On the eastern fringe of Canada, where the rough-and-tumble Atlantic Ocean meets the hard rock and good people of Newfoundland and Labrador, there exists a remarkable hiking trail.
The East Coast Trail is long—540 kilometres—yet is parcelled into manageable day hikes. It follows one coastline, but delivers gobsmackingly varied terrain. It feels remote, yet runs so close to the city of St. John’s and between smaller communities that accommodations and eateries are never far away.
At present, the trail boasts 24 paths that are properly signed, mapped and maintained to international hiking standards. Some paths are easy-peasy strolls through stunted boreal forests and along elevated boardwalks; others are more rugged climbs across weather-lashed headlands and alongside towering sea cliffs. Sights along the trail include lighthouses, national historic sites, ecological reserves, an archaeological dig, sea stacks, waterfalls and, on a good day, whales and icebergs cruising by.
Here are seven walk-worthy sights, and the names of the ECT paths on which you’ll find them.
Quidi Vidi Village
The postcard-perfect harbour at Quidi Vidi (pronounced kiddy viddy), within St. John’s, anchors one end of Sugarloaf Path, an 8.9-km trail. Take in views of Cape Spear, North America’s most-eastern point of land, then descend to the village for a taste of Iceberg Beer at Quidi Vidi Brewery.
The Narrows of St. John’s Harbour
St. John’s punchbowl harbour is dramatic. Hike the 7.2-km section of Deadmans Bay Path from the Freshwater Bay parking lot to Fort Amherst to experience killer views of Signal Hill and Fort Amherst.
You are going to work hard to see the sea stack called The Pulpit and wave-driven geyser known as The Spout. Spout Path, from Shoal Bay to Bay Bulls and including the access trail, is 22.9 km long, the lengthiest and most strenuous of the ECT paths.
O’Brien’s Whale and Bird Tours
Enjoy a cliff-hugging hike along Mickeleens Path (7.3 km), then board an O’Brien’s tour boat for a visit to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, home to millions of seabirds, including North America’s largest Atlantic Puffin colony.
La Manche Suspension Bridge
“There are things we will never see, unless we walk to them,” says the plaque mounted at one end of the 50-metre-long pedestrian suspension bridge on the La Manche Village Path. Multiple trails lead to the abandoned La Manche village and bridge.
Stan Cook Sea Kayak Adventures
Your arms and belly will ache from all the laughing on a Stan Cook kayak trip out of Cape Broyle. After your excursion to sea caves, ask Stan to drop you at the 6.5-km Brigus Head Path trailhead and hike over forested headlands from Brigus South to Admirals Cove.
Watch archaeologists excavating the 17th-century Colony of Avalon, then walk down a rocky path to the Ferryland Lighthouse. Lighthouse Picnics will hand you a basket for lunch on the dramatic headland. Extend your walk by joining the 5.5-km Sounding Hills Path to Aquaforte.
WestJet flies to St. John’s five times a day from Calgary, Toronto and Halifax. WestJet flies to Deer Lake twice daily from Toronto.