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East Coast Trail Hiking and Camping Guide, Newfoundland

The East Coast Trail (ECT) is a remarkable 336km long coastal hiking trail on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula.

Stretching from Topsail Beach to Cappahayden, the path weaves along the top of high cliffs, next to waterfalls, behind windswept beaches and through many small and large communities (including St John’s).

With a conference providing a great excuse to visit Newfoundland for the first time, JR and I recently backpacked more than 140km of the ECT.

Coastal view on the Spout Path, with vertical cliffs above calm ocean, with one tall peninsula separated from mainland
Incredible coastal scenery on the Spout Path

We had originally intended to day hike the trail from B&Bs but camping turned out to be the easier option. And I’m so glad for it!

Not only did thru-hiking enable us to explore 12 different sections in just 7 days, we were able to fully experience the East Coast Trail from sunrise to sunset.

Looking ahead to dirt hiking trail (Motion Path) leading along coast, with large rocks along the ocean
Motion Path

We spotted whales from shore, found orchids, watched a geyser erupt, peered into deep gulches (ravines), bumped into a moose and enjoyed a surprising amount of solitude. All while walking to Canada’s most easterly point!

This detailed post will help you plan a future hike on the East Coast Trail with a trail breakdown, individual path descriptions, trip planning tips and safety information.

Published June 2024

This post includes some affiliate links – if you make a purchase via one of these, we may receive a percentage of the sale.

Looking north along coastline to multiple cascades falling onto slab rocks
Expect to see many waterfalls on the ECT

Backcountry necessities

The East Coast Trail

The 336km long East Coast Trail follows the edge of the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, Canada.

The northern trailhead is in Topsail Beach, not far west of St John’s (Newfoundland’s largest city), with the southern trailhead in the small community of Cappahayden.

Separated into 25 hiking paths and 23 community walks (mostly paved routes connecting trailheads), the East Coast Trail can be explored on short day hikes, multi-day trips or as a 12-17 day thru-hike.

Looking down into steep cove with rocky beach. The ocean is turquoise coloured just offshore
Turquoise ocean on the Stiles Cove Path

Amazingly, the East Coast Trail is completely free to hike. There is no permit system nor any reservation system.

The six designated campgrounds along the route are free to use too. Leave No Trace camping opportunities are available for experienced hikers.

Huge thanks go to the team of volunteers that have made the East Coast Trail what it is!

Quick facts

  • 336km unbroken route from Topsail to Cappahayden
  • 270km of coastal hiking trails and 66km of community paths between trailheads (mostly paved)
  • Free to hike, with no permits or reservations required
  • Day hiking, section hiking and thru-hiking possibilities
  • Opportunities for camping and overnight accommodation (B&Bs, inns) along the route
  • All trailheads located within 90 minutes drive of St John’s
Looking down from rocky viewpoint on the East Coast Trail to Quidi Vidi Village and surrounding forested headlands
Views of St John’s and Quidi Vidi village from the Sugarloaf Path


Since time immemorial, the coastal areas of Newfoundland have been inhabited by Indigenous peoples, including the Beothuk and Mi’kmaq. Trails would have been used to reach fishing grounds and gather resources.

European settlers arriving in Newfoundland from the 17th century onwards would have further developed this coastal trail system.

Two containers of lobsters are balanced on side of dock in Petty Harbour, with boat below. Harbour buildings are visible on the other side of the wharf
Fishing remains an integral part of life in Newfoundland’s villages and towns

The East Coast Trail Association, a charitable organisation, was formed in 1994 by a group of volunteers wishing to create a wilderness hiking experience on the Avalon Peninsula. 25km of trail was launched that year, growing to 336km by 2022.

The ECTA’s long-term vision is to extend the trail from Cappahayden to Trepassey. This would make the ECT around 600km long, certainly an impressive achievement.

Side view of pebble beach with rusted shipwreck remains. Ocean waves roll in, with an island visible behind
Shipwreck remains can still be seen on some of the beaches along the ECT

Our experience

The East Coast Trail had been on our radar for a while and a work conference in St John’s finally gave us the excuse we needed to hike it!

Visiting Newfoundland in early June, our original plan was to day hike sections of the ECT from B&Bs along the route. We had 8 full days spare and that seemed like enough time to cover a significant portion of the trail.

Ultimately, we found trying to arrange a day hiking itinerary quite frustrating. Accommodation availability was already limited and car hire was expensive ($600 for a four-day trip).

Selfie of JR and Gemma at Biscan Cove Path trailhead on the East Coast Trail
Starting the East Coast Trail near Cape St Francis
(Off Track Travel logo hats gifted by Byward Outfitters)

So we scrapped that idea and decided to backpack the ECT instead.

We first hiked from the Biscan Cove trailhead to St John’s in three days (18km/30km/20km), camping at Small Point and Redcliff.

While we had set aside four days to hike this section, we decided to push and finish sooner so we had time to prepare for our conference in St John’s.

JR stands in the middle of a complete rainbow at the top of a cliff above the ocean
A full rainbow on the Cobblers Path

After the conference, we hiked from Tors Cove to Cape Spear over four days (11km/26km/14km/22km), camping at Camel Beach, Freshwater Cove and Miners Point.

With only one day of rain in seven, we had an incredible experience on the trail. In fact, we were a little too hot – definitely not what we expected from the ECT in June!

We saw more than 30 whales, a moose, dozens of bird species, beautiful sunsets/sunrises and even got a tan. I enjoyed walking through the local communities more than I thought I would and we had many fun conversations with the friendly locals.

Gemma sits on a rock facing camera, in front of coastal scenery on the Spout Path. There are tall cliffs and calm ocean below
Spout Path

We were also struck by how few people we saw. On the more difficult paths, we saw only one or two other hikers all day. Even on the ‘easy’ rated trails, we only met a dozen other people total (mostly day hikers).

The East Coast Trail is certainly one of Canada’s best long-distance trails. It was more difficult than we expected but also more rewarding. I can’t wait to go back and finish the trail!

Selfie of Gemma and JR finishing their East Coast Trail at Cape Spear Lighthouse, which is a white building behind them
Even despite WestJet losing my backpack, we still managed to hike 140km of the ECT! We even got a tan along the way. Here we are finishing at Cape Spear

East Coast Trail breakdown

The East Coast Trail is a collection of local pathways and paved ‘community walks’ that connect the main trailheads.

