The island of Newfoundland is a Canadian jewel for many reasons (and many travelers do not include it in their road maps!). Its furious nature, with wind and water hitting with intensity, have created a coast full of amazing cliffs and coves facing the Atlantic Ocean. In these waters live many animals, such as dolphins, whales, seals ... and the mythical Puffin. Both the coast and the interior contain forests everywhere full of wildlife. There are so many moose that they are considered to be a pest in the present! But it also has an important cultural legacy in the form of the history of natives of the island, vikings as well as English and French war. Gastronomy, one of the best in Canada, is another element to consider. Regarding music, it is probably the most musical province in Canada (maybe because of the Irish roots!). But, if this island stands out for something, it is for its people: there is no town more friendly than the Newfies!
There are many things to do in Newfoundland. The northern part - known as the Great Northern Peninsula - is wilder and less touristy. The picturesque fishing villages scattered along the coast and the bare ecosystem (because of the strong wind) stand out. The southern part is most visited and contains the two or three main cities, where the vast majority of Newfoundlanders live. But in general terms the island is quite uninhabited.
Here we go with some of the best places in the island (north to south):
L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
Raleigh and around
Port au Choix National Historic Site
The Arches Provincial Park
Gros Morne National Park
Terra Nova National Park
Cape Bonavista, Dungeon Provincial Park & Trinity
Argentia & Placentia
Cape St Mary’s Ecological Reserve
East Coast Trail
Note. Dogs are not only welcome in practically any place on the island (except for a specific route that I will mention later),they are beloved by 99% of the population. In Newfoundland dogs go first, then people 😊
L´ANSE AUX MEADOWS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
In the most northern part of the island there is an interesting archaeological site and museum... This is the only officially recognized place as a Viking settlement outside of Europe. Windy and cold lands, just what they liked! It seems that the Vikings were not here long, but they left a mark in some way. The museum is great, with a small room in which a film is projected and many panels explaining the life of the Vikings here. Especially interesting is the fact that there are findings that there was a cultural (and material) exchange between the natives and the Vikings. Imagine the faces of the "Indians" when they saw these white men for the first time. Neither Portuguese, nor Spanish, nor French, nor English... The first to arrive after those who crossed the Bering Strait were the Vikings. By the way, much less barbarians than the invaders who were about to set foot on America.
Nothing remains in the Viking site. The Vikings used to burn their cities before leaving... Only a few objects have been found. However, they have recreated the esplanade in which they lived, with some typical buildings and even actors and actresses to set it up and give it a touch of humor. A guide will take you to an artificial Viking world, telling you interesting things. At the end of the tour you can enter some of those houses and interact with the modern Vikings.
RALEIGH AND AROUND
Picturesque and charming fishing village (when there is no wind!) located in a beautiful bay. Here you can enjoy both the culture of North Newfoundland and a unique coastal nature. There is the bay itself, where the sea is calm... And the open furious sea, past the town. You can climb the cliff to get fabulous views of the town and the sea, with Labrador and Quebec coast at the end.
At the exit of Raleigh is Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve, probably named like that for its black bare lands. The vegetation that has managed to adapt to that crazy wind cannot afford to grow much. It is very pleasant to walk through this cape that penetrates the sea observing this interesting flora and the views that are projected towards the sea and the town of Raleigh (from another perspective). A few kilometers outside Raleigh you can also visit the Pistolet Bay Provincial Park.
Beautiful fishing village, at the north end of the island. Despite having barely 2.200 souls, it is the most populated town in Great Northern Peninsula. It is the base point of many travelers to visit the old Viking settlement of L'Anse aux Meadows, but it also has other tourist attractions, such as marine fauna and icebergs watching, as well as small nearby villages that resist living from fishing in that lesser known part of the island.
Continuing south along the coastal Viking Trail, you will find incredible landscapes and fishing villages. One highly recommended is Flower's Cove. Apart from being a nice town of very friendly people, here is a unique natural phenomenon that deserves a visit. This is the Thrombolites. These archaic life forms, some of the first on the planet, and to which we owe our existence, can only be observed in two places in the world: in Western Australia... and in Flower's Cove! Ok, you could not see them with the naked eye: all you will see are giant rocks facing the sea. But it does not matter, it is nice to know they are here.
