It’s the Newfoundland of your dreams. Drive through 1,000 years of history tracing the length of the Great Northern Peninsula, the Viking Trail, a winding 500+ kilometre route, bookended by two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In between, you’ll encounter windswept fishing villages, fresh seafood, close-up wildlife, and interesting characters. Begin with volcanoes and fjords, and finish by meeting the Norse. All photos ©Tom Cochrane Photo.
Gros Morne National Park
One of the province’s top attractions, this park (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) covers a very diverse 1,805 square kilometres. At the Tablelands, the earth’s mantle is thrust up above the surface, creating a rust-and-gold, otherworldly landscape that took 400 million years to form—a guided tour with a Parks Canada employee is worth it, to learn the details of this unique geologic phenomenon. At Western Brook Pond, take a boat tour along this landlocked fjord, the cliffs rising steeply on each side, cascades dropping toward you from 600 metres above. Scale the top of the park’s namesake mountain, its bald 807-metre summit the second-highest peak in Newfoundland. And, if you can, take a few extra days to explore beyond the biggest attractions. Woody Point is a charming village, once a major centre for logging and fishing, now a great place to grab a fresh seafood lunch along its main street, patios opening on the water in the back. And tour operators will show you the secret side of this place, from Wild Gros Morne, where you can ride a zodiac on Bonne Bay and forage for mushrooms in hidden glades, to Under the Stump, which takes you off road, and includes a stop where you’ll learn local songs while making an “ugly stick.”
The Arches Provincial Park
Formed over the course of thousands of years, three natural arches stand here against the backdrop of the sea, the porous rock holed through by the constant lashing of waves. Scramble down the rocky beach for an excellent photo. And keep your eyes open for wildlife—the surrounding woods are home to lynx and moose, and up in the air, you may spot grouse, warblers and woodpeckers.
Port au Choix
This picturesque fishing town, home to a harbour hosting a busy fleet of boats, is part of a National Historic Site of Canada. Brought here by the abundance of food available in the area, indigenous people have inhabited this place for some 6,000 years, with archaeological sites here standing as time capsules, preserved by the alkaline soil. Try the hands-on exhibits at the visitor’s centre, view ancient settlements, as well as arctic wildflowers. And spend some time taking photos at Point Riche, with its red-and-white lighthouse—if you’re lucky, you’ll see the resident herd of caribou, who often chill out just nearby, next to the coastline. (If you have time, visit the French Rooms, where you can learn about French maritime history, and help fire up their stone bread oven.)
To get here, you’ll need to divert off the main route, driving east, across the peninsula, about an hour and fifteen minutes, one way—this tiny seaside village is worth the diversion. Modelled on the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy, local residents, in collaboration with a French artist, created their own, 227-foot version, which retells the history of the French Shore. Take a tour of it with a local guide, who will share stories about how the whole thing came together. And stay a little longer to experience the attached museum, which preserves and presents the history of this remarkable village.
L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
Here, you’ll feel like a Viking, and your trip will come to its close. Enter one of the sod houses, and hear tales from the sagas by a crackling fire. Close your eyes and imagine it’s 1,000 years ago, and you’ve sailed here from Greenland with the Norse, creating the first evidence of European settlement in North America. Now both a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the visitor’s centre at L’Anse aux Meadows includes a scale model of the area as well as loads of background information. Then stride out on a series of boardwalks that wind down to the recreated settlement, with costumed interpreters waiting to take you back in time. (And if you want more, the next-door Norstead Viking Village is home to Snorri, a replica of Leif Ericcson’s ship, which a 12-person crew actually sailed on his route, from Greenland to Newfoundland.)