The East Coast Trail: How far are you willing to go?

East Coast Trail

Photo:  Derek Cullen

North America is home to some of the most intriguing cities and travel destinations in the world. Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and Vancouver, there is something mystical about the Albertan wilderness while the busy cities offer a vibrant and comfortable refuge in between. Lesser known and far less populated than the long distance trail in British Columbia, the East Coast Trail stretches for more than 300 kilometers from Cappahayden in the south to Cape Spear next to the city of St Johns.

Yes, I had spent one year living in Canada and many months traveling across every province, but it was the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland that would capture my heart. Simply put, it was nothing short of terrifying to set foot on a remote trail with no previous hiking experience but the initial pain would soon translate to appreciation as I traveled further into enchanting landscapes on this immense landmass just off the east coast of Canada.

It must be noted that this is not a luxurious way to see the sights either or an easy way to escape the stress of our modern world but at the same time, it turned out to be an encounter with everything for which the island is so famous – friendly locals and stunning landscapes. As for the sleeping and eating arrangements, it’s quite easy to stock up on food in the many small towns en-route, and while camping is the most affordable way to spend a night, there are often affordable guesthouses every couple of days to recharge and refresh before returning to the trail. As mentioned above, the trail extends for more than 300 kilometers but many visitors will trek a section of this route, depending on how much time they have available or how far they are willing to go.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

T.S. Eliot

East Coast Trail by Derek Cullen
Photo:  Derek Cullen

Starting an adventure of any kind is never easy

Although the prospect of trekking to the most western point in North America was exciting, it was difficult to remain focused starting out as there was undoubtedly an immense challenge to reach Cape Spear. In fact, I had fully expected to cover up to thirty kilometers per day, but this figure was reduced to as low as ten on occasions, such was the difficult nature of the terrain and my extreme lack of fitness. In truth, I had not prepared for the physicality of an outdoor adventure, not to mention a long distance hike through semi-wilderness.

Setting foot on the trail in Cappahayden, I waved goodbye to my taxi driver and last link to civilization. It had taken five hours to reach this point by car, and as I stared into a dark forest, the weight of my backpack seemed to increase as I envisaged how long it would take to travel this same distance on foot. Isolated and unspoiled, the green landscapes were very similar to my home in Ireland, but it was glaringly obvious there was still a distinct feeling of unfamiliarity. 

Tracing this weather beaten trail, I continued to hike for just under ten kilometers until the sun approached the horizon and the encroaching darkness left me anxious to set up camp. Cooking sausages on a campfire had always been a favorite past time of mine so in many ways I did enjoy the simplicity of that first night but the silence was also unnerving and I fell asleep due to exhaustion, rather than just tiredness.

Why you need to hike the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland

As with any new experience, travel is daunting at times, and this is certainly the case when it comes to taking an outdoor trip. It feels unnatural to choose isolation and camping when you can afford a hotel in the city, while the mere mention of wilderness seems terrifying in itself. However, I genuinely believe that fear, uncertainty or even discomfort is at the very core of the most worthwhile travel experiences and in this regard, an outdoor adventure usually takes a little more of a push. You see, I had no hiking experience, and I was fully aware that this would be an immense challenge, but I also knew that this was all part of the process and an important reason I would find the adventure so fascinating, beautiful and worthwhile.

Climbing over fallen branches, I stopped to catch my breath at times while marveling up at the towering pine trees above. There were seagulls, seals and small rodents I would never have time to identify but it didn’t matter, just knowing they were around was enough to appreciate their presence. Across open landscapes, past hidden coves, beneath green canopies and along a rugged terrain, this was the most natural world in which I had ever set foot and the perfect way to spend time in between a long line of charming villages. For the East Coast Trail is also home to small fishing villages, scenic harbors and picturesque towns where friendly locals are known for their unwavering hospitality. There were days when a local invited me into their home for tea, or when a shopkeeper refused payment for coffee - few places in the world had I felt so at home.

In short, I would learn from experience that the East Coast Trail requires no level of fitness or experience while it still offers up a genuinely unique adventure which is certain to exceed the expectations of every traveler who sets foot on the trail.

How far are you willing to go?

Photo:  Derek Cullen

Hiking with so much weight was incredibly difficult on the very first day, and with no previous experience, it was quite a scary travel experience starting out. However, I had come to Newfoundland with little expectation only to find both my most inexpensive and favorite travel experience.  It is true that I love the outdoors but then absolutely anyone could appreciate the natural beauty of the East Coast Trail and most especially the fact that it is without the tourist crowds you come to expect in other destinations in Canada. Affordable, immersive and entirely natural; if you yearning for an alternative adventure this year, the question should not be as to whether you should hike the East Coast Trail, but rather how far are you willing to go?

About the Author

Headsot of Derek Cullen

Derek Cullen is an adventurer and travel writer from Dublin, Ireland. Having traveled the world in search of new experiences since 2008, Derek now spends most of his time leading adventure tours through Africa.