Length of stay: 10 days
Visited: July 2018
- Gros Morne Mountain
- Green Gardens
- Skerwink Trail
- Ochre Hill
- East Coast Trail
Even though Newfoundland is a part of Canada, with its charming and friendly culture and a more relaxed pace of life, you can’t help but feel like you are in an entirely different country. They even have their own time zone (an hour and a half ahead of Eastern Standard Time). Sure, the weather is predictably unpredictable and there are wind warnings on the regular, but the scenery out on The Rock is hauntingly breathtaking.
We visited Newfoundland for ten days near the beginning of July towards the start of the busy season. Even though Newfoundland is an island, it is quite expansive. While we love ourselves a good road trip, in an effort to maximize our time in the great outdoors, we decided to fly into St. Johns, drive west towards Gros Morne National Park and fly out of Deer Lake regional airport. Below is a map outlining our itinerary (each colour corresponds to a specific day).
Day 1: St. John’s
We left Toronto at 6:20a.m and landed in St. John’s just before 11a.m local time. It’s been a scorcher of a summer back home so we were eager for a change in climate – even if that meant dealing with extreme wind (we’re talking wind gusts of up to 70km/hour). We picked up our rental car from the airport and hit up a grocery store to stock pile snacks for our road trip and pick up fuel for our camp stove. We planned to camp every night out on The Rock.
St. John’s is the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador and the largest city in the province. It is also the oldest city in North America. We first drove down to Signal Hill. Overlooking the harbour, fortifications were constructed on this hill to defend the city between the 17th century and the Second World War. After being sedentary all morning (from our travels of course), we decided to get the blood pumping and first hike along the North Head Trail (1.7km roundtrip). The trail mostly runs parallel to the coastline and offers sweeping vistas down into the harbour below. It wasn’t abundantly clear where the trail ends so we just kind of meandered around for about an hour or so before circling back.
Afterwards we explored Cabot Tower, which is situated on top of Signal Hill. The tower was commissioned in 1897 to honour Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s “discovery” of Newfoundland and voyage to North America. The tower was also used for communications purposes and received the first trans-Atlantic transmission, the letter “s” in morse code in the early 1900s. We climbed up the tower and learned more about its history from the various exhibits along the way.
We then drove down to Fort Amherst, another historic site, that is situated at the entrance of the harbour on the southern side of the Narrows. The first lighthouse in Newfoundland was also constructed here at Fort Amherst over two hundred years ago. The original fortifications are no longer visible and the original lighthouse fell into a state of disrepair and has since been replaced a number of times over the years.
From there we drove south to Cape Spear, the easternmost point in Canada (and North America). The Cape Spear Lighthouse, which was used to signal and guide ships to St. John’s harbour back in the day, was unfortunately closed for renovations.
After finishing up we headed down to our campsite over at Butterpot Provincial Park (which perhaps should be renamed to the Spawning-Grounds-For-Gnats Provincial Park). Unfortunately as soon as we left the coast and headed deeper into the woods, the wind subsided and instead the bugs advanced. No wonder there were so many Newfies with RVs in the park. We set up our tent and cooked up some dinner, which we ate in the car to avoid eating a side of bugs with our meal.
Day 2: East Coast Trail
It rained throughout the night and well into the morning. We woke up later than usual (mostly due to our reluctance to go outside in the rain). We drove back up to Fort Amherst, which marks one of the access points to the East Coast Trail. Spanning across 300 kilometres, the East Coast Trail is sectioned off into 26 paths, offering more manageable day hiking options for those that don’t want to commit to hiking its entire distance.
The access point at Fort Amherst marks the trailhead to the Deadman Bay Path (10.6km one-way) which extends out towards Blackhead, Cape Spear. We initially planned to hike this trail one-way and then uber back to our car. But the rain made us seriously reconsider that plan. Instead we planned to shorten our hike and circle back at Gunners Cove.
Before setting out we fried up some scrambled eggs in the back of our SUV. We then donned our rain gear (complete with a rain jacket and matching rain paints), packed our packs, and set out in the rain (although at this point it was just lightly sprinkling). It’s a short walk along the paved road from the parking lot at Cahill’s Point up to the trailhead.
As soon as we made it to the trailhead marker we got down to business right away. The first 500m or so of the trail involves a steady climb up over rocks and some built-in steps. After gaining some minor elevation the trail levels off and provides panoramic views overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Despite the rain, the trail itself was very enjoyable and surprisingly very well maintained. There were various signs posted along the way to guide us along and identify key points of interest.