Here’s the complete list of all East Coast Trail paths:

North section

Huge waterfall with multiple cascades bursts out from canyon, with forest and rocks on both sides
Stiles Cove Path

South section

Back view of JR hiking with backpack next to road, travelling between the Motion Path and Cape Spear Path trailheads
Walking between the Motion Path and Cape Spear Path trailheads in Petty Harbour

Trail descriptions

The following section details the East Coast Trail paths we have personally hiked. For remaining paths, refer to the excellent East Coast Trail path website.

I hope to update this part of the guide with more completed sections soon!

Biscan Cove Path

Distance: 7km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 560m up, 540m down
Officially rated difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Suggested time: 2 to 4 hours

The Biscan Cove Path was our introduction to the East Coast Trail and it definitely prepared us for the hills ahead!

The northern trailhead is located just below Cape St. Francis, at the former site of a Methodist chapel. It feels remarkably remote, even with the unpaved road access.

Side view of JR standing with backpack on the Biscan Cove Path, above the treeline with the foggy ocean to the left
One of the high points of the Biscan Cove Path

The trail features five significant climbs, some with steep sections. Forest provides shade and shelter for most of the ascents (and descents), while each ‘summit’ is exposed.

A large waterfall bursts from the rock into the ocean at Freshwater River (4.7km from Cape St Francis), an ideal spot for a break.

Just around the corner is Horrid Gulch, where the Water Witch schooner became stranded in 1875. Crew and passengers were hauled up the 80m cliffs by rope!

Little Bald Head provides beautiful views of the community of Pouch Cove. Staying on the right route can prove a little tricky on this rocky point – look out for the black and white striped poles leading the way.

Looking down from headland towards Pouch Cove, a oceanside community with colourful houses
Looking down on Pouch Cove from the Biscan Cove Path

Biscan Cove Path to Stiles Cove Path connection

Distance: 1.9km
Suggested time: 30 minutes

The Biscan Cove Path finishes (or starts) uphill from Pouch Cove. The hiker parking lot is located at Memorial Park, a short walk from the trailhead.

There are two picnic areas along the community walk route – one at the William Tuff lookout (close to the Biscan Cove Path trailhead) and another opposite the fire station.

Drop by the D & L Convenience store for a cold soda or ice cream. A short road section follows before a sign leads hikers to the trailhead just past the remains of a cod liver oil factory.

Looking down on sloped wooden boat launch at Pouch Cove. Eight small boats rest on the surface

Stiles Cove Path

Distance: 15.1km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 790m up, 790m down
Officially rated difficulty: Moderate
Suggested time: 5 to 7 hours

Impossibly high cliffs, pebble beaches, huge waterfalls, exposed heath and turquoise coves – the Stiles Cove Path showcases the full range of the East Coast Trail’s beauty.

Rocky coastline and calm ocean with Pouch Cove community in background
Looking back at Pouch Cove from the Stiles Cove Path

This section is a great pick for anyone wanting a good taster of the ECT.

I would have to say though, you can’t be afraid of heights…..or significant elevation gain. We found the western side to be more of a workout than the east.

Back view of hiker walking on dirt/rock trail through heath landscape with ocean in background
Heath section of the Stiles Cove Path

Look out for the deep green-coloured rocks that stud the landscape here. This is a stark contrast to the slab rocks by Flatrock, which are a deep red.

The southern end of the Stiles Cove Path features the Whirly Pool Falls, an impressive collection of powerful cascades that pour directly into the ocean. It is an incredible sight and a fitting end to a spectacular hiking trail.

Dual waterfalls cascading down tall cliffs on the Stiles Cove Path on the East Coast Trail
Waterfalls on the Stiles Cove Path

Stiles Cove Path to Father Troys Trail connection

Distance: 1.5km
Suggested time: 25 minutes

This community walk passes through Flatrock, one of the larger towns on the East Coast Trail. Please note that hikers are directed to the Father Troys trailhead via Wade’s Lane (not the wharf).

The Grotto at St Michael's Church - religious statues and signage placed across a rocky landscape
The Grotto at St Michael’s Church

Be sure not to miss a stop at St. Michael’s Church, which features a Lourdes-inspired grotto. We’ve never seen anything like it in Canada!

Despite Flatrock’s size, there aren’t many services close to the trail. The Ann Waterman Family Park is a good option for a picnic destination.

Rocky beach in foreground with colourful houses (town of Flatrock) in the background, with forest beyond that
The town of Flatrock

Father Troys Trail

Distance: 8.9km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 450m up, 450m down
Officially rated difficulty: Easy
Suggested time: 2 to 4 hours

The Father Troys Trail travels between the communities of Flatrock and Torbay. While it is rated ‘easy,’ there are still some challenges (especially in windy and rainy weather).

Leaving Flatrock, the path first explores the Beamer, a protective headland. A large colony of nesting gulls is present in spring. An interesting find is the WWII pillbox, a concrete construction used for observation.

WWII pillbox construction on side of rocky and grassy hill, with ocean visible behind
WWII pillbox (lookout) on the Father Troys Trail

There is a surprisingly steep section near Church Cove, as the trail climbs to the top of tall cliffs. There is an optional, more challenging, loop route along the coast.

The southern section of Father Troys Trail reminded us of hiking in the UK – grass meadows, peaceful forests, calming ocean views and the occasional house.

Grassy pathway with fence on left leading down into the community of Torbay, with calm ocean on left
Approaching Torbay

Father Troys Trail to Silver Mine Head Path connection

Distance: 1.3km
Suggested time: 20 minutes

The town of Torbay (population 7800) is only 20 minutes drive from St John’s. While it is certainly busy, it still feels as picturesque as the other ECT communities. There’s a great beach for picnics.

Torbay has several options for food. We would have loved to have tried the highly-rated Post Taphouse but it was closed on Mondays.

The Silver Mine Head Path starts at the end of Motion Drive in a housing estate. Pay careful attention to trail signage in this area to respect private property.

Silver Mine Head Path

Distance: 3.8km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 120m up, 135m down
Officially rated difficulty: Easy
Suggested time: 2 hours

The Silver Mine Head Path is short and sweet – a great option for day hikers looking for an approachable trail section.

