The Trail • Environmental Data • LNT • Safety • Food Storage • Connectivity • When • Transportation • Direction
The East Coast Trail, currently at just over 300km in length, is the perfect project for a first time thru hike. In terms of long hikes, it’s a pretty short one. The information that the East Coast Trail Association has online is not really intended for a distance hiker though – that’s why I created this portal.
We are not going to get into an introduction of the trail itself here – path names, environment characteristics, etc. – that information is already online. My intention here is to provide to backpackers of varying experience levels the raw data they need to plan a thru hike.
Much of the data contained within this site is in the ECT Thru Hike Spreadsheet and the Thru Hiking / Section Hiking the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland Playlist @ YouTube. Experienced distance hikers will need nothing more than the data in the spreadsheet to plan a hike, while others may find value in this Notes & Tips section (of which you’re now reading the intro).
Although the trail passes through many small communities as well as a national historic site and a provincial park (campground), there are no associated applications, permits or fees to hike the ECT. However, the Association has membership levels starting at $25 and donations are greatly appreciated. These voluntary contributions go directly to the organization that initially established and continues to maintain the trail – from the perspective of a thru hiker in particular, it’s money well spent.
Some may suggest that the East Coast Trail is not really long enough to be considered a “long” trail and as such not really suited to use of the term thru hike, and I would tend to agree. To put things in perspective, the term is most often used in reference to the long US trails – aka the Triple Crown Trails – the shortest of which is the AT with a total distance of ~3500km – the longest being the CDT @ ~ 5000km – or nearly 16x the length of the ECT. For the purpose of this document however, I’m considering the ECT to be the first of possibly multiple longer hikes that the user will embark upon, and as such will use the terminology, techniques and logic employed by thru hikers of those longer trails.
If you’re an Experienced Hiker, Recreational / Car Camper or Backpacker with a Base Pack Weight above ~20% of your body weight, there may be some good info to review in The Novice Backpacker page.
This Portal does not have info for:
- The Vacationing Day Hiker – The ECTA has info on accommodation (B&B’s, hotels) and shuttle services.
- The “Slackpacker” – I believe there are services associated with the accommodation providers or taxi services that will shuttle baggage ahead.
Please note that while the info on the trail itself in this document is factually correct, the info on equipment is merely my personal opinion. I’d encourage anyone looking for gear recommendations to do more research, all the while keeping in mind that the tool should be suited to the task. A hiker that covers 20km during a weekend outing can select from a different and much larger assortment of equipment than can someone planning to walk 20+ kpd, every day, for 2 weeks. In other words, make sure any equipment recommendations you receive are coming from someone that understands the challenges in the journey that you will embark upon.
All weather and environmental data (average low temps, daylight hours, etc.) contained throughout this site are based on observances from St. John’s, which geographically is approximately in the middle of the trail. Note that weather forecasts however – usually issued for St. John’s International Airport – will very likely not be accurate for much of the trail.
Having said that, the forecast for St. John’s as issued by Environment Canada is available online or by telephone @ 709-772-5534. If you find yourself needing just raw data on current conditions, as opposed to a forecast of what is expected to happen, you can use smartphone apps to display data from privately owned weather stations. Android and iOS phones have apps available that source data via registered Weather Underground sites as well as Davis Instruments weather stations. These sources should never be considered terribly accurate however, due to the wide variation in quality of equipment and precision of install – the most questionable number being perhaps the most important – wind speed.
- Android: Apps for Weather Underground and Davis Instruments Stations.
- Apple / iOS: Apps for Weather Underground and Davis Instruments Stations.
All units of measure used throughout the site are metric. The exception to that is in discussion of backpack and equipment weights, which are in pounds (lbs.) and ounces (oz.), as these units of measure are overwhelmingly used within lightweight backpacking culture.
It is absolutely essential that all trail users, and especially thru hikers (who are in fact using the entire trail), practice Leave No Trace. Before heading out please visit the LNT Web Site and familiarize yourself with this enlightened way of interacting with your environment. In a nutshell, the LNT Principles state that the user should:
- Plan Ahead.
