Planning a road trip? Here’s everything you might need to plot a cross-country journey, a family vacation, or a solo trek.
One of Canada’s most remote provinces is also one of the most spectacular places to visit within the massive country. Newfoundland and Labrador form the most easterly region of Canada; while Labrador is on the mainland, the much smaller island of Newfoundland is home to the capital and a handful of accessible airports.
This particular island-hopping road trip begins in Deer Lake, which is located on the western part of the island. International flights coming in from the United States typically arrive after midnight, so plan to pick up your rental car and head straight to the hotel. Deer Lake Airport has all the major rental car agencies we are familiar with and driving on the islands is relatively easy as the roads are few and far between, making it difficult to get lost — the majority of directions between stops consist of getting on the main road and driving for hours continuously on the same road until you’ve reached your destination.
Our route will take you through Gross Morne National Park and the neighboring towns, then lead you to Gander, a city most famous for playing host to over 7,000 stranded international airline passengers who were grounded at Gander International Airport on 9/11. A short ferry ride will take you to Fogo Island, home to a hotel that has changed the way of life on the island and off, bringing jobs and tourism to a place where the population was quickly dwindling prior to its opening. And lastly, another very quick ferry will drop you off on the Change Islands, a small community made up of two islands of the same name, where there isn’t much to do but enjoy the solitude and peacefulness while meeting some interesting locals.
The road trip starts on the main island of Newfoundland. The majority of the first few days are concentrated near or around Gross Morne National Park, therefore it’s possible to select a hotel for a few nights in one of the various towns such as Woody Point, Cow Head, or Rocky Harbour. You’ll need to pick up a Parks Canada National Park voucher upon arrival and make sure to keep it with you at all times, especially while hiking throughout the park.
Things to Do
Parks Canada Discovery Centre (Woody Point)
The Discovery Centre is the perfect place to begin since it provides tons of information about Gros Morne National Park, including the park’s natural and cultural history. The staff, as well as the interactive exhibits, art gallery, and the daily interpretive activities, will help you understand the national park’s geology, plant, animal life, and more. If you opt to use a tour company, your best bet is to work directly with Tour Gros Morne, which can customize your entire experience within the park and surrounding areas.
Explore the Earth’s mantle and hike on the Tablelands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tablelands is the most accessible place in the world to walk on an exposed piece of the earth’s mantle, which is a result of the coming together of two ancient continents. Choose your own route and behold the panoramic views of Bonne Bay and the Long Range Mountains.
Gros Morne Mountain
Start early and prepare for a challenge as you head to the mountain for which the park is named. A full day hike on Gros Morne Mountain provides breathtaking views. Gros Morne is the second highest peak on the island of Newfoundland, exceeded only by Lewis Hill. Often capped with clouds or clothed in fog or snow, the Arctic-alpine climate that is the top of Gros Morne often attracts moose and caribou. Plan for a full day itinerary to reach the peak and return back to the start of the trail.
Western Brook Fjord Boat Tour
During the Canadian Signature Experience, view an inland, glacier-carved, freshwater fjord with 2,000-foot cliffs, cascading waterfalls, wildlife, and mind-blowing ancient rock formations. A short 30-minute walk to the boat dock is necessary after parking in the designated parking lot, so plan ahead as the tours leave right on schedule.
Baker’s Brook Falls Trail
This 10-kilometer trail leads you through Balsam Fir Forest to Baker’s Brook Falls, a series of cascades over limestone ridges. At the riverside, follow the trail downstream to a viewpoint over a wide step-like waterfall.
The Cliffs at Green Point
The geological wonder that is Green Point, located just outside of Cow Head, shows conclusive separation between the two major geological strata areas, making it one of the most impressive geological areas on the island. Spend some time exploring the rocks and taking those epic photos of the unique coastline.
Eastern Point Trail in Trout River
This short and easy hike starts off with many stairs that lead you to a plateau where you will encounter grazing sheep. Follow the Eastern Point Trail to the end to see beautiful views of Trout River. There are no guardrails or fencing so take caution when standing close to the edges, as the significant drops can be deadly.
