This trail follows the coastline for about 312 km on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. Along its length, the trail is comprised of shorter forest paths ranging from about 3 to a combined 30 km in length (2 to 19 miles). Generally, these paths link small coastal fishing communities.
At approximately the half way point, the trail also passes directly through the City of St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and the oldest city in North America (population of approximately 250,000 including metro area). Just south of St. John’s the trail passes the most easterly point in North American @ Cape Spear.
From the perspective of a thru hiker, the most advantageous aspect of a hike on this trail is unique – there are no fees, permits or paperwork of any kind to arrange a hike of this trail. To my knowledge, there is no other path in Eastern Canada of this length and with this level of development that can make such a claim.
The paths of the East Coast Trail are easy to follow – generally well marked, cut and hardened. It’s worth noting, however, that the trail follows the coastline so closely that it has many sudden, steep elevation changes and can even at times be dangerous – particularly when winds sweep off the Atlantic Ocean. The coast of this region consists largely of high, steep cliffs, making the views at each turn truly dramatic. With this terrain there are precious few flat, easy-to-hike sections.
Trailheads for each individual path are generally found at the outskirts of each community. Each individual trailhead sign generally lists the distance to the other end of that path. There is no indication of the length of the trail as a whole on these signs, as much of the usage to date is by day hikers and hikers doing partial sections. As such, there is also no indication at each end of the trail that the hiker has reached a terminus.
While hiking the Community Link routes, thru hikers will have a short walk on small, quiet community side streets of a few kilometers (usually just 2 or 3 km, with the longest being 8 km) before reaching the next trailhead. Currently, the ECT is 78% forest walking, and 22% community / road walking. These community road walks can at times be confusing – they are unmarked. To assist with this, there is unofficial, user-generated content available at ECTThruHike.com in the form of a spreadsheet that links to Google Map Routes for each road walk. A full set of detailed maps for each individual path are available directly from the East Coast Trail Association.