- Travel / Camp on Durable Surfaces.
- Dispose of Waste Properly.
- Leave What You Find.
- Minimize Campfire Impact.
- Respect Wildlife.
- Be Considerate Toward Other Users.
Dave Collins has a good introductory video @ YouTube on the topic entitled Leave No Trace – A Backpackers Oath.
There are generally no large predators on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. The largest mammal you’re likely to encounter is a Moose. Moose can be aggressive during mating season, and they have been known to become aggressive if startled, provoked or in perceived protection of offspring. According to Wikipedia;
In terms of raw numbers, (Moose) attack more people than bears and wolves combined, but usually with only minor consequences.”
There are no Cougars or Poisonous Insects in Newfoundland, and the general consensus is there are no Snakes or Bears on the Avalon Peninsula. There have been a couple of unconfirmed Black Bear sightings during the last several years, but generally speaking you’ll never see a bear on the Avalon Peninsula portion of the province. Coyotes are a recent newcomer to the island, and are getting bolder in their interaction with civilization. Also, Coyotes have cross bred with Wolves in much of the eastern US and Canada, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that these hybrid animals have moved into Newfoundland.
In reality, the biggest threats to your personal safety while hiking the ECT will come in the form of:
Unstable Cliffs along the Coastline:
If you see an area sectioned off with flagging tape, give it the respect it deserves – keep as much distance as possible from these areas. In windy conditions, stay back from the edge of high cliffs and high sea / surf.
Unfriendly Dogs in Small Communities:
Dog owners often leave their animals untethered, especially in small communities where the animal is familiar / friendly to all residents. Usually just a trekking pole extended and a shout will deter an aggressive dog. If not, and if absolutely necessary, sparingly use your dog attack spray (aka bear or pepper spray, covered in Equipment). FWIW, I’ve only ever encountered a few aggressive dogs, and never on the actual trail. I’ve had more dogs befriend me and come along for a walk.
In terms of food storage and wildlife, I’ve never had an issue while camping along the ECT. I have slept with food in my shelter – generally a terrible idea elsewhere in the world, but common practice among backpackers on the East Coast Trail.
Rodents, while not really a threat to your safety, could be a nuisance in this regard. You may want to be a little more aware of Squirrels, Mice, etc. when camping near the uber popular ECTA designated camp sites and on the Sugarloaf Path (near the regional landfill). If there are any rodents that have become bold and accustomed to humans, it’ll be in these areas.
Generally speaking, if your food is stored in such a way as to minimize odors, you’ll have few problems. To err on the side of caution, a good practice would be to keep all food in a plastic (or other odor proof) bag. When this is stored in your pack at camp, use the large liner bag that’s normally used inside your pack on the outside to keep everything dry and minimize odor – see Gear Tips and Tricks for specifics. There is of course a possibility that a squirrel or other rodent could check it out – if odor is minimized however, they’d likely have little reason to.
For the extremely cautious backpacker that would like to stick to good practice, and considering the recent proliferation of Coyotes, you could hang your food as would be done in other parts of the world. It’s certainly overkill, and you’ll turn some heads and may even get a few questions – but it’s not a bad skill to have. Check out Joe Brewer’s Hanging a Food Bag video for more on that topic.
Cell phone reception is generally good along the length of the ECT, with signals being a little spotty at the apex of some trails, in sheltered coves and on either end (north at Picco’s Ridge / White Horse, and south at Island Meadow). If you positively must be connected along the entire trail, you’ll need to arrange for something other than a standard cell phone.
In terms of using a non-Canadian Carrier cell phone in Newfoundland, the best option is to have any Carrier SIM Locks removed on your handset before leaving your home country. Upon arrival in your host country, buy & pop in a local prepaid SIM and, with little to no effort you’ll be up and running – exactly as you were, but with a new local phone number.
Note that this is dependent on the network in the host country being band compatible with your handset. Generally speaking, in the Americas, you’ll at least get some level of service.
