What is Newfoundland? Well, it’s an island. It’s home to the eastern-most part of North America. It’s nicknamed “The Rock,” but it’s actually pronounced “Newfundland” (let the record show that it came before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). It’s part of a Canadian province called Newfoundland and Labrador (those crazy Canadians) and has its own time zone (90 minutes ahead of EST and 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic time). There’s tons to see on this seemingly unassuming island! I’m going to share some highlights of our trip, and plenty of tips to plan your own.
Our trip to Newfoundland began simply––we decided to go north, and we hopped in the RV! In general, our detailed planning happens just a few days ahead of time (a luxury you have when driving your own home around and traveling during the off-peak season), and our Newfoundland trip planning was no different!
After our visits to Prince Edward Island, and the Bay of Fundy and the Cabot Trail, we learned that we would have to take a ferry to enjoy scenic Newfoundland. We had a choice of entering and exiting from two ports and decided to take the longer ferry ride from North Sydney (pictured below) to Argentia to get on the island, and the shorter ferry from Port Au Basque to get off the island.
Marine Atlantic Ferry schedules are available online so you can plan according to your own needs, but we compiled some tips that we learned during our trip:
- Book ahead, especially during the busy season, and if you have an RV, call to make a reservation, as they must know the size of your rig and charge accordingly.
- Get a cabin for the 16-hour ride, because you cannot access your RV or car during the trip. See #1 because cabins go quickly!
- You are not allowed back in your vehicle after the ferry sails, so make sure you bring everything you need.
- The ferry ride is not that expensive, but not insignificant, so budget accordingly. We paid $800 Canadian for the two of us and our RV.
- We saw many people bring small flexible coolers packed with lunches and uh, beverages, but you can buy a buffet dinner, breakfast, and beverages at the bar.
- The ferry is a mini cruise ship, but cell coverage fades out soon after you leave port, so bring a good book with you!
Once on board and after we found our cabin (we had double bunk beds with a decent sized bathroom), we got familiar with the ship. There are views from the top deck, and the 7th floor had a nice bar and lounge, a la carte restaurant, and a buffet restaurant.
We found a comfortable table in the lounge to relax with an Iceberg beer and do some more trip planning.
After dinner and a good night’s sleep, we arrived in Argentia NL, and Judy and I rolled off the ferry in our RV and drove out onto the TransCanada highway, headed for the provincial capital of St. John’s.
Definitely a higher probability of seeing a moose on this trip!
St. John’s is know for George street, two blocks of bars and pubs that liven up around midnight with bar hopping pub crawls. While we didn’t partake in the local brews, we did stop by the Rocket bakery on nearby water street for some ginger cookies, which we highly recommend!
We also stopped in at The Rooms but just a little too late since they closed at 5pm. The Rooms is described as a “Modern center with a gallery of local art and a museum dedicated to natural and cultural history,” and we saw enough to know it’s definitely a place we will visit the next time we are in Newfoundland.
My favorite part of St. John’s was the neighborhood of Quidi Vidi. Maybe it was the name (pronounced “kiddy viddy”) or the Quidi Vidi brewery (brewers of Iceberg beer), the short but scenic hike I took, the coastal views, or just the look of the town, but Judy and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And for the next few weeks, we found ourselves saying “kiddy viddy” for no apparent reason. Just say it aloud. See what I mean?
The little community of Quidi Vidi with its picturesque buildings was one of the most beautiful and memorable towns we visited in Newfoundland.
Quidi Vidi brewery was perfectly situated on the water, and the tap room was an awesome place to enjoy a beer and some scenery. For those of you interested in lunch, there is a small shack next to the brewery that served fish and chips, and 2 minutes from the entrance is Mallard Cottage. Mallard cottage had great reviews––it’s quite popular and you must have reservations for dinner. They do close for lunch at 2pm, as we were sad to find out, so plan accordingly!
While enjoying my Quidi Vidi flight of 4 beers, I noticed people hiking on top of the nearby cliffs you see in the picture above. I later found out that they were on the White Hills hiking trail that leads into the East Coast Trail. I fell in love with the town and took way too many photos, but here are some of the best ones. The bright yellow building had local arts and crafts where Judy spent some time shopping while I went on my short hike.
The home on the upper left hand corner was under construction and for sale––a tempting place to settle down!
After our memorable visit to Quidi Vidi, we headed over to nearby signal hill to see Cabot Tower and Queens Battery.
There is a large visitor center parking lot where we parked our camper and had a lunch of duck noodle soup with incredible views. (A container full of frozen Chinatown duck is one of our RV kitchen staples. When boiled it makes a light stock that makes the perfect bowl of noodles!) There was a gift shop in Cabot Tower at the top of Signal Hill, and we stopped inside to escape the high winds.
The view of the ocean path from the top of Signal Hill was breathtaking, and it was a really tough decision not to brave the walk because of the high winds!
