By Nicola Ryan
Newfoundland and Labrador is famous for its wide open spaces, breathtaking coastal trails, and pristine backcountry wilderness that beckon to hikers and explorers. And while you might picture yourself cresting the Long Range Traverse solo and triumphant, like in the tourism commercials, most likely your office job hasn’t really prepared you for tackling the wilderness on your own. We’ve rounded up some of the ways you can find a group of hiking companions to join you on the trails.
Trail Guides and Hiking Groups
If you’re on the Avalon Peninsula, lace up your hiking boots and head for the East Coast Trail. The trail is made up of 25 wilderness paths, stretching over 330 km all the way from Topsail Beach to Cappahayden. Volunteers with the East Coast Trail Association lead public guided hikes on weekends from April to November. It’s a great way to explore a path you haven’t tried before, and the guides are knowledgeable about the points of interest - from sea stacks to suspension bridges - that you’ll encounter along the way. Check out the website for the schedule, to pre-register with the hike leader and to view more specific instructions. (See sidebar for all the websites linked to this article.)
In Western Newfoundland, the International Appalachian Trail extends from Port aux Basques in the south, through Gros Morne National Park, to Crow Head just east of L’Anse aux Meadows at the tip of the Northern Peninsula. This long-distance hiking trail is part of the larger Appalachian Trail that winds its way across the Atlantic through Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and more! Check out the IAT website for lots of details from the experts. Near Corner Brook, the Humber Valley Trail is a scenic section of the IAT that runs 25 km over moderate terrain along the rolling hills overlooking the Humber Valley. To find a buddy to hike with, search for the “Hiking & Exploring Western Newfoundland” group on Facebook.
If you’re handy to the Parks Canada interpretation centres in Gros Morne or Terra Nova, you can join a guided walk led by a Parks Interpreter. Guided walks give you the opportunity to learn more about ecology, geography, wildlife and human history as you explore. The guided walks are usually over gentle terrain, so they’re suitable for all ages and abilities. You can find a schedule of guided walks and other programs on the Government of Canada’s Parks Canada website.
For a fuller travel experience, join up with a tour operator and explore with a knowledgeable, experienced guide and a small group. Most professional guides have been trained in outdoor adventure and wilderness first aid, so you can feel safe, and many have educational and environmental backgrounds, not to mention unique first-hand knowledge of the particular area you’re exploring. On the west coast, Wild Gros Morne operates a variety of interpretive walking and hiking tours of Gros Morne Mountain, the Tablelands and the Park’s backcountry wilderness. On the east coast, McCarthy’s Party in St. John’s offers walking tours of Signal Hill’s popular North Head Trail and the Blackhead Trail, with local guides and transportation provided in their recognizable van.
Additionally, Trail Connections is a network of B&Bs located along the East Coast Trail that cater to hikers. Stay with each community host for a couple of days and hike from there, knowing there’s a home-cooked meal and a comfortable bed waiting for you at the end of the day. Trail Connections’ services include accommodation, three meals (breakfast, packed lunch, supper), and complementary transportation to and from the trailheads. Your last host will even get you back to the airport or to St. John’s. Check out their website and make sure to book in advance as the summer season often gets busy.
For those interested in an in-depth learning experience, every year, the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture offers the Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program to women 18 years of age or older. The BOW weekend is designed to increase confidence in outdoor pursuits and build awareness of the natural environment. Participants learn the basics of not just hiking, but lots of wilderness activities including outdoor cooking and survival, wildlife and plant identification, basic angling techniques, and safe use of firearms and archery equipment. BOW events include a three-day weekend outing in the spring or fall, and Beyond BOW workshops held throughout the year. You can call Salmonier Nature Park for more information.
There are lots of online ways to connect, make new friends, find out local information and explore outdoor interests. While community-building websites like MeetUp aren’t as well known in Newfoundland and Labrador as they are in bigger cities, you can always check it out to see if there are any folks or groups in your area. AllTrails.com lets you search thousands of trails and provides trail info, maps, detailed reviews and photos curated by millions of hikers, campers, and nature lovers. And, Facebook, of course, is also invaluable. Check out Facebook groups like Hiking in Newfoundland Labrador (Hike NL), and check out the discussions, recent posts and pictures from other hikers.
To take on other fantastic trails, your best bet is to check with the locals! Word of mouth is always a great way to learn more and make connections with other folks interested in hiking. If you’re in a small community, try calling the nearest town office or 50-plus club to inquire, or if you’re staying somewhere new, ask the host at your accommodations. They’re sure to know the best tips first hand. In Twillingate, for example, the Anchor Inn has maps of the Rockcut Trails available and they’re happy to provide information, similar to the B&Bs along the Labrador Straits Pioneer Footpath, and many guests homes and vacation rentals across the province.
In short, if the sun is out and the trail is calling to you, there are lots of ways to connect with others, find out first-hand information, and find a hiking buddy eager to enjoy an adventure near you.
East Coast Trail: Eastcoasttrail.com
International Appalachian Trail: IATnl.ca
Parks Canada: Pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np
Wild Gros Morne: WildGrosMorne.com
Trail Connections: TrailConnections.ca
McCarthy’s Party: MccarthysParty.com/hiking-walking-tour/
Salmonier Nature Park: Gov.nl.ca/ffa/wildlife/snp/
Facebook Hiking & Exploring Western Newfoundland: www.facebook.com/groups/1521447411456002/
Facebook Hiking in Newfoundland and Labrador (Hike NL): www.facebook.com/groups/1525331824356915/
Pioneer Footpath: LabradorCoastalDrive.com
RockCut Trails: RockCutTrails.ca
50+ Clubs: Seniorsnl.ca/seniors/in-the-community/nl-50plus-federation/
Newfoundland Labrador Tourism: NewfoundlandLabrador.com/things-to-do/hiking-and-walking