Where to Stay
Holiday Inn Express (Deer Lake)
This familiar brand name can be found near Deer Lake Regional Airport. Holiday Inn Express includes a free hot breakfast and has an indoor pool with an 80-foot waterslide.
Bonne Bay Inn (Woody Point)
Located in quaint, historic Woody Point, inside Gros Morne National Park, the 10-bedroom Bonne Bay Inn sits on a hillside overlooking beautiful Bonne Bay, surrounded by stunning mountain and ocean views — and it’s within walking distance to the waterfront shops and activities.
Shallow Bay Motel (Cow Head)
Shallow Bay Motel consists of 68 modern motel rooms, some with stunning sea views, and 20 cottages. The small town of Cow Head is relatively quiet but serves as a good halfway point to most of the excursion options.
Comfort Inn (Gander)
Just minutes from Gander International Airport, the Comfort Inn can serve as your last night prior to departing home. Free deluxe continental breakfast is included and the hotel is also connected to Jungle Jim’s Family Restaurant.
Where to Eat
Blue Ocean Dining Room (Woody Point)
With over 270 degrees of ocean and mountain views, Blue Ocean Dining Room, the signature restaurant at the Bonne Bay Inn, will easily delight. The menu consists of inspiring creations using a fusion of international flavors mixed with traditional Newfoundland cuisine.
Shallow Bay Family Restaurant (Shallow Bay Motel, Cow Head)
Located within the motel, Shallow Bay Family Restaurant’s extensive menu includes lots of traditional options as well as comfort food, and even fresh baked pizza.
Oceans Dining Room & Anchor Pub (Rocky Harbour)
With seafood brought in daily from local suppliers, the menu items Oceans Dining Room & Anchor Pub are as fresh as they get. The second floor provides incredible sunset dinners overlooking the harbor.
Seaside Deli & Dairy Bar (Woody Point)
Located directly across from the wharf in Woody Point, expect to find healthy food options, some which feature local seafood, in addition to salads, wraps, smoothies, and coffee at Seaside Deli. The Dairy Bar has all the usual suspects on their menu, including banana splits and fresh baked cookies.
Mostly unheard of until the Fogo Island Inn was featured on a Netflix documentary series and the likes of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow began posting about it, Fogo Island is also home to the Museum of the Flat Earth and Brimstone Head, a place believed to be one of the corners of “flat” Earth. Fogo hosts an abundant artist community and an internationally known artist-in-residence program that has an extensive waitlist just for the application itself.
When you Google Fogo Island, though, the first images you will find are of the spectacular inn. Designed by Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders, the 43,000 square-foot hotel is perched on stilts and sits on the North Atlantic coastline, affording 29 suites with floor-to-ceiling views of the sea and sky. Everything inside was handcrafted or sourced locally and the attention to detail leaves you breathless. The inn is the brainchild of high-tech entrepreneur and native Newfoundlander Zita Cobb and was conceived as a way to save one of Canada’s oldest rural cultures. With available jobs on the island basically non-existent, the daring idea to build a loge that belonged to the local people — a social business that funnels all surplus profits back into Fogo Island — was created. The inn has transformed the island, bringing jobs and sustainability, all while preserving the culture and encouraging locals to stay put on the island.
Things to Do
Lion’s Den Hiking Trail
Make your way to the Marconi Interpretation Station to find the Lion’s Den Hiking Trail entrance. This 4.2-kilometer loop weaves through four resettled communities. Wild red fox of all colors tend to frolic along the hills throughout the day.
Al’s Walking Tour
Al’s Walking Tour includes stops along points of interest in the scenic community of Tilting, such as a traditional fishing stage and heritage site. This two-hour tour will take you along the scenic Oliver’s Cove Trail where, next to the ocean, you will view picket fences that enclose traditional gardens, notable landmarks such as the Devil’s Rocking Chair, and an ancient graveyard shrouded in mystery and rich folklore. The tour ends in a very unique and special way.
Museum of the Flat Earth
The Museum of the Flat Earth is a museum with a mission to preserve, investigate, archive, and present artifacts relating to the flat Earth. Although small in size, the inside is packed full of artifacts and documents. Whether you buy into the flat Earth theory or not, the museum makes for an interesting visit.
