Above all else, Newfoundlanders are outdoorsy folk. While many have lives tied to the sea, there are as many more snugly fastened to the shores, moors, bogs and boreal forest. You see their love for this woodsy way of life in the care they take in building and maintaining the island’s many trails. Why in Newfoundland and Labrador, you can even hike to one of the corners of the flat earth. More on that later.
This post will share photos and tips for the first of several trails I enjoyed while touring the Northeastern corner of Newfoundland. I’ll cover the other hikes and walks in upcoming posts. The posts to watch for are as follows:
- Signal Hill to Quidi Vidi and back to St. John’s harbour via Chain Rock Battery
- Newman Sound Coastal Trail in Terra Nova National Park
- Fogo Island Arts Studios and a bonus: The Brimstone Head Trail
- Skerwink Trail, Bird Island in Elliston and Cape Bonavista on the Bonavista Peninsula
Signal Hill in St. John’s
This National Historic Site beckons from the hilly streets and deep harbour of St. John’s 100 metres below its craggy cliffs. Signal Hill stands guard on the left side of the narrow entrance to the harbour and it towers over the Fort Amherst lighthouse – a literal beacon – across the channel.
You can drive up to the site. There’s ample parking. But after flying all night, we opted to stretch our legs and aching backs with the exercise. The sight of the Cabot Tower and Queen’s Battery were like magnets pulling us up past the jelly bean bright homes and along the steep streets and rocky paths to get there.
We avoided a wrong turn that would’ve surely sent us on a wild goose chase when an elderly couple sitting on their west facing deck overlooking town, stopped us. They corrected us and set us off on the right path – a set of stairs that climbed almost straight up past their home. “Do this often?” I asked. “Bit” was what Mrs. replied. Then she added “Tis nice to ‘ave da days where’s nice ‘nough to sit out. Seems a small price t’ pay.” Mr. grunted in agreement. On we went.
A welcome center by a small pond gave us maps for orientation. We headed first to the Queen’s Battery and enjoyed a long look back into town and then out to sea. From there, we headed straight up to the Cabot Tower. This is where Marconi transmitted the first telegraph in 1901.
The Parks Canada guide shared some entertaining Marconi lore and knew all the trails. He helped us route our way over the hill and onto Ladies’ Lookout Trail, down Burma Road into Quidi Vidi harbour and onto our pot of gold, Quidi Vidi Brewing Co. Now that’s a great guide.
At Quidi Vidi Brewing Co. we quenched our thirst with a tasting flight of Iceberg Lager, Day Boil Single IPA, Three Seasons Saison and my favourite, the Calm Tom double IPA. The brewery does not have a kitchen inside but you can buy food from the food truck outside. We chose a sizzling hot order of cod bites and fries.
Pro tip: If you go, skip the fries and double up on the cod bites. (Aren’t pro tips great? Someone else learns the hard way so you don’t have to.)
Strength regained, the trail’s sheltered alder-lined paths and eagle nested cliffs called to us once more.
Chain Rock Battery Trail
At the top, we could have headed down a road straight back to town or called a cab but we decided to take the Chain Rock Battery trail down around Signal Hill point to hug the sides of the cliffs and slowly trek our way along the ocean. The name of the trail became evident at a point near the end, where it’s far too late to turn back. Though I might have thought about it for a second or two.
This is where you hold on to rusted old chains bolted into the cliffs and the foot path narrows to a vertigo-inducing width. It’s a via ferrata without the comfort of being in a harness attached to an iron rail. Ah well, the views, especially looking straight across the channel at Fort Amherst lighthouse, were well worth two minutes of raised heart beat and sweating palms.
More serene moments were had at the Parks Canada red chairs that punctuated all the trails on Signal Hill. Resting at these and taking turns taking photos with other visitors from around the country and the world is always fun.
Throughout the hike, a well-behaved bank of fog lay five miles or so offshore. The blue of the day sparkled in diamond reflections on the sea and landed in soft breezes from the sky above. We walked a total of 17.7 K (26,659 steps) and climbed 159 floors according to my iPhone.
I can’t imagine a better introduction to St. John’s or a better way to get over jet lag. We flopped into bed and fell asleep instantly that night. Stay tuned for my next post on Newman Sound Coastal Trail in Terra Nova National Park. I’m so happy to share the beauty of Newfoundland and Labrador with you.