The magic of Gros Morne in two parts – Part I: On foot, by boat and back in time

I adjust my camera bag and look up. Gros Morne Mountain looms in front of us, and the only way to the top is via a path strewn with rocks and boulders of various sizes. About a kilometre of a steep climb that will take us an hour to complete. Once we get to Gros Morne park’s highest point, we will trek across the top of the mountain and then come back down via a path clinging to the mountainside. Even before we begin, I know this 16-kilometre hike will not only be the highlight of our Newfoundland trip and the year in general, but also one of our all-time favourites.

Gros Morne mountain trail

Gros Morne Mountain is calling

Our three-week trip to Canada’s easternmost province had no shortage of special moments, which I tried to capture in the two-part trip report. But even among those incredible trails, spectacular views and unforgettable wildlife sightings, Gros Morne National Park, and UNESCO World Heritage site, stood out with its miles of ocean coast, majestic mountains and giant fresh water fjords deceptively named ponds. It definitely deserved its own post or two. So here I am, three months later, trying to translate the magic of the park into words. Luckily, I have hundreds of photos and the notes I kept throughout the trip.

Gros Mornw park is 1,805 square kilometers in size and getting from its southernmost point all the way to the northern boundary can take over two hours. To avoid excessive driving, we decided to break up our visit into two parts and bookend our Newfoundland trip with stays at Gros Morne: four nights at the central Berry Hill campground and then three more at Trout River in the park’s southern part. A week wasn’t nearly enough to see everything Gros Morne has to offer but we made the best of it.

Chilly welcome

We drive down the ferry ramp at Port aux Basques and right into Newfoundland’s foggy embrace. We knew the island was famous for its wet weather, but after lots of sun at Cape Breton Highlands the day before we were hoping for a warmer welcome. Luckily, this rainy morning will turn out to be an exception over the next three weeks.

But we don’t know that yet, and as we take in Newfoundland’s moody landscape through water streaked car windows I am bracing myself for days spent in my waterproof jacket. We watch the green hills outside grow into mountains cuddling under a woolly blanket. I don’t blame them. I could use one myself. Maybe we can take a nap once we get to the campsite.

fog on the road in Newfoundland

Not a very promising start to our trip

By the time we finish setting up our tent, the rain stops and with it go any thoughts of a nap. Our son is hankering to start geocaching. I know there are dozens of cache locations downloaded on his GPS so we may as well start early. We head to Rocky Harbour and Norris Point, two nearby communities, where we stop by the visitor centre and start our quest.

view of Tablelands from Norris Point Newfounland

Tablelands looming across the Bonne Bay but we won’t get to them until part II of
our Gros Morne visit

geocaching in Newfoundland   geocachign in Newfoundland

Geocaching, as always, an important part of the trip

interpretive panel with the view of Bonne Bay in Norris Point in Newfoundland

Along with geocaches we find lots of interesting information

hiking in Norris Point in Newfoundland   geocaching in Rocky Harbour in Newfoundland

hiking in Norris Point in Newfoundland

Geocaching takes us places we wouldn’t have visited otherwise

Three hours and five geocaches later, we end up at Lobster Cove Head. The lighthouse museum is now closed but with the sunset approaching we decide to stick around and head down to the beach. The sky is overcast but there is a narrow strip of blue peaking between the clouds and the earth. All we have to do is wait for the sun to drop low enough to shine through that chink in the grey armour.

Lobster Cove Head in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

Our son keeps himself busy with skipping stones. My husband gets to balancing rocks, a hobby he picked up a few years ago during our visit to Bay of Fundy.

balancing rocks   balancing rocks

My husband’s rock creations

I scout the shore for a suitable shooting location. I know once the sun makes an appearance, the window for taking pictures will be narrow. I stumble upon an old wreck of a boat and its imperfections capture my imagination. How many stories of adventurous pursuits and fishing trips does it hold? How many tales of tumultuous seas and underwater wonders are etched into its decaying boards?

sunset at Lobster Cove in Gros Morne Newfoundland

How many tales are etched into these decaying boards?

old boat in the light of the setting sun at the Lobster Cove head beach in Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Sunset can turn a boat wreck into a masterpiece

We wait for the sun to make a brief appearance before dipping into the sea, and then make our way back to the parking lot in the dark.

