Hiking the Avalon and Bonavista Peninsulas

Mary Smyth and Fred Hollingshurst , Authors, 52 Great Hikes

Completing all of the hikes of the East Coast trail would be a lofty, but hopeful achievable goal. As we traveled for work, or on vacations, we quickly realized that this province is criss -crossed with trails of every description, all begging to be explored. Coastal, inland, difficult, flat, remote, rural, urban. When we started hiking, we figured, "blue", mapped, unmapped, traditional, newly created, with cultural and historic significance or not, there seems to be no end to the number or variety. Yet all have a common thread in that they add to our enjoyment of the natural environment of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Many factors affect the way we experience a trail: weather, seasons, the direction you are going, the companions you are with, vegetation, wildlife etc. Every year we marvel at the pattern of Nature renewing herself. The first signs of greenery sprouting from the forest floor, then the appearance of the bunchberry blossoms, followed by the berries themselves, all create a familiar pattern that never ceases to amaze. To everything there is a season, whether it be fiddleheads, icebergs, buttercups, humpbacks, capelin, wild roses, autumn leaves, or winter snow. As we walk these trails, we begin to realize our connection to them. There is something reassuring in just knowing we can share in these natural cycles even though they exist irrespective of us.

The book, 52 Great Hikes, is an excellent guide for those that want a short one-hour hike, or those that intent to spend several days on the trails. What is very unique to the Avalon and Bonavista Peninsula is that both types of trails exist within a short walk or drive from the urban centres. The book is a great at summarizing the most spectacular trails in a manner that is useful to all hikers. It is possible to augment a day's outing with a spectacular hike- every day of your trip. 52 Great Hikes makes it possible, and easy.

Anyone who has ever visited the rugged, wind-scoured Atlantic coastline of Newfoundland will retain vivid images of its stark beauty forever. Barren headlands thinly covered by low vegetation, hundred meter-high cliffs continuously pounded by massive waves, and picturesque fishing villages, nestled in tiny coves to protect them from the unforgiving elements, are some of the sights that will be indelibly imprinted in your mind.

Incredibly, and without much national fanfare, a 220-km hiking trail, the East Coast Trail, has been completed that traces this extraordinary coastline from the provincial capital, St. John's, south toward Cape Race. Some paths are easy strolls through communities, some have bridges and boardwalks to ease the way, and some will test the most fit hiker, requiring traversing steep slopes, hopping from rock to rock, or traveling extended stretches between services.

Many of the communities linked by the Trail provide modern conveniences of accommodations, dining and entertainment, but the majority of the Trail is a wilderness paradise of boreal forest, fresh clean air and quiet solitude, almost entirely within view of the rugged Atlantic Ocean. If the time is right, a humpback whale might break the surface of the North Atlantic and blow in the distance while a bald eagle soars overhead. Icebergs visit in season and seabirds abound.

The East Coast Trail allows visits to forgotten communities and abandoned settlements, lighthouses and ecological reserves, historic sites a 50-metre suspension bridge at historic Lamanche village, and a modern archaeological dig on a 17th century fishing settlement founded by Lord Baltimore.

There are scheduled hikes that you can participate in. See the Schedule Hikes section of the East Coast Trail website at http://www.eastcoasttrail.com .

There are some great trails located in and around St. John's, Heart's Delight, and Bonavista. In St. John's, two trails, the North Head trail, and the Grand Concourse, intersect just stops away from Hipditch House. The North Head Trail "loop" can be done in forty-five minutes, and takes you up to spectacular views atop of Signal Hill. This is a great way to start every morning while staying at Hipditch House in St. John's. Just twenty minutes drive from Hipditch House is Cape Spear, which has a number of awesome hiking options, including a 4.5 km hike from Blackhead to Cape Spear Lighthouse, and a 11.5 km hike from Cape Spear Lighthouse to Maddox Cove and Petty Harbour.

In Heart's Delight you can hike up Which Hazel Hill, or hike the coastline to nearby towns. In Bonavista, you can hike the nearby spectacular Skerwink Trail. This trail was selected as one of the top 35 walks in North America and Europe by Travel and Leisure Magazine World's Best Awards issue. You will see spectacular geology, sea stacks, seabirds, whales, icebergs and beaches. The trail follows a historic footpath and offers panoramic views of Trinity. 52 Great Hikes comment on the Skerwink." The town of Trinity with its rich history. The well-preserved architecture and beautiful natural setting also appeals to filmmakers who chose it for a shooting location for The Shipping News. But after enjoying Trinity, hikers will want to move on to the nearby outport of Trinity East to walk one of the finest trails on the entire Island. An old rail bed leads out to Robin Hood Bay, which is full of sea stacks that go by such names as Naked Man, Flat Fish, and Music Box. At times, trails wind so close to the cliff edge that you can't help feeling you are being embraced by the high cliffs and deep coves. The sparkling blue-green water washes on to beaches fifteen or twenty meters below".

Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve located on the Cape Shore, also offers the opportunity to combine a day of sightseeing with some great hikes. From 52 Great Hikes comments. " It is no surprise that Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve has won the prestigious Attractions Canada National Award as Best natural Outdoor Site. The seabird colony is truly one of the island's greatest spectacles. We have included two chapters on this area because Bird Rock is not the only reason to make the journey down the Cape Shore. The hiking here is superb. There is a kind of magic surrounding this place. Driving along the Placentia Bay coast you pass scenery reminiscent of the coast of Ireland, with mystical, mist-shrouded islands far out in the bay. The panoramic views are breath taking. Tuckamore hugs the rocky cliffs, and rivers meander to the sea in peaceful valleys. You will leave a changed person."

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