Puffins, Whales, and Coastal Trails: Hiking Newfoundland's East Coast Trail, Canada

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14234A, Lodge

Highlights

  • Hike one of the world's most beautiful long-distance coastal trails
  • Take a Zodiac boat ride to see nesting seabirds and humpback whales up close
  • Kayak beneath the dramatic cliffs of Cape Broyle Bay

Includes

  • Attractive lodging in St. John's
  • All breakfasts, lunches, and trail snacks
  • All on-trip transportation

Details

DatesJul 12–19, 2014
Price$1,975
Deposit$200
Capacity12
StaffMarleen Fouche

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Trip Overview

The Trip

On this trip, we'll be hiking Newfoundland's spectacular East Coast Trail, which hugs the rugged edge of Eastern Canada. The Trail has taken its place among the world’s premier long-distance hiking trails. Our hikes will cover some amazing terrain — dramatic headlands and colorful rock formations, pristine forests and bakeapple bogs, pocket coves and wide sea meadows. There will be good wildflower viewing on all our hikes; we'll even see orchids and pitcher plants.

We'll have beautiful ocean views from the trail, but to get an even closer look we'll take a Zodiac boat trip into the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and see islands teeming with millions of nesting puffins, murres, kittiwakes, petrels, and their chicks. We'll also see minke and humpback whales.

In St. John's, the cosmopolitan capital, we'll walk some of North America's oldest streets, admiring the brightly painted wooden homes that overlook the harbor. Another part of our city tour will take us along the Narrows, the dramatic entrance to St. John's harbor. Newfoundland has rich musical traditions and a wealth of talented musicians; we'll visit pubs in St. John's to hear them perform.

We'll enjoy a guided kayak paddle in Cape Broyle Bay. Novice and experienced paddlers alike will appreciate this unique perspective of the bay's dramatic cliffs, cascading waterfalls, tilted rock formations, and narrow caves. Our guides will help us identify marine life and, with luck, lead us to close-up views of humpback whales, which are normally in the bay during July.

We'll visit Cape Spear, the easternmost point on the North American continent, to tour the 175-year-old restored lighthouse. And at Ferryland, we'll visit the Colony of Avalon Museum and take a tour of the archaeological dig of the colony, which was founded by English settlers in 1621.

Itinerary

Here's the general plan for the week of July 12. The hikes might change due to the weather. For our evenings, there will be music and plays in St. John's that we can attend.

Day 1: We'll meet at noon at The Roses B&B. We'll pack a lunch and then drive to the Cobbler's Path trailhead in Outer Cove. This is one of the loveliest hikes on the East Coast Trail, with sweeping views, sea meadows filled with blue flag iris, and dramatic rock formations and steep cliffs. Distance: 5 miles, with elevation gain. In the evening, we'll walk to a restaurant in St. John's for dinner.

Day 2: We'll drive to Pouch Cove to hike the Cape St. Francis Trail, with great views of the ocean from the headlands and a dramatic waterfall that rushes into the sea at Freshwater. Wildflowers will be out. Distance: 6 miles, with a fair amount of elevation gain. After our hike, well have coffee and cake at the oceanside home of one of the founders of the East Coast Trail. From her comfortable lawn chairs, we’ll enjoy the sounds of the ocean and maybe see a humpback whale or two swim by. Before dinner, we'll walk around St. John's to view its parks and beautiful homes, then walk to the restaurant.

Day 3: Today we'll drive to Witless Bay for a Zodiac boat ride in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve to see humpback whales, which come into the bays with their calves to feed at this time of year. Puffins, murres, kittiwakes, herring gulls, and black-back gulls nest on Gull Island in the Reserve, and we’ll see them at their nests and burrows as we slowly motor along right next to the island. There will also be tens of thousands of them flying overhead. It’s always a great ride. We'll have a picnic lunch on the dock and then drive to our trailhead in Bay Bulls to hike Mickeleens Path. The trail features beautiful coastal forest, red sandstone cliffs and sea stacks, sandy coves, and a lush sea meadow with views of Gull Island and the coastline. Distance: 5 miles, with some inclines. We'll have dinner at The Captain's Table in Witless Bay.

