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Fall Hiking in the Coast of Bays

Photos and copy courtesy Katie Broadhurst. You can read more of Katie’s writing by visiting http://www.outdoorsandonthego.com

The Coast of Bays in Central Newfoundland is an “off the beaten path” experience; it’s as far south on Route 360 as you can go. This area of the island was a place I was eager to explore, to check out the hiking opportunities and to spend time in the wild nature of rural Newfoundland.

With my mom visiting from Ontario, it was the perfect opportunity to explore the Coast of Bays. We left Corner Brook (on the West Coast) early Sunday morning, aiming for King’s Point, a halfway point en route to the Coast of Bays. We hiked the Alexander Murray Trail, which is always a treat, but especially now as the landscape has shifted into its fall attire; red maples, yellow larch and purple rhodoras. 

Mushrooms are everywhere, in all colours and sizes, and moose tracks and scat had us hopeful for a sighting. The 8km trail took us 3.5 hours, with many stops for photos along the way.

We enjoyed a hot meal at By the Sea Inn & Cafe, along with a hot bath and comfy bed in one of their suites.

We woke early the next day to hit the road, making our way down the Bay d’Espoir Highway a.k.a. Route 360. This road heads due south, into a remote and rugged landscape of expansive barrens, dotted with stands of stunted balsam fir and larch. With rolling hills turning purple and red as far as the eye can see, we thoroughly enjoyed the 200km of highway. Along the way we watched for moose, caribou and eagles, nothing yet…

By early afternoon, we had arrived in Harbour Breton. With three trails, this is a great spot for a hiking adventure! We decided to hike Gun Hill first, asking locals for directions to the trailhead. Up, up and up we climbed using blueberry picking as an excuse to catch our breath.

Gun Hill is a 1.5km trail with stairs to a summit lookout at 159m. It’s well worth the hard work, as it rewards you with a 360-degree view of Harbour Breton, Fortune Bay, and in the distance, the Burin Peninsula and many islands such as Brunette, and the French island of Miquelon. “Coast of Bays” is a literal description of the area — huge fjords jut inland for miles, while massive granite cliffs drop into the sea. Hiking up to lookouts where you can appreciate the enormity of these fjords is worth every step.

We relaxed at the summit platform, enjoyed a snack and watched the gulls play in the wind as the fisherman brought their boats into the harbour.

Then we headed across town to walk the Mile Pond Boardwalk and Deadman’s Cove Beach Trail. Combining these trails results in a 7.7km walk along the coastline, where you can enjoy the bog and fen around Mile Pond, as well as the shoreline and islands of Deadman’s Cove. We watched sandpipers scuttling along the shore with islands in the distance and large cliffs to the west. I can imagine this trail being great for bird watching in the summer, when all the migratory birds flock to the coastline to nest. Returning to Harbour Breton, we checked into the Southern Port Hotel. After a hot meal and another hot bath, we both slept great.

The next day we drove over to Conne River to walk the Miawpukek Walking Trail. The trail network here is less than 2km and through lush forest. We then explored the Powwow Grounds to see the birch bark teepee and the sandy beach by the river. Each summer, the Miawpukek First Nation hosts their annual Powwow here and from what I have heard, it is an event not to be missed! I’ll have to add it to my #nlbucketlist!

We spent the evening exploring the community of St. Alban’s, visiting the Captain Cook’s Landing site and learning about the aquaculture in the area by talking to locals. We were surprised to learn that the area has seen residents returning from away to work, young folks, older folks, all finally able to move home and earn a decent living wage in their hometown. It really pulled my heartstrings hearing them describe this experience and what it means for the community. Then we got a tip that we could tour the hatchery and the power plant. It always pays to ask the locals! We were able to squeeze in a tour of the Bay d’Espoir Hydro Power Plant, where we got to see how 65 per cent of Newfoundland’s power is made. Very cool and totally free! You have to book the hatchery tour in advance, due to biosecurity measures, so we didn’t get to see this facility this time.

This time, the drive out the Bay d’Espoir highway had a treat waiting for us! We got to see a bald eagle perched right beside the road. We stopped and took lots of pictures, then sat and admired him for a time. It’s always so special when you get to be in the presence of a bird of prey. You can feel their confidence and strength plus they're so beautiful! As the wet weather hit, we pulled into the café in Grand Falls-Windsor, which is now known as the Common Grounds, for a latte and homemade chilli.

Mom and I both had such a lovely time exploring the many trails along the Coast of Bays in Central Newfoundland. The fall is the best time of the year to hike, so why not check out this “off the beaten path” area on your next adventure in the heart of Newfoundland!