This complete guide to the ultimate Newfoundland road trip will make it easy for you to plan this epic adventure on this incredible island. The road trip itinerary through Newfoundland will bring you to the most amazing and stunning landscapes in the province and all the iconic sightseeing venues, as well as the lesser-known ones that you should not miss.
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Where is Newfoundland
The island is the country’s easternmost province in Atlantic Canada. Its coastline sits between the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Strait of Belle Isle.
Why visit Newfoundland
There are numerous reasons why Newfoundland should be at the top of the list of your trips. Come for the whales, the puffins, and the icebergs, the Canadian and Ireland’s cultural mix and its people’s rich history, or maybe for the ocean, the cliffs, and the fjords. The island known as The Rock has plenty to amaze its tourists.
A bit of History
Newfoundland is where the Vikings first came to shore in Canada. They were the very first non-Native people to explore this continent. They left their mark in Northwestern Newfoundland, where the ruins of their settlement are still visible.
The Ferry to Newfoundland
Newfoundland is an island and can be accessed only by ferry or plane. Hence, a ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, will take you to Port-aux-Basques, NL or St John’s, NL.
The ferry from North Sydney to Port-aux-Basques is a 7-hour crossing, but with the time change, it would be an 8-hour difference from terminal to terminal. The ferry to St. John’s is twice as long and takes 16 hours.
The boat is quite large and can accommodate up to 350 cars and close to 1000 passengers, along with numerous cargo shipments and tractor-trailers.
Our Crossing on the Ferry
We needed to be at the terminal 2 hours before boarding but to be safe, we were there 2 hours and 45 minutes before and were not the first ones by a long shot. Once we had our boarding pass, we parked in the lane assigned to our vehicle and waited. After a couple of hours of waiting, we finally boarded the ship. We were among the last to board, still 45 minutes away from departure.
Leaving the van and bringing a few items to keep us occupied, along with warm clothes and snacks, we headed to deck 7, where reclining chairs and a cafeteria awaited the passengers.
Spending the night on the ferry
There are cabins on board for overnight crossings, but none were available when we booked. So our home for the night was the two seats we selected. The ship left port at 11:15 pm and was due to arrive in Newfoundland at 7:15 am the next day. This made for a long night.
Although the seats are comfortable for watching TV or reading, for sleeping, not so much. I ended up sleeping on the floor halfway under my seat, even though it is forbidden according to a video all passengers must watch before departure. So the night was long, and my sleep was scarce.
Arriving in Newfoundland
They finally announced that we would be docking in 30 minutes. I stepped outside for a bit, but the fog was thick, and I could not see much. As the announcement had predicted, 30 minutes later, they asked us to head back to our vehicle for disembarkment.
We headed down a few flights of stairs to deck 3, where we were parked. It is important to notice the deck and row when you first park, to find your car again; there are a few hundred in there! The wait was short as the cars exited the boat.
Tips for the ferry
Plan and make reservations, especially if you want to book a cabin or reserve a seat. You can choose to cross during the daytime or at night. The ferry crossing from North Sydney to Port-aux-Basques is 7 hours. When you book, you will need to specify the type of vehicle and the length unless you are boarding as a passenger only without a car.
Pack a bag of what you want to bring onboard. They suggest bringing any valuables that you have in the car and warm clothes. Some will also bring a blanket and a pillow. Anything to keep you occupied during the crossing, reading material, playing cards, snacks and a bottle of water. A cafeteria is on board the ferry, but it can be costly if you only rely on that.
Be at the terminal two hours before departure. Once assigned your lane, you can park your vehicle in the proper lane and leave it. The terminal has an air-conditioned lounge with wifi as you wait. They will announce when it is time for you to return to your car for boarding.
Make yourself comfortable; the journey is 7 hours long. Step out on the deck to get a glimpse of the ocean and get some air. If you are crossing at night, you can still get some air, but you will need to wait for the sun to get a good look at the water.
The ferry brings you to Port-aux-Basques on the southwestern coast of the island.
From here, we made our way to Gros Morne National Park on the western coast. On the way, we passed Red Lake and Corner Brook, two towns big enough to replenish any supplies you might need.
Stop 1 on our road trip to Newfoundland – Gros Morne National Park
Once at Gros Morne National Park, you have two choices. Make your way towards the Tablelands area or the Gros Morne Mountain and the Western Brook Pond area. Those are two distinct areas of the park, separated by an hour’s drive. I suggest doing the Tablelands first for a visit to the Discovery Center and some exploring on the trails in this section before heading to Gros Morne and Western Brook Ponds.