I have to admit, it’s not my favourite part of the ECT, however.

For us, the trail lacked that wilderness feeling we had become used to (especially since the airport is SO close). The ocean views are still stunning and there are some wonderful waterfalls too.

Wide waterfall cascading down into ocean on right, with sloped slab rock behind
Waterfalls on the Silver Mine Head Path

A highlight of the trail is Middle Cove, a long pebble beach with cliffs on either side. Accessible by road, it can be busy on sunny days and into the evening. An Atlantic cable was laid here in 1874, connecting St John’s with Ireland.

The Silver Mine Head Path features a road section between Middle Cove and a viewpoint above Lance Cove. It is uphill, on a fast-moving highway. A path leads back onto the coast at the top, although we missed the turning and stayed on the road.

The eastern trailhead is located close to Outer Cove, where Terry Fox collected Atlantic ocean water before attempting his ‘Marathon of Hope.’ He wanted to pour it into the Pacific Ocean in British Columbia.

Middle Cove beach on the East Coast Trail, a grey pebble beach with steep cliffs on the other side
Middle Cove beach

Silver Mine Head Path to Cobblers Path connection

Distance: 1.8km
Suggested time: 30m

This community walk directs hikers along the main highway and then through a suburban community. The latter section is uphill. There isn’t much to see besides Outer Cove, as described above.

Elevated view looking down into Outer Cove, which features a small grey pebble beach. Houses sit in the forest above
Outer Cove

Cobblers Path

Distance: 5km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 320m up, 265m down
Officially rated difficulty: Moderate
Suggested time: 2 to 3 hours

Big ocean views are the main attraction of the challenging Cobblers Path. For hikers interested in history, there are also the remains of a WWII battery (with pillbox) and a Cold War radar station.

Looking down on Torbay Point from the Cobblers Path, a rocky headland surrounded by calm ocean. A winding path is visible on the left
Looking down on Torbay Point

Most of the trail’s elevation gain and loss is experienced between 0.5-3km (hiking north to south). There are many sets of stairs, some of which are steep. The terrain can be pretty muddy in spring.

There is a 1km detour to Torbay Point. Keep in mind that it is downhill all the way there and, of course, uphill all the way back!

Abandoned radar station complex on the East Coast Trail, a squat building covered in graffiti
Part of the abandoned radar station complex

The southern section of the trail is mostly forested and on the flatter side. Travelling in front of newly built properties, the path loses its wilderness feel quickly.

Another viewpoint is found just beyond the Logy Bay trailhead. With incredible views of Sugarloaf Head, the Ocean Sciences Centre and surrounding cliffs, it is well worth the detour.

JR is sat on a rock in front of a beautiful coastal view with steep cliffs and headland visible
Viewpoint detour at the end of the Cobblers Path

Cobblers Path to Sugarloaf Path connection

Distance: 5.5km
Suggested time: 1 hour

Probably one of the least exciting community walks, this paved section is also relatively long. Follow Red Cliff Road to Marine Drive and then onto Marine Lab Road to finish at the Ocean Sciences Centre.

A paved road leads into the distance, surrounded by forest on both sides
Walking between the Cobblers Path and Sugarloaf Path trailheads

Sugarloaf Path

Distance: 8.8km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 320m up, 265m down
Officially rated difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Suggested time: 3 to 5 hours

The Sugarloaf Path is a well-travelled section of the East Coast Trail. Its proximity to St John’s makes it an accessible day hike for both locals and visitors.

We loved both the start and end of the Sugarloaf Path – the views of the ocean, cliffs and Cape Spear are truly spectacular. The trail’s middle section is less appealing.

Back view of Gemma standing on rock looking out to ocean view with steep cliffs visible in the background
Sugarloaf Head

For one, the path travels through the forest for a long time with few views. Second, this section is also located below the municipal landfill (DO NOT collect water here for this reason!)

The northern part of the trail ascends Sugarloaf Head, where spectacular views of Robin Hood Bay and the ocean await. Watch for nesting bald eagles near the summit.

Elevated view looking down from headland to coastal views north, with cliffs and headlands, forest on right
Sugarloaf Path views, looking south

The southern end features a gorgeous exposed coastal section before climbing back into the forest.

Several long sets of stairs return hikers above the trees, to an amazing vantage point above Quidi Vidi Village. This was one of the best views on our entire ECT hike! It is, in my opinion, worth the hike through the landfill forest.

Muddy crossed legs in front of beautiful headland view looking down to Quidi Vidi Village and forested hills next to the ocean
Quidi Vidi viewpoint, close to the end of the Sugarloaf Trail

Sugarloaf Path to St John’s connection

Distance: 2.5km (most direct route)
Suggested time: 30 to 45 minutes

The route into downtown St John’s from Quidi Vidi is pretty straightforward. It’s a half-hour walk along paved paths, with some uphill sections. Consider detouring to the Quidi Vidi Brewery for a cold drink.

If you have the energy, however, I’d strongly recommend returning to St John’s via Signal Hill. Hike first up the Ladies Lookout Trail and then take the North Head Trail towards downtown St John’s.

One of Newfoundland’s oldest footpaths, the North Head Trail features sweeping views of the harbour and Fort Amherst….and plenty of stairs (mostly downhill in this direction).

Quidi Vidi Village, a calm harbour surrounded by colourful houses
Quidi Vidi Village

Cape Spear Path

Distance: 15.4km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 250m up, 260m down
Officially rated difficulty: Moderate
Suggested time: 5 to 7 hours

We hiked this section south to north.

Travelling from picturesque Maddox Cove to Canada’s most easterly point (or vice versa) and beyond, the Cape Spear Path is a particularly unique section of the East Coast Trail.

Most of the route is exposed offering wide open views towards the ocean and across to Petty Harbour at the southern end.

Hiking path leading across barren but grassy peninsula towards headland
Cape Spear ahead! (to the right)

Though there are a couple of significant climbs (including a very steep one with huge boulders), the trail stays quite low next to the ocean for the most part. Think cliffs, coves, pebble beaches and some small waterfalls.

The Cape Spear section of the trail is glorious on a sunny day, with a long boardwalk section and a flat final approach to the Cape Spear Lighthouse. We finished our northbound hike here but the trail continues another 3.7km to the Blackhead trailhead.