Once we hit the coast, the trail splits into two paths: one to Gunners Cove and the other to Freshwater Bay. Here we ran into one other hiker who recommended going to Freshwater Bay (5.6km one-way from the main trailhead). This dude was full-out running along the trail so we figured he knew what he was talking about. Plus he was a local.
The path to Freshwater Bay involved a gentle descent down to the beach to a barachois. We never heard of this word before, but looked it up afterwards, and is apparently a term used in Atlantic Canada to describe a coastal lagoon partially or totally separated from the ocean by a sand, stone, or shingle bar that naturally forms as a results of sediment deposited by a river. Remnants from shipwrecks were scattered along the stones along the barachois. We walked midway across the barachois, took a break along the rocks to eat a snack, before heading back to the trailhead at Fort Amherst.
It continued to rain on-and-off along our return journey. But this time the wind was to our back.
We finished up our hike in the mid-afternoon. When we returned to our car we fried up some grilled cheese sandwiches in the back of our SUV for some lunch. We planned to meander around St. John’s for the remainder of the afternoon, but again we altered our plans on account of the rain. Instead we kind of just drove around for a bit before heading back to the campground.
Day 3: Terra Nova National Park
We woke up, made some breakfast, and packed our gear away. We hopped in the car and resumed our road trip across Newfoundland. Our next stop: Terra Nova National Park. Along the way we jammed out to “Jigs and Reels” on the radio, which showcased a wide variety of local artists. This was probably the best radio station we’ve ever listened to.
When we rolled up into the park it was raining pretty heavy outside so we decided to first stop off at the Visitor’s Centre. We booked a backcountry site at Southwest Arm and were required to check in and obtain our permit. Given the inclement weather, we decided to watch the feature film and check out the various exhibits before embarking back outdoors.
By the time we finished up at the Visitor’s Centre it had stopped raining. We first hiked along the Coastal Trail (9.5km roundtrip), which starts near the parking lot from the Visitor’s Centre. The trail, as its name suggests, hugs the shoreline of Newman Sound.
After finishing up our hike we drove to Southwest Arm to set up our tent to allow it sufficient time to dry off before tonight. There are three backcountry campsites located at the mouth of Southwest Arm Brook. Each campsite features its own wooden tent platform and there is a shared picnic area adjacent to the ocean with a couple of picnic tables and a fire pit complete with complementary firewood. We booked site #2, which was easily the best site as it’s closest to the ocean. It’s a relatively short hike, around 500m, from the parking lot to the primitive sites. Except it sure felt shorter, but that’s maybe because we were hightailing it on account of all the mosquitos.
We set up our tent in record time. Fear is a good motivator. And just think: the elements are pretty harsh out on the Rock. So in order for these mosquitos to thrive and survive (and oh were they thriving), they must be bigger and badder than the mosquitos back home in Ontario. Probably. Maybe.
We then headed over to hike along the Ochre Hill Trail (5.6km loop). The first part of the trail loops through a boggy area along Ochre Hill Pond. The area here was carpeted with this incredibly beautiful white and green moss. The trail than weaves up the hill through a surprisingly barren area (the wind was pretty harsh up here), offering great views of Clode Sound and Break Cove.
On our way back to our campsite we stopped at Blue Hill, which features a nice viewing platform that overlooks Blue Hill Pond and Newman Sound.
We opted to eat our dinner at a picnic area to avoid the mosquito-pocalypse that was our campsite for as long as possible. The one saving grace was that temperatures were forecasted to plummet to single digits overnight. Excellent.
Day 4: Bonavista
We woke up early to drive down to Elliston in Bonavista to see the puffins. The viewing site here offers the closest experience to view puffins from land in North America. It wasn’t abundantly clear where the viewing site was located. We first pulled up to an area along Sandy Cove Beach, but didn’t see any birds so we asked for directions at some random gift shop. The viewing area was located just up the road.
On the short hike up to the cliffs we first passed a couple of root cellars. In addition to being famous for its puffin encounters, Elliston also boasts of being the root cellar capital of the world. These cellars were built into the ground into small hills and were used to store root vegetables like potatoes, turnips and carrots.