Another cool thing to do in Flower's Cove is a short walk that is on the outskirts of town, with panels explaining the local flora and fauna. There is a quite peculiar ecosystem in this coastal part of the island: the limestone barrens. This is small vascular plants - most of them endemic - that grow at ground level and among and between rocks. How many unique things happen in the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland!
It is not the most beautiful town on the island, but if you are coming from Labrador (or are going there) you will have to set foot on here, since it is where the only passenger ferries come from. There are several daily ferries to Labrador.
PORT AU CHOIX NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Port au Choix is another charming little town in which it is worth stopping to get to know its people and its culture. The nearby beaches are very cool and you can go to visit a lighthouse. But the most interesting thing is to go to the Port au Choix National Historic Site, where you can discover a fascinating archaeological site with settlements, "tombs" and original artifacts of the native civilizations. Attentive to the harpoons they used to hunt seals! All on a beautiful coast that combines limestone barrens, forests and fields of berries.
THE ARCHES PROVINCIAL PARK
These stone arches over the sea are one of the "Seven Wonders" of Newfoundland. They are located a few kilometers south of Portland Creek, just off the Viking Trail. They are wonderful indeed. The Park is small and does not have much more, but you can take a walk along the coast and have lunch in a picnic area in front of the Arches. Dogs are welcome in this Park.
GROS MORNE NATIONAL PARK
Certainly the main attraction of the island (along with the capital, St Johns) is spread throughout a good piece of territory. It protects a land of great geological and biological importance. There are several sections and lots of things to do in this Park, so if you want to know it well it is necessary at least four or five days (more if you want to take a long hike). Dogs have the right to know everything... Except for the last part of the trail that goes up to Gros Morne peak.Let's go from north to south, seeing a little bit of each part:
Saint Pauls. The village of Saint Pauls is the gateway to the northern part of the Gros Morne NP. It is a beautiful town, at the foot of a sea inlet. And the best thing is that it is near a place of extraordinary beauty.
Western Brook Pond & Long Range Mountains. If the Arches were one of the Seven Wonders of the island, in this Park we have two more. The Western Brook Pond is one of them. We are talking about an inner freshwater fjord, a phenomenon that is not seen every day... Due to geological movements this marine fjord was enclosed by land. It is very deep, with very inhospitable waters (few species live in them)... But, above all, it is incredibly beautiful. To get there you have to walk about 3 km from the parking lot, through wooden paths and platforms in the most swampy parts. This is the perfect habitat for moose, so be open your eyes to find them. Thus, you reach the banks of the fjord, where there is a small dock from which several daily boats leave to the interior of the fjord in the summer season. The tour is expensive, but it must be very worthwhile to see that wonder from within (I have not done it).
If you have no money no worries because there is another way to get into the fjord (on the rim). And a thousand times more exciting and adventurous. The marked trail Snug Harbor will take you through wonderful coves and forests to the top of the cliff, the north rim. By the way, you will need to cross a river by swimming at the beginning of this route.
From up here you can walk, entering more and more into the fjord through an unmarked route called Northern Traverse. It is not enough to follow the fjord, as there are areas full of lush vegetation... You need to be well prepared and be an experienced hiker to complete this difficult 27 km trekking. If you don't find yourself capable, you can do as I did: walk a few km and when you have no idea where the road is come back (you can camp down on the beach). This route ends at the innermost point of the fjord, where a campsite awaits. There are several primitive campsites along this long hike anyway. You will miss the unique perspective from the ship, but in return you will have an exciting experience in the wildest nature.
There is another way to get to this inner point of the fjord. It is through the Long Range Traverse, a 36 km trail, only suitable for the most adventurous and experienced souls, which starts near the town of Sally's Cove. In fact, you can link both routes if hiking is your thing. For this route is required a permit in advance, though. Dogs are welcome on both routes. More information and maps about these routes in the links of Parks Canada:
Rocky Harbour & Norris Point. Two beautiful and lively coastal towns in which it is worth stopping to go for a walk or eat. Very beautiful beaches and lighthouses in the surroundings. Highlights the Lobster Cove Lighthouse, from which a small path around the rocks where this beautiful lighthouse is located starts. The views are cool. The Park Visitor Center is a few km from Rocky Harbour. There they can advise you on routes, and watch a short documentary about the geology, biology and history of the Park.