Narrow boardwalk leading across barren but grassy landscape towards ocean, with coastline visible
Long boardwalk section heading south

We found the Cape Spear Path easier than we expected; it’s one of the few sections of the ECT that we finished significantly earlier than we calculated.

At the southern trailhead, be sure to look for ‘Lenny’s Little Library’ – the most charming free book exchange hub around.

Side view of coastline on the Cape Spear Path with waterfall tumblingh down rocks
Cape Spear Path waterfall

Cape Spear Path to Motion Path connection

Distance: 2.6km
Suggested time: 30 to 45 minutes

We hiked this section south to north.

The southern Cape Spear Path trailhead is just east of Maddox Cove. The parking lot is a few minutes walk away, close to the ocean and a picnic area.

Travel uphill along the Main Road to Petty Harbour and follow the shoreline through the village. There are public toilets and another picnic area at Bidgood’s Cove. Consider a stop at Tinkers for a well-earned ice cream.

The Motion Path trailhead sits on the southern side of the harbour, at the end of the very steep Cavell’s Lane.

A boat is leaving sheltered Petty Harbour, with a backdrop of colourful houses
Petty Harbour

Motion Path

Distance: 13.8km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 510m up, 510m down
Officially rated difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Suggested time: 5 to 8 hours

We hiked this section south to north.

A highlight of our ECT experience, the Motion Path is a trail of four parts. The first couple of kilometres from the southern trailhead are mostly forested, with long stretches travelling through scratchy sheep laurel.

Not long after the Miners Point Campsite, the trail pops out next to the exposed coastline. Sweeping views appear, with rolling hills leading to Motion Head. We saw so many humpback whales along this section, even before the main season started.

Hiker on Motion Path with ocean coastline visible behind and grassy/rocky terrain surrounding trail
Motion Path

Turning the corner, the path faces the Petty Harbour area and becomes a little boggy. Keep an eye out for carnivorous plants next to the boardwalk.

The final challenge of the Motion Trail is the aptly named ‘Big Hill’ leading into Petty Harbour. It’s steeper and rockier on the northern side.

Dirt path leads away from camera towards grassy/shrubby peninsula with scattered lakes, next to calm ocean
Motion Path

If not thru-hiking, an additional 6.3km is required to access the southern trailhead from the Shoal Bay parking lot. Most day hikers walk south to north to avoid the hill.

Alternatively, consider an out-and-back from Petty Harbour to Motion Head (around 10km).

Elevated view looking down towards Petty Harbour, with sheltered harbour on left hand right and open cove on right. Colourful housing is visible
Looking down on Petty Harbour

Spout Path

Distance: 16.2km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 780m up, 770m down
Officially rated difficulty: Strenuous
Suggested time: 6 to 9 hours

We hiked this section south to north.

The Spout Path is one of the best-known sections of the East Coast Trail. And for good reason! The highlight is an incredible wave/river-powered geyser that shoots a huge stream of fresh water up to 30m into the sky every 20-30 seconds.

We had no idea what the eponymous ‘Spout’ was before hiking the trail so it was a wonderful surprise. The geyser is located 11km from the Bay Bulls trailhead and is a popular (but challenging) day hike destination.

The Spout, a wave/river powered geyser rising from slab rock next to the ocean. Waterfalls are visible in the background
The Spout

When hiking from the south, it is not possible to see the Spout until immediately reaching it. From the north, the geyser is visible for at least 3km.

Even without the Spout, this part of the ECT is remarkable in its own right. There are long exposed sections with extraordinary views of the coastline as well as high cliffs with rock terraces, turquoise-coloured coves, impressive waterfalls and even a lighthouse.

Hiker standing on rock surrounded by pools of water on rocky ocean coastline
Interesting rocky terrain on the Spout Path

The East Coast Trail Association rates the trail as ‘strenuous’ and it is certainly a full-day workout (lots of elevation changes, some steep terrain, overgrown forest sections). Note that an additional 6.3km is required to access the northern trailhead from the Shoal Bay parking lot.

We found the Spout Path less difficult than some other ECT sections but I can see it would be more challenging in wet conditions. One important aspect to note is that there is no phone signal anywhere on the Spout Path. Hikers must be well prepared.

Looking down from Spout Path to scattered rock formations just off the coastline
The Spout Path features some amazing rock formations

Spout Path to Mickeleens Path connection

Distance: 4.7km
Suggested time: 1 hour

We hiked this section south to north.

This is one of the longer paved community walks. The route travels through Bay Bulls, a village that receives a lot of tourist traffic for whale watching and puffin tours.

Elevated view looking down to whale watching boat cruising on calm ocean from right to left. Forested coastline visible in background
Bay Bulls hosts two whale watching/puffin tour companies

For hikers, the biggest point of interest will likely be the presence of two restaurants close to the trail – Stone Ducky and the Jigger. The latter proved to be an excellent fueling point before we hit the Spout Path (large portions!)

The Spout Path trailhead lies just east of the community of Bread and Cheese. While there are no eating options here, it is a good chance for a fun photo!

Gemma stands next to a Bread and Cheese sign on the East Coast Trail, with ocean behind
My favourite place!

Mickeleens Path, 7.2km

Distance: 7.2km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 330m up, 330m down
Officially rated difficulty: Moderate
Suggested time: 2 to 4 hours

We hiked this section south to north.

The Mickeleens Path is a short but satisfying ECT experience. We found the moderate rating to be pretty accurate. Day hikers can turn it into a loop by returning via an inland track route.

There are some wonderful clifftop walking sections with views down into turquoise-coloured coves. The most impressive cliffs are red sandstone and feature distinctive striations.

Back view of hiker on Mickeleens Path, an open dirt trail through grassy/shrubby landscape next to the ocean
Hiking the Mickeleens Path north

The islands of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are visible almost throughout, the distant screams of birds apparent on less windy days.

The puffin tour boats often cruise so close to the trail that it is possible to hear the guides singing sea shanties. Be sure to look out for whales, as the tour boats are searching for them too.

Tall red coloured cliffs rise from the ocean on the Mickeleens Path, with calm water below
Red cliffs on the Mickeleens Path

Mickeleens Path to Beaches Path connection

Distance: 4.8km
Suggested time: 1 hour

We hiked this section south to north.

