You’ve heard of the Pacific Coast Trail, the West Coast Trail, and the Appalachian Trail in North America. But do you know about Canada’s East Coast Trail in Newfoundland? It’s a hiking trail you’ve likely never heard of, but it’s one of Canada’s Great hikes.
Table of Contents:
- What is the East Coast Trail in Canada?
- What will you see on the ECT?
- My Experience Hiking with Great Canadian Trails on the ECT
- 4 of the Best Hikes on the East Coast Trail
- How Difficult is the East Coast Trail?
- East Coast Trail Accommodations
- What do you eat along the ECT?
- Other Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking the East Coast Trail
What is the East Coast Trail in Canada?
The East Coast Trail is a series of 26 rugged hiking paths totaling over 186 miles along the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. The coastline which is home to the trails was ranked the world’s top coastal destination in 2016 by National Geographic.
Some people hike the entire trail, but I didn’t have the time available to do that. Instead, I did do a sampling of the trail with Great Canadian Trails self-guided hikes. They offer a “taste of the trail” in less than a week! This 6-day taster will take you to the picturesque fishing village of Quidi Vidi, Signal Hill, hiking to dramatic Berry Head sea arch, while you also enjoy Cape Spear Path at the most easterly point of the continent, and finally it will test you on the rugged Flamber Head Path. These are some of the best hikes of the entire trail, and you’ll have a well-rounded experience on the trail in only a week. Plus, all of the logistics will be taken care of so you can just enjoy the trail.
What Will You See on the ECT?
I was out on the trail with my friend Caroline and Rob, a videographer who was doing a video on the hike. The East Coast Trail video he produced is the perfect answer to what you’ll see when hiking the ECT.
While tackling the East Coast Trail, you’ll be exposed to the culture as you hike through and stay in small communities. The Newfoundland culture is one of the highlights of the whole experience! You’ll also see wildlife like whales, seals, and various birds, and if your timing is right, you may even see icebergs floating down iceberg alley!
Map of the East Coast Trail
My Experience Hiking with Great Canadian Trails on the ECT
We did the 6 day trip which included 4 days of hiking about 37 miles. The 6 day East Coast Trail trip ensures that you do some of the most iconic hikes. It included a diversity of terrains, but all were quite challenging. This was just a portion of the overall trail – but it was enough to give me an idea of what it was all about.
Since it’s not possible to do the East Coast Trail as a true thru hike staying in different villages each night – you tend to be in lodging where you can have a home base. You do 2 or 3 hikes from that home base, and Great Canadian Trails provides transportation to/from the trailhead and move luggage when necessary. This means you can use a day pack only and greatly lightening the load of a backpack on this self-guided hike!
Great Canadian Trails offers 6 and 10 day self-guided hikes on the East Coast Trail. Maps are provided along with a detailed itinerary of pickups and some history of each spot. In addition, they provide a Garmin device to each group who books with them so that the driver knows where they are and can coordinate pickups – it’s a very good feeling knowing someone knows where you are when you are doing self-guided hikes!
Book a Self Guided East Coast Trail Hike and get $50 off!
Just use Promo Code: OTTSWORLD50 at checkout!
4 of the Best Hikes on the East Coast Trail
As I said, this self-guided trip is a great way to do some of the best hikes along the East Coast Trail if you only have a week! Here’s what it includes.
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Quidi Vidi Loop Hike – St. Johns
Length: (5.5‐7.5 miles, 3‐4HRS, +/‐190M)
What you’ll see: This was a day of urban hiking, headlands, fishing villages, and plenty of historical monuments!
We started our hike along the East Coast Trail right from our B&B in the heart of St. John’s! It’s said that St. John’s is a city perched on the edge of nature – and we experienced that as we ‘urban hiked’ through the city and up into the headlands where you totally forget there is any civilization nearby!
It didn’t take us long to walk out of the city via river and lake trails dropping us right in the fishing village of Quidi Vidi (pronounced Kiddy Viddy). This colorful fishing village is located in a bay surrounded by the headlands. But instead of getting ‘lured’ into the fishing village (ha…see what I did there?!) we kept hiking up into the Bawden Highlands following the signs for the East Coast Trail. We went up, up, up until we reached the cliff and could look out on the Atlantic Ocean! This was our first taste of the spectacular views this trail provides. We were up so high on the sea cliffs you could see pods of whales swimming under water feeding!
