This year we decided to take a mini-vacation right here at home. Three nights in Gros Mourne National Park. I guess Gros Morne isn’t exactly in our backyard as it is an 8-hour drive from St. John’s, but it is still Newfoundland and it is beautiful.
Gros Morne is a World Heritage site and an amazing place to visit for outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, adventurers and explorers. It really is magical.
A member of the Long Range Mountains, an outlying range of the Appalachian Mountains, stretching the length of the Newfoundland’s West coast. Gros Mourne National Park holds the eroded remnants of a mountain range formed 1.2 billion years ago. So cool!
There is no shortage of things to see and do while there so we decided to hit the main must-see spots. With the wise words of Bilbo Baggins in mind, we set off.
“‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.’”
Yes, that is another Bilbo quote, what can I say? He is my travel spirit guide. Both Bilbo and I, love books and our comfortable hobbit holes and we don’t like to be bothered most days. But we love a good adventure.
Thursday morning we packed up to a gray sky. Drizzle, fog, and rain. It was driving day. We began our drive around 8:30 am making a few pit stops along the way. It was a long day, and by the time we arrived in the park it was around 5:30 pm.
Our home for the next few nights was at the campsite Berry Hill.
Berry Hill has electricity accessible campsites, showers, a kitchen, and bathrooms. Each site is clean, quiet and there is lots of greenery which protects from wind and rain. The location of Berry Hill is also ideal for anyone looking to enjoy lots of the park in a short period as it is centrally located.
We set up camp, ate some veggie burgers and then decided to check out the Berry Hill hiking trail right behind our campsite. This is a short trail leading to a small secluded glacial pond. After a 5 minute walk, we arrived at our destination to find the pond surface was a perfect mirror. Reflecting trees, mountains, and sky. Magical!
We decided to head back to camp around dusk, lighting a fire to warm us before heading to bed/sleeping bags. The rain began around 10:00 pm and our first night in the tent was chilly and wet, with temperatures around 12 degrees Celsius or 53.6 Fahrenheit for my American friends.
Burr, good thing I had two sleeping bags.
We woke around 7:00 am to a crispy fall like wind blowing through the tent and the rustling of leaves on trees. We had a sea kayaking tour scheduled for that morning so the wind was a sign of a possible cancellation. After coffee and a snack, we headed to the town of Norris Point (a 20-minute drive from Berry Hill) to do our Sea Kayaking adventure.
Sure enough, the sea kayaking was canceled so we rescheduled for the same time the next morning.
We journeyed back to camp, made eggs, toast, and tea, After lunch we got ready to check out the Discovery Centre and The Tablelands, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Discovery Centre and the beginning of The Tablelands hike are about an hour drive from Berry Hill on the other side of the park.
The Discovery Centre in Bonne Bay is a great place for new arrivals to the park to go because there you will find all the information you need about the animals, geology, and history of the park. It is also there where you can get maps of the many hiking trails in the park, can book guided hikes and tours and you can borrow a tablet tour of The Tablelands, which is what we did.
First seeing The Tablelands is truly mesmerizing. Like a lone Martian mountain, thrown into an alien landscape. I felt transported from this planet to another. Stepping out of Newfoundland and onto Mars or a dessert or Africa.
It was a sunny and windy afternoon and the hike through The Tablelands is easy and short, taking no longer than an hour and a half.
The Tablelands was monumental when discovered, helping with our understanding of the earth in big ways. Here you can see a rare event where the Earths mantle has been pushed above the ground. Only a few mutated plants can live there due to the high contents of metal in the soil and rock. It is unique to only a few other places in the world. It is like walking deep below the earth on top of the earth.
After our exploration, we drove back to the town of Rocky Harbour and had dinner at The Fishermans Landing. I highly recommend eating here if you are in Gros Mourne as they have amazing traditional Newfoundland food and it is reasonably priced.
Once back to our campsite that evening we lit the fire, played games and listened to music before going to sleep once again. That night the temperature went down to 7 Celsius or 44.6 Fahrenheit. Aw, the joys of Newfoundland summer.
We woke up Saturday morning to a beautiful sunny sky. My hopes were high that our sea kayaking would go ahead.
This time it was all clear.
We left Norris point on our double kayaks and paddled across the tickle to the sheltered side of the bay. The water here was clear enough to see to the bottom and we saw lots of fish, crab, and urchins. The guides were friendly and knowledgeable allowing us to explore on our own all while learning about the area.
I highly recommend Gros Mourne Adventures to anyone in the area. The price was $59 per person for 2 hours and it is well worth it.
We finished up around noon and went back to camp to make a big breakfast before beginning our trek to the northern part of the park to explore the Fjords.
Located deep within Western Brook pond which is surrounded by steep rock walls 600 m (2,000 ft) high are the Fjords. The walls were carved from the surrounding plateau by glaciers. After the glaciers melted, the land rebounded and the fjord was cut off from the sea, forming the pond. Salty water was eventually flushed from the fjord leaving it fresh. The catchment area is composed of igneous rock with relatively thin soil, making the waters feeding Western Brook Pond low in nutrients and the lake is classified as ultraoligotrophic.
It is a truly unique place to visit feeling more like Norway than Newfoundland. The hike from the parking lot to Western Brook pond is about 45 minutes or 25 for young folks. Once you reach the pond you can enjoy a snack or beverage at the boathouse or you can hop on the Bontour that takes you through the Fjords up close.
We were not originally planning on doing the boat tour as I had done it before, but when in Rome. So we put ourselves on the cancellation list and waited to see if we could get on. We were lucky enough to secure seats on the next tour. The tour guides are super knowledgeable, friendly and shared stories of local life, the geology, and wildlife, which was a lot of fun.
After our 2 hour tour, we hiked back to our car and hit the road to drive further North to the town of Cow Head.
This stretch of the Viking Trail that runs from Gros Mourne to Cow Head is a beautiful drive along the shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There are beautiful mountains on one side and seaside on the other.
We arrived in Cow Head and found Shallow Bay Beach which is a beautiful sandy beach that we both fell in love with. I love it so much that I want to return to camp here someday. We walked along the beach, collecting stones and shells before the sun started to set. Romantic right?
We drove back to camp as the sun was setting which cast beautiful shadows of light on the mountains.
Once back at camp we cooked hamburgers and lit the fire. The weather was substantially warmer than the other two evenings which made the fireside more enjoyable.
Because of the clear night sky, we could easily see the milky way from our campsite. We decided to take a moonlit walk to Berry Hill pond and check out the stars from up there. With flashlights (and beer), we began on the trail which was blocked every few feet by toads. Hundreds of toads, not kidding!
When we reached the pond the stars were visible in the thousands. There was not a breath of wind creating once again a mirror on the surface. This time it was stars that were reflecting in the still water. It was an upside down world. We stayed on the dock in near silence listening to Loons and watching the shooting stars until our fingers grew cold.
It is the simple moments like this that are often the most profound to me. I couldn’t help but think of simpler days when people lived peacefully under the stars and the stories of creatures and gods in the night sky comforted them. This silent place of reflection served as the perfect end to a great adventure.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit Newfoundland then don’t forget about the West Coast. A few days there will show you a perspective of the island that you will not be expecting and will never forget.
Although I am sad summer is ending I feel so thankful to have experienced so much beauty this season, right here at home. I feel blessed to live in a province that is so beautiful, historic, and diverse. I can’t wait until next summer to explore more hidden wonders.
Until next time.