Hike Town, Country and Coastline

The Avalon Peninsula offers a multitude of hiking and walking opportunities, ranging from a gentle stroll around a small lake in St. John's a to a multi-day coastal trail for the serious – and fit – hiker. For walkers, the Grand Concourse in St. John's and nearby communities provides an extensive and well-maintained trail system that criss-crosses the city, from hilltop and river valley to parks and downtown. For the serious hiker, the East Coast Trail is both a challenge and a journey of discovery into the heart of Irish Newfoundland. There are many more trails all over the region, and a bit of research prior to arriving will give you an idea of the variety available.

Day 1 – Cityscapes

Arrive at St. John's International Airport and transfer to your accommodation. It's recommended you book at least the first and last night's accommodations and car rentals well in advance. Baggage transfers are available between accommodations on the East Coast Trail. Spend the first day exploring this old seaport's downtown, which is a great way to stretch your legs because there are so many hills. Among them is Signal Hill, accessible either by road or a breathtaking trail that winds around the hill and through the colourful Battery neighbourhood. After enjoying the sweeping ocean and city views, head back downtown for supper, followed by a night of music in one of the city's many pubs and clubs.

Day 2 – Whales, birds and trails

This morning we hit the road for a 30-minute drive to Bay Bulls and a boat tour of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Here you will see an amazing number of seabirds such as puffins, murres and kittiwakes, and a few of the thousands of humpback and minke whales that compete with the birds for a share of the bountiful fish in the area.

After lunch, we head south again to the tiny community of Bauline East for a short walk on the East Coast Trail. The first part of the trail climbs a steep hill, and then passes through coastal woods to the abandoned community of La Manche. This is a real gem. Until the mid-1960s when a storm washed away the marine infrastructure, people had lived and fished here for centuries. The name La Manche is French for “the sleeve,” which aptly describes the small, steep-sided harbour. All that remains now are the foundations of the houses and a few abandoned root cellars. The old townsite is connected to the trail by a new bridge that replaced an older structure whose support cables are still visible.

There are several options for continuing the walk. One is to simply retrace the path to Bauline East. Another is to walk back part of the way and then detour to La Manche Provincial Park with its varied habitat and vegetation in the valley of the same name. It's a good place to watch birds. Another option is to follow the former road to the village back to Route 10 and walk back along the road to the park and Bauline East. The third option is to continue walking south to Brigus South, a six-hour, moderate-to-difficult 14-km trek from the old village.

We'll take option two and walk back to the car with a side trip to the park.

End the day in Ferryland, the unofficial capital of the Irish Shore, where we take in a dinner theatre production and spend the night.

Day 3 – Past Tinker's Point and Pilot Gulch

Today we do some real hiking. We leave Ferryland and drive north to Route 11 and follow that east to Maddox Cove where we pick up a portion of the East Coast Trail known as Cape Spear Path. It runs 11.5 km along the coast from Maddox Cove to Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America. The walk should take about five hours on this moderate trail. We have the proper gear, have notified friends where we are and when we're expected to arrive, and that we'll meet them at Cape Spear National Historic Site.

Among our gear is the handbook Hiking the East Coast Trail guidebook number one, which includes detailed maps and wonderful commentary on the sights along the trail. There are rough spots and a few climbs and some stairs along the way, and the names of the geographic features are terrific - Tinker's Point, Little Herring Cove, Killickstone Cove (where fishermen collected rocks for anchors), Motion Bay, and Pilot Gulch. There's one spot where someone once farmed, an abandoned hamlet called Staffordside, and many great views over the ocean. At Cape Spear, there's the 1836 lighthouse, World War II gun batteries and the parking lot with a familiar car.

Tonight it's a special meal at a downtown St, John's restaurant, and then off to George Street to celebrate before leaving tomorrow.