We came back down into Quidi Vidi and stopped there to explore and have a delicious fish and chips lunch and continued on the trail towards Signal Hill towards some of the best views of the city. We looped back around the North Head Trail around Signal Hill and the Battery where we accidentally a happened upon a reenactment of troops and canons! This was one of many great places to take a break, drink some water, and learn about history along this trail! This part of the route also gives you the best views of the narrow inlet into St. Johns harbor.
From the battery we hiked back down into the town and right back to the front door of our B&B!
Berry Head Hike/ Spurwink Island Path
Length: 10 miles; aprox 6‐9 hrs
What you’ll see: Sea cliffs, Berry Head arch, beaches, and waterfalls
Quidi Vidi was just a warm up for this hike! We left the city behind and arrived in the tiny settlement of Port Kirwin, population 22. We started the hike from our B&B and followed the recommendation of host Sharon and did this hike as an out and back. It was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for hiking and photography! This was proper hiking – 10 miles of hiking up and down the coast on rugged and sometimes quite muddy path. Luckily many times the muddy/low lying areas had boards over the path to walk over the waterlogged areas.
We hiked out of Port Kirwin past barn and big open fields. Soon we were in the trees with rolling hills and then suddenly you’d pop out of the trees and find that you were on the cliff with beautiful views or on an expansive beach! Bald Head was a treeless area with incredible views and was a good spot to rest.
We stopped at the waterfall to dip our feet into the cold water and enjoy the view with our lunch. The waterfall spilled right out into the ocean and was probably the nicest lunch spot I had all year! The trails continued to wind in and out of forests until we suddenly popped out of the trees and saw it – Berry Head.
This natural rock arch was even more spectacular than its pictures. I was in awe of its size and beauty. After taking a number of photos, we turned around and headed back to the B&B at Port Kirwin. We only saw 2 other hikers this entire time!
Flamber Head Hike
Length: 10 miles, 6 to 9 hrs.
What you’ll see: Suspension Bridge, campsites, sea cliffs, Flamber Head, and a fishing village
This was my hardest hike we did on the East Coast Trail; 10 miles of rugged trail along the coast. I tried to distract myself from the obstacle course that they called the trail today by figuring out what the word Flamber meant. After 10 miles and asking all the locals I met – I still didn’t know what Flamber meant! However, I did accomplish a great hike with super scenery and plenty of challenges for my hiking muscles and mind! This region is completely stunning!
Our B&B host Sharon dropped us off at La Manche and picked us up in the fishing village of Brigus South. We started hiking in La Manche Provencial Park and got distracted for quite some time at the cool suspension bridge there! We hiked the undulating forested trail until we came to the beautiful Flamber Head where we stopped for lunch for some great views despite the foggy day.
The 2nd half of the trail was significantly harder with so much twisting and turning and up and down. At times it felt more like a maze. You’d turn one dense corner of forest to see 6 feet in front of you and another turn. There were some points where it was so steep or washed out that I had to descend on my butt! We finally popped out of the forest and had a short walk to Brigus South where we learned there were no bars. If there was ever a day where I needed a cold beer at the end of the hike…it was today! And like the previous day, the trail was pretty quiet, we only saw about 4 groups of hikers, and they all appeared to be locals.
Cape Spear to Petty Harbor
Length: 7 miles, aprox. 4 to 6 hrs
What You’ll See: Eastern point of North America, lighthouse, sea cliffs, wildflowers, birds, fishing village, and ice cream!
Our last day of hiking took us to the eastern most point of North America – Cape Spear! We spent most of the hike right on the edge of the coast watching the waves crash in and the birds soar around us. It was a pretty moody and chilly day, but the rain held off until we arrived in Petty Harbor – what timing!
We enjoyed the area around the lighthouse taking in the history of Cape Spear and enjoying the views. This is a pretty trafficked area to start in, but it doesn’t take long to walk away from the visitors by the lighthouse and soon you’ll be all alone on top of the sea cliffs! The first half of the hike was barren with no trees. But there were plenty of birds and views to keep you occupied. This was also an area with lots of wildflowers and pitcher plants.
However, the 2nd half of the trail was quite different than the first. You enter into a dense forest and do more up and down on more rugged trails. The temperatures dropped fast as the rain started to fall right as we were walking into Petty Harbor. It was a great feeling finishing this 4th day of hard hiking!