Hiking the “great sombre”

So here we are at the foot of Gros Morne Mountain. In retrospect, we should have waited a couple of days to build up our hiking stamina before tackling this challenging 16-kilometre trail but the weather is perfect – not raining, not too hot and, most importantly, not foggy. It’s the Goldilocks of hiking weather.

information panel at the foot of Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland

Do not underestimate the mountain

We start our slow ascent to the top of the “great sombre” (that’s the literal translation of Gros Morne from French). The lakes down below get smaller until they shrink to the size of puddles.

hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland

The climb to the top starts on the other side of the bridge

hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland   hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland

The hike up the mountain is trying

view from Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland

But the view is worth it!

It is quite chilly at the top so we start putting back on layers that we shed during our climb up. A sign signals we’ve arrived at the highest point of the mountain and the park itself.

at the top of Gros Morne mountain in Newfoundland

We made it! Well, almost

We occupy the nearby rock shelter to get some cover from the wind. We have lunch and even catch a bit of a shut-eye. But we can’t stay for too long. There is still two-thirds of the trail up ahead.

taking a break at the top of Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland

Taking a break before taking on the rest of the trail

The trek across the top is my favourite part of the hike. Green mountain folds stretch in every direction, with almost perfectly round lakes balancing at their edges. We can see long narrow fjords nestled down below and a strip of the ocean in the distance.

hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland

A path of rocks

views from Gros Morne mountain in Newfoundland    views from Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland

Views from the Gros Morne Mountain

hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland

Mountains can bring you up and ground you at the time

hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland    geocahing on Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland

A boardwalk along the Gros Morne Mountain trail – a great place for a geocache

view over Ten Mile Pond from Gros Morne Mountain in newfoundland

Ten Mile Pond down below, the blue of the ocean in the distance

hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland   hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland

The hike along the top was mostly flat, except for one endless staircase. Good thing we had to go down, not the other way around

view from Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland

More breathtaking views from the mountain

I keep looking for caribou but they usually retrieve further away from people in the summer (although we will run into them later during our stop at Port aux Choix). We do find ourselves face to face with a young bull moose grazing right beside the trail. And then seconds later we turn around to see a cow moose with a calf jog along the other side of the lake and disappear in the bushes. They say there are three moose per each square kilometre so I guess those were the three that lived in that one.

moose in Newfoundland

This moose seemed genuinely surprised to see us

moose cow and calf

According to some estimates, Newfoundland has three moose per square kilometre

The descent gets more and more crowded as we catch up with groups of earlier hikers. Eventually, we find ourselves back at the foot of the mountain.

hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland

Starting our descent

The last four kilometres to the parking lot feel like the longest and most challenging part of the trail. There will be no sunset watching that night. Just a quick dinner and shower before we retreat into our snugly sleeping bags.

tired after hiking Gros Morne Mountain trail in Newfoundland

After the hike: you could say we are a bit tired

Hopping Across the pond

I open my eyes and do a quick scan of my body. All the muscles except for calves seem fully functional. After a bit of stretching, I can move again.

Today’s itinerary includes a boat tour of the Western Brook Pond. ‘Pond’ somehow doesn’t seem like a suitable name for a 16-kilometre long and 165-metre deep body of water but, I guess, that’s how things are in Newfoundland.

The tour doesn’t start until one so we do a short Steve’s Trail near the Broom Point to pick up one of the caches that will count towards the geocoin.

view at the end of Steve's Trail in Gros Morne in Newfoundland

A geocache and a great view at the end of Steve’s Trail

By the time we get back to the Western Brook Pond parking lot, it’s full so we end up parking by the side of the road and start on a 3-kilometre trail that leads to the boat launch. Then about one-third of the way I remember that I forgot my credit card so I have to go back. We end up jogging most of the way. My calves scream for relief.