You can confirm your device is SIM Unlocked (not just Unlocked – that’s something different) by removing your Original Carrier SIM and inserting another Carrier’s SIM – again, do this before leaving home. When you’ve confirmed this is working on your device, you’re good to travel.
– Bell, and it’s discount brand, Virgin.
– Telus, with it’s discount brand, Koodo.
Both Bell and Telus use the same towers, from what I understand. These carriers have Prepaid SIM Cards, in both Voice + Data and Data Only varieties. Generally speaking, the best deals will come from the discount brand for each carrier.
While the process of obtaining a SIM Unlock requires some level of technical knowledge on the part of the user, there are unique advantages associated with putting in the effort, such as:
– While traveling, you’ll pay no roaming charges.
– All apps & data on your device will be exactly as they were.
Anytime from May to October.
The shoulder season in terms of 3 season hiking in Newfoundland in Spring is around May / June and in Fall about September / October. For temperature, the warmest months are July and August. The Spring and Fall shoulder seasons can get quite cold at night – there’s a table listing average low temperatures with the Thru Hike Calculator.
Newfoundland has stronger winds than anywhere else in Canada – keep this in mind when choosing equipment. With the exception of July / August, those winds are usually quite cool, which can be refreshing and not always a bad thing when hiking. Wind and coastal currents are known to play havoc with weather forecasts, so it’s not uncommon for fog to roll in off the ocean and the temperature to drop several degrees within a few minutes. Having said that, seasonal extremes of temperature are not as pronounced as they are in mainland Canada, as the ocean tends to regulate air temperature.
When hiking on the ECT you are never far from the coastline, so the ocean is almost always within view, or at least earshot. There are sections of the trail that run along exposed coastal cliffs – generally these areas are windy. However, most of the trail is in the forest (Boreal), and to varying degrees sheltered from those winds. The equipment recommendations in the following page are well suited to this sometimes windy environment. You’ll get a much better idea of the weather that you should expect from the videos in the YouTube Thru Hike Playlist (the time of year that each video is shot is noted in the opening titles).
In terms of crowds, the weekends will be busy from May to October, and more so in July and August. If you plan to setup at a designated camp area on a weekend, you may want to have a backup plan. Other users will very likely arrive at camp and setup long before you will arrive – you as someone hiking greater distances and longer hours – so all spots may be taken. Note that the designated areas are free and available on a first come / first serve basis. There are many non-designated areas listed in the Camping tab in the Spreadsheet. Most weekend users will head directly for the comfort (tent platforms, toilet, nearby water source) of the designated sites first, so these non-designated sites are a sure bet on all but the busiest weekends.
Perhaps the most unappreciated factor in selecting a time of year for a thru hike is the amount of available daylight. This is important as the number of daylight hours will generally dictate how long you can safely hike – which directly relates to the distance you travel. To quote a very well respected long distance hiker regarding finishing a thru hike within your targeted time:
The secret is not hiking at a faster speed, but hiking for more hours.”
(Andrew Skurka, Oct 2006, Backpacking Light Magazine).
For example, let’s look at travelling 30 kpd:
- If you were to hike at 4 km / hr, a fast speed for trail hiking, you’d reach your goal after about 7.5 hours.
- If you were to hike at 3 km / hr, a more relaxed pace, you’d reach your goal in about 10 hours.
So why take 10 hours to do what you can in 7.5? When you push yourself to hike as fast as possible, you’re far more likely to suffer an injury – either a stress injury or an accidental one. The weight of your backpack makes that more likely to happen than you might think. But as Andrew points out in his article, while there is only one way to hike faster, there are many techniques you can employ to safely hike farther. The most likely scenario when hiking fast is that – best case – you’ll burn out and have to stop for a break or stop for the day. Hiking long distances with the weight of everything you need to live on your back really is a study in Tortoise Beats Hare.
Throughout the entire 3 seasons, the amount of daylight in Newfoundland ranges from about 10.5 to almost 16 hours. The same table listing the average low temperatures also lists daylight hours – again, look carefully at the Thru Hike Calculator tab in the Spreadsheet.