Our driver, Jaimie, planned to pick us up at popular ice cream shop in Petty Harbor that he raved about. He knew all about my love of ice cream! That day we started at eastern most point of North America and finished at the most calorie filled point in all of North America….Tinkers ice cream shop. Tinkers is know for their over-the-top incredible/insane shakes that include an ice cream sandwich, big cookie, chunks of cheesecake, and an entire ice cream cone on top! Even though I had just finished hiking 37 miles for the last 4 days – I decided to go with a few less calories than one of the shakes, I chose the homemade ice cream sandwich instead.
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How Difficult is the East Coast Trail?
Difficulty is subjective, however Great Canadian Trails rates the East Coast Trail as ‘Introductory/Moderate’. I personally would rate it as moderate. The primary challenge is in the ruggedness of the trails. There are a lot of short ups and downs and it can be steep in some areas. In fact, more than once I was scooting down on my butt due to steep erosion!
Altitude is not a problem and there are no days on this itinerary where you are summiting a peak. It’s a rolling terrain.
I personally think some of the hardest part is the longer distances (10 miles a day) when you want to stop frequently to take pictures of the stunning coastline! You will have to make sure you stay within reasonable time and know what time it gets dark.
I spent a lot of time looking down watching my step due to the numerous mud pits, boulders, water traps, and tree roots. But I didn’t want to spend all of my time looking down at the trail, I wanted to see the nice views! If you want to take in the views I found that it’s best to stop hiking and look at the landscape; and then continue on.
Because I was always looking down at the trail, I noticed a lot of little things – like small flowers, the sponginess of the ground, how white the big rocks were, the bites taken out of the cracker berry flowers. I love noticing these little things that people seldom pay attention to.
The trail will definitely challenge you, but in a great way!
Book a Self Guided East Coast Trail Hike and get $50 off!
Just use Promo Code: OTTSWORLD50 at checkout!
East Coast Trail Accommodations
If you love thru hikes where you have nice beds to stay in, then put the East Coast Trail on your list! The Great Canadian Trails self-guided multi day hike accommodations were different than other thru-hikes I’ve done. Instead of hiking from place to place and staying at the endpoints, often you stayed at one B&B for a few nights at a time. I enjoyed staying at a B&B for multiple nights and having transportation to the various trail heads! This also meant that I was able to hike with just a day pack instead of a bigger backpack!
During my 6 days in Newfoundland, I stayed in two different B&B’s. Both were incredibly welcoming, and comfortable. However, the B&B in Port Kirwin that Great Canadian Trails uses was special; going above and beyond in so many ways.
If you could imagine a perfect place to stay for trekkers, you would imagine this: comfy beds, great food, and endless beer!
Now imagine that plus all of these perks: a hot tub, unique places to sleep (I slept in a remodeled container!), 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! (including ice cream sandwiches fully stocked in the freezer!) Plus – there was hours of laughter and fun with the amazing hosts Sharon and Alvin!
This was hiking accommodation perfection!
After spending 3 nights in my little container room eating incredible food, I talked to Sharon and Alvin about why they started this business and how they started working with Great Canadian Trails.
There are only 22 people in the community and Sharon explained that they are delighted to have people here visiting the area.
It was clear that the community welcomed us. As we sat outside enjoying a conversation and time off our feet, everyone who drove by Sharon’s house beeped and waved even though we were complete strangers!
“The hikers love it. They love the trails and there’s lots of flexibility here for them,” remarked Sharon. “I love that they come here and I love that they love it here!”
It’s good to remain flexible when hiking this trail, Sharon is always checking the weather and wind forecasts and provides advice on which trails are good in what type of weather as well as difficulty of trails, so you can switch around your itinerary. For example, she knew that we should walk the Berry Head trail first because high winds were forecasted the 2nd day and we would be more protected on the Flamber Head Trail that day.
Sharon and Alvin started the trekking focused B&B in 2015 after they remodeled the house in 2014. This was Sharon’s childhood home, and she remembers the house being very busy socially. Her mother was a musician and her father was a dancer. There was always music, there was always alcohol, and it was always full of people; she wanted to recreate that feeling in the house. Plus, the house is located right on the path for the trailhead, it was the perfect place to get people prepared and on the trail.
“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,” she remarked.
They have a couple of rooms they rent out in the house, but the demand was high so they built 2 more units in a shipping container. Suddenly, people wanted to stay in the shipping container because it was a different! They also built a little building that served as a hiking community building or ‘canteen’ where people could make lunches, eat breakfast, and gather to socialize. There was another room rental in that building too.
But at the end of the day, she wanted people come together for a really good meal. Like the plat du jour concept in France where you don’t really know what you are getting, but you know it’ll be good.