Brimstone Head Hike
Believed to be one of the corners of the flat Earth, Brimstone Head, is an easy hike consisting of a very long makeshift staircase. At the top, the wind is powerful and the views are breathtaking. Spoiler alert: The edge of the world is not visible from up top.
Fogo Head Trail
The 5-kilometer Fogo Head Trail begins on the northwest corner of Fogo Island at the Battery above Garrison Point. Fogo Head is a well-marked route close to the Brimstone Head hike, although Fogo Head has less boardwalk and stairs. The views from here seem to be more spectacular than those from Brimstone Head but since the latter is a quick walk up, they are both worthy of your time.
The Four Artist Studios
Todd Saunders, the architect responsible for the Fogo Island Inn, was also tasked with creating four incredibly unique artist studios that are part of a heavily sought after artist in residency program. Each studio is located a short walk away from society to give the artist a remote feeling while working. Spending a day driving to and then walking to each of the studios is highly advised and very much worth it because they are just breathtaking to look at, and are beautifully photographed from every angle.
Fogo Island Bus Tours
Fogo Island Bus Tours will give you the opportunity to explore anything and everything you didn’t get to on Fogo Island on your own. The tours can be customized depending on your needs. Some of the tours have a planned stop at the Fogo Island Inn, where you can tour the lobby and some of the common areas (the inn is otherwise reserved for the private use of their guests, although if seating is available, they do permit outside guests to enjoy lunch in their restaurant).
Where to Stay
Fogo Island Inn
If you can afford the price point, it’s worth staying at least a night at Fogo Island Inn. With only 29 suites, make sure to make your reservation far in advance.
Simms Place, an apartment/suite option, has everything you need, including a full kitchen, cable TV, Internet, and even homemade preservatives with baked goods for breakfast.
Where to Eat
Fogo Island Inn
Executive chef Jonathon Gushue leads the kitchen team at the inn’s restaurant, which finds inspiration in fresh catch, ingredients grown and foraged locally, and Fogo Island’s time-honored outport cooking traditions.
Beaches Bar and Grill
All the basics at an affordable price. Expect to find fish and chips, as well as cod burgers, at Beaches Bar and Grill.
An offspring as a result of the inn, Scoff Restaurant serves up upscale versions of traditional favorites. Only 24 seats are open for walk-ins each evening; reservations can be made in advance.
Bang Belly Café
Another Fogo Island Inn offspring is Bang Belly Café, which offers a revolving menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches, all prepared with house-made ingredients.
As your epic road trip across the islands that make up Newfoundland comes to an end, the Change Islands are the perfect last stop, a place to catch your breath and enjoy the emptiness that encompasses the region. Spend some time driving around, spotting the colorful homes, and visiting with the locals. Disconnect and recharge before taking the ferry back to the island of Newfoundland to catch your departure flight out of Gander.
Things to Do
Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary
The province’s first heritage animal, the Newfoundland Pony evolved over 400 years to meet the demands of outport life and was essential for survival. Over centuries, it adapted and evolved into a unique breed. The ponies have thick manes, heavy winter coats, and are sure-footed with close-set legs to walk on narrow paths. They are hard workers with excellent temperaments. The Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary was founded in 2005 to save the critically endangered Newfoundland Pony. Visitors can interact and learn about the unique breed while on-property.
Where to Stay
Seven Oakes Island Inn & Cottages
This tastefully refurbished 1800s fish merchant’s home is a great place to just get away from it all (it’s also the only hotel option). Seven bedrooms are located in the home, two with fireplaces. There are three cottages with a fully equipped kitchen/dining area, a living room, and two bedrooms (see why it’s called Seven Oakes Island Inn & Cottages?). Wi-Fi is available upon request. The inn also has a spacious dining room that serves meals with homemade bread and preserves.
Where to Eat
Besides the dining room at the inn, T.L.P. Restaurant might be the only other dining option available, but it’s a great way to experience how a restaurant functions in such a remote part of the world. The menu offers everything from seafood to burgers.
Article originally published November 7, 2018.
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