“One of Newfoundland’s best kept secrets.” Trail Peak, 2020.
“In my opinion it’s better than Gros Morne.” Perry Gillingham, mayor of King’s Point, 2016.
“Definitely in the top 10 of all the hikes we’ve done worldwide.” Magellan, May 20, 2022.
High praise. It made us think. What are we, and most hikers, looking for in a good day hike? We came up with seven criteria, awarding four boots for excellent, three for pretty good, two for okay, one for meh.
The Alexander Murray Hiking Trail on the Baie Verte peninsula in a remote area of northwestern Newfoundland. Here’s how the trail’s namesake described the peninsula in 1881:
“To anyone in search of the picturesque, this great inlet has many rare attractions, in the varying outline and diversified scenery it presents on all sides. It’s bounded on the north side by a succession of lofty and near vertical cliffs… and to the south by gently swelling hills and valleys richly carpeted by a luxurious growth of mixed forest. All provide a landscape an artist might revel in, with scenes to charm the tourist or traveller…”
Including its must-do side trails, this 9 km lasso-shaped trail loops through ridgelines, a sheep ravine, a gorge, sheltered forests and the bog-like Moose Barrens, along the way offering lots of vistas of the Southwest Arm of Green Bay (someone counted sixteen viewpoints!).
Some people would argue against including this category. Especially given the only presence of water on some truly grand hikes, like many in Utah for example, is morning dew on a cactus leaf.
Not Magellan. In fact, he’d like to specify “Moving water,” which you have on this trail, with not one, but three waterfalls. Corner Brook Falls, not to be confused with the city of Corner Brook. And on the loop’s descent, Gull Brook Falls and Roswell’s Falls. There’s also a pleasant stream you walk alongside, the aptly named Grouse Brook.
A challenge, but not too much
Staircases with 2,200 steps!
“It’s a local construction marvel,” Magellan kept saying, “and it doesn’t distract from the surrounding nature.”
People have been hiking here for decades and remnants of the old ladder-style trail system the community built in the 1970s can still be seen. Then came boardwalks and stairs and the King’s Point and Rattling Brook Economic Improvement Committee officially opening the trail in 1991.
By 1995 more than 2,000 people from Europe, Canada and the United States had hiked the trail, even though it’s a five-hour drive from St. John’s. Three years later, the Canada/Newfoundland Strategic Regional Diversification Agreement awarded $273,137 to the Green Bay Tourism Association to upgrade the trail, stipulating the building of more stairs and those-oh-so-welcome rest platforms.
“The stairs are perfectly engineered, the cadence exact on both the way up and down,” Magellan noted. With no ACL in my right knee, I certainly noticed how the stairs simplified the trail’s 400 metre gain in elevation and even more, eased the equivalent descent.
That “Oh-Wow” moment. The collective “This was worth it” feeling.
Haypook Summit, (350 metres or more 1,100 ft) offers 360° views out over Green Bay, the barrens, Mount Sykes and Gaff Topsails, a geological feature known as drumlins on the southwestern horizon.
A spruce grouse—the first time we have ever seen one!
Guess how few other people we saw on this trail over four-and-a-half hours, on the Friday before Victoria Day weekend, with gorgeous weather, 16° and a clear forecast for the weekend?
Grandma from nearby Springdale (who had never been on the trail and was hyper-excited) and her teenage grandson from Toronto, who even though they’d just started hiking (counter-clockwise, not recommended), looked lethargic and ready for a long sit-down. Only Grandma had a backpack; he wasn’t even carrying a water bottle, despite the advice at the excellent information centre at the trailhead.
“Like the pub in Tudes in Spain?” said Magellan when we were deciding upon these categories.
For me the best “foot candy” is wildflowers.
On this hike, we’d say it was the story of Alexander Murray, an outspoken Scotsman with a “cordial detestation of every form of hypocrisy,” a former lieutenant in the Royal Navy who had seen much of the world before he made his way to Canada.
In 1864 when his boots first touched the island and he become the first director of the Geological Survey of Newfoundland, except for the coast the place was almost terra incognita.
His assignment was to produce a reliable topographical map of the interior. In the summer of 1866 while out mapping, he had an accident that crippled him for life, but instead of seeking medical attention he remained in the field. (Like we Macleod’s, is the Murray’s motto also Hold Fast?) He finished the first complete geological map of Newfoundland in 1873 and when the island’s government declined to cover its printing cost, he financed its publication out of his own pocket. His survey, which showed the presence of mineral, timber and agricultural resources, led to the opening of the interior and building of the trans-island railway in 1881.
It is said that Alexander Murray was not prone to giving lavish praise. So, imagine how his vivid description of this area’s natural beauty must have surprised his peers—until they, like so many of us, walked his namesake trail. A 22-boot salute to him!