A couple of years ago I found out that the ECTA are in the process of building a new trail that starts from Cape St. Francis and would eventually make its way Bauline, and in the long term, points further south. There isn’t a heck of a lot of information out there about it, but between the hints dropped by the ECTA over the last couple of years and posts about the trail on another blog a couple of years back (thanks, Newfoundsander!) I felt confident that whatever condition the trail was in I’d be able to find my way out to Cripple Cove, at least. I was surprised to see a trail that’s nearing completion (with a few big jobs remaining, of course), complete with signage! The ECTA have outdone themselves with this path, folks! In an effort to describe the trail given that there are no official maps yet, this post is a bit wordy… feel free to skip right to the pics!
The first task was finding the trailhead. Having hiked the Biscan Cove Path to Cape St. Francis a number of times (this is my favorite leg!), I had looked but was previously unable to find it. Today though I had no trouble… the trailhead is marked with an official ECT trailhead sign! This was a good start. It can be found at the end of the road to the Cape St. Francis lighthouse, perhaps 25 m or so before you get to the fenced gate.
The tone for the trail is immediately set: up one side of a hill and down the other. The elevation changes on this trail are significant for this first leg, at least, with a big climb up around Big Cove (North). After climbing over some barren rocks, hikers climb back down to Back Cove, and then up the other side, where they encounter the first real obstacle due to the unimproved nature of the trail: the rope-assisted climbs and descents. I knew there were at least two of those and they’re very early in the trail. The first one is in woods and is almost unnecessary, but the second one is in a scary spot for folks who don’t like heights and might be worth skipping if you’re a nervous hiker.
Once we’re down off the hills surrounding Back Cove, the trail enters a fascinating section of dead trees on the west side of Back Cove. I know “tuckamore” is the name given to the bonsai-like trees that grow along the coast in Newfoundland, and these things were at one point that, but I’m pretty sure there’s another name in Newfoundland for areas of dead tuckamore like this and I can’t for the life of me remember it. Edit: the word I was looking for is starrigans! Anyhow, this section is pretty fascinating. From here, hikers round the coast and head up around Big Cove (North), first passing through a crevasse and then climbing steeply to a ridgeline from which views of Biscan Cove are available once again. The view of Big Cove from up here is spectacular.
After walking the ridgeline for a few minutes, hikers start the descent towards Cripple Cove. The intersection with the old trail is here: hikers can find the old trailhead on a nondescript turn on the Cape St. Francis road, hopefully my pictures help. If you’re looking to skip the rope bridges this is the way to go, but be warned, you’re also missing the dead tuckamore and the ridgeline walk which are really worth seeing.
From here, a little more up and down, as hikers pass through a rather large swath of forest regenerating from what looks like insect kill, before descending to Cripple Cove over some bald rocks. The trail continues past the Cripple Cove branch to Bauline. I’ll explore this ASAP!
Cripple Cove itself is accessible by a side trail and is the highlight of this section of the trail, at least. A beautiful little cove surrounded by cliffs, A walk out onto the hilltop known as the Barracks affords hikers spectacular views of Gull and Cripple Cove Rocks just off the coast, and Conception Bay on the other side, which the trail rounds and begins to follow. I was lucky enough to see two bald eagles as I climbed to the top of the headland, this far northwestern point on the trail.
Just a spectacular hike, folks, and highly recommended! I’ve taken a lot of pics so that folks can have a good idea of what to expect on this trail. Included in the pics are a description of the old trail and how to access it: on my return trip I walked out that way and then back in to finish the hike in order to document it as well. At any rate, here are the pics!