaimie makes sure your luggage gets to where it needs to. Be surprised by his flawless handling of your logistics!
Bed and Breakfast Hospitality
“The trail is the trail – it’s individual to each person. But there are certain similarities that everyone looks for at the end of the day; a good shower, cold beer, and a nice meal,” explains Sharon, one of the B&B owners and host extraordinaire. Sharon and her husband Alvin are perfect examples of that special Newfoundland hospitality.
They host hikers in unique rooms inside a shipping container! In addition, they also built a hiking community building or ‘canteen’ where people can make lunches, eat breakfast, and gather to socialize. Sharon and Alvin have thought of everything a hiker would want and provides it at their B&B in Port Kirwin; boot dryers, free laundry, fire pits, great views, hot showers, access to locals, plentiful hiking poles, and a ‘mud room’ with every kind of trekking food you can imagine for your breakfast and packed lunch!
You may think in such small villages like Port Kirwan the food would be basic but expect the food to be your biggest surprise. Bring your appetite and sit down to 3 courses on fine china! Sharon serves up local food from the community; the nearby fishermen catch your fish and her neighbours regularly bring fresh strawberries or vegetables to serve her out of town guests.
Sharon cooks and Alvin is the ‘social director’; it’s a match made in hiking heaven. In addition to the great hiking trail views, Sharon and Alvin will be the thing you remember most from your time on the trail.
Empty, Well Maintained Trails
You’ll be surprised by how a trail so incredibly beautiful can be so undiscovered. Expect to see only 4 to 10 other people on the trail the entire day. Despite the lack of people and harshness of the weather, the remote trails are incredibly maintained and marked by the East Coast Trail Association.
Note: Included in your price for the self-guided hikes offered by Great Canadian Trails, $50 goes directly to the ECTA for maintenance of the trails.
This is one special trail and the people who work in conjunction with it are even more memorable. Come be surprised by Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail!