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Trails of the Rock: The Trails of Signal Hill

Updated on April 6, 2016

Signal Hill

Signal Hill is St. John's best known and most popular landmark. Its unparalleled view of the City and its sweeping vistas of the Atlantic Ocean make it a major attraction for both visitors and locals alike.

Due to its strategic location overlooking the Narrows Signal Hill has been the site of the city's harbour defences from the 17th century until World War Two. It is also the site where, in 1901, Guglielmo Marconi received the world's first transatlantic wireless signal. Other attractions to visit while hiking the Signal Hill trails include; Cabot Tower, The Signal Hill Visitor Interpretation centre, and the Johnson Geo Centre.


Attractions

Begun in 1898 and completed in 1900 Cabot Tower, which stands at the top of Signal Hill and overlooks the city, was built to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John's Cabot's discovery of Newfoundland. Today it is open to the public and houses a mini communications museum and a gift shop. It also provides a spectacular view of the city from its rooftop lookout.

Cabot Tower
Cabot Tower | Source

The Interpretation Centre is a great way to begin the day's hiking. Visiting the museum there will give one a feel for the substantial history of Signal Hill, and enhancing the entire experience. While there you can grab a sweet treat for the trail or a light lunch at the Newfoundland Chocolate Company Café.

Signal Hill Visitor Information Centre.
Signal Hill Visitor Information Centre. | Source

The Johnson Geo centre is a geological interpretation centre built right into the rock of Signal Hill. Walking through the below ground exhibition space the visitor can view the exposed face of rock millions of years old. Other exhibits include the Solar System Exhibit, Amazing Earth Theatre, Main Exhibits (our planet, our province, our people, our future & Space), the Titanic story, Oil & Gas Gallery, Steele 2D & 3D Theatre, and the Geo-Vista Park.


Johnson Geo Centre
Johnson Geo Centre | Source

Signal Hill Trail Map

Parks Canada Map of the Signal Hill Trails.
Parks Canada Map of the Signal Hill Trails. | Source
The boardwalk, looking toward the Ladies Lookout, on a Frosty November Morning.
The boardwalk, looking toward the Ladies Lookout, on a Frosty November Morning. | Source

Lookout Trail

Lookout Trail is the shortest of the Signal Hill Trails, at just 300m, and circles the summit of signal hill. It is rated easy, and is fully accessible. The trail is a loop that enters from and exits to the parking lot. Starting at the city side of the parking lot the walker steps onto the boardwalk which runs along the length of the parking lot on that side. The boardwalk ends on a gravel portion of trail that leads around to the back of Cabot Tower. This portion of trail provides a beautiful panoramic view of the city.

View of St. John's Harbour and downtown from the boardwalk, Lookout Trail. The Visitor Interpretation Centre, the Tattoo Performance Field, and Gibbet Hill can be seen in the foreground.
View of St. John's Harbour and downtown from the boardwalk, Lookout Trail. The Visitor Interpretation Centre, the Tattoo Performance Field, and Gibbet Hill can be seen in the foreground. | Source
Cabot Tower viewed from the parking lot end of the Lookout Trail.
Cabot Tower viewed from the parking lot end of the Lookout Trail. | Source

Where the trail loops around the rear of Cabot Tower one will find a number of lookout points, some equipped with viewing scopes, which give spectacular views of the city, the harbour, the narrows, Fort Amherst, and the Atlantic Ocean. The entrance to Cabot Tower is also around back, and it is certainly worthwhile, if there during its hours of operation, to take the time to tour this interesting and historic building. From the trail loop at the rear of the Tower the hiker can either continue around the building and take the trail back down to the parking lot, or get on the Queen's Battery Barracks trail.

The Queen's Battery Barracks Trail

From the top of Signal Hill the Queen's Battery Barracks Trail takes the hiker down the hill to the Queen's Battery Barracks, and on to the visitor centre. The trail, and the lookout from the barracks, provide a spectacular view of the harbour, the narrows, and Fort Amherst.

