Signal Hill National Historic Site in St. John’s

The distinct geological feature of the Signal Hill National Historic Site rises high above the Narrows, at the mouth of St. John’s Harbour. On a clear day, it’s plainly visible from throughout town, but more importantly, it offers stunning views back across the city, down the coast, and out into the Atlantic Ocean. Although Signal Hill is only a little over two kilometers from the city center, it’s a steep walk, so plan on driving.

Johnson Geo Centre

What better place for a geology museum than underground? Access to the Johnson Geo Centre (175 Signal Hill Rd., 709/724-7625; daily 9:30am-5pm; adult $12, senior $9, child $6), almost at the top of Signal Hill, is a glass-sided elevator that descends below the rocky landscape to a cavernous room where one entire wall exposes the 550-million-year-old bedrock. Displays describe the entire geological history of the province, from the oldest rocks on earth to modern oil and gas exploration. Highlights include a Titanic room, where you can watch footage from exploration of the famous wreck.

View from atop Signal Hill at the gun emplacements.
View from atop Signal Hill. Photo © Andrew Hempstead.

Signal Hill National Historic Site

In the 1700s, this hill, once known as the Lookout, served as part of a British signaling system; news of friendly or hostile ships was flagged from Cape Spear to Signal Hill, where the message was conveyed to Fort William in town. In 1762 the Battle of Signal Hill marked the Seven Years’ War’s final North American land battle, with England victorious and France the loser.

On the road up to the hilltop is the Visitor Interpretation Centre (709/772-5367; mid-May-mid-June and Sept.-mid-Oct. Wed.-Sun. 10am-5pm, mid-June-Aug. daily 10am-5pm; adult $4, senior $3.50, child $2), which tells the long and colorful story of Signal Hill through modern and interactive exhibits.

Continuing upwards by road or on foot, Cabot Tower (mid-Apr.-mid-Nov. daily 9am-5pm; Interpretation Centre admission includes Cabot Tower) is at the very top of Signal Hill. This is where Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message. The hilltop is pocked with historical remnants. England’s Imperial Powder Magazine stored gunpowder during the Napoleonic Wars, and the Queen’s Battery—an authentic outport tucked beneath the cliff—guarded the harbor Narrows from 1833.

For hiking, the North Head Trail peels off the top of the hill and follows the cliffs to Fort Chain Rock. The Cuckold’s Cove Trail wends across Signal Hill’s leeward side to Quidi Vidi Village.

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