After hiking up a hill, the area to best view the puffins becomes obvious. There’s a small island located a few hundred metres from the mainland that has become a hot spot for puffins, and other seabirds, between May and September every year. The picture below (taken from my jenky iPhone) really doesn’t do this place justice and doesn’t fully capture the adorable awkwardness of the puffins.
On our way back to Terra Nova National Park we stopped off to hike along Skerwink Trail (5.3km loop). Located along a rugged peninsula in Trinity, this trail weaves up through a forest to a series of cliffs along the Atlantic coast. With sea stacks dramatically scattered along the shoreline, the views from up here don’t get any better. It’s recommended to hike this trail in a clockwise direction to take full advantage of the exceptional views into the harbour below. Rumour has it that icebergs and whales are sometimes visible while hiking on the trail. We saw neither.
Afterwards we drove back to Terra Nova National Park, stopping off at Sandy Pond. There’s a gentle 3km path that loops through the forest hugging the shoreline around the pond.
Since we still had some energy we decided to squeeze in one more hike before dinner. The Malady Head Trail (3.2km roundtrip) starts off near the end of the Malady Head Campgrounds just past the campsites and oTENTik area. We followed the gravel road from the (small) parking lot to the trailhead marker to begin our hike. The trail weaves through a mature black spruce forest up to a viewing platform that overlooks Southwest Arm and Alexander Bay. This was one of those hikes where it was about the destination (i.e. the view) rather than the journey (i.e. the hike) in large part because the trail was extremely muddy. And because we were navigating pretty slowly around the saucy bits of the trail, the mosquitoes took full advantage and honed in.
Once we finished up our hike we showered at the oTentik facilities, which are probably for guests only, but whatever. It’s not like we had another option given there are no showers at our backcountry campground. It felt great.
Day 5: Twilingate
There was a nice breeze rolling in off the ocean, which made taking down our tent in the morning bearable. We had some time to kill before the Visitor Centre opened (at 10a.m) so we could return our backcountry permit. What better way to kill the time than go on a hike. Or rather two short hikes in our case.
We first hiked along the Mill Cove Lookout Trail (1.5km roundtrip). The path starts out through a forest and leisurely winds up to a barren hilltop, offering sweeping views of the Mill Cove area.
Afterwards we drove back to the parking area for the Southwest Arm Brook Day Use Area (this also served as the access point to our primitive campsite at Southwest Arm) to hike along the Southwest Brook Trail (4.0k.m roundtrip). There is another access point located at the other end of the trail a couple of kilometres down the TransCanada Highway (Route 1). The trail is relatively flat, which we were quite thankful for, as we needed to constantly be stepping to avoid the swarm of mosquitos. As aforementioned, these mosquitos aren’t like regular mosquitos. Or maybe the difference is that it’s only the strong that have survived the wind and weather in Newfoundland.
After finishing up our hike (complete with a high-five for making it out of mosquito-city alive), we drove down to the Visitor Centre to hand in our backcountry permit. We then continued our road trip west. From Terra Nova it was about a two-hour drive to Dildo Run Provincial Park (I kid you not, that’s its name. And, oh, wait for it, it’s located in a place called Virgin Arm. Sounds like the person who named these places might have had too much screech and way too much fun. Live.)
Turns out our campsite (we booked site #15) at Dildo Run Provincial Park was probably the best campsite we’ve ever stayed at (hands down). Our site backed up right along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. It was lovely. We checked in, set up our tent, and drove down to the other side of the campground to the comfort station, which marks the entry point to Blackhead Trail.
The Blackhead Trail (4km roundtrip) involves a gentle stroll through the woods along a path that follows along the coast of the ocean. There’s a viewing platform at the end that overlooks Dildo Run and many of the neighbouring tiny islands in the area.
After finishing up our hike we ate some lunch before heading back out. We drove up to Twilingate, which is more commonly known as the Iceberg capital of the world. This old port boasts of offering one of the best chances to view icebergs from mid-May to mid-July. Unfortunately when we visited there were no icebergs in this alley. But this area also offers a number of scenic hiking routes. From the main parking area for Long Point Lighthouse, we took the trail down to Sleepy Cove.
After finishing up our hike we circled around Long Point Lighthouse before heading back towards our home base at Dildo Run.
Along the way back we passed by a sign for Auk Island Winery and figured that was a good enough sign to stop for some wine. We picked up a bottle of Ice Blue (which was a blueberry wine made with Iceberg water) and Outport (a dessert wine) with screech (a cheap, bottom-of-the-barrel-type of rum that is famous in Newfoundland).