Restored cannons along the Queen's Battery Barracks Trail.
Restored cannons along the Queen's Battery Barracks Trail. | Source

This trail is 500 m long and is rated intermediate. Though it is well maintained with an excellent walking surface, and no difficult terrain to navigate over the trail does have a rather steep grade. There are, however, stairs to make the walk more manageable in some of the challenging areas.

Though the fortification of Signal Hill began during the Napoleonic Wars the Queen's Battery Barracks, used for housing troops, was not built until the 1830s. In 1983 a project was undertaken for the restoration of the barracks. It is a very interesting stop along the trail that gives a glimpse into the life of the 19th century soldier stationed on signal Hill. The Barracks was also featured on an episode of the television show Creepy Canada because of its purportedly being haunted.

The Queen's Battery Barracks.
The Queen's Battery Barracks. | Source
Restored armaments at the Queen's Battery.
Restored armaments at the Queen's Battery. | Source

From the Queen's Battery Barracks the trail continues down hill for about another 150M to the visitor centre, and the Tattoo Performance Field. The Signal Hill Tattoo, founded in 1967, performs each summer during July and August. This award winning re-enactment of nineteenth century British military life and combat is well worth making the effort to attend.

The entrance to Gibbet Hill Lookout.
The entrance to Gibbet Hill Lookout. | Source

Gibbet Hill Lookout

From the Tattoo performance Field the hiker can access the Gibbet Hill Lookout. This trail, which makes a 1km round trip to the top of Gibbet Hill is also rated intermediate. It is very steep and has a lot of stairs. The view of St. John's Harbour and the Waterford Valley from the top, however, make it well worth the trek.

Looking down on the Tattoo Performance Field and the visitor centre from the Gibbet Hill Trail. The queen's Battery Barracks can be seen in the background.
Looking down on the Tattoo Performance Field and the visitor centre from the Gibbet Hill Trail. The queen's Battery Barracks can be seen in the background. | Source
Stairs leading to the top of Gibbet Hill Lookout.
Stairs leading to the top of Gibbet Hill Lookout. | Source

Gibbet Hill gets its name from the practice of gibbetting, which is the displaying of an executed criminal's body by hanging it in chains from a gallows like structure for weeks while the corpse rots. This was done as a warning to others to obey the laws of the land, and was carried out in Newfoundland well into the nineteenth century. This spot was chosen because it was visible from all over the city and from ships entering the harbour. Though the view from Gibbet Hill Lookout is absolutely breathtaking, especially on clear and sunny summer days, being at the top on a cool and windy day when the city and harbour are shrouded in fog, with the knowledge of the hill's history on one's mind, can be a little eerie.

The beginning of the Burma Road Trail, next to George's Pond.
The beginning of the Burma Road Trail, next to George's Pond. | Source

Burma Road Trail

After Gibbet Hill Lookout, if you still have the time and energy, you can cross the street to the Burma Road Trail. The trail begins by George's Pond, across the road from the interpretation centre. Rated easy, this is a 1.2km trail that takes the hiker to Cuckold's Cove Lookout. From here the hiker can continue on to Quidi Vidi Village, or come back the trail a couple of hundred metres and take the Ladies Lookout Trail back to the top of Signal Hill.

Tree lined section of the Burma Road Trail.
Tree lined section of the Burma Road Trail. | Source

Ladies Lookout Trail

Entering from the Burma Road Trail Ladies Lookout is a 650m, mostly uphill, trail that takes the hiker back to the top of Signal Hill, which was originally known as Ladies Lookout. This trail is rated intermediate for its steep incline and many stairs but the spectacular views make the climb well worth the effort.

Looking down toward Cuckold's Cove from Ladies Lookout. An Iceberg can be seen shrouded in fog just outside the cove.
Looking down toward Cuckold's Cove from Ladies Lookout. An Iceberg can be seen shrouded in fog just outside the cove. | Source
View of the city looking toward St. John's Harbour from Ladies Lookout.
View of the city looking toward St. John's Harbour from Ladies Lookout. | Source

North Head Trail

The North Head Trail is the most popular, and most strenuous, of the Signal Hill Trails. Rated difficult this trail descends nearly 500 feet from the parking lot at the top of Signal Hill 1.7km down the steep side and around the cliff face where it will eventually connect to Lower Battery Road. The trail is made up of gravel foot paths, bedrock, wooden stairs and board walk that, in places, takes the hiker right to the cliffs edge. One spot in particular, just before reaching the lower battery, the trail becomes extremely narrow, and is so tight against the rock face that a chain has been installed in the side of the cliff to be used as a handrail to safely navigate this section. This is also the windiest trail, and can be quite hazardous on windy days where gusts in access of 100km per hour can whip around the side of the hill.

