Gros Morne National Park…for the win!

Gros Morne was the seventh National Park we had the opportunity to visit on our Maritimes road-trip and we can say without a doubt it was our favourite.  The best piece of advice we received when we were planning our route in the spring, came from a friend who wisely recommended booking as much time as we could at Gros Morne.  With Canada’s 150th celebration going on this year, we were already finding that many national parks were booking up fast.  So without knowing our itinerary or having anything else planned we chose a stretch of 6 nights at the end of August and figured we’d just make it work.  We were so glad that Gros Morne was the park we booked ahead and for almost a full week, we could have easily stayed longer.

Berry Hill Campground:

We found so many of the campgrounds we stayed at in other national parks lacked space, privacy or any type of greenery around your actual site.  In Fundy and Cape Breton Highlands National Parks, we were set up on concrete pull-through sites, without a single tree, overlooking your neighbor on either side.  PEI National Park and Kouchibiguac were definitely better but still weren’t great.  The Berry Hill Campground sites at Gros Morne were open and spacious, but surrounded by trees.  Each site was surrounded by forest, providing privacy from your neighbors and passers-by.  We had loads of space for the dogs to run (on ropes), to set up our camp chairs and put out our 12 x 12 dining tent had we have chose to.   We had opted for water and electricity on our site, but water was easily accessible if you didn’t have your own connection.  We were three sites up from pristinely clean, updated bathrooms (each with a heat light), a kitchen shelter with a huge dishwashing station and laundry facilities.  There was park-wide WIFI (for the most part) that required a daily password, but was fairly quick and reliable.  The staff were friendly and very helpful, there were plenty of garbage and recycling bins and access to 3 different hiking trails within walking distance of our campsite.  We really tried, but could not come up with a single complaint for this campground – it really was one of the best we had stayed in.

All that being said, next time we would like to try each of the other two campgrounds as well.  It’s important to remember that Gros Morne National Park is pretty expansive.  It takes close to two hours to drive the park from end to end, so staying at different points along the main road would have been beneficial to cut down on driving every time we wanted to take in a hike or stock up on supplies.

Hiking:

We would have loved to hiked all the trails in Gros Morne, but with the pups we were a bit limited.  The Gros Morne Mountain Trail states due to wildlife and safety concerns, dogs are prohibited.  The overnight traverse trails were obviously out, Snug Harbor required a river crossing and the Green Gardens trail was closed.  So we chose trails that had the best points of interest, wouldn’t require a ton of extra driving and would be a reasonable distance to take the dogs (keeping in mind one is 12 years old and one is tiny, the third is a terrier and could run all day long).

Berry Hill Pond

Located right in the Berry Hill Campground, this 2 km trail encircles the Berry Hill Pond.  It’s relatively flat, a little rugged and really muddy, but it was a great way to stretch our legs on the first day we arrived at the park.  Bug spray is definitely recommended and watch for moose – we didn’t see any but saw a lot of fresh tracks.  And we forgot to grab a camera when we took off on this one, but the pond was actually really pretty and peaceful, even being so close to the campground.

Berry Hill

We were a little hesitant taking the dogs on this trail as it detailed a decent climb with a lot of narrow stairs, but since it was only 1.5 km round trip we figured we’d try it and worse case turn around.  In a short distance it does reach an elevation of 350 m, which makes for a good quadriceps workout and provides a fantastic view of the park, the campground and Berry Hill Pond.  It didn’t seem like a popular trail, but we thought the view was definitely worth the climb.

Baker’s Brook Falls

By the time you add in the scenic lookout loop, the Baker’s Brook Falls trail is roughly 11 km in total.  It’s a 10 km linear trail that leads to a spectacular waterfall with the option of an additional 1 km side loop.  The trail is relatively flat, with large sections of narrow boardwalks.  These were a bit of a challenge for the dogs and are narrow enough that passing people could be awkward.  The last kilometer before the waterfall is rugged and quite muddy making us glad we had chosen hiking boots that morning.  There are three lookout platforms at the far end that give you different views of the falls and provide benches for a well-deserved break before turning around.  Along the trail are interpretive signs and kilometer markers so you can gage your distance and a vault toilet just before you reach the falls (though it was pretty gross and lacking toilet paper).  Baker’s Brook Falls was a decent hike and because of the distance and the terrain near the falls, we would definitely agree with its moderate rating, but we still highly recommend this one because the waterfall and the view from the lookout are definitely worth the trek.

 

Berry Pond

This is the only trail in the park that is partially wheel-chair accessible, so it’s mostly flat with some paved sections at the beginning.  It’s another 2 km loop that encircles the Berry Pond and alternates between level ground and well-maintained boardwalks.  It’s another less popular trail and wasn’t the most interesting, but it was a nice easy walk for the dogs who seemed a little stiff after the longer hikes we had tackled in the days before.