Hiking and camping in Gros Morne
There are a few options for camping in the park, and it has numerous fun activities and stunning hikes. Its diversity in landscape and the fantastic seascape and wildlife make it one of the top attractions in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Tablelands Trail is an easy 4-kilometre hike where the landscape has this astounding Mars-like look. It is entirely different from what you will find and see in the rest of the park.
Stop at the Gros Morne Mountain Lookout, where the park icon stands before you in all its glory.
The Western Brook Pond Boat Tour is a Canadian Signature Experience. The fjord and the 600-metre high cliffs with waterfalls offer spectacular scenery; Canadian landscapes at their very best—more information at bontours.ca.
#vanlife Note that there is a fresh water source near the park’s south entrance on route 430. There is enough room to park by the side of the road. A long black pipe sticks out of the rock to help fill up jugs or water cans.
Accommodations near Gros Morne National Park
The town of Rocky Harbour sits in the middle of the park. It offers many accommodation options.
Wildflowers Country Inn is within walking distance of museums and restaurants. It has a rustic country feel with all the amenities expected in hotels.
Sea Spray Cottages offers a full kitchen with one or two bedrooms. The view of the water is stunning.
If you are travelling with your pet, I recommend the Bayside Cottages.
After a few days in Gros Morne National Park, we made our way east on the TCH (Trans Canada Highway) with a stop in Gander.
Stop 2 on our road trip to Newfoundland – Gander
This small town has all the amenities you might need in the middle of a road trip, from excellent sit-down restaurants and fast food to coffee shops with wifi, grocery stores and pharmacies.
Gander welcomed over 200 planes, providing shelter and food to 6800 passengers when the Americans grounded all airplanes after the 9/11 attacks. The residents are known for their generosity and organizing skills during tragic and disastrous events.
Gander Heritage Memorial Park
You can pay respect to veterans who gave their lives in various wars and those who lost their lives in aviation accidents. You also learn a bit about the town’s history and the story behind the name Gander and the big Newfoundland dog by the same name.
Cobbs Pond Rotary Park
This park is a large field with picnic tables by the water and nature trails around the pond. It is a perfect place to relax and enjoy a bit of sun or an easy walk.
Silent Witness Memorial
This memorial commemorates the victims of a plane crash that happened in 1985. On board were eight crew members and 248 passengers, all members of the 101st Airborne Division or the US Army; the troops were coming home from their peacekeeping mission making a scheduled stop in Gander. Unfortunately, all aboard lost their lives in the crash where the memorial stands today.
If you drive down a bit past the memorial site, you come to a rocky beach on Lake Gander with a picnic table. An ideal place for lunch.
North Atlantic Aviation Museum
The town of Gander’s history revolves around aviation, and an aviation museum should be part of your visit. The North Atlantic Aviation Museum depicts Gander’s role in the development of aviation in Atlantic Canada.
Accommodations in Gander
You will find known hotel chains in Gander, such as Comfort Inn.
Quality Hotel and Suites allow pets on request if you travel with your pet, though a charge may apply.
I recommend the Country Inn Cottage if you prefer a country setting with a small kitchen and an outdoor patio.
#vanlife Note that there is a water spring in Gambo about 30 minutes east of Gander to fill up on fresh water.
After the overnight in Gander, we made our way east towards St. John’s with a stop in Terra Nova National Park.
Stop 3 on our road trip to Newfoundland – Terra Nova National Park
Terra Nova National Park is the easternmost park in Canada. It covers over 400 square kilometres of untamed nature and many miles of coastline, protecting wildlife and marine life.
The Visitor Centre
The exhibits of the aquariums with sea creatures that we rarely see are also impressive and informative, making it a fun learning experience.
Hiking in the park
Ochre Hill is an easy 1.5-kilometre hike with amazing views featuring the famous red chairs that look out over the park’s territory with its immense forests and numerous lakes.
Mill Cove Lookout Trail is a 1.5-kilometre moderate hike featuring a boardwalk and stairs to take you to the hilltop overlooking Mill Cove.
Coastal Trail is an easy 9-kilometre hike from the Visitor Centre to the Newman Sound Campground that follows the coast of the Newman Sound.
Louil Hill Trail is a moderate 4-kilometre hike through balsam fir and black spruce, climbing to the top of Louil Hill for a view of Alexander Bay.
