Hikers told to stay off parts of Signal Hill trail as upgrade delayed

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Canada is getting a facelift that will restrict hiking well into the summer.

Parks Canada says lower half of North Head Trail off limits until late July

Parks Canada says hikers who venture onto sections under construction may have to be turned back. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Signal Hill's most popular hiking trail will remain partially closed well into the summer.

Parks Canada says the lower half of Signal Hill's North Head Trail will be off limits for upgrades until late July.

Construction was initially slated for the off-season. In January, the agency said work on the trail would be complete by April.

The project has been extended due to "unforeseen modifications to bridge components needed along lower sections of the trail," said Parks Canada in a statement Friday.

Delays are blamed on modifications that had to be made to bridge components on the lower section of the trail. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Glenn Keough, Signal Hill's visitor experience manager, said the team has had to redevelop its plans to install two new bridges around the Narrows.

"From the course of doing an assessment in the area down there, we realized that there isn't sufficient bedrock down there to use concrete footings for the design of these bridges," said Keough.

They've since paused construction to draw up plans for wooden cribbing-based bridges instead.

Follow the signs

Signs are posted around the North Head Trail letting visitors know which sections are inaccessible. Still, many hikers are going beyond barricades into closed-off areas.

"I can't say strongly enough that we discourage that practice," said Keough.

He warned that lower sections of the trail have been left "completely tore up," like rails and boardwalks that pose a serious safety issue.

The delays are an inconvenience, but Parks Canada says the improved trail will be worth the wait. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

And Keough said when construction of the redesigned bridges starts in a few weeks, people disrupting the area will only further delay workers. "They'll have to stop to direct them back or talk to them to keep them off the trail."

In the coming weeks, Keough said, visitors can expect a "more robust presence" of Signal Hill staff and national park wardens.

Alternative routes

Signal Hill gets about 750,000 visits each year. Many of those come from regular hikers and summer tourists.

Keough said the North Head Trail is unquestionably the most popular hiking trail at Signal Hill. "I would argue it might be the most popular trail in Newfoundland."

Once they see the improvements down there, I think they're going to be very pleased. - Glenn Keough

He noted that there's no doubt the delay is an inconvenience for people and apologized for that fact, but said the upgrades are worth the wait.

"I commiserate with people that they're frustrated with the delays down there and not being able to get through," he said. "But I think once they see the improvements down there, I think they're going to be very pleased with the changes to the trail."

In the meantime, Keough suggested hikers try the Ladies' Lookout trail, which looks out onto Cuckolds Cove and Quidi Vidi.

Although shorter, its steep sections can pose more of an exercise challenge than the North Head Trail's, according to Keough. In recent years, an eagle's nest along the trail has also been a major attraction.

In July, people can look forward to a joint summer program with Quidi Vidi Brewery called Ales and Tales. Visitors will be led through a hike to the brewery, where they'll get a tour and the chance to sample its products.