This trail affords the hiker spectacular views of Fort Amherst, the Narrows, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Side, the Waterfront, Downtown St. John's, and the Battery. This trail is a must do for any hiker visiting Signal Hill. Just be sure to wear a good pair of hiking boots, and bring a camera.

Stairs at the top of the North Head Trail. The trail can be seen running along the surface of the hill in the distance.
Stairs at the top of the North Head Trail. The trail can be seen running along the surface of the hill in the distance. | Source
View of Fort Amherst from the North Head Trail.
View of Fort Amherst from the North Head Trail. | Source
Looking along the coastline from the North Head Trail.
Looking along the coastline from the North Head Trail. | Source
Looking across the Narrows, from the South Side, at Signal Hill. The North Head Trail can be seen winding its way around the cliff face.
Looking across the Narrows, from the South Side, at Signal Hill. The North Head Trail can be seen winding its way around the cliff face. | Source
Looking across the Lower Battery from the North Head Trail.
Looking across the Lower Battery from the North Head Trail. | Source
 North Head Trail exit onto Lower Battery Road. The trail here actually crosses the front deck of a private home.
North Head Trail exit onto Lower Battery Road. The trail here actually crosses the front deck of a private home. | Source

Battery to Signal Hill Walk

From the North Head Trail exit on Lower Battery Road the hiker can choose to turn around and take the trail back to the top of the hill or go out through the Battery, then take the Battery to Signal Hill Walk to Signal Hill Road. This route is about half road, half trail, and almost totally uphill. The road portion takes the hiker past traditional fish stages and twine stores, and houses built right on the cliff side overlooking the Harbour, to the Battery to Signal Hill Walk, part of the Grand Concourse Trail System. This trail starts with stairs at the top of Hipditch Hill, which leads to a foot path that follows a steep incline up the hill to Deadman's pond, around the pond, then exits across the road from the Johnson Geo Centre. One can also take a slight detour off Battery Road and check out Fort Waldegrave before carrying on to the walking trail.

Lower Battery Road.
Lower Battery Road. | Source
Fish stages along St. John's Harbour.
Fish stages along St. John's Harbour. | Source
Mural painted on a retaining wall at the top of Outer Battery Road depicting fishing life in the Battery.
Mural painted on a retaining wall at the top of Outer Battery Road depicting fishing life in the Battery. | Source
Exit of the Battery to Signal Hill Walk, across from the Johnson Geo Centre.
Exit of the Battery to Signal Hill Walk, across from the Johnson Geo Centre. | Source

The Trails of Signal Hill

Signal Hill offers trails for every level of walker or hiker, with some of the most spectacular and breathtaking scenery available anywhere in the world. The serious hiker could complete the entire trail loop in a single day, even stopping for lunch. However, given the history of the place, and the attractions that it has to offer, one should plan for at least two days to take it all in with out feeling rushed.

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    • Stephen C Barnes profile image
      Author

      Stephen Barnes 16 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Thank you. In my opinion some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

    • Kims Cookology profile image

      Kim Power Barnes 16 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland

      Wonderful Hub! Such beautiful scenery all around.

    • Stephen C Barnes profile image
      Author

      Stephen Barnes 16 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Thank you. It is quite a beautiful spot. If staying in downtown St. John's it is only a short walk from any of the downtown hotels. There is lots to see and do on the hill and in the area. There is even a nighttime "haunted hike" on signal hill with local storyteller and guide Dale Jarvis, which many people really enjoy.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 16 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      What a fascinating hub...with gorgeous photos and marvelous walking information. I would love to vacation around the signal hill area.