This is another long community walk section, this time through Witless Bay. We didn’t actually have to hike it after a friendly local dashed out of his house to offer us a ride to the next trailhead (thanks Steve!)

Witless Bay has a lovely pebble beach, with a picnic area located just behind. There is an adjacent convenience store as well.

Beaches Path

Distance: 7.1km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 537m up, 536m down
Officially rated difficulty: Easy
Suggested time: 2 to 3 hours

We hiked this section south to north.

The Beaches Path certainly lives up to its name – it’s one of the few ECT sections we hiked with multiple accessible beaches.

While we enjoyed being so close to the ocean, there was one big downside. In mid-June, this low elevation trail was very, very muddy. There are some short boardwalk and stepping stone sections to help but there was still plenty of standing water.

Grey pebble beach on the Beaches Path with calm ocean, bordered by forest
The Beaches Path lives up to its name!

The Beaches Path is rated ‘easy,’ though keep in mind that it is not what I’d call a straightforward stroll by any means. Expect roots, rocks and a few stream crossings. The mud wasn’t extremely deep but it certainly slowed us down.

Gull Island, part of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, can be seen for much of this hike. Another highlight is Camel Beach, which is easily accessible from the trail.

Looking ahead to a very muddy trail on the Beaches Path, with shoreline bog trees surrounding
We hiked through so much mud on the Beaches Path in mid-June

Beaches Path to Tinkers Point Path connection

Distance: 1.3km
Suggested time: 20 to 30 minutes

We hiked this section south to north.

This short community walk isn’t entirely paved, with the southern part initially following a gravel road. The route stays close to the ocean all the way to the highway, where hikers need to cross a bridge alongside traffic.

While there are no services on the community walk itself, there is a convenience store just south on the highway.

Tinkers Point Path

Distance: 5km
Approximate elevation gain/loss: 128m up, 117m down
Officially rated difficulty: Easy
Suggested time: 2 to 3 hours

We hiked this section south to north.

Named after the razorbill auks that used to be more abundant in this area, the Tinkers Point Path is a gentle trail that sticks very close to the coast.

The overall elevation gain is very low which also means that the path can be muddy in spring. The boardwalk sections help but still expect some rock hopping over mud and streams.

Side view of JR hiking on rocky beach on the Beaches Path
The Tinkers Point Path travels right next to some beaches so we took the opportunity to explore!

The trail offers access to several different beaches, including the pebbly Kearney’s Beach. The rated difficulty is easy, but like the Beaches Path, keep in mind that it is not a completely flat, level trail.

There is a great picnic area at Tinker’s Point, close to the halfway mark. Hikers are invited to take a moment at the picnic table or bench.

Gravel tire track road leads away from the camera, with meadow on left
Close to the southern trailhead

How to plan an East Coast Trail trip

Inspired to hike the fabulous East Coast Trail? Start planning now with these tips.

Useful resources

When planning a trip, your first point of call should be the excellent East Coast Trail Association website.

Check current trail conditions on this ECTA path advisory page.

The official ECT map series is excellent and I would highly recommend buying these for planning as well as for use on the trail. The set features 34 detailed maps, helpful for both day hikers and thru-hikers.

The East Coast Trail Association’s Facebook page regularly shares hiker advisories.

The East Coast Trail Facebook group is great for general ECT chat and updates.

Thru-hikers or multi-day hikers should also join the ECT Thru Hike Facebook group. If you have a question about camping or resupplying, it’s probably been answered there before. Rideshare requests are accepted. Local trail angels post on there too.

View from inside the tent, looking through tent door to red coloured sunrise over Atlantic ocean
Sunrise view on the East Coast Trail

The best time to go

The main East Coast Trail hiking season is April to November when the trail is usually snow-free and daylight hours are longer.

The driest and warmest months to hike are July and August. Fog can, however, roll in at any time of year.

June and September can also be very pleasant months on the ECT, but temperatures are typically cooler and the weather wetter.

Of the two, September is usually preferred by hikers as the trail is a bit drier (after the warmer summer months). More trail maintenance would have been done by this time as well.

Side view of JR sitting on log and taking in views of large waterfall with rocky coastline behind
The ECT’s waterfalls have a bigger flow after rainfall

Icebergs sometimes float alongside this coastline in May and June. The ocean currents vary from year to year (so no guarantees!)

The best time to spot whales on the trail is mid-June to mid-August, as the world’s largest population of humpback whales return every summer to pursue schools of Capelin (a tiny fish similar to smelt).

While many sections of the ECT are still accessible in winter, there is no trail clearing or maintenance. Trees often fall on the path during winter storms.

The southern section of the trail, particularly south of Witless Bay, is generally muddier than the north.

Close up of pink coloured lady slipper orchid
We enjoyed spotting wildflowers, including this lady slipper orchid, in June

Our experience

We hiked the East Coast Trail in June 2024 and experienced very warm weather, with temperatures rising to 27c!

For the two weeks before our visit, the weather was very rainy and cool (8-10c). We experienced just one day of rain in seven with very little fog.

Despite being too early for the main whale watching season, we saw over 30 humpback whales plus minke whales and dolphins.

The trail condition was generally good, with only a handful of fallen trees. There were some overgrown areas with scratchy brush. Some sections of the trail, such as Cobblers Path and the Beaches, were very, very muddy.

Looking across shrubby heath landscape to the community of Flatrock, which features colourful houses next to the ocean
We only experienced one day of rain while hiking 140km+ in June, though that is unusual

Transportation options

At this time, there is no East Coast Trail shuttle system.

Options for transportation include:

  • Public buses (Sugarloaf trailhead in Quidi Vidi only)
  • Tourist hop-on hop-off bus (Quidi Vidi and Cape Spear trailheads only)
  • Taxi
  • Uber (launched April 2024)
  • Accommodation providers, particularly B&Bs
  • Tour companies (Great Canadian Trails offers an ECT package with shuttles)
  • Car hire
  • Trail angels (check the ECT Facebook groups, expect to offer cash)
  • Hitchhiking (at your own risk)

Southbound thru-hikers should expect to pay $40-50 for an Uber ride to Topsail.

Northbound thru-hikers starting in Cappahayden should anticipate an Uber ride to cost around $200 at off peak times.