Paddling and camping are also popular activities in the park.
#vanlife Note that free showers are available 24 h at the Visitor Centre and so are laundry facilities.
After spending part of the day exploring Terra Nova National Park, we continued on our way toward St John’s.
Stop 4 on our road trip to Newfoundland – St. John’s and the East Coast
St. John’s is such a beautiful town built on a hill (a steep one too) with its rows of jellybean houses that make everything cheerful.
You will need a few days to see and do everything that this charming place offers. We spent four wonderful days exploring St. John’s and its surroundings. We covered most of the 13 top things to do in St John’s, Newfoundland.
Accommodations in St. John’s
St. John’s is a big city with endless accommodation options. Explore the top 10 hotels in downtown St. John’s, according to Expedia.
Food and Drinks
Water Street and George Street are where all the action is if you are looking for a pub and shops.
Newfoundland Eatery and Pub had an impressive selection of on-tap beer, including the local ones. They also sometimes have live Celtic music as entertainment, which attracted us to the place.
O’Reilly’s has live music and good food. The ambiance is lively, and everyone seems happy. The locals like to start conversations with tourists and make them feel at home.
Green Sleeves Pub and Eatery is also an excellent choice for food. The place gets pretty crowded and lively with live music, mostly country music, and dancing is not prohibited.
Irish culture is still very present. Even the locals’ accent is quite similar.
Live music includes violins, accordions, and even flutes. On a Saturday night, the downtown area comes alive with music and parties from one pub to the next.
#vanlife If you are looking to fill up on potable water, there is a natural water spring on Pitts Memorial Drive. Look out for the Rotary International sign. There is room to pull over on the side of the road.
There is so much history on this hill.
We made our way to the Discovery Centre for the exhibit and the movie, learning much about how Signal Hill came to be, the wars and the battles fought over the settlement that is now St John’s between the French and the British.
The house used as the soldiers’ barracks is still on the hill, and visitors can walk among its ruins. A few cannons overlooking the cliffs pointed toward the sea stand at attention, just as they had during the many battles and wars fought on this ground.
Cabot Tower on Signal Hill
The Cabot Tower on the Hill housed the signalman. He would fire the cannon at precisely noon every day. The importance of the precision of time was great as the seamen would use the sun and the horizon to navigate. They needed to calculate their location from the sun’s position at noon. Just a few minutes off, their position and direction could be altered by many degrees by the end of their voyage.
You can try your skills at firing the cannon at noon in the Discovery Centre exhibit. I do hope you will be better than I was. I would not have made a good signalman, and seafarers might have been lost were I responsible for the canons back in those days.
Hiking on Signal Hill
The system of trails around Signal Hill brings hikers to different viewpoints at different altitudes. The view of the city and the harbour with ships coming in is stunning. On the other side of the hill, you can admire the blue waters of the vast ocean.
It can get extremely windy on top of the hill, so dress accordingly. The trails are also strewn with loose rocks and dirt, so appropriate footwear is necessary.
#vanlife We spent the night near Signal Hill at the end of the Johnson GEO Centre parking lot overlooking the beautiful city night lights. To give our thanks, we visited the centre, which turned out to be one of our top activities in St. John’s. Stop in if you have the time.
Cape Spear and the Most Eastern Point in North America
Cape Spear is a Historic Site by Parks Canada. The lighthouse stands over the cliffs with the waves crashing beneath. Make sure to stop at the famous red chairs for a selfie and to view the lighthouse and the infinitely blue ocean.
You can visit the building farthest from the parking lot. Amazingly, it has been restored to the original house of the keeper and his family from the 1800s. You will get a glimpse into the life of those responsible for keeping and operating the lighthouse. The lighthouse was operational until 1987 when technology enabled it to automate the light. No keeper is needed anymore.
The trails at Cape Spear
The trails around Cape Spear are part of the East Coast Trail. Just walking for a bit on this trail behind the lighthouse, you can see why it is an icon amongst backpackers. The endless ocean and the cliffs with the waves crashing at the bottom make a stunning sight.
Most Easterly Point in North America
Coming back to the lighthouse and down the stairs is the way to the most eastern point of North America. This place sees the sun first every day. Worth getting up at 4:30 am for a peak of the rising sun! I was surprised to see the parking lot filling up at 5 in the morning, with visitors wanting to catch the sunrise.
