The North Head Trail Hike in St. John’s

Locals already know what a fabulous hike the North Head Trail is, one that’s likely been in use since the 1500’s. The trail takes you from the Battery neighbourhood within the city of St. John’s up to the Signal Hill National Historic Site, officially a distance of 1.7 kilometres one way.

If you’re staying downtown, you can hike to the trailhead. Otherwise, order an Uber and get dropped off in the colourful Narrows neighbourhood overlooking St. John’s Harbour. The trailhead is a short walk away.

In my opinion the North Head trail hike is one of the premiere things to do in St. John’s. Not only do you get the feeling that you’re far removed from a city, but you get some exercise with a beautiful backdrop. It’s a fantastic head-clearer and break should you be attending a conference like I was.

Some of you might fret over the “chains section” but it’s short and you’ll be through it in seconds. The rest of the hike is straightforward – though you may be huffing and puffing as you climb the final set of stairs to the top of Signal Hill.

Trust me, it’s all worthwhile, especially when there are icebergs – something I saw on a previous trip to St. John’s in June.

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You must walk through The Narrows neighbourhood to reach the official trailhead for the North Head Trail
You must walk through the Narrows neighbourhood to reach the official trailhead for the North Head Trail

North Head Trail in St. John’s hike summary

Distance: Variable depending on where you start walking from. It’s 3.4 km return as an out and back from the trailhead near the Narrows neighbourhood. We added an additional 3.4 km as an out and back from the Alt Hotel to the trailhead for a total of 6.8 km. An alternative is to walk 1.5 km down Signal Hill Road (not as interesting) to reach the Battery Cafe and from there return to your hotel or place of residence.

Elevation gain: Around 165 m (541 feet).

Time needed: 1 – 2.5 hours depending on where you start the hike. You can do it in as little as one hour as an up and down from the Narrows neighbourhood.

Level of difficulty: Easy in my books but moderate for anyone unused to elevation gain. Parks Canada rates it strenuous – challenging. The only challenging place for some with a fear of heights is the short chains section or the hundreds of stairs – but only if you’re NOT used to elevation gain.

Map: Look for a map at the intersection of Signal Hill Road and Battery Road. It shows the route to the start of the trail.

Trailheads: The parking lot on the summit of Signal Hill or somewhere near the Battery Cafe.

Options from the top: From the summit take the Ladies Lookout Trail to the Burma Road Trail to ultimately end in Quidi Vidi Village where you can enjoy a cold one at Quidi Vidi Brewery. From Quidi Vidi it is possible to hike the Sugarloaf Path all the way to Logy Bay.

Dress for the hike: St. John’s is known for its wind and fog, so dress appropriately. I’d recommend stuffing a raincoat and hat in your pack.

Don’t forget: Tell someone where you are going, practice the seven Leave No Trace principles and pack the 10 hiking essentials.

Some people might not like the short "chains section" on the North Head Trail
Some people might not like the short “chains section” on the North Head Trail

Finding the trailhead for the North Head Trail

Half the fun of the North Head trail hike is getting to the trailhead on foot.

To start, make your way to the Battery neighbourhood – filled with colourful homes that border St. John’s Harbour. From the Battery Cafe (a great place for breakfast, lunch, coffee, baked goods and rhubarb lemonade) near the foot of Signal Hill, hike 850 m along Battery and Upper Battery Roads to get to the trailhead.

Pass a series of black and white murals and the Battery Lookout with views across St. John’s Harbour.

Wind through the vibrant Narrows neighbourhood – looking for signage pointing you to the trailhead. At times it might feel like you’re walking into someone’s house. You are not. The locals are very friendly and will point you in the right direction if you need help.

Before you reach the North Head trailhead, be sure to look back at St. John’s Harbour. You can’t miss St. John’s Basilica with its prime position overlooking the colourful and historic downtown.