Western Brook Pond Trail in Gros Morne park in Newfoundland

Western Brook Pond trail

The tour is okay as far as boat tours go. I’d rather go on my own in a kayak or a canoe. Unfortunately, no other vessels except for the tour boats are allowed so I am stuck behind phone cameras and selfie sticks.

people taking photos on Western Brook Pond boat tour

Western Brook Pond boat tour – great views of mountains and cameras

The surroundings make up for the disappointment. The pond used to be a fjord that eventually got separated from the ocean. Now this fresh and crystal clean strip of water sits between walls of rock higher than the CN tower.

Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

Views worthy of the Lord of the Rings movies

The guide points out various prominent features along the way: narrow strips of waterfalls up at the top, rock formations that look like faces, a spot where a rock slide happened several years ago. Every time the boat does a 360 to make sure everyone can see.

rock cliffs around Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland   rock cliffs around Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

Narrow strips of waterfalls

rock cliffs around Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland   rock cliffs around Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

Imposing mountains, some higher that the CN Tower

western brook pond boat tour in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland   western brook pond boat tour in Newfoundland

Now that the guided part of the tour is done, time to enjoy the ride back

On our way back to the car, we take our time to observe the surroundings, which we missed during our jog to the boat launch.

view from Western Brook Pond trail in Gros Morne newfoundland

Views along the Western Brook Pond Trail

iris   bakeapple

Irises are everywhere. So are bakeapple or cloudberries. If you think “bakeapple” is a weird name for a berry, you are not alone. The name supposedly came from French
“baie, qu’appelle” which roughly translates as “what’s the name of that berry.”

Our next stop is the day use area near the Shallow Bay campground where we make late lunch/early dinner. The main goal, however, is a geocache along the Old Mail Road. We find more than a cache there. The trail seems to be the central gathering point for all of Gros Morne mosquitoes. There is more jogging. My calves are now in full protest mode. We push through a mosquito cloud and find ourselves on a beautiful sandy beach. Seems like a much better way to get back to the car.

Shallow Bay beach in Gros Morne park in Newfoundland

Shallow Bay is, well, shallow

After a halfhearted, and therefore unsuccessful, attempt at finding more geocaches in the nearby Cow Head community, we finish the day right where we started — at the Broom Point watching the sun go for its nightly swim in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

sunset at the Broom Point in Gros Morne park in Newfoundland

Sunset from the Broom Point

Travelling back in time

We start the day with a hike up the Berry Hill trail. It’s only 1.5 kilometres long but consists of endless sets of stairs. At the sight of them my calves emit a silent scream. We do manage to get to the top where our son finds the third cache towards his Gros Morne geocoin. The last two will have to wait till part II of the trip.

stairs on Berry Hill trail in Gros Morne park in Newfoundland

Berry Hill Trail – short but strenuous

We return to the Lobster Cove Head lighthouse to learn more about the life of lightkeepers who helped bring ships home. We discover that each multicolored flag equals a letter and staff use them to spell a different Newfoundland word every day. Today’s word is “nish” which means tender or delicate. We play several rounds of “geese and a wolf.” My husband gets to strum the guitar.

Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse in Gros Morne park in Newfoundland

Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse

inside the Lobster Cove Head lighthouse in Gros Morne park in newfoundland      view from Lobster Cove Head lighthouse in Gros Morne park in newfoundland

Lightkeeper’s duties written on the stairs. Every day, the flags spell a different word in Newfoundlandese, or is it Newfoundlandish?

At Lobster Cove lighthouse in Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Fun game of “Wolf and Geese”

ugly stick inside Lobster Cove Head lighthouse in Gros Morne park in newfoundland   At Lobster Cove lighthouse in Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Music is an important part of the Newfoundland culture. The contraption on the left is an instrument known as ugly stick.

