St. John's, NL - A Walker's Paradise
By Lanny Fields
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I fell in love with St. John's, Newfoundland after spending 8 days and nights there in late summer 2011. It's North America's oldest and most Easterly city. In the 2nd installment of an ongoing series of articles about this rocky wonderland, here's a fond look back at the hiking and walking opportunities.
St. John's is the place to go if you love walking but also want an artsy, cultural home base to return to each evening. The East Coast Trail, a 335 mile coastal walking trail in Newfoundland, passes right through this harbour city. St. John's is also home to The Grand Concourse, a system of trails, sidewalks and foot paths connecting over 70 miles of walking routes within the metropolitan area and surrounding communities... offering everything from a stroll along colourful row houses to fairly substantial hikes. Thanks to Hurricane Irene we had near perfect weather during our stay, so we got out and explored a bit. Here are some walks and hikes I would recommend to the adventurous.
Sugarloaf section of the East Coast Trail from Logy Bay to Quidi Vidi
We had Jiffy Cabs (709-722-2222 - easy to remember and they were there in a jiffy!) pick us up at our B&B and drop us off at the ECT trail head at the Ocean Sciences Center at Logy Bay. A $17 taxi ride with a friendly driver, of course. From there it was a pleasantly difficult 9 kilometre hike to the village of Quidi Vidi on the Sugarloaf Path.
You pass lots of coastal vistas, magical woodlands, rock formations, and, ahem, a landfill. But don't let that stop you. This was one of the best hikes I've ever done and it's a favorite stretch of the ECT for many a St. John's local. There were a few steep climbs and some slippery rocks to traverse, but it was fairly moderate overall, I'd say. Still, not one that a lot of tourists do so you'll mostly have it to yourself. Allow 3-4 hours to stop for pictures and to take in the views.
Harbourside Walk North to North Head Trail to Signal Hill
This has got to be one of the coolest and most challenging - potentially life threatening! - hikes in any city of this size. Start on Duckworth Street in the downtown area and head towards Signal Hill (can't miss it!). Bear right onto Battery Road, which will take you through the quirky Battery community. Check out the houses that look like they're about to fall into the harbour. The road turns into a trail that turns into a cliffside path. Do not attempt if it's foggy out, if you're drunk, or if you're scared of heights. If none of those apply to you, then proceed on a hike that will take your breath away, and not just for the hundreds of steps you'll have to go up! The views of The Narrows here are some of the best you'll encounter. Eventually, after lots of careful climbing, lots of hydrating, and lots of breaths, you'll reach the peak of Signal Hill at Cabot Tower and feel so much cooler than the oodles of tourists who take the easy way out and just drive their car up there. From here you can skip on back to town on Signal Hill Road - an easy descent - or continue your hike on some of the other nearby paths, all of which will be more moderate than the one you just finished. While you're in the vicinity why not climb up Gibbet Hill for yet another scenic view and interesting story?
Quidi Vidi Lake Trail
Looking for a nice, easy trail run? Looking for some nice looking people out on a trail run? Look no further! A loop around the whole lake is just under 2.5 miles, and it's flat the whole time - no ups for downs. Great for a brisk exercise walk or run. There are lots of ducks and other seabirds in the lake just waiting for you to give them bread, and lots of wildflowers to be seen and smelled. As is often the case in St. John's you can easily extend this walk if you like. Other walkways that spin off of Quidi Vidi Lake include Rennie's River Trail, the Virginia River Trail, Cuckold Cove Path, Lake to Lookout Trail, and also the Sugarloaf section of the East Coast Trail mentioned above.
Rennie's River Trail
This 1.8 mile trail leads from Quidi Vidi Lake all the way up to Pippy Park and on into Memorial University. It's a really pleasant trek that parallels Rennie's River (more like a stream) most of the time, where you'll encounter some mild rapids and falls and some nicely placed benches to sit for a spell. The best thing about this trail, I think, are the backyards of the houses that you'll walk past. You can tell that these are some upscale homes and most folks have their back yards landscaped in a way that takes advantage of the proximity to the river. Stop and enjoy some of the wild berries that grow along this and many other trails in the area.
Pippy Park - Long Pond Walk
Another nice walk, kinda similar to the Quidi Vidi Lake path but with the added benefit of being more remote and forested, is the Long Pond Walk in Pippy Park. It's about 1.75 miles, mostly level, and goes around Long Pond, another prime gathering place for waterfowl. This walk is worthy of mention simply for the fresh scent of pine in the air. You can get here by car, but try walking from Rennie's River Trail. From here it's not too far to the Memorial University Botanical Garden and the adjacent Long Pond to Oxen Pond walk will take you there. There are some nice views of the city and Signal Hill from up here as well.
East Coast Trail from Fort Amherst to Blackhead, Blackhead to Cape Spear
We wanted to do this hike but didn't make it happen. If we'd have had one more open, sunny day we would have done it but it'll have to wait until next time. It was highly recommended and the Freshwater Bay/Deadmans Bay portion was said to have been very appealing. We probably would have had a cab drop us off at the small community of Blackhead and walk back, or if we were feeling really adventurous we could have started at Cape Spear and walked back, making a whole day of it. For a better description of the Fort Amherst to Blackhead hike w/ lots of pics see this blog post by Dottie Maggie. I also heard that Cape Spear to Maddox Cove is perhaps an even nicer hike, but that would have required two cab trips I guess?
Waterford River Walk to Bowring Park
Another path we had hoped to do but didn't is this stroll through an affluent looking old neighbourhood that is also the beginning of the Newfoundland T'Railway. At close to 550 miles, the T'Railway is a recreational trail going across Newfoundland that's open to walkers, bikers, horseback riders, snowmobilers and cross country skiers. For the city dweller's purposes though, it's enough just to ramble along Waterford River to Bowring Park, a lovely, historic park known for its swans and fountains.
We were really impressed by the fitness-driven mentality here and the amount of people out taking advantage of this wonderful network of walking routes. Yet another thing to love about St. John's!