NOTE: Information in this section (service details, telephone numbers, rates) is current as of Spring 2017. Please call ahead to confirm.
FURTHER NOTE: There have been some reports of hikers being charged different rates. Please confirm the price when calling for a ride. If you’ve been charged more, get in touch and we’ll update the info here.
Getting to a terminus is a struggle for many hikers, particularly those coming from outside Newfoundland.
Below is info on taxis that service the area around the northern trailhead @ Picco’s Ridge South in Portugal Cove (Portugal Cove Taxi, 709-682-2386) and the southern trailhead @ Island Meadow South in Cappahayden (Halleran’s Taxi, 709-685-2075). Note that the level of familiarity that any particular driver has with the ECT should not be assumed – they’re shuttling commuters and other passengers – not just ECT hikers.
It is also possible for section hikers to get a ride with these services – Halleran’s is particularly convenient in this respect because of the remote locations they serve, but the hiker’s plan would have to align with the driver’s regular schedule. Call ahead for more info.
Hikers can get to the starting trailhead @ Picco’s Ridge quite easily – it’s about 16km from downtown St. John’s, or about 10km from St. John’s International Airport. Portugal Cove Taxi (709-682-2386) has a flat rate of $15 per ride, per person to / from the Airport to / from the Bell Island Ferry Terminal, which happens to be within 300m of the start at Picco’s Ridge.
Note that the first video in the playlist has directions from the ferry terminal to the trailhead (jump directly to that point at 12m 35s). Also note that, perhaps because Picco’s Ridge Path is relatively new, some cab drivers have been known to insist that there is no ECT trailhead in the area… you may have to convince them otherwise.
Halleran’s Taxi (ask for Blair @ 709-685-2075) has a regular weekday shuttle / courier service that leaves Trepassey, headed north, at 8:30am each morning – this vehicle should be passing Cappahayden at about 9:00am. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Cappahayden to St. John’s. The cost per person, per ride is $30. Note that there’s little to no cell reception at Cappahayden, so get in touch the day before to arrange a pickup.
Note that this is a weekday only service.
For Northbound Hikers,
The same Halleran’s Taxi regular weekday shuttle / courier service (ask for Blair @ 709-685-2075) mentioned above leaves St. John’s and heads south in the afternoon at about 4pm – reaching Cappahayden @ around 6:00pm. The cost per person, per ride is $30.
Note that this is a weekday only service.
Portugal Cove Taxi (709-682-2386) has a flat rate of $15 per ride to / from the Bell Island Ferry Terminal (which happens to be within 300m of the end at Picco’s Ridge) to / from St. John’s International Airport (a distance of about 10km). They also do runs to St. John’s, for a meter rate (distance of about 16km).
The ECT is commonly hiked in both directions. As of the time of this writing (Spring 2017), there are advantages for both Southbound and Northbound hikers – the pros and cons are discussed below. All data @ ECTThruHike.com is formatted for a Southbound Thru Hiker – admittedly, I’m a little biased. 🙂
Start at Portugal Cove and end at Cappahayden.
- Currently there is a trailhead missing at Cobbler South. Approaching from the north allows the hiker that is unfamiliar with the path to more easily navigate this area. Check the Quick and Dirty Guide for 2017 for more info on this topic.
- There are great places to camp at 500 meters and 5 km on Picco’s Ridge. This affords an easy first day. More detail in the Spreadsheet’s Camping tab.
- Starting at Portugal Cove allows the hiker to more likely maintain dry footwear for a longer period, as the last two paths (Bear Cove Point & Island Meadow) are boggy and wet at the best of times. Check out those videos in the ECT Thru Hike Playlist to see what I mean.
- At 95 km from the start at Portugal Cove (the earliest that hiker hunger could start to kick in), there sits the largest grocery store on route, Dominion Memorial Market (as well as many other establishments in St. John’s).
Start at Cappahayden and end at Portugal Cove.
- The reason most often cited for this decision is ease of arranging transportation upon finishing due to the trailhead’s proximity to St. John’s and it’s airport.
Continue to the next page: The Novice Backpacker.