Instead, we took a short walk over to the Queen’s Battery and enjoyed more beautiful Newfoundland coastal views.
It was getting late so we headed over to a restaurant in Petty Harbour called Chafe’s Landing. Petty Harbour is a 200 year-old settlement dating back to before the Mayflower. Judy had moose barley soup and a salad, and I had cod’s tongue with crispy pork fatback. Delicious.
With night falling, we drove the RV to the Cape Spear parking lot to boondock for the night and planned to wake up early and see the sunrise.
Cape Spear Lighthouse
Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site is the oldest standing lighthouse in Newfoundland and is the most easterly part of North America. It’s a beautiful place to enjoy the sunrise, hike and enjoy the coastal views and during the right seasons, and catch glimpses of a variety of seabirds, whales and icebergs.
Sooo, don’t ask me how, but we slept through and missed the morning sunrise…
Truth be told, I am not a big sunrise guy, but at least we were the first ones there that morning and enjoyed a beautiful morning walk after a good night’s sleep. The early morning views of the Cape Spears site, lighthouse, surrounding ocean and the passing fishing boats were really beautiful.
Judy and I had the entire place to ourselves and enjoyed our coffee and a quick breakfast.
Ahead of us was a 3 hour drive to our next stop, the famous Skerwink trail.
Skerwink Trail – Trinity, NL
In 2003, Travel & Leisure Magazine ranked the Skerwink Trail as one of the top 35 trails in North America and Europe, so we were excited to experience it for ourselves. The trailhead is located on a side road off Highway 230 and was easy to find, though parking was sparse. We were lucky enough to find roadside parking, but I can’t imagine what it is like during the busy summer season.
The first half mile of the Skerwink Trail is a long and flat gravel path and seemed uninteresting until Judy spotted some wild blueberries. We paused during the hike and she indulged in her favorite outdoor pastime––foraging for food. She found wild blueberries all over and even a few wild raspberries!
We knew that the 5.3 kilometer Skerwink Trail was a top attraction with great views, but we had no idea how grand it would be until we approached the first signs with the high cliff warnings in red. We went left, which we read was the safer route!
As we approached the first viewpoint and saw the oceanside cliffs and the clear blue water, it was clear why the trail has such a great reputation. We were in awe as we took it all in. What really impressed me was the clarity of the water and the plants, rocks, jellyfish, and underwater landscapes. It’s something I didn’t expect to see so far north.
But let me stop writing for a moment and I will let these photos speak for themselves
For the next kilometer, you are hiking near high cliffs, but you will be fine if you stay on the trail and take extra care when trying to capture those beautiful coastal photos and taking in the breathtaking scenery.
The hike does get a bit more challenging as you enter the loop trail, and there are some steeper inclines and steps so keep that in mind and plan accordingly.
The views of Trinity from the trail are just beautiful from a distance!
If you’re going to Newfoundland, don’t forget your binoculars. You’ll be glad you did! Can you find the person in this photo below?
Didn’t we say that the Skerwink Trail was a must see? Now you know.
Elliston and Puffins (or at least, where they nest)
Our next stop was nearby Elliston, a stopping point for puffins on their winter migration. There is gift shop at Elliston where you can get more information, and a short drive from there is the puffin site and booth! Since it was September, we knew we were a bit late for the puffins, as peak times are in July and August.
As you can see, no puffins at home! We were told they left already, and it’s extremely rare to see stragglers as late as September.
We met a couple at the site who spent 4 hours waiting without seeing a single puffin! So, we cut our losses, Googled some puffin pictures and videos and looked up fun facts on the bird watching section of the Newfoundland Labrador website.
Terra Nova National Park
Terra Nova National Park was a perfect stopping point after our long day hiking the Skerwink Trail and walking the Elliston puffin site.
We settled into our campground and I prepared our PEI Steamed mussels recipe for dinner. These steamed mussels are so easy to prepare and you can buy fresh plump mussels almost anywhere in Newfoundland without being disappointed. We ate this batch in no time right out of the pot in the warmth of our camper!
Terra Nova National Park was relatively empty even for a weekend, and we only had two other parties on our campsite loop, so we slept well. The next morning, we enjoyed the visitor center with views of the surrounding areas, the informational park film (Judy loves informational park films), and of course, wifi to catch up on responsibilities back home.
Since it was such a beautiful day, we did get a chance to walk around the campground and noticed signs for oTENTiks sites at the Malady Campground which was a hybrid cabin/hut/tent for rent. We stopped to check one out, and immediately saw it as a good option for a future family stay, complete with an outdoor grill, deck, picnic table, and wood burning stove inside!
The spacious interior looked like it could comfortably sleep 6 people, so glampers, take notice!
From there, Judy and I decided it was best to move on to our next destination. We had a 4-hour drive ahead of us to Gros Mornes National Park.
Gros Morne National Park
The drive over to Gros Morne National park was long, but the highway scenery was spectacular. The open country and Canadian national forests were beautiful and serene.
