Gros Morne National Park - northwestern Newfoundland

Gros Morne National Park - northwestern Newfoundland

I landed in Newfoundland’s North roughly two weeks ago, arriving at St Barbe on Newfoundland’s long northern peninsula, rather than by ferry from Nova Scotia or by plane from practically anywhere. See The Big Land.

I then elected not to detour up to the Viking ruins further north of there at L’Anse aux Meadows, understanding that the park still would be closed for the season and that anything to be seen of the restored buildings by just walking about would be covered in a couple of feet of snow and so impassable for my knees. There would be no Viking reenactors for me on this trip. I suspected that up there it would resemble Labrador in any event. And I also figured that St Andrew’s, nearby and which can have icebergs, might provide few opportunities at the moment due to the direction of winds we had been having.

Instead I proceeded south along the western coast. There is only one road so this isn’t a complex decision. Though not as empty as the road in Labrador, this was still a drive where I would pass another car only once in awhile. Potholes could be navigated safely by driving on the wrong side of the road when needed, even for extended periods.


It appears to be quite unknowable exactly what the interior and eastern coast of Newfoundland’s northern peninsula looks like since this solitary road hugs the narrow coastal plain along the western shore while the rest of the peninsula is cut off from sight by a ridge of hills. But the Gulf of St Lawrence is always there on the right, with harbors and fishing villages scattered up and down the coast.

All along this western side of Newfoundland people make their livings primarily from the sea. And not from tourist activities like whale watching. Though even for the fishermen and women, the season had not yet begun. Boats still were winter-stored up on land and lobster traps were not yet out in the water.

So I had the relatively unique privilege to first encounter the line of coastal mountains that comprise Gros Morne National Park by driving into them from the North. From the South a traveler must go over these mountains to get here. It’s different from the North.

As one moves south, the low land on the left slowly begins to rise. First, there are those hills, organized as I mentioned along a ridge parallel to the coast. And then here and there the hills take on a dramatic shape with steep clefts carved into hilltops, which are rising ever higher. This is the initial uplift that forms the northern extent of what are considered the Appalachian mountains on the mainland far to the southwest. The International version of the Appalachian Trail ends up here, not at Mt Katahdin in Maine. (It actually officially ends at Belle Isle which sits in the strait of that same name separating Newfoundland and Labrador, but no advice is given as to how a determined hiker might get out there. Swim?)

But there comes a point when a corner is turned and suddenly these hills have morphed into mountains. This is the northern part of Newfoundland's Long Range and within it sits Gros Morne National Park. 

And once immersed in these mountains, the views can change dramatically as you drive. The Long Range has been carved with steep and narrow valleys. There first may be a mere hint of a valley as seen at an angle to its main axis.


But when a valley is viewed head on, it can be revealed as a deep jagged cut with impossibly steep cliffs hemming in each side. This one forms a fjord.

If you go onto any webpage highlighting Gros Morne you will find that the most prominently displayed photographs were taken while looking from the back and on top of this particular fjord, looking down and out towards the sea. It’s the opposite vantage from what I have here. See Gros Morne Photos. It is a stunning view and worth taking the detour to the webpage to see it. Please come back though.

But to get to that vantage point the photographer must hike in a few kilometers to the freshwater lake now passing through the fjord, then take a two hour boat ride up into the fjord, then at the end of the lake hike up to the tops of the mountains beyond, and then finally turn around to see this fjord from its other end. I was never going to be able to do that unfortunately. Not the climb at least. But I had hoped at least to take the boat up into the fjord.  

I don’t know if the boat would have been running this early in the season anyway, probably not. But in any case the access trail to the lake was being rebuilt with heavy machinery and the area was severely posted as being off limits. I didn’t challenge that. So I could only see what was visible from the road.  

The sea eventually intrudes into the Park and separates its northern and southern halves. The view below is taken from the northern side looking towards the Tablelands in the South, which is the broad valley seen at center in the distance. In summer there is a short ferry ride to cross from one side to the other, leaving down in the town below. But I had to drive close to an hour and a half to the southern Park entrance to make it around this long sound, where I would then spend the night near the small town of Woody Point at the base of the Tablelands.

The shot below is the view from the back of my Jeep when I woke up the next morning. I had stayed in a closed-for-the-season RV park whose owner over the phone generously had volunteered that I could just go ahead and park there, free. No services, but it was a comfortable spot and I wasn’t on the road. In fact, I’ve found that RV parks are perfect places to stay when camped inside your car, preferable than even a campground. It’s always level which is a big deal, services are close by and these parks are often more easily found. I stayed in several overall, each still closed, and not once did an owner charge me. They generally just wanted to hear about my trip.

I have zero regrets over taking this trip so early in the season, actually not just early but simply before the tourist season began at all. That timing was dictated by wanting to see Côte-Nord in near winter conditions, the upcoming icebergs which are mostly gone by early June, and by my plan to go out to Matinicus Island in Maine with my cousin Harold at the end of May (a place remote enough to be served by ferries only twice a month at this time of year). With those constraints, this was the only time to go.

And, of course, a little snow can add a lot of definition to any mountain vista. So being there early had its perks.

But from here on there will be aspects of the trip where my being there so early will limit what can be done. Not only were most hostels and restaurants closed, but museums, visitors centers, campgrounds, trails and even National and provincial parks wouldn’t be open either. As I move south this becomes more and more limiting because many of the things to do or see revolve around such seasonal stuff. A real issue would be hostels, which are generally more prevalent in Canada but many weren't open yet (I will get lucky coming up in Twillingate). It’s why I planned to be able sleep in my car, I realized that many times there simply would be no other options. And that was proven correct. 

But what I could see from the road in Gros Morne was plenty nice enough. And I had the luxury of seeing all of this without sharing the road with anyone. There was for instance that morning when I went up and down the iconic drive through the Tablelands (after the fjord, the Tablelands are the next most noted feature of the Park). This is a slab of rock that dates to amongst the oldest rocks now at the Earth’s surface. This was uplifted from a seabed dated be to about 500 million years old. The geologists reading this will be able to add commentary I expect, which I am looking forward to reading, including the pivotal role the Tablelands played in providing physical proof of plate tectonics.

But for me, that solitary experience would have never been possible when it would be choked with traffic come summer. Instead, for an hour and a half I had it 100% to myself, not a single car came by to interrupt this view. I could stop in the road, stand wherever I wanted, enjoy the moment and wait for and then get the shot. In the case of the shot below, I waited for almost half an hour to capture the transition from fog/clouds and clear skies. Sometimes what you want just can’t be found during the normal/seasonal times.

 Coming up … Iceberg season.


©️ 2019 D Abbott