Fort Amherst to Cape Spear (part of the East Coast Trail)

Fort Amherst to Cape Spear (part of the East Coast Trail) near St. Johns, NF

This trail was given a rating of 4 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 4 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 4 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 4 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 4 out of 5 stars
14 kms
St. Johns, NF
User Trevbo

Note: this is the first leg of the East Coast Trail . The trail begins at Fort Amherst on the South side of St. John's Harbour, about an hour's walk from downtown. A World War II gun battery reminds hikers of the Nazi threat from long ago. A historic lighthouse as well as a teahouse can also be examined before heading onto the trail, which ascends steeply to roughly the same elevation as Signal Hill on the opposite side of the 'Narrows' a term referring to the last narrow section of the Harbour before the open sea. From this vantage point there is a beautiful view of the city. The lighthouse at Cape Spear is visible in the distance and the day's task of hiking looks daunting.

Also note the GPS data attached is a route, not a track log, so the actual trail will be somewhat different. We do expect a actual tracklog in the near future.

Two small ponds are soon in view and make fine swimming holes on a hot day. One of the ponds is actually an artificial reservoir formed by a wooden dam, built for a coal power generation facility (now defunct) located near the trail head at the bottom of the hill. After passing the ponds, there are a couple of interesting patches of lichens on the rocky terrain.

After hiking for another hour, I met up with a group of Americans that are slightly lost. It's clearly the dad's fault but his son explains to me that for the sake of harmony they were willing to follow him down (what turned out to be) the wrong path. At about lunchtime we arrive at a barachois that extends across Freshwater Bay. ('Barachois' is a word I'm not familiar with, but definitely sounds like an appropriation from french). The barachois consists of a long pile of rocks that extend across the bay and serve as a breakwater to protect boats that at one time must have been stationed there. Other than the breakwater, there is little trace of the community that once existed at Freshwater Bay. At this point I separate from my American hiking companions after an amicable dispute about which path to follow. They wish to follow a well marked path that extends into the forest away from the coast. Unfortunately, no one remembered to bring an ECTA map, so we part company.

Running out of drinking water, I am ecstatic to discover the town of Blackhead, which is only an hour's walk from Cape Spear. After consuming a soft drink at a souvenir shop, an elderly gentleman sunbathing in front of his house points out a freshwater spring that is purported to be a clean source of drinking water. Here in Blackhead I meet a young Quebec couple that, like me, lives in Montreal. Although they speak little English they decided to take a vacation in Newfoundland, camping and exploring the coast. They hitchhiked all the way from Montreal, and took a ferry from the mainland to Argentia. My American friends also catch up to us at this point. All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes! The others were sensible enough to bring along filters for their drinking water, an excellent idea since giardia can be a risk.

Shortly after Blackhead we stumble onto a patch of blueberries that are full of mid August fruit. After eating our fill we continue up a steep hill and view two large piles of rocks that resemble house foundations. During World War II there was a decoy built at this site a dummy fort, constructed to confuse any German planes that might make their way across the ocean. The sites were once equipped with fake guns and skeleton buildings.

Arriving at Cape Spear, a rest is needed before exploring the lighthouses after the long day's hike. Cape Spear, a national historic site with two very interesting lighthouses, is located at the Easternmost point of North America, and is a perfect spot for admiring waves as they crash against the rocky shore. The first lighthouse is a fully functional, modern facility, while the second is a historic monument dating back to 1836 that one can tour for a small fee. A World War II battery on the perimeter of the grounds can also be explored, with a huge cannon that lies in decay.


The trail head starts at Fort Amherst, across the harbour from downtown. I walked from downtown, but you can park a few minutes away from Fort Amherst near a small boat dock.For more on the East Coast Trail, see the East Coast Trail Association website.

Please check the bottom of the Description (above left; click) for the author's written directions.

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By TrevboPosted By: Trevbo  - Fri Jul 14 06:14:22 UTC 2006 Not Rated Comment Note: The hike described was one-way to Cape Spear where I had arranged my dad to pick me up and drive me back to the city! If interested in continuing this route, I would suggest checking out There are a number of commercial operators who would be able to shuttle you to the nearest accomodation... There are also campsites for backpacking along the way but for some cases it might be more convenient to arrange a shuttle.
By bfcoffeyPosted By: bfcoffey  - Fri Nov 12 16:49:01 UTC 2004 Not Rated Comment It's a small world - my father surveyed in the guns at Fort Amherst during WWII.
- Brian Coffey, Trailpeak Editor, Alberta

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