East Coast Trail: Points and Practicalities for a Great Thru Hike

josh bday

In September 2018 we hiked and completed the East Coast Trail (ECT). A wonderful hiking trail cutting along the east coast of the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. In our first post, Hiking the East Coast Trail: Notes From A Thru Hike in Newfoundland, we described the lessons we had learnt from the trail. This second post is a list of logistics, facts and resources that will help you get on the trail and have a terrific hike.

Online Resources:

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First off, we must give credit where credit is due. A huge part of our planning and ability to have a great trip was due to two online resources:

  • East Coast Trail Association:
    • Facts about the trail
    • A breakdown of each section of the trail including length, difficulty, conditions
    • Accommodations off the trail
    • Transportation
    • Alerts regarding sections of the trail
    • And more!
  • East Coast Trail Thru Hike:
    • Tons of practical content for all thru hikers
    • Facts about the trail
    • Spreadsheets containing data for : Camping, Resupply, Water Sources and more
    • GPS tracks through towns-we were surprised and thankful for how handy these were
    • And more!

Maps

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  • Trail Maps: A full set can be purchased online through East Coast Trail Association (note these do not include the trails of Piccos Ridge and Whitehorse Path as they are still considered drafts. These 2 trails can be purchased as a single map set)
  • GPS: We used GPS tracks from ECT Thru-Hike to get us through the towns. With winding, unnamed streets these tracks were a huge blessing at the end of a long day.

Length/Terrain/Difficulty

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The developed portion of the East Coast Trail is 312km. 26 individual “Paths” make up the trail, the shortest path being 2.4km and the longest at 18.3km. The terrain is generally packed dirt trail with protruding rocks and roots and of course the pavement terrain through towns. The trail ratings from the East Coast Trail association range from Easy to Strenuous. Having hiked many years, through different mountain ranges for days on end we found these ratings pretty accurate. An “Easy” trail will be generally clear of obstacles, relatively flat and shorter. On the other hand, a “Strenuous” trail will be long, lots of up and downs, could be wet with lots of high brush, some trail obstacles and with a heavy pack can feel like quite the slog.

To and From the Trail

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Celebrating the start of the trail with a fresh brewed coffee shortly after drop off

We flew into St. John’s and started our adventure from there. From St. John’s to Cappahayden we used the shuttle company Mobile Goat Excursions. They were excellent to deal with when planning our trip, showed up on time, were friendly and efficiently got the two of us and our gear to the trail head. At the end of our trip, from Portugal Cove back to St. John’s, we used East End Taxi. They also provided excellent service and were easy to contact by phone.

Weather

Hiking the trail from early to mid September our weather was incredible! Yes, we did have a full day of rain just north of St. John’s on the Sugarloaf path but otherwise it was generally clear skies and mild to warm days. We were very lucky! Occasionally walking through towns on a hot afternoon on the sticky tarmac would sap all of our energy, but to be able to wear shorts and a light long sleeve for 13 out of 14 hiking days, we really couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Water Sources

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Water plays a huge part of the East Coast trail-ocean water that is. As for drinking water it is plentiful from streams, rivers and ponds along the trail. We brought along our water filter and used it everyday, multiple times a day. It kept our water safe, allowed us to take water from any source (including questionable small ponds) and prevented us from having to carry litres of water from towns or large rivers. Note there are some sections of the trail that have less access to water or may be drier at certain times of the year. As well, if wild camping plan accordingly. It makes for a long day if the last water source is 2 or 3km away from your intended camp spot. ectthruhike has an excellent spreadsheet outlining different water sources and distances.

Resupply

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Time to refill the pack with chocolate

The East Coast Trail official website states that the trail runs through 25 communities and settlements. Of these 25, many are small quaint little villages with nothing more than a few houses while approximately 10 communities on or near the trail have resupply capabilities ranging from small convenience stores (Fermeuse) to full grocery stores (St. John’s and Bay Bulls). Important to note, some of the resupply stores can be up to 1km off the trail making for a long side trip! Liquid fuel for our stove was easily found in St. John’s at The Outfitters Adventure Gear and Apparel.

Camping & Accommodation

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Wild camping reigns on the East Coast Trail! With minimal people on the trail, numerous flat, not overly forested areas to choose from and nearby water sources, dispersed camping is fairly easy on the ECT. Again, ectthruhike has a great spreadsheet with ratings of campsites as it should be noted there can be long stretches without suitable sites. There are five established (platforms or leveled) sites for tenting along the entire trail but unfortunately we found these areas showing signs of heavy use with garbage strewn around. It would also be possible to do the entire hike staying in each coastal town at various type lodgings (hotels, BnBs, Airbnb) but would require much more planning and shuttling. Of course it goes without saying if choosing to wild camp always practice the Leave No Trace principles!

Bugs and Bears

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Peak season for whale sightings is mid June to mid August

We chose to hike the East Coast Trail in early September. This meant missing out on the peak of Iceberg sightings (late May-June) and whale sightings (mid June to mid August). But we were rewarded with quiet trails, fantastic stable, sunny weather and almost non existent bugs! The only wildlife we did see were some seals playing in the waves and lots of bird life. The East Coast Trail official site has a rundown on wildlife to be aware of and seasonal sightings here.

3 Top Favourites

1. Motion Trail

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Every trail along the ECT had some point of “favourite”. But the Motion Path…..Maybe it was the perfect sunny, cloudless day; maybe the challenging but not too strenuous hiking; perhaps the superb scenery of ocean, rolling cliffs with wide open headlands littered with huge boulders; possibly it was the seafood dinner that awaited us in Petty Harbour….All adding up to a spectacular day on the trail.

2. Chafe’s Landing, Petty Harbour

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The harbour of Petty Harbour

Yes, back to that seafood dinner mentioned above. The trail cuts right in front of Chafe’s Landing and is so worth the stop. We stopped by on a Monday evening and it was bustling with diners and local music. They have a menu full of Newfoundland favourites; we tried Fish and Brewis and Cod Tongues. Best meal the whole trip! (And for any fans of the classic Canadian band Great Big Sea, Petty Harbour is Alan Doyle’s hometown and features prominently in his quintessential Newfoundland memoir Where I Belong).

3. Lance Cove, Cape Broyle Head Path

We hadn’t planned on such a short day. It was only our third day along the trail, 7km from our previous campsite. We were just gaining some trekking momentum. And then Lance Cove came into view. And a trail to the cove! (Note for ECT hikers-you will see a lot of beautiful coves along the way but much of the time you are quite high up on the cliff side and climbing down to the water would be at the very least, strenuous and at the very most, incredibly dangerous). Shortly after we came upon Long Will Campsite with established tent pads and incredible views. So that settled it; we dumped our bags, grabbed our towels and headed to the Cove for an afternoon of beach combing and ocean wading.

For more on our East Coast Trail adventures check out our post Hiking the East Coast Trail: Notes from a Thru-Hike in Newfoundland

Happy Hiking!

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About rambleoutyonder

A duo inspired to live life to the fullest.
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6 Responses to East Coast Trail: Points and Practicalities for a Great Thru Hike

  1. Andrea says:

    Love this!!! Great photos!

  2. Lucy Lulu says:

    This is great information, and very helpful. Thank you!

  3. thruwego says:

    The East Coast Trail is now on our list (ok it is a long list…). Great write up and I will come back to this if we head to the trail.

    • Thanks Kerrie! It is a beautiful trail-different as you’ll have the benefit of walking through a town almost everyday-but amazing nonetheless. Would love to know what else is on your list! (Maybe a blog post on your top 10!)

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