Day 4: We'll drive to Cape Spear and walk to the easternmost point of North America. From there we'll look back toward St. John's and its headlands to admire the magnificent views of the coastline. We'll tour the restored 175-year-old lighthouse, where we can view the excellent displays that re-create what life and work was like for the 19th-century lightkeepers and their families. Then we'll hike the Cape Spear Path out onto the headland. The trail offers open views of the ocean on one side and forest, ponds, and bakeapple bogs on the other. Along the trail we can stop to look at the many low-growing bog plants, including orchids and Newfoundland's official flower, the pitcher plant. Distance: 8 miles, mostly flat. After the hike, we'll drive to Petty Harbour for dinner at Chafe's Landing, then head back to The Roses. That evening, we can take one of St. John’s lively and entertaining guided walks.

Day 5: Today we'll walk from The Roses up to Signal Hill to tour the Geo Centre's outdoor displays of Newfoundland geology and flowers, and then stop in Cabot Tower to learn the history of Marconi's first wireless transatlantic signal, which was sent from that spot. We'll have excellent views of St. John’s below, as well as views of the headlands and Cape Spear in the distance. We'll return to The Roses via a path along the narrows of St. John's harbor and the Battery district. Distance: 3 miles, with elevation gain. The afternoon is free for you to walk around St. John's, visit The Rooms (St. John's excellent art and natural history museum) or the Geo Centre (a museum with educational displays on Newfoundland's geology), stop in a café or pub, or have tea and all the homemade pastries you could possibly eat at the Anglican Church (Tea in the Crypt). You'll have dinner of your choice in St. John’s.

Day 6: After driving to Cape Broyle, we'll kayak with a guide on Cape Broyle Bay and see the bay's dramatic cliffs, cascading waterfalls, tilted rock formations, and narrow caves. Our guides will help us identify the marine life of the bay. After our paddle, we'll drive to Ferryland and take a short walk to the headland for a picnic lunch at the Ferryland lighthouse, a stunning spot with views of the coastline in both directions. We’ll then tour the archaeological dig at the Colony of Avalon, founded in 1621, and visit the museum that contains artifacts from the dig. We'll then return to St. John's. It should be a good night to have dinner at O’Reilley’s Pub on (in)famous George Street and listen to some lively Newfoundland music.

Day 7: Today we'll drive to Flatrock and hike from Flatrock to Pouch Cove. Along the trail, we'll see beautiful bays, sweeping views of the ocean, dramatic rock formations, waterfalls, and a beautiful sea meadow — it's the leader's favorite coastal trail. Distance: 7 miles, with a fair amount of climbing. We'll have our last dinner at Bistro Sophia in St. John's.

Day 8: After breakfast, those who need a ride to the airport should be packed up and ready to leave by 9:30 a.m., when we'll say our goodbyes.

Photos

Details

Getting There

On the first day of the trip, we'll meet at noon at The Roses B&B in downtown St. John's. The taxi ride from the St. John's airport to the B&B takes about 15 minutes and costs approximately $25 Canadian. An email with participant arrival times will be sent out to participants who wish to "cab-pool" from the airport.

St. John's can be reached via nonstop flights from Toronto, Montreal, and Newark. There are also flights from Boston, with a stop in Halifax. A passport is required. For those who wish to drive, there is a car ferry (14 hours) from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Argentia, Newfoundland and then a two-hour drive to St. John's. If you are driving, check on current identification requirements. On the trip, we'll be traveling in minivans, so participants will not need to rent cars.

For lodging the night before the trip (not included in the trip price), it works out well for everyone to stay at The Roses B&B, where we'll be spending our week. That way, you can get settled in early, plus you'll be able to meet everyone over a pleasant breakfast at The Roses on the morning of July 12th. Arriving more than a day before the trip will help you recover from jet lag as well as give you extra time to spend in St. John's. Its brightly painted wooden homes, excellent museums, and many pubs and cafés make for an enjoyable visit.

