Icebergs, Vikings, and whales - oh my. The Viking Trail in Newfoundland is an amazing scenic route that snakes around the coast of Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park, and includes encounters with Viking settlements and icebergs. You’ll find plenty of nature and history on this route, so live like a Viking and get to exploring.
Old Norse expeditions arrived in Newfoundland around 1000 years ago from Greenland, where they built camps and eventually stayed. At L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site you can explore how Vikings once lived when they first arrived via a recreation of a base camp. You’ll have a handy guide as costumed Vikings walk you through the daily life of these early settlements, hear tales of Viking lore, and you can even see a replica Viking ship.
Newfoundland is obviously a hub for seafood, and Lightkeepers Seafood Restaurant in St. Anthony will ensure you’re getting plenty of it. Get your North Atlantic cod, halibut, salmon, and even cod tongues (when in Viking territory, eat like a Viking) all right here. During the summer months, you can also dine like a Viking at their Great Viking Feast. This experience features a sod hut with an interactive court of law that happens most evenings in the summertime.
Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve may be protected by humans, but the lack of protection from harsh climate is what created this part of the land. Burnt Cape is surrounded by cold waters and has the most arctic conditions in Newfoundland, but that doesn’t bother the rare plant life here to grow. Here you’ll find over 300 rare plant species, even though from a distance the area looks almost desolate. Just be cautious if you visit in the spring or early summer, as polar bears are known to travel through this area.
This may be the Viking Trail, but let’s not forget about Newfoundland’s First Nations. At Port au Choix National Historic Site, explore 6000 years of history of the Maritime Archaic Indian, and the Dorset and Groswater Paleoeskimo. Here you can learn how people coped with the harsh climate of the region by viewing settlements, artifacts, hunting tools, and burial sites. This area is also a prime spot for hiking with 5 available trails. Try the Point Riche Trail to view beautiful limestone formations, the ocean, and wildlife such as caribou and whales.
Visit gigantic natural arches that overlook the sea at Arches Provincial Park. The three arches are 15 feet high and are a popular stopping point for many Newfoundland visitors. The arches were created by tidal action, and there actually used to be a fourth arch until it collapsed. Pack some lunch and enjoy a picnic at this park while feasting your eyes on this natural wonder.
For a more relaxing portion of the Viking Trail drive, stop at Shallow Bay Beach to unwind. This family-friendly beach has shallow water that gets warm enough to swim in during summer months. Whether you’re taking a dip or taking a long walk, the soft sand will offer some much-needed R&R during your drive. For the thrill seeker in you, head to the northern part of the beach to see high dunes and high waves after a storm.
Gros Morne National Park has it all - and that isn’t an understatement: mountains, beaches, fjords, bogs, forests, and more. And don’t forget about the vast array of wildlife that calls this land home: black bears, lynxes, red foxes, Arctic Foxes, and more. Whether you want to see the beach or stomp around a tundra, you can live out your best natural adventure at this national park. The 1,805-square-kilometre UNESCO World Heritage Site shows off glacier-carved natural features, misty waterfalls, and dramatic coastal cliffs, but is also home to adorable towns like Cow Head and Woody Point.
Over 10,000 whales pass through this area each year, so this is a major highway for marine life and whale watching. See Orcas, Humpbacks, Blue whales and more on your journey. You can also spy icebergs here; your best chance for sightings are on the eastern coast of the island. The best time to view one is during spring and summer, as gigantic pieces make their way down iceberg alley. You can take guided tours or even kayak around them for a look of your own. Just remember to review iceberg viewing safety tips, as the Titanic sunk only 400 miles from Newfoundland’s coast.
While you’re at Gros Morne National Park, boat the Western Brook Pond and explore the fjords of Newfoundland. On this 2-hour boat ride, you’ll see billion-year-old cliffs with waterfalls that fall to the park’s largest lake. If you would prefer to see the fjords from the top rather from the pond view, you can also hike to the top of the gorge in this area.
Lighthouses didn’t exist when Vikings first docked 1000 years ago in Newfoundland, and thankfully sailors of today don’t have to relive that experience. The Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse is a great stop for lighthouse junkies, sea lovers, and whale watchers alike. The century-old lighthouse offers daily exhibits for those wanting to learn more about the cultural heritage of Gros Morne National Park. In this area, you’ll also find short walking trails through tuckamore forests that lead to beaches. This is also a popular area to spot whales - so bring your binoculars.
Since there is so much land to explore in Gros Morne National Park, you will probably be spending more than a day here. Ocean View Hotel is located at the foot of the national park, making it an easy accommodation for explorers. This hotel and restaurant overlooks Rocky Harbor - fit for a Viking if you ask me. Plus there’s plenty to do at Rocky Harbor - like boat tours, wine tastings, and live music.
While greens, blues, and white dominate the landscape of Newfoundland’s nature, you can also find a desert-like atmosphere as well at the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park. This unusual landscape is made up of peridotite. This rock is believed to originate from the Earth’s mantle and you can now see it in Newfoundland as a result of plate collision several million years ago. You can hike this interesting landscape on your own or as part of a guided tour.
Swim upstream on the Viking Trail and stop off at the Torrent River Salmon Interpretation Centre and Fishway to learn more about the salmon. Atlantic salmon has a lot of controversy surrounding it, and at this exhibit, you can learn all about it and the Torrent River, which is a haven for salmon. Go a little deeper and see the salmon in action with their underwater observation windows.
Summer is the ideal time to drive this route for a lot of reasons. Not only is it the best time to see whales and icebergs, but a lot of places close or operate under reduced hours during the winter off-season. Plus, while winter in Newfoundland is beautiful, it can be quite brutal. If you do visit in the spring or summer, just be on the lookout for polar bears; they can, on occasion, make it this far south, and they're just as dangerous as they are cute.
Banner Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Michel Rathwell