Gros Morne National Park, located on Newfoundland’s west coast, is the second largest national park in Atlantic Canada (1,805 sq km), and includes the second-highest mountain peak (806 m) in the province. Whether you’re driving the coastal roadways or hiking the remote trail systems, there’s no escaping the pristine panoramic views that appear around each corner. The area is a remnant of continental drift, where deep oceanic crust, mantle rock, and distinctive flora make for a stunning adventure.
The first thing that should be noted is that it rates as one of the most wonderful places on earth in terms natural beauty. As someone who enjoys getting away from the masses, I rate this part of Canada as the place to add to anyone’s to-do list. I had travelled here several years back and still maintain it as being one of my best travel experiences ever. This time I returned to rediscover what exactly that magnetic attraction was.
There are over 100 km of hiking opportunities throughout the Park, ranging from quick one hour jaunts along well maintained pathways, to multi-day backwoods trails for the experienced adventurer. Most of the biking is done along the paved roadways, making it more a commute to a destination rather than a leisurely excursion. However, the Stuckless Pond trail was recently modified to allow mountain biking along with hiking. This single-track 10 km ride around the circumference of the pond provides for some challenging climbs over varied terrain, but well worth it. The highlight of my ride was veering upon a Caribou that I shared the trail with for a short distance.
For those more inclined to water adventures, there’s plenty of opportunities to kayak, swim, and snorkel within the calm inlets found within the Park. There’s also various boating tours, ferry shuttles, and whale watching excursions that can be booked. Saltwater swimming is best at Shallow Bay and Lomond, and freshwater swimming at Trout River Pond. Boat tours float beneath the towering cliffs of fjords carved by glaciers, passing by waterfalls, marine inlets, sea stacks, and sandy beaches.
Trout River Pond is the most accessible of the fjord lakes for sea kayaking, and probably the safest. Bonne Bay, Rocky Harbour, and St. Paul’s Inlet are all common kayaking areas as well. For those wanting to do some camping along the way, there are four campgrounds (Trout River, Lomond, Green Point and Shallow Bay) that are suitable for launching and landing a kayak. A number of primitive campsites are also accessible by water, such as the three sites at Green Gardens and the one at Stanleyville. These sites are reserved on a first come first serve basis, and a permit must be purchased in advance.
Hiking from the seashore up into the Long Range Mountains is a bit like travelling into the past to a time when Newfoundland was covered with Arctic plants and animals. The strenuous trails are long with many steep sections that should only be attempted by those with previous backpacking experience. Essentials are a first-aid kit, proper clothing, drinking water, food, camping gear, a topographical map, and a compass. As well, each hiker must attend a mandatory briefing with a backcountry warden on the day prior to hiking. The trail fee includes this orientation as well the rental of a VHF Telemetry Unit that aids in the location of potentially lost hikers. Reservations are required and the routes are only open July 1stto October 15th.
There are two unmarked routes often referred to as the “map-and-compass” traverses, Long Range and North Rim, each providing the ultimate hiking challenges The Long Range Traverse covers 35 km and takes an average of four to five days to hike, whereas the North Rim Traverse covers 27 km and takes an average of 3 days to complete. Each route begins at the same point with a steep 600 m four km hike up the gorge. It takes approximately four to five hours to reach the top of the Long Range plateau, where the first primitive campsite is located, and typically the first overnight stop. From here the trails veer separately, with the Long Range ending at the Gros Morne Trail, and the North Rim following a thicker route of vegetation at the opposite end.
One of the most memorable experiences to take home is the spotting of wildlife in its natural habitat. Common wildlife sightings in the park include lynx, black bear, caribou, arctic hare, marten, and moose. The moose population is one of the highest concentrations in North America, and road fatalities are very common. As well there are over 200 species of birds, 700 species of plant, and an ocean full of whales which can often be viewed from the shorelines. Recently Piping Plovers have returned after a 35 year absence.
The one thing that should be noted is that this is nature’s playground, operating under nature’s rules and regulations. Although the Park is well maintained and well staffed, there is a vast expanse of land to explore, and with it being along the Atlantic shores there’s always the unpredictability of changing weather patterns. Even the most experienced outdoor explorers must adhere to certain guidelines when delving into the deep wilderness or overnight excursions.
For those not daring or experienced enough to attempt this on their own, Gros Morne Adventures is a well established tour operator located within the Park that offers a variety of outdoor options. Their professional and certified guides will lead you to areas often unattainable on your own.
After a few days roughing it in the outdoors, a more pampered experience might be the way to end your journey. There are a few accommodation and dining options worth noting, such as the Sugar Hill Inn in Norris Point. They offer a taste of civilization within the wilderness, with superb accommodations, exquisite cuisine, and a generous bar selection. The Ocean View Hotel in Rocky Harbour is a bit dated, but has a fine dining restaurant and a fabulous local showcase of music and comedy called Anchors Aweigh.
The great thing about Gros Morne is that there is something for everyone, although three recommendations are visits to the desert-like Tablelands, the fjord waters of Western Brook Pond, and the hike up Gros Morne Mountain. Enjoy your experience, knowing you’ll be back for more.
Deer Lake is the closest airport with frequent year round scheduled service, and increased summer service. There’s regular bus service that connects to the nearest park entrance some 32 km away. If driving, there is year round ferry service from Nova Scotia.
Day Pass – $9.80 (spring to fall), $7.80 (winter) per person
Camping – $18.60 to $25.50 per site
Backcountry Camping – $9.80 per person
Wilderness Hiking – $24.50 reservation fee plus trail fees ranging from $68.70 to $122.60
Viking Trail Pass –$44.10 weekly per person
Newfoundland/Labrador Tourism – www.newfoundlandandlabradortourism.com
Gros Morne National Park – www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nl/grosmorne/visit/visit3/a.aspx
Gros Morne Adventures – www.grosmorneadventures.com
Sugar Hill Inn – www.sugarhillinn.nf.ca
Ocean View Hotel – www.theoceanview.ca