Gros Morne-gateway to Newfoundland’s Viking Trail


Somewhere on Highway 1

Somewhere on Highway 1

If you have a month to visit Newfoundland, you should follow the route I’ve been describing in the past few posts. You should see St. John’s and Cape St. Mary’s and rummage around on the back roads.

But then, I wouldn’t advise you to visit Newfoundland for less than a month. Hear that, you power vacay-ers? Why go all that way and only stay for a week?

But if that’s ALL the time you have, and if you are DETERMINED to go to Newfoundland, then you should head straight for the Viking Trail.

The Viking Trail begins and ends with UNESCO World Heritage sites. It takes you the length of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, which juts like a finger into the Atlantic, snagging whales and icebergs as they float past. (At certain times of the year, that is. I didn’t see either.) You’ll catch a glimpse of Newfoundland fishing villages, in living color and unadorned for the tourist. And the drive, mostly hugging the coast, is totally worth it.

Great Northern Peninsula. The Viking Trail hugs the western coast.

In order to do this, you will take the Marine Atlantic ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Port aux Basques on the southwest corner of Newfoundland. Then you’ll travel north a few hours through Corner Brook and Deer Lake until you get to Gros Morne National Park. This is where the Viking Trail begins.

On the way, you’ll begin to absorb the strangeness of the place. It may be misty and foggy. It may rain. If it’s windy, you may get battered on the Wreck House Pass, where the wind funnels through so ferociously that it can knock a train off its pins.

The spirit of the place. Can you feel it?

The spirit of the place. Can you feel it?

Slow down now. Don’t be a stupid and push on just to see how many miles you can rack up in a day. Newfoundland time is slow.

After you enter Gros Morne, take the first road to the left. This is Rte. 431, and it’s a paved and winding two-lane. You can camp at Lomond. You ARE camping, aren’t you? There is no better way to see Newfoundland. Except if it rains. Which is often.

View across Bonne Bay from Lomond campground

View across Bonne Bay from Lomond campground

From here, you can explore the southern arm of Gros Morne. (Did I mention that the park is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its natural beauty and because it contains some of the oldest exposed rock in the world? No? Well, silly me.)

You should visit Trout River, a tiny village on the ocean, and maybe eat at the Seaside Restaurant. You should check out the Discovery Center, which is perched on the steep turn-off to Trout River. You’ll learn something about what you’re looking at. You should probably also camp at the Trout River campground for a few days, just for a different perspective.

Near Trout River. Just another beautiful view.

Trout River perspective.

Hike whatever trails are around the campground. Maybe you’ll see a moose. Or a caribou, which, unlike moose, are native to the island.

We saw this caribou on the Lomond River Trail. Score!

We saw this big boy on the Lomond River Trail. Score! (Hint: it’s a caribou, not a moose)

The nice ranger who takes your money at the campground lives in Trout River. His daughter works at the restaurant. “We always hope that no one gets sick or hurt in winter,” he says. “Even a little snow, and we get white-out conditions for days and days. Of course, the big plows will go in front of the ambulance if someone has to get out.”

Hmmm. Life in the outport.

While you’re in this section of the park, you must see the Tablelands. This is an ancient ocean bottom that was pinched between colliding continents and heaved above the level of the surrounding (and much newer) mountains about 500 million years ago. Rock formations in this corner of the world helped to flesh out modern plate tectonic theory. This place contains some of the oldest exposed rock in the world.

Here’s what rock from the bowels of the earth looks like:

500 million years if it's a day

500 million years if it’s a day

The Tablelands (that ancient ocean bed) is a high, flat mesa surrounded by lush, green mountains. The mesa, by contrast, is rust-colored, barren, and toxic to most plants that grow lushly elsewhere in Newfoundland. It looks like the desert in southern Utah .

The Tablelands. An ancient ocean bed that's too toxic to grow much.

The Tablelands. An ancient ocean bed that’s toxic to plant life.

Okay. You’ve spent enough time in this part of Gros Morne. Now you’ll continue north on the twisty road between the coast and the Long Range Mountains. You’ll notice that this is how the park got its UNESCO designation for “exceptional beauty.” It also brushes by fishing villages, like Rocky Harbor and Cow Head, that cater to tourists but that also manage to keep their authentic, unperturbed Newfie cheer.

You can find down-home restaurants serving traditional food and local bars serving traditional music; there are theater festivals and a writer’s festival, all set in these still-quaint and maybe even a bit scruffy villages against a backdrop of ocean, mountain, and marsh.

You will definitely want to visit Western Brook Pond (they call it a pond!!!), which is really a large, deep, Scandinavian-style fjord, but with fresh, rather than salt, water.

The pond was carved into the mountains by glaciers and eventually blocked from emptying into the ocean. Parks Canada is very careful about protecting the pond, so only two small tour boats are allowed on it. On a good day, they’re packed, but the experience is worth it.

Heading into the "pond," a deep freshwater fjord.

Heading into the “pond,” a deep freshwater fjord. (On a sunny day!)

On second thought, a week simply isn’t enough time even to see this corner of Newfoundland. Call the boss and tell her you’ll be out for a while. Tell her you’ve been captured by Vikings. This could end up being true.

Sunset at Cow Head campground

Sunset at Cow Head campground

Fresh photo albums of Gros Morne and Western Brook Pond at my Facebook page here.

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3 Responses to Gros Morne-gateway to Newfoundland’s Viking Trail

  1. Marcia Davis 26 April, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    Great advice. Gorgeous photos. I *wish* I could go there for a month! I *hope* to get there for a week! Thanks for all the info, Kate.

    • Kate Convissor 26 April, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

      Aaaaagh. A week and a half? Puuuleeeze!

      Honestly, with a normal, zippy car and NOT camping, I think you could do the Viking Trail nicely. It’s so worth it.

      Make it a plan! Call me if you need encouragement (or whatever information I have left.)


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