Canada is awash with spectacular natural beauty. Some of our national parks, like Banff National Park or Cape Breton Highlands National Park, are famous the world over. But there are plenty of national parks across Canada that are less well-known but just as worthy of recognition. We’ve visited every national park reachable by road in 9 of Canada’s 10 provinces and even one of its territories. In our expert opinion, Gros Morne National Park deserves to be toward the top of every road trip fan’s bucket list.
Here are 8 reasons why Gros Morne National Park is among our very favourite national parks in Canada. When you visit, you may find these same reasons make it one of your favourites, too.
1. You can take a boat tour through a spectacular fjord
You may have seen Newfoundland’s Western Brook Pond without even realizing it. Until recently, this striking landmark featured prominently in Air Canada’s pre-flight safety video. This remarkable geological formation is one of Gros Morne National Park’s most iconic vistas. Its cliffs tower more than 600 metres above the water. That’s higher than Toronto’s CN Tower!
To see Western Brook Pond for yourself, you’ll park in a lot just off Newfoundland Route 430. This road, also known as the Viking Trail, is the main roadway through Gros Morne National Park. The walk into Western Brook Pond is an easy 3-kilometre trail. It’s gravel-lined and relatively flat, so it’s suitable for walking and some mobility devices. Expect this hike to take 45 to 60 minutes one-way, depending on your pace.
You’re welcome to take in the views from the end of the trail for free. To make the most of your time, we highly recommend booking the Western Brook Pond boat tour operated by BonTours. This tour lasts for two hours and takes you to the far end of the fjord. You’ll gasp in awe the entire time at the enormous rock faces and trickling waterfalls. A boat tour through Western Brook Pond is a Canadian Signature Experience as selected by Destination Canada.
Technically, Western Brook Pond is no longer a fjord. It was once a true fjord, carved by more than 40 glaciers during the last ice age and connected directly to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Over time, it became separated from the ocean by lowlands, and the lake transitioned to fresh water. It’s no longer considered a fjord because of this, but the beauty of its origins remains.
2. At Gros Morne National Park, part of the Earth’s mantle is exposed
Gros Morne National Park is home to another geological marvel. This is one of very few places on Earth where you can see the planet’s mantle above ground. The peridotite rocks in the Tablelands were pushed through the Earth’s crust roughly 500 million years ago. As the clouds, sun, and sky pass above them, the orange rocks in this barren landscape appear to change colour. It’s like a painting is being completed before your eyes!
To see the Tablelands, follow Newfoundland Route 431 between the towns of Woody Point and Trout River at the west end of Gros Morne National Park. This 17-kilometre drive takes roughly 15 minutes to complete in each direction. Since the road ends just past Trout River, you’ll need to drive the road again to return to Woody Point. (You won’t mind, we promise!)
If you’re up it, consider trying a hike on the Tablelands Trail. The Tablelands hike is four kilometres long and takes approximately two hours to complete. Apart from being narrow and slightly muddy after it rains, this trail is rated easy. It leads you into the centre of Winter House Brook Canyon, where you’ll be surrounded on three sides by these otherworldly views. Experienced hikers can continue off-trail up the steep slopes of the canyon after consulting with park staff.
3. The variety of hiking opportunities at Gros Morne National Park is unbelievable
If you’re really into hiking—or even if you just suspect you might be—Gros Morne National Park is a fantastic place to explore. This park is packed full of glorious hiking trails for all levels of skill and experience. The easy trails to Western Brook Pond or into the Tablelands are suitable for most visitors, while more challenging half-day routes such as the Green Gardens Trail or the Trout River Pond Trail are better suited to longer-term hikers.
To truly challenge yourself as a hiker, you’ll need to tackle the Gros Morne Mountain Trail. This full-day hike takes six to nine hours to complete across 17 kilometres and ascends nearly 800 metres. It requires expertise, advance planning, proper gear, and plenty of supplies such as water and food. If you conquer this trail, you’ll truly earn some bragging rights!
The Gros Morne Mountain Trail is a challenging hike. You’ll want to do some research if you plan to give the Gros Morne Mountain Trail a try. You can find official information on the Parks Canada website.
On top of that, there are full-day and multi-day guided wilderness hikes available, such as the difficult day hike to the top of Western Brook Pond Gorge and an extended version of the Gros Morne Mountain Trail that continues toward Bakeapple Pond and Ten Mile Pond. Find out more about these longer hikes here.
4. You can help your kids appreciate nature as Parks Canada Xplorers
Gros Morne National Park is one of the sites participating in the Parks Canada Xplorers program. This program helps kids engage with Canada’s national parks and historic sites in a way that fosters a lifelong love of nature and conservation.
When young explorers arrive at Gros Morne National Park, they can ask for an Xplorers booklet at one of the visitor centres or campground kiosks. These activities encourage kids and their families to visit more of the park than they might on their own. By completing activities, kids will learn more about what makes each place special.
