East Coast Trail (Fort Amherst to Cape Spear)
A beautiful hike from the abandoned Fort Amherst to historic Cape Spear, with a multitude of incredible sights along the way.
||14.4 km (one-way)
||Linear - One Way
To arrive at the trail, one must first reach the Southside Road, the road on the opposite side of the harbour from St. John's proper. Upon reaching this road, one should proceed to their left. Follow the Southside Road to its end. There is parking available at the landing to Fort Amherst. Please do not leave valuables in your car while it is parked there. From here you have a short walk up the road towards Fort Amherst, and while the trailhead is before Fort Amherst it is well worth your time to investigate this historic site. The entrance to the East Coast Trail is on the right of the road, and is marked by a large painting of the East Coast Trail Association's logo, a man with a walking stick.
This is one of the more challenging sections of the East Coast Trail. Immediately upon reaching the trail, you are presented with a steep vertical ascent for approximately 200m. This section of the trail incorporates rock scrambling, root walking, and depending upon weather conditions, not an insignificant amount of water making the dirt portions of the trail muddy, and the rock portions of the trail as slick as ice.
It bares repeating that walking on wet rocks is extremely dangerous.
Once you reach the summit, you will be presented with a marvellous view of Signal Hill, and the surrounding flora. You will also notice that off to your distant right, several cairns of stone, and a Republic of Newfoundland flag have been erected. From here, follow the trail markers until you reach the forested area.
Upon reaching the forested area, most of the trail markers have been eschewed in favour of wooden blocks painted with a white arrow, hung in the treees to point the way. If at any point one gets turned around, look for one of these.
From the wooded area, one will follow a trail that descends from the summit of the Southside hills all the way down into Freshwater Bay. This section is for the most part a straight walk, however there are several points along the trail that can be very hazardous if wet. It is best to take one's time, and keep both hands free in the event of a slip.
When reaching the bottom of the trail, one has the option of turning left, which will eventually reach Gunners Cove (and a dead end to the trail) or to continue right into the heart of Freshwater Bay. The bay has a breakwater that seperates the area into a large pond, and the ocean. As of 22 May 2008, this breakwater has been punctured and has a small, but extremely fast-moving set of rapids running through it. To get to the other side, one can take an "unofficial" hike around the entirety of the bay, or one can attempt to wade through the rapids. To do this successfully, it is best to wade through the pond section just before the water begins to pick up speed.
Upon reaching the other side (and drying off) it is time to proceed up the hill known as "Blowmedown". The ascent is relatively uneventful, however the trail is spotted with clearings that give a clear look at the gradeur that is Newfoundland, with sprawling vistas and huge ocean cliffs and bluffs. Enjoy them, for the trail begins a rather sharp incline very shortly.
As one pregresses, one will pass Windy Cove, Sleepy Cove, Peggy's Bag and finally Deadman's Bay. The origins to the name of this bay are unknown, but it is known as an excellent fishing ground that various birds of prey can often be spotted here. Again, one is faced with another ascent, this time towards Cliff Point.
At the summit of cliff point, one can see a settlement only a short distance ahead. This is the village of Blackhead, a town of 438 as of the 2006 Canadian census. The path toward the town is relatively uneventful with only a few drops and rocky outcroppings. As you approach, you will begin to see the town more clearly.
The town of Blackhead is one of the most easternly towns in North America. It bares noting that the town contains only a single store, Oceanview Souvenirs and Crafts. It is also worth noting that the trail continues on a private driveway that hikers have been given permission to use, provided you stay on the path. From here, the trail becomes mildly confusing as several people have tramped down the earth and flora. It is best to just follow the fence posts. Note however, that the trail is prone to flooding due in part to the rocky ground. Some rock-hopping may be required.
As you crest the steep incline, you will arrive at Blackhead, and atop Blockhead is Dummy Fort, an artificial fort meant to confuse the enemy into thinking Newfoundland was more protected then it was. The view is spectacular, especially if the sun is touching ont he now-visible Cape Spear.
The path towards Cape Spear is quite narrow, and in the early hiking season can be very wet and muddy. While much of the terrain has been brigded, this does not stop the water from finding a foothold in the rocky landscape. Prepare for a wet descent. Upon reaching the foot of Cape Spear, enjoy the magnificent view and the realization that this is the most easterly point in North America!
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