But the Gros Morne National Park sign was a welcome sight, and we were eager to settle into our site at Lomond Campground.
Judy could not believe how ideal the tent sites were next to the water with mountains in the background. Just take a look at that:
We visited near the end of the season, so we had a great spot. But Lomond Campground closes September 16, so be sure to do your research on the Gros Morne National Park website for reservations.
Gros Morne National Park was one of the major attractions we wanted to see in Newfoundland, so we spent the most time there. But first thing’s first––any good national park trip starts by chatting with a park ranger, who pointed us to the Gros Morne National Park Discovery Center. The discovery center was modern, informative, and provided great views!
From there, we drove through nearby Woody Point which is a quaint town and a good place to have lunch.
Along our drive that day, the Gros Morne Tablelands really stood out because of the distinctive terrain. We took a quick walk by the Tablelands trailhead and enjoyed more scenery from Highway 431.
Also along scenic route 431, we stopped to see by Trout River pond and the boardwalk (if you’re visiting in the summer, you can take a Trout River Pond boat tour!
Gros Morne National Park Green Gardens Trail
The Green Gardens Trail was on my list to hike for both exercise and scenery. Since the hike was about 4.4km one way and 8.8km round trip (about 5.5 miles), Judy decided to stay in the RV and relax instead. I figured it would take me about 3 hours hiking at a good pace and plenty of time for photos.
The first part of the hike looked more like the Tablelands than a green garden but transformed quickly into greenery and trees.
The trail started to descend down to the ocean with some steep areas, but the trails are really well-maintained.
Views of the coast and the black gravel beach at the end of the Green Garden Trail were beautiful. I also saw the two first-come first-serve primitive campsites, complete with outhouse for you overnight backpackers.
On the way back, I met a couple with whom I exchanged info about the hike and the park. They told me that the Western Brook Pond boat tour was a must do, and I am so glad I talked to them. It’s always good idea to talk to fellow travelers and share information about places to see and things to do!
Lobster Cove Head
After my Green Gardens Trail hike, we stopped at Lobster Cove Head and enjoyed the lighthouse exhibit, walking trails, and tide pools. It’s definitely worth a stop.
From Lobster Cove Head, we made our way to Green Point campground, which we learned was first come first serve and had sites with electricity and water. I can’t tell you how happy and lucky we were to get the last campsite – site 11!
After parking, Judy and I walked down to the beach and found some decent-sized periwinkle snails and gathered some for a dinner :) The girls were quick to scold us when we returned from our trip that those were probably protected snails, so we won’t have any repeat meals like this in the future!
We cooked up a classic Cantonese style Periwinkles in Black bean sauce with some stir fried vegetables and rice.
With dinner finished, we settled in to enjoy the sunset.
The light rays from the setting sun hitting the wildflowers looked pretty magical.
After sunset, we settled into our campsite to a warm campfire and turned in early. We had to break camp and head up to Western Brook pond in the morning for the boat tour.
Gros Mornes National Park – Western Brook Pond Boat Tour
Steep cliffs of sheer rock, waterfalls, views of rock slides and just plain beautiful scenery made this boat tour a must-see in Gros Mornes National Park. Be sure to make reservations on the Bontour website and budget 5 hours for the experience. That includes 1½ hours before and after the boat tour to walk the trail to/from the parking lot and relax a bit at the dockside cafe.
After an enjoyable 45 minute walk, we arrived at the dock and sat inside the cafe, waiting for our tour to begin.
I suggest you get in line early to get a seat on the outside top deck to get a 360-degree view. The rear of the boat had diesel fumes, the front of the boat was windy, cold, and sometimes a little wet, and the inside cabin was warm but the views would be through windows, so pick your preference!
The tour had no shortage of high cliffs and unique waterfalls!
We saw waterfalls close up and from afar.
There were even waterfalls misting over the cliffs! I was glad to have my binoculars!
For all you backcountry hikers, you can be dropped off at the end of the pond and spend the day or overnight and climb to the top of the North Rim!
The Western Brook Pond boat tour was a terrific end to our Newfoundland trip! From there, we began our journey home by heading to the JT Cheeseman Provincial Park, a short 10-minute drive to the Port Au Basque ferry to Nova Scotia. By now we were pros at riding the ferry, and the 6-hour journey was a piece of cake. Here are some final tips for the ferry ride:
- Root vegetables cannot be taken back from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia because of a potato wart disease, so eat everything you have before the ferry ride.
- For you RV and camper owners, turn off your propane tanks and mark them with the provided tags.
- Make sure you plan ahead where to stay once you exit the ferry––with the 6-hour ride, it was almost dark when we exited the ferry.
- Make sure you have a good book and everything with you before exiting your vehicle as you will not have access to it during the ride.
Thank you, Newfoundland, for a terrific trip. We hope to be back soon!