Good is an understatement, Sharon was an incredible cook making some of the best 3 course trekking dinners I’ve ever had served on her family’s fine china. (see more on Food below)
I think one important thing to know is that Sharon and Alvin are well traveled – and in my book that’s one of the things that make them such exceptional hosts and people.
“If you don’t have fun there ( at Alvin and Sharon’s), there’s something wrong with you” —our driver Jaime
What do you eat along the ECT?
Breakfasts are provided by the accommodation. They are hearty and great for hikers!
The bed and breakfast normally also provide a packed lunch for you. Or at Sharon’s we had access to a stocked hiker’s kitchen and made our own packed lunch and chose our own snacks.
For dinner, if you are in a town, you can go to dinner at a nearby restaurant. But if you are in an area where there are no restaurants, like Port Kirwin, then the accommodation will provide dinner. But you would never guess that you were in a small community along the remote coast; you feel like you are in an expensive restaurant!
- An example of a dinner at Sharon’s:
- Mango salad with fresh crab avocado and a siracha lime dressing
- Gazpacho withj pineapple bruschetta
- Coconut crusted cod with glazed carrots and apple sweet potatoes
- Lemon yogurt cake with blueberries and ice cream
In addition, she serves up local food from the community. She talks to the local fisherman at the dock outside her house and they go out at night and get her fish. The neighbors regularly bring fresh strawberries or vegetables to serve her out of town guests. And the little local market now carries avocados thanks to her!
And she can handle any dietary requirements you throw at her!
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Other Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking the East Coast Trail
How safe is the East Coast Trail?
For the self guided hikes offered by Great Canadian Trails, a Garmin emergency communication device run on satellite is provided for each hiking group. Many of the trails are remote and quite wooded, so it provides the ultimate peace of mind. Our driver, Jamie, had access to the GPS tracking and knows where people are.
Maps are also provided along with a detailed itinerary of pickups and logistics.
“The most important link you have here (on the trail) is Jaime. He’s not going to let anyone down. He’s literally on 24 hours. He will get back to you immediately. He’s so obliging – people love him.” -Sharon
There was never a time where I felt like I was in danger or isolated. And if one of would have tripped and twisted an ankle or something went wrong, we always knew we could get in touch with Jamie on the Garmin. We’d check in with him regularly during the hike.
Of course you do need to respect the trail warnings. The trails go along high sea-cliffs and occasionally there is erosion that can be dangerous. If there are read flags or a trail is marked off – then don’t go!
What’s the best time of year to hike the East Coast Trail?
The trail is really only accessible in the summer months. We were there in mid-July and the weather was perfect! Because Newfoundland is so far north, their summers are still rather cool and they are short. They best times are likely between July and mid-August for temperatures and weather. However if you are a cooler weather hiker like myself – September is a perfect time to be there!
However, if you want to see icebergs along the trail, then you’ll want to be there in May or June. These are the best times to see icebergs floating along iceberg alley! They will come drifting (very slowly) right by the trail in many places!
If whale watching while hiking is your goal, there will be many opportunities to do that! Whales are most frequently seen between June and August. They migrate north in the warmer months.
I was really lucky because when I was there, we had no issues with black flies or mosquitoes. However, if you read Newfoundland travel forums, you hear horror stories of black flies at all times of the summer. I tried to find out if one time was worse than another, but it’s not clear. I would guess earlier in the summer would be the time they would be in abundance; however it depends on weather and temperatures. Regardless – be prepared for those pesky insects!
How well is the trail marked?
The trail is well marked with various markers and signs. The more remote you are, the easier it is to find your way in my opinion. The more traveled routes such as Quidi Vidi and the Bawden Highlands had numerous trails that you chose from because more people wander out there and it becomes a network of sinewy paths. But a hike like Berry Head or Flamber Head is very obvious where the trail goes within the dense foliage.
For areas that are more open, you will find signage in various places. Unlike many long distance hikes I’ve been on, the East Coast Trail didn’t really have a standard sign/symbol it used. Trail markers took many different forms on the different trails. However, that didn’t seem to hinder me in finding my way.
There were also always signs for scenic outlooks and various sites along the trail which was helpful.
One of my most memorable moments was the first day of the hike in St. Johns when we were in the city and trying to find our way to the creek trail. It was raining and we had out our map trying to figure out our way; we looked lost. A man in a car stopped in the middle of the crosswalk and rolled down his window. He asked if he could help. As the traffic backed up behind him, he explained how to get down to the creek trail we were looking for. No one beeped behind him, everyone was respectful. This is just one of many examples I could share about the locals and how helpful they were. They welcome visitors with open arms and want to ensure you enjoy your time in Newfoundland.