Looking down on tall cascading waterfall next to the ocean on the Spout Path
Waterfall on the Spout Path

Our experience

We arranged a ride to the Biscan Cove Path trailhead (Cape St Francis) with a local thru-hiker via the ECT Thru Hike Facebook group. We paid $80.

The last 4km of the drive to the Biscan Cove trailhead is unpaved so I doubt taxi or Uber drivers would be willing to venture there.

For the second part of our trip, we took an Uber from St John’s to the Tinkers Point Path trailhead in Tors Cove. Our ride cost $100 – a little more expensive than we expected but it was a Sunday and also Father’s Day.

After finishing our hike in Cape Spear, we planned to take an Uber back to St John’s (around $35). As it was, we met some kind soon-to-be ECT hikers who offered us a ride into the city.

Looking through trees down into a very deep gulch ravine next to the ocean
Gulch on Biscan Cove Path


With the ECT weaving through many small Newfoundland communities, it is possible to day hike significant sections of the trail while overnighting in comfortable accommodations.

Some popular options:

VRBO has some great options, especially for hikers wishing to spend more than one night in the same location.

In St John’s, I recommend the Sheraton Hotel (the baggage storage service was excellent) and Blue on Water (elegant rooms, some with water views).

Looking down a set of wooden stairs lined by trees, with colourful house community visible ahead
Heading into the town of Flatrock on the Stiles Cove Trail

Our experience

I’ll be honest – I personally found it quite overwhelming attempting to organise a day hiking trip on the ECT.

I messaged half a dozen local accommodation providers prior to our trip. While they could offer rides to local trailheads, we still needed a rental car or Uber/taxi to reach the actual B&B.

For our budget on this particular trip, we found the total cost prohibitive. We did meet other ECT hikers who were able to make it work.

Of course, it is also possible to buy a package with a guiding company which includes accommodation, food and daily trailhead shuttles.

Set up camp stove on grey pebble beach with views out to calm ocean and nearby island
Cooking dinner on the Beaches Path, looking over to Gull Island, part of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve


There are six designated East Coast Trail Association campgrounds on the trail:

  • Patch Brook Campsite, White Horse Path, 10.4 km from the Bauline trailhead. 5 tent platforms, outhouse
  • Miners Point Campsite, Motion Path, 12.7 km from the Petty Harbour trailhead. Levelled area with space for 2/3 tents, outhouse
  • Little Bald Head Campsite, Spout Path, 5.3 km from the Shoal Bay Road trailhead. 7 tent platforms plus extra levelled space for 3/4 tents, outhouse
  • Roaring Cove Campsite, Flamber Head Path, 8.5 km from the La Manche Village trailhead. 4 tent platforms, outhouse
  • Long Will Campsite, Cape Broyle Head Path, 7.2 km from the Cape Broyle trailhead. 6 tent platforms, outhouse
  • Gallows Cove Campsite, Spurwink Island Path, 11.2 km from the Aquaforte trailhead. 4 tent platforms, outhouse

These campgrounds are all pretty basic, with no facilities beyond the tent platforms (if any) and rustic outhouse. There is no reservation system so these campgrounds operate on a first come, first serve system.

Wooden tent pad at Little Bald Head Campsite on the East Coast Trail
Tent pad at Little Bald Head Campsite

Please note that open fires are not allowed anywhere on the East Coast Trail.

Hikers who camp beyond the designated campgrounds must carefully abide by Leave No Trace principles:

  • Good campsites are found, not made. Avoid clearing or altering sites – preferably choose a location that has been used for camping before
  • Camp more than 60m from streams and lakes
  • Seek permission from landowners where possible
  • Pack out everything you brought with you
  • Dispose of human waste properly
  • Scatter used water on at least 60m from campsites and water sources
  • No campfires
  • Be considerate of others – set up late, leave early and avoid excessive noise. Respect the privacy of people who live near the trail
Back view of plastic green throne toilet on the East Coast Trail, surrounded by trees with a partial ocean view
Green outhouse throne at Little Bald Head Campsite (ocean view!)

We camped at five locations along the East Coast Trail – three wilderness sites (no facilities), one partially developed site and the Miners Point Campsite. The latter was my least favourite as it had other campers and limited levelled areas (it was also super buggy).

There is an excellent spreadsheet shared in the ECT Thru Hike Facebook group that features previously used campsite locations. We found it very helpful, especially as there are so many heavily forested and exposed trail sections.

Set up tent on left in grassy area with ocean on right
Camping by Freshwater River on the Spout Path, a partially developed site (there is a throne toilet)

Anecdotally, we met many locals in various ECT communities who advised us that there was ‘no issue’ with thru-hikers camping anywhere on the trail for one night. In fact, they actively encouraged it.

With this in mind, please be very careful to Leave No Trace to ensure continued community support.

Open area next to trail surrounded by trees, a previously used camp spot
How one of our campsites looked just before we left (no sign that we’d ever been there!)


I believe most St John’s hotels would be able to provide storage for hikers staying before and after their ECT adventure. Be sure to ask before booking.

We were able to store our travel luggage at the Sheraton Hotel while we were on the ECT. We had a four-night stay booked there in the middle of our hiking trips.

I have seen a few members of the ECT Thru Hike Facebook group offer storage solutions for hikers.

Potential re-supply locations

The following convenience stores are located on or close to the East Coast Trail (expect a limited choice of groceries – chips, candy bars, soda etc):

  • D & L Convenience, Pouch Cove
  • P J’s Groceteria, Torbay
  • District Drugs PharmaChoice, Torbay
  • Belbin’s Grocery, near Quidi Vidi
  • Foodland, Bay Bulls
  • Grocery Deli and More, Witless Bay (public laundry facilities too!)
  • The Hutch convenience store, Mobile
  • Ultramar gas station, Cape Broyle
  • Foodland, Ferryland
  • Ultramar gas station, Fermeuse

St John’s is well located as a resupply point, roughly a third of the way through the trail. As mentioned above, I believe it would be possible to leave a resupply bag at most St John’s hotels if staying before/after your hiking trip.

Again, I have seen a few members of the ECT Thru Hike Facebook group offer resupply storage for hikers.

Isobutane gas can be purchased at several stores in St John’s, with the Outfitters being the most obvious destination. This multi-level outdoor store also offers used partially filled canisters by donation.

