Hitting the trails in St. John’s

In this blog post, we chat with Sheldon Huelin, Laboratory Instructor for the Science Academic Unit of Memorial University and avid hiker, to uncover the best spots for hiking in the St. John’s area and beyond. A love of the outdoors led Sheldon to study Environmental Science, and he discovered organized hiking with the East Coast Trail Association during the second year of his Master’s degree at Memorial. He’s been hitting the trails ever since! Here are his tips for those who want to make the most out of the beautiful hikes our city and province have to offer.

Why should visitors to St. John’s choose to do some hiking/exploring the outdoors during their trip?

St. John’s has so many great trails within the city and surrounding it. I have been living here for 15 years and I am still discovering new trails.

St. John’s has a great trail network called Grand Concourse. This goes through St. John’s and allows visitors to walk from one side of the city to the next along gravel trails with parks, rivers, and overlooking views of the city.

Surrounding the city we have the East Coast Trail (ECT) which offers about 300 km of fantastic coastal hiking. It was listed in 2012 by National Geographic as one of the best adventure destinations in the world.

In addition to these we have Pippy Park, which is one of Canada’s largest urban parks and has a great selection of developed and undeveloped trails.

Finally, the trails in the Signal Hill area offer fantastic hiking and great views of the city.

Early morning St. John’s, as seen from Mt. Scio (Grand Concourse, Pippy Park)

Let’s start with the basics. Which hiking spots would you recommend to visitors to St. John’s who only have a few days to check things out? Any recommendations for tourists who don’t have access to a vehicle?  

If a person has a vehicle, the sections of the East Coast Trail (ECT) that are closer to town such as Cobbler Path, Sugarloaf Path and Ft. Amherst to Cape Spear Path are great to check out; they are all within a 10-minute drive of St. John’s.

For tourists that don’t have a vehicle, Signal Hill should definitely be on their list. Taxi rides to the top or bottom of Signal Hill should be fairly low in price and the Metrobus stops somewhat close to the bottom of Signal Hill. Visitors can also take the Metrobus to within 10 minutes of the Sugarloaf Path trailhead (ECT). They can walk the whole trail and back within a day (18 km). Metrobus can also be used to get to one of the boundaries of Pippy Park. From there trails, both developed and undeveloped, can be hiked.

The view from Signal Hill towards Cape Spear

Any recommended hikes for people who want to explore a little bit outside of the city?

For people outside the city, I would check out anywhere on the ECT. The ECT offers some easier hikes, such as Cobbler Path, Cape Spear Path, and Tinkers Point Path; they all offer great coastal views without a huge effort. Piccos Ridge Path, Spout Path, and Flamber Head Path will get the heart rate up and reward with fantastic views. Another location to check out is the Hawke Hill Ecological Reserve. This is located about 45 minutes outside of St. John’s and is the site of the most easterly alpine barrens in North America; there are great views of the Avalon Wilderness area.

Sunrise at Hawke Hill Ecological Reserve

If visitors have access to a bicycle, they should check out the T’railway. It starts at the Railway Coastal Museum in St. John’s and goes completely across Newfoundland, totalling a distance of 883 km. It goes through many communities, so visitors can do a combination of T’railway and community riding.

Can you give us your tips for a successful and safe hike?

Whenever I go hiking, I always do the following:

  1. Plan my trip based on my physical abilities.
  2. Let others know where I am going and when I am expected to come back.
  3. If possible, I always try to hike with at least one other person.
  4. I always leave early in the morning to allow sufficient time to get the hike started, completed, and allow time to enjoy some much needed rest breaks along the way. I have never hiked after sunset and will hopefully never have to do so.
Sugarloaf Path (ECT)

What’s your favourite hike in the St. John’s area, and why?

There are so many to choose from. My favourite to do without using my car is leaving my house, walking the Grand Concourse from the Mt. Scio area to Long Pond, then along Rennies River to Quidi Vidi Lake, connecting with the Signal Hill Trails, and then returning home by Metrobus. I enjoy this one so much because it offers great views of St. John’s without having to drive to obtain them. If I have a vehicle, my “go-to” trail is Flamber Head Path. It is only one hour from St. John’s but has a great “remote” feeling, offers great views of the coastline, has a suspension bridge, and is a fantastic workout. It is especially nice during the fall when the deciduous trees start changing colours.

Flamber Head Path (ECT)

*All images courtesy of Sheldon Huelin; not to be used or reproduced without permisson




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