In Gros Morne National Park, one unique activity helps kids learn more about the pitcher plant, Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial flower. This carnivorous plant gets its energy from digesting insects within the tubular leaves at its base. These collect rainwater and blend it with digestive enzymes, creating a stomach of sorts.
At the Discovery Centre in Woody Point, kids can ask for a small dropper and use it to pull this liquid out of the leaves of the pitcher plants found along the Tablelands Trail. This lets them see what these plants are enjoying for lunch! It’s kind of gross but fabulously engaging, and it’s a great hands-on way to learn about the pitcher plant’s unique biology. (Don’t forget to give the plants their meal back after checking it out!)
Before you leave the park, return to a visitor centre or campground kiosk to have the booklet certified by Parks Canada staff and pick up collectible souvenirs for your Xplorers to take home. We’ve collected more than 80 of these medallions, and they’ve inspired a great many of our road trip adventures across Canada. Who knows—maybe your kids will become collectors, too!
5. At Gros Morne National Park, you can tour a historic lighthouse
On the outskirts of the town of Rocky Harbour, you’ll find Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse. It’s more than a century old today, but this lighthouse once played a critical role in safely guiding boats from the Gulf of St. Lawrence into Bonne Bay. The lightkeeper’s house is open to the public, and touring the displays here is a great way to learn more about what life was like for lightkeepers and their families and the important role seafaring plays in Atlantic Canada. Don’t forget to keep an eye out to sea, where you’re likely to spot a whale in the distance.
6. From a tent to a cabin or a cozy hotel room, you can choose your own adventure
The towns of Rocky Harbour, Norris Point, Woody Point, and Bonne Bay are all ready for visitors with a variety of accommodation options. From rustic inns and B&Bs to RV campgrounds and more, you’ll have a place to rest your head in as much nature or shelter as your heart desires. Parks Canada operates five campgrounds within Gros Morne National Park, some with permanent camping structures such as rustic cabins and oTENTiks. Many of the longer hiking trails have primitive campsites available for booking along their routes.
We’ve experienced overnight stays at the park in two ways: at the Fisherman’s Landing Inn at Rocky Harbour, and in one of the rustic cabins overlooking Gull Pond at Berry Hill campground. While these are quite different approaches to visiting the park, we thoroughly enjoyed them both.
7. Gros Morne National Park is home to a working marine research station
In the community of Norris Point, the Bonne Bay Aquarium and Research Station offers a glimpse into a working oceanic research facility. This working station is operated by the Memorial University of Newfoundland. For a small admission fee, you can look inside to learn more about local sea life and the station’s conservation work. You’ll see many varieties of fish, and kids can check out the touch tanks to get a closer look at starfish, crabs, and snails. You might even see a rare blue lobster!
8. You’ll fall in love with the communities around Gros Morne National Park
The spectacular vistas will lure you here, but it’s the warm welcome that will make you want to stay. Home-cooked meals at the Fisherman’s Landing Restaurant in Rocky Harbour and The Old Loft in Bonne Bay will introduce you to the delicacies of the Newfoundland seafood feast. Ask a question to any of the friendly park staff, and you’re likely to receive the answer—to that question, and ten more.
We bought a jar of Joe’s Bakeapple Jam at the Jenniex House in Norris Point, then walked outside where some locals struck up a chat. Before long, we learned we were talking to the man who made that same jar of jam, Joe himself!
On the island of Newfoundland, you’ll find yourself compelled to slow down, enjoy long conversations, and connect with the people around you. And that, as much as everything else Gros Morne National Park has to offer, is truly a precious gift.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs):
How many days do you need in Gros Morne National Park?
Plan to spend at least two days in Gros Morne National Park. This will give you time to take part in the park’s essential experiences such as a boat tour at Western Brook Pond and a hike at the Tablelands. If you want to see more of the park or undertake longer hikes, plan to stay for three to five days or more.
Can you drive through Gros Morne National Park?
Driving through Gros Morne National Park is one of the best ways to see many of its spectacular vistas. You can drive through the park without stopping if you don’t want to pay the entry fee. The best views from the road are along Route 430 between the southern entrance gate and the town of Rocky Harbour. However, you’ll need to leave the main road and pay the park’s entry fee to see Western Brook Pond and the Tablelands, two of its signature geological features.
How should I prepare for a visit to Gros Morne National Park?
Make sure you’re ready to encounter all four seasons at any time of year! Pack gear for sunny days, rainy days, cold days, and everything in between. Hikers should plan to bring breathable raincoats or ponchos, rain pants, and suitable waterproof footwear.
If you arrive without these items, you’re likely to end up having to purchase them after you arrive. (In this case, visit Out East Adventure Centre in Rocky Harbour. They have plenty of outdoor gear for sale and rent.)
Why is Western Brook Pond called a pond?
Most bodies of fresh water that would be called lakes in the rest of Canada are known as ponds in Newfoundland. According to historians, many of Newfoundland’s earliest settlers originated from western England, where lakes were also once called ponds.