We take a hike down to the Yellow Point where we take a mandatory photo in Parks Canada red chairs.

Yellow Point in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

A must-have red chair picture

The sea is at low tide revealing boulders with barnacle poked faces and seaweed hair. There is more rock skipping and balancing. I feel like we are finally getting into a vacation rhythm and my emotional and mental muscles start to relax even if my actual muscles are still sore.

skipping rocks

There is always time for some rock skipping

ocean floor at low tide   tide pool

Low tide reveals wonders of the ocean floor

ocean at low tide in Grod Morne park in Newfoundland

Yellow Point near the Lobster Cove Head

I unfurl the map to find a picnic spot for lunch. During long road trips we often adopt a nomadic lifestyle: instead of going back to the campsite for every meal, we carry all our food and cooking equipment with us. That way we are always ready to whip something up.

We sip on a surprisingly delicious concoction of canned tomato soup, beans, a few remaining broccoli flowerettes and mushrooms we found at the bottom of the cooler and roasted potatoes from last night’s dinner. Our son calls it a leftover soup. There are several picnic shelters to our left but they are not occupied. So we have the beach all to ourselves. The sound of the waves crashing, the cackle of seagulls. I wish all our meals had a setting like that.

fishing village in newfoundland

Beautiful views are everywhere

The ocean starts its slow return so we hurry to the Green Point to explore it at low tide. Green Point is described as an important geological benchmark because of the fossils found here, which define the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods. But it’s not until we get there that we truly appreciate what it means. Layers upon slanted layers of rock, each one is different shade and composition. Razor-thin dark plates, chunks of clay with deep impressions left by boulders that used to be trapped inside, blocks of pebbles sandwiched in between. Seeing 500 million years of Earth history on display really puts your life in perspective.

green point in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

At Green Point, rocks tell time

rock layers at Green Point in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland   rock layers at Green Point in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

rock layers at Green Point in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

500 million years of Earth history etched into these layers

rock layers at Green Point in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland   rock layers at Green Point in Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland

Sitting on top of the Green Point is a giant horn. One of Canada’s four Wave Sound art installations by Anishinaabekwe artist Rebecca Belmore, it encourages visitors to listen to the mighty ocean. Another reminder that humans are but a small part of a giant interwoven ecosystem.

Wave Sound installation in Gros Morne Newfoundland

Listening to the Earth – and each other

And if we needed another proof of the Earth’s majesty, sunset at Salmon Point provides just that. Tomorrow, there will be packing and moving on to other exciting places. Right now, however, nothing else matters but the sun’s magnificence splashed across the sky and the sea.

sunset over St. Lawrence Bay in Newfoundland

Magnificent end of day

Read part II of our Gros Morne adventure.

7 thoughts on “The magic of Gros Morne in two parts – Part I: On foot, by boat and back in time

  1. I’ve never been to Newfoundland. I’d like to visit now. It looks like an amazing destination and I’d like to see moose again. It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve seen moose. They used to be fairly common in Northwestern Minnesota when I was a child. We’d see a family of them traveling across the plains far from the the road. Once my mother was driving home with Geoff our 150 pound Alaskan Malamute and discover the road had been blocked by a moose. I think it’s the closest any of us ever got to a moose before.

    I really enjoyed your post and the pictures. Now I’ve got to add this to my bucket list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Newfoundland is really worth a visit. So much to see and do. And yes, there is no shortage of moose. We saw eight during our three weeks in Newfoundland, which is more than we’ve seen in all our years camping in Ontario. The most interesting thing is that moose aren’t even native to Newfoundland. A couple was introduced a little over a hundred years ago and now they are everywhere. Hope you get to visit Newfoundland sometime soon and look forward to hearing about your impressions of the island.

      Like

  2. Pingback: The magic of Gros Morne in two parts – Part II: Journey to the centre of the Earth | Gone Camping

  3. Pingback: The Best of 2017 | Gone Camping

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