canada,  north america,  travel

Hiking and road tripping around Western Newfoundland

After my 2-day sojourn on the eastern coast of Newfoundland, I flew to Gander and rented a car to make the 3.5-hour drive west. I spent one night in Corner Brook, but for the majority of my time, I was based in the small town of Rocky Harbour. In addition to my big hiking day at Western Brook Pond, I was eager to explore the other trails and sights that Gros Morne National Park and the surrounding area had to offer.

Rocky Harbour

Tablelands, Gros Morne National Park

To ease myself in to hiking mode, I started at Tablelands, an easy 4 km out-and-back trail through a truly unique landscape. As a result of plate collisions several hundreds of millions of years ago, a type of rock called peridotite, originating in the Earth’s mantle, was forced to the surface. In fact, the entire area was instrumental in confirming the theory of plate tectonics. The rock’s toxic properties results in a lack of plant life, and it’s high iron content gives it its brownish-red appearance.

As a result of all this, it felt a bit like walking on another planet. Scientists have actually studied the area to understand how life might survive in extreme environments like Mars. The rain had been off and on throughout the day, so I appreciated a momentary respite from the drizzle as I made my way up the gravel path. It was an easy, leisurely trail, affording me the opportunity to admire the various waterfalls flowing out of the cracks and crevices raked across the rust-coloured rocks.

By the time I reached the end of the trail, consisting of a platform looking out at a stream bed and the surrounding hills, the rain and wind had picked up again. I could imagine the area would look particularly stunning against bright blue skies, but as it was, the cloud and mist gave it a certain moody quality. My journey back to the parking lot involved weather of the inclement variety, and I was grateful to have had the foresight to throw on rain pants and my waterproof hiking boots.

Green Gardens, Gros Morne National Park

It was about an hour drive from my accommodations in Rocky Harbour to the head of the Green Gardens trail, a 9 km out-and-back trail to the coast. This was one of the last hikes of my trip, as I was waiting on sunny skies to make the most of the anticipated vista. When I arrived in the parking lot, I was admittedly a bit confused, as the trail head didn’t look like what I was expecting—a gravel trail amidst a barren rocky expanse. I picked my way up the trail and crested a hill, where I caught sight of the ocean blue in the distance. From there, it was a long descent through boreal forest—my poor, battered knees objecting for much of the journey.

Eventually, the trail levelled out, and I passed a sizeable waterfall and threaded my way through the trees, before finally reaching the coastline. I emerged onto a lush cliff-top meadow with a stunning view of the beach, glimpsing coves and sea stacks in the distance. It occurred to me that late morning wasn’t ideal in terms of sun position to light the coastline, and so would recommend future me (and others) to make the hike in the later afternoon to catch the light better. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to do on this trip, as I needed to make the drive eastward after the hike.

I spent a bit of time exploring the meadow and saying hello to the group of sheep lazily lounging nearby, before descending the steep, rather rickety set of stairs to the beach.

My legs were feeling the fatigue of multiple days of hiking, so it was good to just relax and recharge on the beach while watching the waves and swooping seagulls. Because of course all of that knee-wrenching downhill I’d just completed would soon become quad-burning uphill. After I’d soaked in the beach and cliffs, I made the slow journey back. I stupidly forgot to bring a water bottle along with me, so I scooped up handfuls of water from streams and small trail-side waterfalls to keep me somewhat hydrated. It took just over an hour of panting and trudging uphill in the sun to make it back to the car.

Eastern Point Trail, Trout River

If I were to assign best value for invested time, my money would be on Eastern Point Trail, a 2.4 km out-and-back trail in Trout River. I’d only even heard about it through another hiker on my Western Brook Pond hike, who mentioned it afforded stunning views and only took about 30 minutes. I first stopped in at the Seaside Restaurant in Trout River for a spot of lunch (had to get in my requisite seafood, in the form a cod burger and seafood chowder). From there, I drove a few minutes to the end of the road in town to the head of the Eastern Point Trail. At the outset, I was greeted by a steep set of stairs reaching to the top of the ridge (having just hiked uphill for 4.5 km in Green Gardens, my legs were none too pleased at the sight).

Because it was so much less well-known than the other trails I’d hiked, I also had no expectations of what I’d see, so it was great to turn a corner and look back and discover a waterfall! Or a precipitous cliff drop! What made the trail so enjoyable was the varied topographies you glimpsed in so short a span—waterfalls, sea stacks, rugged rock, and meadows.

It was an easy, flat walk across boardwalks, grass, and packed dirt to the edge of the rocky, windswept ridge jutting out into the ocean. The wind had picked up, so I stood with my legs widespread to brace myself, feeling a bit like a rockstar at a photoshoot with wind machines a-blowing.

As I drove out of the park, I reflected on my time there and noted that it was a shame I hadn’t seen any moose or other wildlife on the trip. I kid you not, merely seconds later, I turned my head and spotted a group of caribou grazing in the brush. Mercifully, the road was empty, so I slammed on my brakes and reversed to snap a few photos, much to the seeming bemusement of the caribou, who watched the crazy human backing up with blank expressions.

Caribou!

Arches Provincial Park

After spending most of a rainy day lounging in my cabin, the emergence of clear, sunny skies in the early evening had me out the door and in the car. As I was on the west coast, I wanted to find a good spot to watch the sunset. I decided on Arches Provincial Park, about 45 minutes north of where I was staying in Rocky Harbour. The drive up was gorgeous, hugging the coast and affording expansive ocean views. I wanted to make sure I caught sunset, so I didn’t have much time to stop, though there looked to be many picturesque coves and seaside spots.

When I finally reached the park, it was only a few minutes walk from the parking lot down to the beach and the eponymous arches (3 in total). I capered along the rocks, crouching down to glimpse the setting sun from beneath the arches. I was mostly alone, just a couple other people similarly looking for prime sunset views.

Crisp sea air, rolling waves, and being bathed golden sunset light made for a wonderful end to the day. When I’d finally had my fill, I jumped in the car for the drive back and marvelled at the absolutely gorgeous skies—the entire expanse painted pastel shades of pink and blue and the moonlight glinting off passing ponds. It’s hard to describe the feeling of driving along the coast in the growing darkness. Suffused with delight, and ultimately grateful to have made the journey.

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