Looking along the rocky coastline to the colourful house community of Pouch Cove
There is a convenience store right on the ECT in Pouch Cove

Possible itineraries

The average thru-hike from Topsail to Cappahayden takes 12 to 17 days. Here are some other multi-day itinerary ideas:

  • Topsail to Cape St Francis (2 to 3 days)
  • Cape St Francis to St John’s (3 to 4 days)
  • St John’s to Bay Bulls (3 to 4 days)
  • Petty Harbour to Cape Broyle (4 to 5 days)
  • Topsail to St John’s (5 to 7 days)
  • La Manche to Cappahayden (5 to 7 days)
  • Topsail to Cape Spear (6 to 8 days)

All routes could be hiked in the other (northern) direction as well.

Looking through a tent door to trees and ocean beyond. Hiking shoes are set just outside the door.
East Coast Trail camping

Where to eat

For us, part of the fun of hiking an urban(ish) trail like the ECT is the chance to eat at local restaurants.

Be sure to check operating hours to avoid disappointment – we found a significant number of restaurants to be closed on Mondays.

  • Topsail Breeze Tavern & Cafe, Topsail
  • By The Beach, St Philip’s
  • Landings Seafood House, Portugal Cove
  • The Water Witch, Pouch Cove
  • As Good As It Gets seafood food truck, Flatrock (check Facebook page for location)
  • The Post Taphouse, Torbay
  • Torbakery, Torbay
  • Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters, Torbay
  • PJ’s Pizza, Torbay
  • Quidi Vidi Brewery
  • Cape Spear Cafe
  • Tinkers Ice Cream Shop, Petty Harbour
  • Chafe’s Landing Restaurant, Petty Harbour
  • Stone Ducky, Bay Bulls
  • The Jigger, Bay Bulls
  • Irish Loop Coffee House, Witless Bay
  • Fork, Mobile
  • Riverside Restaurant and Lounge, Cape Broyle
  • Squid Jigger on Caplin Bay, Calvert
  • Tetley Tea Room By The Sea, Ferryland
  • Lighthouse Picnics, Ferryland (order in advance)
  • In Da Loop, Fermeuse

The above restaurants all feature on our East Coast Trail Google Map.

A hand holds up a large vanilla ice cream in front of the camera, with wharf background
It was so fun to be able to get ice cream in the middle of our hiking day (Tinkers, Petty Harbour)

What to expect while hiking the East Coast Trail

Not sure how the East Coast Trail compares to other hiking trails in Canada? Read on for more details.

Keep in mind that while we have hiked a significant portion of the ECT (over 140km), we have not seen the entire route.

Trail difficulty

The East Coast Trail is a physically challenging coastal hiking path, with some easier and more difficult sections. The Association uses easy, moderate, difficult and strenuous ratings.

Expect to step up and down often on rocks, stairs and roots, with constant elevation gain and loss. Attention is required not to trip, fall or twist an ankle.

Rugged wooden steps lead down and around the rocky coastline on the Spout Path
Expect plenty of elevation changes when hiking most ECT paths

There are not many completely flat, fully cleared sections. ECT paths with an ‘easy’ rating are still a hike rather than a walk.

The path often crosses rivers and streams. There are bridges across the biggest rivers but not on the small ones (prepare to rock hop to keep your feet dry).

Some sections of the trail have more rugged conditions, with overgrown, narrow, rootier and rockier pathways. The moderate, difficult and strenuous rated trails feature more (and larger) hills.

Side view of Gemma jumping between rocks to cross a river on the East Coast Trail
Jumping across a river on the Spout Path

Mud is present on boggier sections of the trail and is more widespread in spring.

As a general rule, the southern half of the trail is muddier (and more forested) than the north. Mud increases the difficulty of the trail.

There are boardwalks in the boggiest areas. On the more difficult and remote paths, expect occasional nails and boards to be missing.

Back view of hiker walking along grassy path with Caution sign to the right which reads 'Area prone to high seas and strong ocean currents'
East Coast Trail Association warning

Trail comparison

JR and I hike in the Rockies regularly and have completed several BC coastal trails (West Coast Trail, Juan de Fuca, Nootka Trail) as well as Nova Scotia’s Cape Chignecto Trail.

We were still surprised at how challenging the ECT was. I found it to be a blend of the Juan de Fuca Trail (significant elevation changes, lots of mud in certain areas) and the Cape Chignecto Trail (tall cliffs, short beach sections, big ocean views).

Compared to the West Coast Trail, specifically the more challenging southern half, we found the ECT to be easier. We didn’t have to overcome any giant root/tree obstacles that are so common on the WCT, only a few small downed trees.

Back view of hiker travelling through muddy section of trail, with small trees bordering the path
Boggy section of the Beaches Path

Unlike the WCT, the ECT doesn’t have many beach sections. Most of the trail stays in the forest or cliff-top heath areas. The latter can be very exposed, with slippery and overgrown terrain.

The section of the WCT that I found most similar (at least, in appearance) to the ECT was the area between Tscowis and Tsusiat Falls. The ECT has more elevation gain/loss, however.

There are no WCT-style ladders on the ECT…but there are many, many sets of stairs. These can be a real energy killer on a hot day!

While there are no major tidal ‘problems’ on the ECT, hikers still have to be careful to plan around stormy weather. Strong ocean waves could reach low-elevation sections of the trail.

Unsurprisingly, the ECT has less of a wilderness feel than the WCT but most sections still feel remote. The Spout/Motion Path stretch feels remarkably wild. The ECT has fewer long-distance hikers than the WCT.

Looking down on a hiker on stairs section of the East Coast Trail, with forested coastal landscape behind
There are so many staircases on the ECT!

The East Coast Trail is well-signed with large, brightly coloured trailhead markers.

There are many smaller, wooden signs along the route, indicating the trail direction as well as local landmarks (cove, beach and bay names).

We also found plenty of red flags marking the way in the trees, along with white and black striped markers.

Fog is common on the East Coast Trail and I’m sure it makes navigation much more difficult, especially on the long, exposed sections.

East Coast Trail Association Beaches Path signpost, with large hiker symbol, map and trail details, next to grassy path
Every ECT trailhead has a detailed signpost

In our experience, the trail itself was well-defined in most areas. Some parts are a little overgrown, which can hide the trail surface a little.