Southeast Brook Falls

Looking for another short trail to give our dogs a bit of a break, we followed up the Berry Pond Trail with the Southeast Brook Falls Trail, a 1 km linear trail that leads to another smaller, yet still impressive waterfall.  The end of the trail takes you to the top of the waterfall, a rocky flat area where water collected before running towards the edge, creating a natural infinity pool.  The view from here looked out over the falls and across the rolling green mountains of the park.  This was a short, relatively easy trail, but it was also one of the only spots we saw wildlife – a little brown bunny right by the entrance and in our books that’s always a good sign!

Western Brook Pond:

Before booking the Western Brook Pond tour to see the fjords, we wanted to see what the view was like from the end of the trail to determine whether we really needed to spend the money or if we could take in the view from shore.  The trail itself is a 2.7 km linear trail that is mostly flat or sections of boardwalk.  It’s well maintained and leads to the boat dock where the Bontours boat tour of the fjords departs and docks.  The walk itself was actually a pretty trail that wanders through the woods and borders the pond.  From the dock, you still get a nice view of the fjords, but not really enough to appreciate the magnitude of them, so we decided the boat tour was worth booking.

 

The Tablelands

The Tablelands are another one of the drastically different landscapes, not only within Gros Morne, but also within Newfoundland.  It’s a place like nowhere else, reminiscent of another planet with its barren red hills surrounded by sparse grass and shrubs.  The Tablelands are result of the collision of tectonic plates that forced the Earth’s mantle up from underneath.  This area helped earn Gros Morne it’s UNESCO World Heritage status for its contribution to tectonic plate research.  The 4 km linear hike here is flat and relatively easy, however loose gravel and stones will give your ankles a little bit of a workout.  This is a very popular trail and offers guided hikes almost daily.  We’d recommend going early as the walks start around 10 am and the parking lot fills up.  We started the trail at 8 am and besides one other couple, had the entire thing to ourselves which was amazing for taking pictures.

Western Brook Pond Boat Tour:

The fjords in Gros Morne’s Western Brook Pond, like the Tablelands, are one of the park’s main attractions.  It is practically a must when visiting the park.  The views from the hiking trail really don’t compare to what you see by boat and what you see on the tour is stunning.  Massive cliffs, some taller than the CN Tower in Toronto, towering around you, untouched since they were formed billions of years ago.  It’s a pretty amazing site and a photo you’ll most likely see in any Newfoundland or Gros Morne travel guide.

The Western Brook Pond Tour is run by Bontours and during peak season runs 3-5 times per day, every day.  Reservations are recommended, but you can take a gamble and just show up and hope for a spot, just remember the only way to the dock is a 2.7 km hike.  They recommend adding an additional 45 minutes before your scheduled departure to allow for the hike in (which can take 30-45 minutes depending on your pace).  You may want to arrive even earlier as there is very limited parking, especially by mid-day when tours are both headed out and returning.  When you reserve online you just save a spot, you have to pay and collect your ticket before boarding.  Take cash with you just in case, since internet signals needed for debit/credit machines can be spotty.  At the docking site, there are bathrooms, a small café, giftshop and the ticket counter.   Seating is on a first come, first served basis and as there are a limited number of upper deck seats, arriving earlier is definitely a good idea.  The boat seats 99 people, but is surprisingly spacious even when full.  The best views seemed to be from the bow of the boat, but its standing room only and can get a little misty.  The guides are friendly and energetic sharing information about the fjords and highlighting specific rock formations, waterfalls and points of interest along the way.  The tour itself is about 2 hours out and back and can be a little bumpy if the winds are up.  It costs between $58-65, depending on the day and time, but the views are most definitely worth it!

We were glad to have had those six days booked at Gros Morne and could have easily filled another few days with even more hiking and exploring.  It is a fantastic park for any type of traveler or holiday for that matter.  If you want a great family trip, there are kids activities and an indoor pool.  If you want low key and relaxing, there are easy walks, cute little towns to explore and two different boat cruises.  If you’re after crazy outdoor adventure, you can hike an unmarked wilderness route, traversing the range at Western Brook Pond or the Tablelands armed with a map and compass.  Whatever you’re after, you’ll find it at Gros Morne and the park, the views and Newfoundland in general will not disappoint!  We can’t wait to go back. (The 35 km Long Range Traverse hike is calling our names!)

WHERE TO NEXT: The LONG drive back to Ontario via the Trans Labrador-Quebec Highway

 

What we’re Enjoying:

Cally’s Reading:  Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body – by Daniel Golemand and Richard J. Davidson

Graeme’s Reading:Smoke & Pickles: Stories and Recipes from a New Southern Kitchen – by Edward Lee

Podcast –  Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History – The Basement Tapes

 Spotify Playlist Autumn Acoustic

Best Eats – After finding some amazing late summer peaches, we decided to make a batch of peach fritters.  It’s always fun deep-frying in the middle of a campground, but these were so delicious.  Click here for the recipe on our companion blog, Two Happy Rabbits.

 

 

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