Gros Morne Mountain. One of the most popular routes. You can do it with your dog to the base, but not the subsequent climb (perhaps the only natural place on the island where access to our four-legged friends is restricted). It is a 16 km round trip, and you can spend the night in a primitive camping in the end. The views from the top of the Long Range Mountains are stunning. More info here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nl/grosmorne/activ/experiences/randonnee-hiking/mgm-gmm
Baker’s Brook Falls. Beautiful route that passes through forests and more swampy areas (attentive to moose) and culminating in a viewpoint from which you can see a spectacular double fall of water. About 9 km round trip.
Woody Point. On the other side of the marine arm (opposite to Norris Point) is this beautiful town. Excellent views from the surrounding cliffs (maybe you see some whale?).
Tablelands. A Martian landscape created by unusual geological movements... The other "Wonder" of the Park. At one point in the history of Earth, the mantle "turned around" and was placed above the crust. The result is a layer of brown land with little plant and animal life, which extends for many kilometers. There is a very popular short path (4 km) that runs parallel to a river and ends in a canyon. Where else are you going to walk through the earth's mantle!? If you still want more you can always do "backcountry" hiking on your own. You need to be well prepared to enter these wild lands, as there is no signaling.
Green Gardens. This route of 10 km has an initial part of Tablelands through the mountains, after which begins a descent in direction to the coast, crossing leafy forests on the way... And the Green Gardens or Green Meadows. The views from the cliffs, the small waterfalls and the soft sand in front of the sea is the icing on the cake for making this hike. Highly recommended.
Trout River. Small town at the western end of the Park. It is a bit out of the way and there is not much to do, but if you are going to do the Trout River Trail you can come visit, eat or sleep here.
Trout River Trail. A trek that starts winding through forests parallel to a river and ends in an isolated and pristine area of the bare red Tablelands. 14 km round trip.
All the Gros Morne hikes here:
After driving along the wonderful National Highway for about 300 km we reach the junction with Highway 340, just before the Notre Dame Provincial Park. This less traveled road is a delight in fall, with red and yellow colors accompanying dozens of bodies of water along the way to Twillingate. Much of the route runs parallel to the sea, including a couple of bridges that connect with islands (Twillingate is actually on an island). Once you have enjoyed this beautiful road, it's time to discover Twillingate, a beautiful and tourist fishing village famous for its marine fauna - whales, killer whales, puffins, etc. - and, attentive, icebergs. You heard right, to Newfoundland arrive large blocks of ice brought by polar currents, and Twillingate is one of the best places to see them. Sometimes they appear along the coast, impregnating the bodies of the lucky present ones with a mixture of emotion and cold. Other times you can go to look for them with any of the agencies that operate there, which usually combine icebergs and aquatic life. The best months for the sighting of both phenomena are from May to August.
Other additional activities to do here are eat (good gastronomy) and visit the Cow Head Lighthouse, a very cute lighthouse a few kilometers to the north around which there are several trails getting to see steep cliffs.
It is not the most exciting town on the island, but it has a special emotional attraction. For Americans mainly. With the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, hundreds of planes that were supposed to land in US territory saw their trajectories being redirected elsewhere (the US closed all its airports), and about 40 of them landed in this small city of Newfounland. In Gander converged in all of a sudden more than 6,500 people, who were welcomed by the hospitable Newfies until they were able to return home six days later. This lesser known part of the black history of 9/11 leaves us the legacy of a town who made everything to help thousands of people, lodging them in their homes, feeding them and making them believe - after all - in humanity. There are several documentaries and a movie ("Diverted") about it.
TERRA NOVA NATIONAL PARK
In addition to Gros Morne, Newfoundland has another beautiful National Park. Maybe not as spectacular as its cousin, but with a handful of routes that offer a lot of diversity of landscapes. Wetlands or swampy areas, dense forests, beaches on marine arms... The most popular activities are walking, camping and canoeing or kayaking. The three routes I did are highly recommended, and dogs are allowed in all of them.
