Trails of Newfoundland Part 1: St. John’s and the Avalon Peninsula

Near the end of the promontory on Cobbler’s Path (East Coast Trail near Torbay)

The island of Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada is a unique place. Two of the highlights of Newfoundland are Gros Morne National Park and L’Anse aux Meadows historic site. However, we were impressed by a number of sights all around the province. Many of them wind their way along the coast with the ocean as a stunning backdrop to the rocky cliffs and shores. During our trip through Newfoundland we did our best to follow as much of the coastline as we could as we explored the province.

The capital of St. John’s is situated on the eastern side of the province on the Avalon Peninsula. Even without leaving this one part of the province, hikers can access the extensive East Coast Trail,with 336 kilometres (209 miles) of trails to enjoy. The trails runs all the way down the eastern coast with impressive views throughout. Here are a few of the highlights of our time on the peninsula.

Three of our stops around St. John’s. We went to the end of the finger of land on Cobbler’s Path Trail

The day started overcast as we went up to Signal Hill. Overlooking the city of St. Johns, this was the site of the last battle of the Seven Year’s War, when a French force surrendered to the British in 1762. Much later, Cabot Tower on Signal Hill was the place where Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless transmission in 1901.

Looking toward Cabot Tower

Accessible from the Signal Hill parking lot, the North Head trail goes 1.7 km and takes about 90 minutes to do. There are a number of stairs to descend almost 500 feet from the top of the hill.

Part of the trail in the distance
The views were great

Although we descended to a flatter area we were still on high cliffs overlooking the ocean. Newfoundland lives up to its nickname of “The Rock.”

The chairs were nice, and could be found at National Park and Historic sites throughout the province
Going towards the other side, more of those red chairs can be seen in the distance at the edge of the cliff
A different viewpoint
Looking back towards St. Johns

Next, we went a little south of St. John’s. Cape Spear is the Easternmost point in Canada and North America. It was originally named Cabo da Esperança by the Portuguese and Cap d’Espoir by the French, both meaning “Cape of Hope.”

We’ve been to the most southern point in Canada as well (Point Pelee National Park in Ontario) but not to the two points to the extreme west and far north.

There is a section of the East Coast Trail that goes along Cape Spear for 9.3-kilometres (5.8 miles) and includes side trails. We didn’t go far owing to the wet and chilly weather, but it was a nice walk.

Trail along Cape Spear

With better weather the next day, we went north from St. Johns, visiting a number of beaches including Middle and Outer Cove. It’s a nice drive north of the city.

Outer Cove Beach
Outer Cove Beach from the trail

Part of a 6.4 km (4 mile) trail, Cobbler’s Path is a back trail near Outer Cove beach. It starts high along the treeline and extends along the coast, but you can also take a detour down to the point. It became one of the highlights of our trip as went went from the high cliffs down a steep promontory towards the rough seas of the Atlantic.

At the fork in the trail going down to the point

It took some time to get to the bottom and the descent wasn’t always gradual, but we had great views all the way down.

Looking back the way we had come
As close to the edge as I was willing to go

Although the trail along the top was more travelled, we only passed one couple during our side trip down to the ocean, and had the spot mostly to ourselves. The views were spectacular and the sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks set against a blue horizon were sublime. We had to go all the way back up, but it was well worth it.

Going south from St. John’s, we travelled towards La Manche Provincial Park. We passed through a number of small towns along the way as well as enjoying views of the ocean from time to time.

The park was about an hour south of St. John’s
Tors Cove near the park

After parking we did the first part of the hike on a trail through the forest. It was generally flat and easy. The 6.4-kilometre (4.0 mi) hike past the bridge takes 2–3 hours as it passes through the La Manche Provincial Park. The park includes a 50-metre (160 ft) suspension bridge at the site of the abandoned village site of La Manche. It used to be a small fishing community but was abandoned and resettled following the destruction of its original bridge from hurricane waves in 1966. The earlier suspension bridge linked the community with a neighbouring one.

From a fork in the main trail, the suspension bridge trail went towards the ocean. After a time we saw the foundations of ruined houses here and there.

A tributary that fed into the La Manche River
More remains of La Manche village. Watching the morning sunrise from this house would have been spectacular
The La Manche river ending at the ocean
La Manche bridge. The original was destroyed by waves during a hurricane
Part of the East Coast Trail network, the trail continued north along the ocean, going through coves and small fishing villages

With well-maintained trails throughout the coastline, the Avalon Peninsula was a solid start to the trip. In part two, the drive will take us northwestward towards the northern coast of Newfoundland.

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