Your flight on the last day should depart no earlier than noon. We will be glad to drive you to the airport that morning. If you need to schedule an earlier flight, a taxi to the St. John's airport is about $25 Canadian. 

Accommodations and Food

The trip price includes seven nights' lodging in St. John's at The Roses B&B, two restored 19th-century homes located across from a park. The rooms are spacious and attractive, with either a queen bed or two beds in each room. Single individuals will share rooms. From The Roses, we can easily walk to restaurants, shops, and pubs.

Our meals begin with lunch on the first day and end with breakfast on our last day. Breakfasts, lunches, and trail snacks are included in the trip price. We'll all take turns preparing meals and cleaning up afterwards. To sample the local fare, we'll dine out seven nights at moderately priced restaurants. We'll pay individually for these dinners. Those who have special dietary needs should discuss them with the leader before the trip.

Other Costs: The Zodiac boat ride to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and the kayak trip in Cape Broyle Bay are optional and not included in the trip price. The Zodiac trip is $80 Canadian, reduced by $10 if paid in Canadian cash. The guided kayak costs $60 Canadian.

We'll dine out seven nights at moderately priced restaurants. We'll pay individually for these dinners, averaging $30 Canadian, depending on your appetite (excluding alcohol, but including tax and tip). For our last dinner, we'll splurge.

Trip Difficulty

Participants must be in very good physical condition for this trip. On some of the hikes, there will be elevation gains of 1,000 to 2,000 feet. The trails are well defined, but we'll encounter rocky terrain, tree roots, boggy areas, and logs, so hikers must be fit and agile. Most hikes cover 5 to 8 miles at a moderate pace, with enough time to stop and take in the wildlife, sweeping views, and wildflowers (camera and binoculars are recommended).

Equipment and Clothing

Summers in Newfoundland are pleasant, but rainy days are possible, so waterproof raingear and lug-soled, waterproof hiking boots are required for hiking. Dress in St. John's is casual. The leader will send out a complete equipment list to all trip participants.

References

Books:

  • Morgan, Bernice, Random Passage.
  •  Johnston, Wayne, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams.
  • Proulx, Annie, The Shipping News.
  • Hubbard, Mina, A Woman's Way through Unknown Labrador.
  • Wallace, Dillon, The Lure of the Labrador Wild.

Maps:

  • The East Coast Trail Association puts out a set of excellent maps with descriptions of the completed trails. The maps can be purchased from the Trail Shop on its website, at http://www.eastcoasttrail.ca

Websites:

Conservation

In only a few years, the nonprofit East Coast Trail Association has created one of the world's premier long-distance hiking trails. The association has worked closely with communities along the trail, encouraging them to develop accommodations, restaurants, kayak rentals, craft shops, and similar opportunities to boost the local economies, which were hit hard by the demise of the cod fishery. In some areas, the association is encountering land rights issues caused by increased private development of the coast. Whale researchers have encouraged boat tour operators in the bays and coastal areas of the trail to adopt standards for non-harassment of wildlife. We'll learn more about these issues on our trip.

To view photographs and find out more about the East Coast Trail, take a look at the website at http://www.eastcoasttrail.ca

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness. While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Staff

Leader:

Marleen Fouché has led hiking and service trips in Newfoundland for 15 years and knows the area well. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and loves the California coast, yet every year is drawn to Newfoundland’s pristine coastal trails. She has also enjoyed leading backpack trips in California. She views Sierra Club trips as a wonderful way for people to enjoy the solitude of the outdoors but also the companionship of a group.

Assistant Leader:

Paul McKown has led domestic and international Sierra Club Outings since 1991. Paul is an avid photographer and many of his on-trip photographs appear in Sierra and other publications. Paul's favorite eastern hiking destination is the Smoky Mountains and he loves to share his favorite hikes with enthusiastic trip members.

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