When we returned to the campsite we built a fire and ended up drinking both bottles of wine. No regrets. Well, that’s not entirely true: we regret not buying more.
Day 6: Gros Morne National Park
We had a leisurely start to our morning. We made some tea and sat out on the rocks by the edge of the ocean and just soaked in the views from the backyard of our awesome campsite. We checked out of the campground around 7:45a.m and made the long haul over to Gros Morne National Park, stopping for additional supplies along the way. We arrived at our campground in Berry Hill just before 2:30p.m. We set up our tent and ate some lunch before heading back out.
Given that we spent most of the day in the car so far we decided to tackle a couple of hikes close by our campground at Berry Hill. We first hiked up to Baker’s Brook Falls (9.2km roundtrip). The trail winds through a patchy forest that is in several stages of regeneration due to heavy grazing from the overabundance of moose in the area. There are a few opportunities to see moose exclosures from the trail. These exclosures are fenced in areas that provide trees and plants protection from the moose.
From the path there are three different lookout areas to see Baker’s Brook Falls.
On our return journey, we came across a ptarmigan with two babies on the trail.
We returned to our campsite to eat a snack and play some cards. We then headed back out to the same parking lot at Berry Hill Campground to hike the Berry Hill Trail (1.5km roundtrip). The trail is relatively short, but involves a steady climb up Berry Hill. Along the way there are various viewing platforms complete with a benches.
Day 7: Gros Morne Mountain
A sunny day was on the forecast for today so we figured now is as good time as any to summit up Grose Morne Mountain (16km roundtrip). As the second highest mountain in Newfound and with an elevation gain of 806m, hiking Gros Morne Mountain is no joke.
The first 4km of the hike winds through a forest to the base of Gros Morne Mountain and involves a 320m elevation gain. The path is relatively straightforward and there are a number of built-in steps to warm you up for the main event. See that snow patch up in the mountain in the below picture? That’s where the path leads to next. Good times.
At the base of the mountain the trail breaks off into two paths that eventually loop back together. It’s recommended to ascend via the boulder gully (where that snow patch is in the above picture) and return back through Ferry Gulch. There’s also a sign where the paths diverges that cautions hikers against summiting in inclement weather. There are no markers on the next stretch of the path, which would make having to navigate through this heap of rocks super challenging with reduced visibility. At this sign its advisable to turn around if you don’t have 4 to 6 hours of daylight left to complete this section of the trail.
The gully was easily the most challenging section of the hike. It’s pretty much a solid 500m of vertical climbing through a pile of loose and unstable rocks for about a kilometre or so. And since we were hiking the trail early in the season we even got to navigate through a large snow patch, which put an interesting spin on things. Literally, we were definitely doing some slippin’ and slidin’ while scrambling through the snow. It was unavoidable.
Soon after reaching the peak of the gully it’s a short hike up to the marker for the summit. 806m. No big deal.
From the summit sign there are a number of markers to help navigate through the barren wasteland of rocks and stunted vegetation up on the peak. The trail leisurely descends down the other side of the mountain through Ferry Gulch and provides sweeping vistas of the Long Range Mountains and the Ten Mile Pond fjord.
On our journey down the mountain we also came across a moose. For hearing so much about the overabundance of moose in Newfoundland and in Gros Morne in particular, you’d think we’d come across one sooner. We’ll take what we can get. Especially since this was the one and only moose we saw on our entire trip.
The descent down, while significantly easier than the climb up, was lengthy and almost entirely in the sun. We were happy to reach the base of the mountain as the remaining 4km of the trail winds through a forest, providing ample shadows to cling to.
We started our hike up Gros Morne Mountain at 8:15a.m and finished at around 3:30p.m. On the way back to the campground we stopped at the Visitor Centre and watched the feature film and checked out the various exhibits. We then returned to our campsite, showered, and made an early dinner.
Just in case we didn’t get enough steps in, after dinner we went for a short leisurely stroll around Berry Hill Pond (2km roundtrip). There are various access points to the trail, including one located adjacent to our campsite.
Day 8: Hurricane-like Rain
A massive thunderstorm rolled in early this morning. We slept in a bit later than usual and emerged from our tent around 7:30a.m as that’s when the rain subsided. We made some breakfast before heading out for the day.