Coastal trail. From the Visitor Center begins this route along an arm of the sea in perfect calm. The path runs through a magical forest close to the coast. While you make a stop to eat on the beach, look for seals, as they love these waters. The trail is about 5 km one way, and ends at a campsite. In addition, you can link it with another called Outport Trail, the longest of the entire Park (35 km round trip). You can do the whole or just a part.
Goowiddy Path. This circular trail of 8 km also starts from the Visitor Center. It is ideal to do at the end of the afternoon and spend a night camping in Buckely Cove, a hidden and beautiful cove. You can start the trip along the coast, and the way back through the interior forest (or vice versa), but it's worth alternating it, since both landscapes are very beautiful.
Dunphys Pond Trail. To visit the largest lagoon in the Park, habitat of the legendary loon (a water bird), you need to walk on a flat path that crosses forests and marshes for 10 km. Wild camping is allowed. There are many moose in the area.
Take a look on all routes of Terra Nova NP: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nl/terranova/activ/experiences/ran-hik
By the way, at the north end of the Park is the pretty village of Glovertown. It is worth taking a walk around it as well as the surrounding beaches.
CAPE BONAVISTA, DUNGEON PROVINCIAL PARK & TRINITY
Cape Bonavista is a rocky cape with amazing views of cliffs and the ocean. There are a series of trails to explore the area and enjoy this natural jewel that is home to several species of birds, including ducks and puffins. In addition, there is a star attraction a few kilometers away. The Dungeon - one of the Seven Wonders of the island - is an impressive geological structure in the form of a bridge over the sea. See the photo above: a picture is worth a thousand words.
Finally, it is worth visiting some towns in the area as well. Bonavista is not bad, but there are more authentic ones, like Trinity, 50 km to the south. It is located in a beautiful bay and its streets and buildings are very picturesque. It has tourist infrastructure, in the form of hotels and a couple of agencies that organize tours in search of marine fauna.
ARGENTIA & PLACENTIA
Two small towns in the southern part of the island, known as the Avalon Peninsula. The highlight of the area, apart from a coast plagued by viewpoints that will leave you speechless, is the Castle Hill National Historic Site. A vestige of the war waged by the French and English for the control of this part of the "New Continent".
On the other hand, ferries depart from Argentia to Nova Scotia. The journey is longer and more expensive than from Port aux Basques and only operates from mid-June to mid-September, with three weekly ferries. But it's good to know about other ferry trips (you never know)!
CAPE ST MARY’S ECOLOGICAL RESERVE
The coastal highway 100 leaves from Placentia leaving behind spectacular landscapes. But the most impressive thing awaits in the end, after driving a part along a dirt road. It is the Cape St Mary's Ecological Reserve, one of the largest bird colonies on the island. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador estimates that the site houses 24,000 northern gannets, 20,000 black-legged kittiwakes, 20,000 common murres and 2,000 thick-billed murres, as well as dozens of other species. The ocean waters outside the reserve also provide winter habitat for harlequin ducks, long-tailed ducks and others. Undoubtedly, an oasis for ornithologists, but also for anyone who likes nature shows. The amount of birds there is overflowing, and you can see them from very close.
This set of cliffs that rise above the sea welcomes these species of birds throughout the summer (some of them, like the gannet, until the end of October), before they migrate to new lands. As if this were not enough, it is also a good place for marine mammals sighting, such as humpback whales. A place you need to visit in Newfoundland.
By the way, at the entrance to the Reserve is the Interpretive Center, very interesting to visit.
EAST COAST TRAIL
The most exciting hiking route on the island of Newfoundland is called East Coast Trail. 300 kilometers of adventure parallel to the Atlantic in which you will cross forests and more open parts such as meadows and bare areas. On the way you will see all this: exuberant vegetation, sharp cliffs, islets full of trees, rivers, small lakes, waterfalls... And even a sea geyser! Soon we will talk about this magical phenomenon. The chances of sighting wildlife are very high, especially birds, elk, caribou, bears, whales, seals... And in summer you may see some floating icebergs.