The Battery Cafe is a great place to refuel
The Battery Cafe is a great place to refuel
Walking into the Narrows neighbourhood
Walking into the Narrows neighbourhood
One of the colourful houses you'll pass on the way to the trailhead for the North Head trail
One of the colourful houses you’ll pass on the way to the trailhead for the North Head trail
Lookout over St. John's Harbour
Lookout over St. John’s Harbour
Note the signage through the Narrows neighbourhood
Note the signage through the Narrows neighbourhood
I felt like I was intruding on the privacy of the locals on route to the trailhead
I felt like I was intruding on the privacy of the locals on route to the trailhead
Looking back at the Battery neighbourhood
Looking back at the Battery neighbourhood

Description of the hike

I think the crux of the North Head Trail hike is finding the trailhead. Once you’re on the trail, the hiking is straightforward on a mix of rock and wooden steps.

One of the first sights on the hike is a deep cleft in the rocks. I looked into blackness and startled a couple of pigeons. Look out for seabirds too.

Continuing, make your way along the bottom of a rock-face looking out to The Narrows. Across the harbour, look for the Fort Amherst Lighthouse – something you’ll pass if you hike the Deadman’s Bay section of the East Coast Trail.

Keep moving, gradually climbing a rock-face. In season and with a bit of luck you might see whales and/or icebergs. It’s a great place to sit and just take in the view – providing of course there is one.

Take a breather when you get to a couple of red chairs with views over towards the Sugarloaf Path. Then there’s a minor bit of up and down before the final stretch – with a steep set of stairs up Signal Hill that will land you squarely on the top. Savour the view, before either retracing your steps or heading back down via Signal Hill Road.

Look for Cabot Tower and the North Head Trail from this photo taken on the Deadman's Bay Path
Look over to the Cabot Tower and the North Head Trail from this photo taken on the Deadman’s Bay Path

North Head Trail photos

I think the following photos of the North Head trail will give you a very good idea of what to expect. Granted, I wasn’t hiking in rain or fog, so there was good visibility. Be extra vigilant about staying on the trail if thick fog rolls in.

Starting off on the North Head trail
Starting off on the North Head trail
You can't miss this deep cleft in the rocks
You can’t miss this deep cleft in the rocks
Me on the chain section of the North Head trail
Me on the chain section of the North Head trail
This section of the North Head trail offers views of The Narrows to the right
This section of the North Head trail offers views of The Narrows to the right
The stairs sure make the hiking a lot easier
The stairs sure make the hiking a lot easier
A pretty section of the trails with some great views out to the Atlantic Ocean
A pretty section of the trails with some great views out to the Atlantic Ocean
Some people enjoying a Parks Canada red chair moment
Some people enjoying a Parks Canada red chair moment
From the bottom, the stairs look like they go on forever
From the bottom, the stairs look like they go on forever
You can walk up and down Signal Hill Road
You can walk up and down Signal Hill Road
You can walk up and down Signal Hill Road
Some of the 264 steps you’ll find on the trail
View from the top over to the Sugarloaf Trail - part of the famous East Coast Trail
View from the top over to the Sugarloaf Trail – part of the famous East Coast Trail
Cabot Tower peaking above the flowers

Where to stay in St. John’s

I loved our stay at theAlt Hotel. It feels vibrant and alive – with a shared workplace, outdoor seating with a view, and an onsite cafe and restaurant.

We also stayed atBlue on Waterwhich has a great location near a lot of restaurants on Water Street. Our room was modern with plenty of space.

TheJAG Boutique Hotelis another option rated fabulous.

More hikes in Newfoundland you’re sure to love

  • Hiking the Skerwink Trail near Trinity, Newfoundland
  • East Coast Trail Hiking Guide
  • Hiking the Alexander Murray Trail in King’s Point
  • Backpacking the Long Range Traverse in Gros Morne National Park
  • A Hike to the Summit of Gros Morne Mountain

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The fabulous North Head trail hike in St. John's, Newfoundland

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