We first hiked the path along the Coastal Trail (6km roundtrip) which connects to two small fishing communities. While it was windy (that’s nothing new in Newfoundland), the weather looked like it was starting to clear. This lured us into a false sense of security (more on this to come).
We then continued driving North towards Shallow Bay, stopping first to hike Steve’s Trail (900m). The trail is quite gentle and leads to a seaside meadow. Afterwards we checked out the nearby Broom Point Fishing Exhibit and attended the ranger program. This fishing exhibit provides a glimpse into the lives of three brothers (and their families) who fished at this property for 35 summers back in the day.
By the time the ranger program ended it was lightly sprinkling outside. We jogged back to the car and completed our drive up to Shallow Bay. By the time we rolled into the parking area it was a full-out down pour. Instead we played a few rounds of cards and took a nap in the car since the rain still wasn’t letting up. When the rain finally let up (momentarily) we walked down to the viewpoint of the beach.
From there it was a short drive to the trailhead to Cow Head Lighthouse (2.5km loop). Shortly after we started the hike it started to rain. We pretty much power walked the entire trail. By the time we returned to the car our shoes were sufficiently soaked.
It rained for the remainder of the afternoon. We weren’t too keen to continue hiking in our wet shoes and we didn’t feel like getting our second pair of running shoes wet, so we just hung out in the Visitor Centre for a couple of hours. We returned to our campsite close to dinner time and put our shoes in the dryer. Twice. There’s something about getting your shoes wet that tends to bring out the nastiest odours. And there is no recovering. But hey, I’ll take smelly dry shoes over smelly wet shoes any day.
Day 9: Green Gardens
We started our morning off by hiking along the Tablelands Trails (4km roundtrip). This barren desert was formed several hundred years ago when the Earth’s mantle was forced up during a plate collision. The yellowish-brownish coloured rocks and lack of plant life is due to the high concentration of magnesium and heavy metals and the low concentration of calcium in the soil. There is a relatively flat path that leads through the Tablelands to a glacially carved canyon.
Afterwards we hiked Green Gardens (10km roundtrip). The first 1.7km of the trail winds up through a barren area of the Tablelands. Once the trail peaks over the hill, it diverges into two paths forming a loop. Due to soil erosion, part of the trail has been closed off. Instead, hikers can venture out to the Steve’s Cove and then double back, returning the way you came.
There was a significant downhill portion to reach the Green Gardens coast. The trail hugs through he lush cliff-top meadows and provides panoramic views of the rugged shoreline, sea stacks, coves, and rocky beaches. The landscape was very reminiscent of Jurassic Park.
The return journey was a bit tiresome, but it was well worth the effort.
After eating some lunch we drove to the opposite end of Gros Morne and hiked to Western Brook Pond (6km roundtrip). The trail itself is junk and involves strolling over a large rocky path that is not particularly scenic and doesn’t provide much shade. The real reward is when the path meets up with Western Brook Pond and provides spectacular views of the Long Range Mountains. There’s a boat tour that originates here (which we didn’t do) that offers more opportunities to view these magnificent mountains.
Day 10: The End
Our flight out of Deer Lake was scheduled for the mid-afternoon so we figured we could squeeze in a couple of relatively short hikes. We woke up, took down our tent, made some breakfast, checked out of our campsite and hit the road.
We first hiked the Berry Head Pond Trail (not be mistaken for Berry Hill Trail or Berry Hill Pond Trail). The 2.0km trail (roundtrip) leisurely meanders through a mix between forest and bogs.
Afterwards we drove to Lobster Cove Head and checked out the lighthouse. There’s also a series of super short trails (that sum up to a 2km roundtrip hike) that lead to various points of interest, including a couple of beaches, a garden, and through the woods.
We then “hiked” (I use this term loosely as a trail that is under half a kilometre shouldn’t be considered a hike) the Mattie Mitchell Trail (250m loop). The trail features a series of markers that recount the story of Mattie Mitchell known for his contribution to the exploration and mapping of the Northern peninsula of the province.
We were back in the car for a short while before pulling off for one final hike through the Southeast Brook Falls Trail (700m roundtrip).
On our way to the airport we stopped off to eat the remainder of our food, finish packing our suitcase and carry-ons, and mentally prepare ourselves to leave this paradise and head back home. Two days ago I was wearing long johns underneath my hiking pants and temperatures plummeted to single digits overnight (around 5℃). In a couple of hours we’ll be back in Toronto where the city is under an extreme heat warning advisory. Good times.
L & K