Millennia-old collisions under the Earth’s surface created the folded and faulted landscape of Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and Labrador. Tablelands, Gros Morne’s bronze-rock plate and its centerpiece, is one of the few places in the world where the Earth’s mantle (the rocky layer under the crust) has been pushed to the surface. If you’re up for the challenge, sign on for the Hike to the Top of the Bottom of the Earth. The guided trek to the top of Tablelands (the remains of an ancient ocean floor) takes a full day, but it covers 500 million years of history and offers the rare opportunity to walk on rock once part of Earth’s inner layer.
For those who prefer views from water, sea kayak from Trout River to Bonne Bay along a coast lined with 1,148-foot-high volcanic cliffs. Westerly winds tend to be strongest right along the shoreline here, so move out from under the cliffs for calmer conditions. In addition, "The villages are part of the Gros Morne experience," says park interpreter Sheldon Stone. "Gros Morne is a combination of a protected area and small coastal communities. They have a rich tradition of fishing, logging, and a relationship with the land in terms of subsistence, but also artistic as well. If you walk to the wharf you might speak to a lobster fisherman and it might be the same person who sings in the pub at night."
When to Go: The park is open year-round; however, snow can fall at higher elevations as early as September and linger on some hiking trails until mid-May. For hiking and sea kayaking, visit between late June and early September. Many communities host festivals, including Norris Point’s ten-day Trail, Tales, and Tunes Festival in May, featuring folk and bluegrass music, cooking workshops, special meals, and hikes; and Cow Head’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival, which stages six productions May 31 through mid-September. "These festivals are intimate, like a house party," Stone says. "Travelers and visitors get to interact with the community, artists, and writers."
How to Get Around: More than 60 miles of marked trails range from easy half-hour walks to strenuous full-day hikes. Local outfitter Gros Morne Adventures offers guided sea kayak tours of the park’s fjord in Bonne Bay, as well as kayak rentals to experienced paddlers. In winter, explore the park’s 32 miles of groomed cross-country trails.
Where to Stay: Small hotels and inns are located in Norris Point, Rocky Harbour, and Woody Point (the base for the Tablelands, with its rare, flat-topped rocks). You can also find lodging near Lookout Point and along Trout River. In Rocky Harbour, about an hour’s drive from the Tablelands en route to the Western Brook Pond, the waterfront Ocean View Hotel offers 53 air-conditioned rooms with free Wi-Fi, and in summer, live music downstairs in its Anchor Pub. Neddies Harbour Inn, a 15-room boutique hotel in Norris Point, is open from mid-May to early October. Its Shag Cliff room has panoramic Bonne Bay views from corner windows. If you need more space, rent one of the hotel’s three-bedroom cottages.
What to Eat or Drink: From Norris Point, take the 20-minute BonTours water taxi (summer only) across Bonne Bay to Woody Point for a hot turkey sandwich or fried cod and a side of fresh cut fries at the Old Loft Restaurant. Housed in the restored rope loft of a former fishing shed on Bonne Bay, the restaurant is known for its quirky wooden barrel chairs. Treasure Box in Rocky Harbour is primarily a gift shop, but the small lunch café is worth a try for the moose soup or the traditional Newfoundland combo plate: salt cod cake, baked beans, and toutons (silver-dollar-size bread-dough pancakes). For fresh mussels, salmon, snow crab, and scallop dishes, head to the Seaside Restaurant on the beach boardwalk in Trout River, open mid-May to early October.
What to Buy: Treasure Box showcases locally made, hand-knit sweaters, mittens, and hats. Gros Morne Wildlife Museum & Gift Shop stocks fishing, camping, and hiking supplies, along with an eclectic mix of local gift items, including antler and bone carvings and antler chandeliers.
What to Read Before You Go: Set against Newfoundland’s brutal landscape, Wayne Johnston’s epic fifth novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (Anchor, 2000), is a mystery and love story that spans five generations.
Fun Fact: Local legend credits a Newfoundland dog with saving the 92 passengers and crew aboard the S.S. Ethie when the coastal steamship ran aground off Martin’s Point in December 1919. Parts of the craft are visible just south of the Western Brook Pond parking lot. Learn about the fabled dog in the 1920 poem "Carlo" by E.J. Pratt.
Vancouver-based Robin Esrock is author of The Great Canadian Bucket List and was the host of the Nat Geo Adventure TV series Word Travels.