Visitors can also wander through the bunkers in this area and see the enormous cannons used during WWII. They were hidden and could be lifted out of their hole if an enemy ship was approaching. This was quite the engineering process for the day. The unsuspected enemy boat could not see any signs of the canons or the soldiers’ quarters as they were underground. Safe to say, the soldiers had the upper ground when attacking the ships!
The trail continues along the shore. On the opposite shore, you can spot Signal Hill and the Cabot Tower. This is the perfect place for whale watching. We caught a couple of whales swimming playfully in the distance while visiting. They are a beautiful sight.
#vanlife There are two parking lots on Cape Spear where overnight parking is permitted. We spent the night here wanting to be near to catch the continent’s first sunrise. We had a lot of company as other vanlifers, and RVers wanted the same.
Hiking a Stretch of the East Coast Trail
While on the east coast of Newfoundland, we decided to hike part of the East Coast Trail. This trail is a backpacking trail that follows the coast for over 300 kilometres. It includes many connected trails or sections. We chose to hike the Spurwink Island Path to the famous Berry Head Arch. It did not disappoint!
#vanlife The Community Center parking lot in Port Kirwan allows overnight parking for backpackers, so it is possible to spend the night here but be respectful of the community and be discreet if you choose to stay here overnight as we did. Locals are friendly and will initiate conversation if you are in the mood.
Stop 5 on our road trip to Newfoundland – Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, France
After a few days on the East Coast, we made our way to Fortune, where we hopped on the ferry to Saint-Pierre et Miquelon to spend one day in France. These tiny islands are just 42 kilometres south of Newfoundland. Discover the charms of this little gem in One Day in Saint-Pierre, France.
Stop 6 on our road trip to Newfoundland – Trinity
After exploring Saint-Pierre et Miquelon for the day, we are back in Canada on Newfoundland and heading north to Trinity.
#vanlife There is a sanitation dump station in Marystown on our way from Fortune to Trinity.
The town of Trinity is a charming and colourful village that sits at the end of the peninsula, surrounded by water. You can venture around town, admire the well-kept historic houses and visit the historic village. It will take you back to when the first settlers of Trinity were thriving.
The Visitor Centre also displays the town’s history and how it came to be and was abandoned, all illustrated through a timeline. The exhibit also features artifacts recovered from that era.
Stop by the gift shop for locally made crafts and souvenirs.
Fort Point Lighthouse
Fort Point is a point of land in the Trinity Harbour. The site tour is a 1-kilometre hike with interpretive signs telling the story of the military grounds and the lighthouse keepers from the mid-1700s onward.
The lighthouse was built in 1871. Today, it still operates on an automated light that blinks every 5 seconds and a fog horn that warns seafarers.
Hiking near Trinity
Naturally, we spent our time on the trails, as we love to do. Our favourite hikes in Trinity offer beautiful scenery where cliffs and ocean are centre stage. If you are willing to put your boots on and spend some time on the hiking trails in Trinity, you will not be disappointed!
#vanlife We spent the night at THE spot in the whole province, on Fort Point, not too far from the lighthouse. The views were to die for!! There is nothing like enjoying a coffee with an unbelievably stunning view of the cliffs, the waves and the ocean. Locals use this area as a camping spot, but there is plenty of room for campers and tents. Again, I urge tourists to be respectful of this opportunity. Locals stopped by or camped nearby, and we had the pleasure of conversing with them about their hometown.
Stop 7 on our road trip to Newfoundland – Elliston and the Puffin Colony
From Trinity, we made our way north to Elliston. Elliston is a small town known for its puffin colony and the Puffin Festival, which we caught in July.
The Puffin Colony Lookout
The short trail leads to the lookout where hundreds of puffins are perched on the top of a flat rock island with their friends, the seagulls, and maybe a couple of ducks and cormorants. Many of them will also be in the water or flying by. They are cute little birds that seem to fly awkwardly with great effort but are fascinating to watch. Bring binoculars if you have them. And a zoom on your camera is quite handy to get a good photograph of those adorable little creatures!
On top of the puffins, the coast and ocean views are stunning. The blue waters and the rock chimneys are picturesque on a sunny day!
Just before the trail to the puffins’ lookout is a public beach with stunning blue water when the sun is shining. The beach gets pretty crowded, but it is big and can accommodate quite a few visitors. The waves will get strong and high on a windy day.