Obviously very few will want to make the full journey. For an excursion of one or two days I recommend one that leaves from the foothills of Bay Bulls in a northerly direction. On this route you will arrive, after about 12 kilometers to The Spout, the geyser. Not a geyser as such, as it is not hot water that gushes from the depths. But it seems, because it springs up from rocks with a lot of power! This is because these rocks must have a system of channels that cause the sea water to concentrate and exit through a single point with a lot of pressure.
The most easterly point of the entire American continent is a very popular stop. It's cool to boast of having accomplished such a milestone! But in addition this cape offers a beautiful panorama of the marine landscape. You can walk along some paths that are scattered along the cliffs and scan the horizon in search of Europe (so far but you can imagine it). There is also a nice lighthouse. It is located a few kilometers south of St Johns.
The capital of the island is one of the obligatory stops on this route. A beautiful city with colorful houses and lots of entertainment (places with good music and beer). And with an incredible history. This is where the final battle of the 7 Years War between British and French took place in 1762 (England won). There are several hostels in the city, but if you are traveling with a dog you have a campsite in the city itself, not far from downtwn. It is the Pippy Park Campground, open until the end of October. You can also try Couchsurfing.
What to do in St Johns:
Downtown. The downtown area is a delight, with colorful buildings decorating each street. The best thing is to wander aimlessly through the main streets and some alleys. George Street is the street for party-goers. A street full of bars and night clubs for the enjoyment of locals and travelers.
Green areas. One of St John's strengths is that it has many green areas and parks. In the neighborhood of Quidi Vidi is the largest park, located in the eastern part of the city. A beautiful lake around which runs a very cute trail. Another very cool park is located south of the Pippy Park Campground (around the Long Pond). And then there's the Rennies River Trail, a beautiful walk that connects this northern part with dowtown. It is cool to walk with your dog, parallel to a river. It ends, in fact in Quidi Vidi, but you can get out before in another nice park: the Bannerman Park.
Museums. There are several interesting museums, two very popular. "The Rooms" explains the natural and cultural history of Newfoundland and Labrador, that is, its tundra and marsh ecosystems as well as the aboriginal peoples. The "Johnson Geo Center" is an interactive geology museum: panels and lectures on the formation of rocks, tectonic plate movements and history of the Earth, icebergs... There is also an exhibition about the Titanic. wonderful.
Signal Hill National Historic Site. This hill is the star attraction of St John's, an elevated spot between the city and the sea where fortifications were built. A strategic defensive point from which the English watched the entrance of French. St John's was raised in that specific place precisely because the only way to get to the bay was through a narrow marine channel called "The Narrows". The defense beats the attack! Apart from all this history, this was also the place where the first transatlantic wireless communication took place (Marconi). But the best thing (at least for me) is that this hill enjoys amazing views of both the city and the coastal strip. There are several trails in the area, getting the cold air and the smell of the sea. Feeling all that epic history while you walk.
Around St Johns. Very close to the city there are picturesque villages and places of great natural beauty. In fact, the East Coast Trail passes through here (you can go north or south). To the south, the aforementioned Cape Spear, Bay Bulls, and the Spout stand out... And to the north the town of Flatrock stands out, with beautiful coves and cliffs scattered here and there. Another place you can visit - just for experts in the wild - is the Avalon Wilderness Reserve, a giant reserve full of wildlife. It is best if you go with a local.
SEPARATE NOTE: ENTERING AND LEAVING THE ISLAND
Access and exit of the island can be by plane or by boat (ferry). If you are traveling with a dog you'd rather travel by ferry. There are three passenger ports in Newfoundland. To the north St Barbe (described above), which communicates with Labrador. To the south, in the Avalon Peninsula and already described, Argentia, from where you can head to Nova Scotia (only operational in summer). To the southwest Channel Port aux Basques, which also communicates with Nova Scotia and ii is the most used one.
PORT AUX BASQUES
Uninteresting place, but almost mandatory stop if you want to go to mainland Canada. From here, daily ferries leave for Nova Scotia throughout the year. A very cool journey to undertake. Dogs can get on board, but you need to bring your own cage... However, we could get on without having any, paying a small rental fee. Your dog must necessarily go in the "Pet Area", but they will let you be the whole trip with him/her.