Gros Morne National Park – Newfoundland, Canada
The Land That Time Forgot
What’s in a name? Located along Newfoundland’s rugged western coast, the “big mournful place” is in fact an area of stunning natural beauty, a fantasy landscape of rough, rocky mountains, stark fjords, deep glacial lakes, coastal bogs, and wave-carved cliffs. Add a dash of mist and it’s easy to picture what life was like here 1,000 years ago, when Leif Eriksson and thirty-five Viking seagoers established North America’s first European colony at L’Anse aux Meadows, about 80 miles north of the park.
In geologic terms, though, a thousand years may as well be a day – which is especially obvious in the Tablelands area of the Gros Morne. Like thickset versions of the American West’s buttes and plateaus, Tablelands’ hills are bare, rusty, flattened, and eroded by time, dotted here and there with patches of hardscrabble greenery but otherwise looking exactly like what they are: prehistory made manifest.
About 570 million years ago, the rocks that form this area were part of the earth’s mantle, driven to the surface from under the crust during the continental breakup, when the lands that became Africa and North America butted against each other. It’s like seeing the earth’s skeleton. Hiking is the best way to experience the area. The 2½-mile (round-trip) Tablelands Trail stretches from Trout River Gulch to Winterhouse Brook Canyon and concentrates on the Tablelands’ stark geology, while the longer Green Gardens Trail offers 6- and 9-mile options that descend from the barrens through boreal forest to a fertile sea coast, where beautiful meadows sit atop volcanic, cave-pocked cliffs.
Landlocked Trout River Pond, located right along the park’s southern border, is another scenic highlight, running for 9 miles between steep, stark hills. The area’s old Newfie fishing villages are also worth a stop, as is the Discovery Centre just outside Woody Point, with exhibits on geology, plant and animal life, and the area’s human history.
North of Bonne Bay, the coastal road (Route 430) follows a broad, boggy plain, with the dramatic Long Range Mountains rising to the east. Gros Morne, the highest of those mountains at 2,644 feet, rewards in-shape hikers with spectacular views of the park, the bay, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Less than a half-hour’s drive north of Rocky Harbour – the area’s main town and the location of the park’s visitors center – Western Brook Pond is the park’s most popular stop, with a combination of hikes and boat trips exploring and interpreting this landlocked glacial fjord’s landscape and wildlife.