Even though the trails were marked well making it pretty easy to find your way, remember you will also get the Garmin emergency device as well as a whole booklet of detailed maps from Great Canadian Trails.
Does it Cost Anything to Hike the East Coast Trail?
There are no fees or special permits needed to hike the trails. However, it’s always good to consider donating to the East Coast Trail Association. The Association is responsible for maintaining the trails – and after you are out on them and see how rugged they are – you realize just how challenging they would be to maintain. Kudos to the ECTA for the great work they do. They deserve funding!
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. It’s so important to give back to the areas you utilize!
How do you get to the trailheads?
The beauty of the self-guided trip by Great Canadian Trails is that they handle all of the logistics and transportation. The trail is not conducive to a typical thru-hike where you go from village to village. Instead, your driver or B&B owner will drop you and pick you up from trailheads each day.
Recommended Gear for the East Coast Trail
As part of this self-guided East Coast Trail itinerary, your luggage is also moved when necessary. However, many times you’ll stay at the same accommodation for a few nights so your luggage will simply stay there as you take a daypack for the hike! This is one of the things I loved about this long-distance hike, it only requires a day pack!
Do you need hiking boots?
Yes! The trails were often muddy and rocky, so I highly recommend proper, broken-in hiking boots. I also strongly recommend gaiters to handle the mud and some hiking poles for balance.
What size backpack is best?
A daypack is all you will need around 25-40L. It should be able to carry rain gear, layers, first aid kit, snacks, water, and maps.I used my Opsrey Sirrus 24 Women’s Hiking Backpack and it was perfect for my hikes. I also used my Cotton Carrier to hold my camera and keep it easily accessible while I hiked.
Recommended Gear I used:
- Opsrey Daypack
- Hiking Poles
- Boot Gaiters
- First Aid Kit
- Wind/Rain Jacket
- Rain Pants
- Cotton Carrier for Camera
See my complete list of recommended hiking gear based on years of testing and hiking around the world!
Is it safe to hike alone?
Yes, you can walk the East Coast Trail solo. I didn’t this time, but I met other people who were. There’s not much traffic on the trails, so you must be prepared that you will be on your own most of the time. However, the nice thing about staying in B&B’s is that you often meeting other hikers and can build friendships.
For safety, Great Canadian Trails provides you with a Garmin device so you are never really alone or out of reach of contacting someone if something does happen.
Can you transport your luggage?
Yes. Your luggage is moved by Jamie who does all of your transportation for the Great Canadian Trails.
Can you do your laundry along the trail?
Yes. Many of the B&B’s will offer laundry. They will do it for you or they’ll give you access to their laundry room. This just goes to show you how friendly most of the hosts are along the trail in Newfoundland!
Are there bathroom facilities on the trail?
There are normally bathrooms at trailheads, however there aren’t really bathrooms along the trail in most places. If you are urban hiking, like our first day in St. John’s, then bathrooms are easy to find. But when you are in more remote places, you’ll have to use a bush!
Is there Internet connectivity?
Connectivity via cell signal was intermittent. However the B&B’s had internet connectivity, so you won’t be offline long…unless you want to be!
Where can I buy East Coast Trail Maps?
You can of course buy maps in Newfoundland, but if you want to examine them before you go and learn more about the trail – you can try this East Coast Trail guide.
In addition, Great Canadian Trails will supply you with really detailed maps too when you book!
How do you go About Hiking the Entire Trail?
Great Canadian trails doesn’t offer a way to do the entire trail, but if you are determined to do it – then check out this extremely thorough website that will help you organize your trip.
Other Newfoundland Hikes
Great Canadian Trails also does offer other hikes in Newfoundland that are really unique such as Gros Morne Adventure, Gros Morne Sampler and Long Range Traverse as guided hikes. The OTTSWORLD50 $50 off discount will apply for those too! See all of their Newfoundland hikes here!
Overall – the East Coast Trail is a great self-guided thru hike to do that is different, relatively close in North America, and only takes a week! The window of hiking may be small in Newfoundland, but the benefits on this unique hike are BIG!
Book a Self Guided East Coast Trail Hike and get $50 off!
Just use Promo Code: OTTSWORLD50 at checkout!
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I was a guest of Great Canadian Trails for this hike, however all opinions expressed here are my own.
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