As mentioned above, the path can sometimes be rocky – big flat slabs or smaller boulders. Navigation is less clear in these areas.

The most northern section of the Spout Trail and the most southern section of the Motion Trail are covered in Sheep Laurel heath. This scratchy dense shrub makes it difficult to see the path ahead.

Close up of two wooden East Coast Trail signs - one says 'trail' and has a directional sign. The other states 'Small Point' and has an image
There are many wooden directional signs as well as individually decorated ones marking specific coves and points of interest

A great aspect of the East Coast Trail is that the ocean should almost always be on your left (when heading south) or right (when heading north).

The official ECT Association maps are excellent for navigation and planning. We also used the Organic Maps app, which works offline (download the appropriate maps first).

The app and physical maps came in handy when traversing between trailheads in communities. If unsure, just ask a local for help – they are very friendly!

Side view of a hiker on rocky dirt trail next to ocean
Black and white striped poles mark the route in more exposed and rocky sections


Many different animals call the East Coast Trail and its surroundings home.

  • Caribou, moose, foxes and coyotes use the trail for travel
  • Humpback and minke whales are commonly visible from the trail, especially from mid-June to mid-August
  • Seals often hang out just offshore. We also spotted dolphins
  • A huge range of seabirds live and travel through this area. North America’s largest puffin colony is located just offshore from Witless Bay. We saw nesting bald eagles on the Sugarloaf Path
  • Black bears are very rarely seen on the Avalon Peninsula (but it does happen, there was one near Mobile in June 2024)

The East Coast Trail travels through or close to hunting areas. The Association recommends wearing brightly coloured clothing during the hunting season (mid-September onwards).

Looking across to young moose on edge of terrain, in front of ocean
We saw a moose on the Motion Path!

Mosquitoes and blackflies are present on the trail from June onwards. The wind usually helps to keep them away. We found that some areas of the trail had much more aggressive and prevalent mosquitoes and blackflies than other sections.

Wasps are relatively common from July to September. They often make nests on or close to bridges. Be sure to carry antihistamines and other sting supplies.

A whale fin is visible in the cove below the trail, with rocky headland on right
We spotted whales from the trail almost every day

Safety information

While the East Coast Trail is situated close to civilisation, it can feel surprisingly remote. To help stay safe:

  • Some sections of the trail have limited phone signal, particularly the section between Bay Bulls and Petty Harbour
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Consider carrying a satellite device for emergencies (we use an Inreach)
  • Some coastline areas feature very high, steep cliffs. Stay clear of the edge and keep children/pets close
  • Slippery terrain is possible on any section of the ECT during or after rain. Slow down and be mindful of your movements
  • There are small creek and river crossings throughout – prepare for rock hopping, even on the easiest sections
  • Due to the coastal climate, weather conditions can vary and change quickly. Fog and rain are possible at any time of year. Wear layers and bring extra clothing in case of cold and windy conditions
  • Some sections of the ECT are very exposed, with little shade. Wear sun protection (hat, sunscreen)
  • Besides these hazards, it’s also important to be aware of wildlife (see previous section)
  • Always purify or filter river water before drinking. On this trip, we utilised a gravity hydration bladder system with the BeFree
Short white cast iron lighthouse on a headland in front of the ocean. A hiker stands by the (locked) door
Bay Bulls Lighthouse, Spout Path

Packing list

The lighter your backpack, the easier (and likely more enjoyable) you’ll find your hike on the ECT. Of course, you still need to ensure you have everything to be self-sufficient and comfortable.

Whether day hiking or thru-hiking, be sure to bring the 10 Essentials to prevent small inconveniences from becoming emergencies. I would also suggest:

  • Hiking poles – The ECT features many hills. Hiking poles can help reduce knee pressure. We used Black Diamond’s Carbon Zs, which are super light and also pack down easily.
  • Warm layers – The weather changes quickly and often in Newfoundland. Temperatures are also cooler next to the ocean. Coastal fog can roll in at any time, bringing damp conditions even in the middle of the summer.
  • Gaiters – Strapping over the top of your hiking boots, gaiters prevent mud from becoming a nuisance. I would particularly recommend these for anyone hiking in May and June
  • Maps – As noted several times in this guide, the official ECT Association maps are very helpful to have while hiking the trail
  • Insect repellent and head net – It wasn’t very windy on our mid-June hike and we found the blackflies and mosquitoes to be aggressive in certain areas. I’m particularly sensitive to blackflies and wish I had brought my head net
Foggy coastal landscape on the Biscan Cove Path, with forested headland
We experienced some coastal fog and one full day of rain while hiking the ECT in June

Flying tips

Planning to fly to Newfoundland with all your camping and hiking gear? Here’s some specific advice for you.

  • Stoves must be carried in checked luggage in Canada.
  • Isobutane gas cannot be brought on planes at all, so you’ll need to buy that in St John’s (head to The Outfitters to purchase new or used canisters).
  • Be sure to make a detailed list of all your gear and which checked bag it is in. This is not just for insurance purposes.

My backpack was lost on the way from British Columbia to Newfoundland. It ended up in Saskatchewan instead. We had a trailhead shuttle organised for 7am the next morning. Cue panic!

The gear list I made proved invaluable when it came to working out whether it was still possible for us to hike.

Close up of wooden triangular East Coast Trail sign next to fence, which also features a wooden puffin model. Rocky coastal scenery and ocean are both visible in the background
East Coast Trail signage on the Tinker Point Path

Luckily, my backpack contained our more ‘luxury’ gear items such as drinking cups and camp shoes. It also held 6lb of food for the second part of our hike (which we didn’t need straight away).

Thanks to my list, I knew the only essential items I was missing were a sleeping bag, stove and clothing. Oh, and the backpack itself.

With the help of some kind friends and a local thru-hiker, we were still able to hike the East Coast Trail. And that is Newfoundland hospitality at its finest!

JR faces camera and is hoping arms up in excitement at reaching our final hiking destination. Cape Spear is visible in the background
Finishing our hike on the East Coast Trail at Cape Spear

Other East Coast hiking trails you may enjoy:

Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail, Nova Scotia

Fishing Cove Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

13 Fast and Fun Hikes in Nova Scotia

Mount Sagamook Trail, Mount Carleton Provincial Park, New Brunswick

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