Gift Shop and Crafts
There are a few souvenir shops in town. If you wish to bring back a souvenir or support the community, stop at one of them. Coffee shops are also a great way to support locals and enjoy more time in Elliston.
#vanlife There is a source of fresh water on the 238 just outside Elliston for those needing to fill up on fresh water.
Stop 8 – Bonavista, more puffins and whales
After the puffins in Elliston, we continued on our way to the peninsula’s tip to Bonavista for more sightseeing, hiking, and exploring.
Cape Bonavista Lighthouse
The Visitor Centre of the lighthouse has an exhibit with pictures and descriptions of the construction. It illustrates the history of the lighthouse and stories from the keepers and their families throughout the last two centuries.
The souvenir shop on the grounds is worth the visit, puffins and whales are the subjects of most articles for sale, but you will also find other Newfoundland memorabilia.
Hiking in Bonavista
Cape Shore Trail
The trail is an easy out-and-back for 9 kilometres along the coast. It goes from the town of Bonavista to the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse. As you walk along the shore, watch for whales in Bonavista Bay.
Spillars Cove Trail
This is a fantastic hike on top of cliffs bordering the coast. The trail starts on an old road for off-road vehicles but soon turns into a narrow path that climbs to the plateau in open fields similar to the tundra. The views of the ocean, the blue waters and the rock chimneys are stellar. Whale watching is quite popular here. There is also a colony of puffins in the area.
The trail is not well marked, so be vigilant, especially close to the cliffs; it is a long way down. A part of the trail has fallen into the ocean due to erosion. This part is easy to avoid by going around the void that the slide caused. Because of this and the fact that the trail follows cliffs, it is not recommended to do this hike on a foggy day when visibility is reduced.
But on a sunny day, this is a must!
John Cabot Municipal Park
This park sits on the shores of the bay in Bonavista. It honours the explorer John Cabot with a statue of him overlooking the ocean. The Cape Shore Trail crosses the park, and picnic tables and outhouses are not too far. The views of the sunsets are incredible.
#vanlife we spent the night in John Cabot Municipal Park with an amazing view of the ocean and the setting sun.
Stop 9 on our road trip to Newfoundland – Twillingate Island and Crow Head
Our next stop brings us a little further west still on the north shores of Newfoundland in Twillingate. This charming town is known for its proximity to the Iceberg Alley and is often referred to as the Iceberg Capital.
If you wish to view an iceberg, this is where you should be. The most appropriate time for viewing those immense floating ice blocks would be May and June, though some icebergs might still linger in July. They come from our neighbours off the coast of Greenland and slowly float in the sea, making their way south. They are majestic and surreal. An iceberg sighting is high on my bucket list.
Long Point Lighthouse
The lighthouse lookouts are the perfect place for whale watching and iceberg viewing. The Long Point Lighthouse sits on the high cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean.
Hiking the Twillingate Island Coast Trails
Twillingate Islands have fantastic hiking trails. From the Twillingate Island Coastal Trails to the many trail options near the charming town of Twillingate, the views of the high rocky cliffs and the endless ocean are all excellent options for a hiking adventure.
Annies Harbour Restaurant
I strongly recommend it. We had dinner at Annie’s Harbour Restaurant. The service was excellent, and the staff was very friendly. It seemed pretty busy, so don’t hesitate to make a reservation. The food was delicious. The shrimp, the scallops and the fish were all excellent. The ambiance is also a plus! I give it five stars.
#vanlife We spent the night at an old abandoned campground that tourists and locals still use. There is no service but there are picnic tables and amazing views of the ocean with whales swimming close by.
From Twillingate, we set off for a full day of driving, heading back to the West Coast and then making our way to the northern end of the peninsula to L’Anse aux Meadows.
Stop 10 on our road trip to Newfoundland – L’Anse aux Meadows
L’Anse-aux-Meadows is our last stop in Newfoundland. Parks Canada Historical Site L’Anse aux Meadows sits at the very edge of the province. The northern tip of the peninsula on the west coast is the site of an ancient Viking settlement, the very first non-native explorers of this continent.
The exhibit in the Visitor Centre depicts the history of the Norseman and the route the Vikings took from their homeland in the Scandinavian Countries to Iceland and then to Greenland, to eventually come ashore in Newfoundland and build the settlement right here in L’Anse aux Meadows around the year 1000 AD.
It also tells the story of how it came to be discovered by a couple of archeologists. The story goes that locals believed it was the ruins of an old indigenous camp, but the dig proved otherwise. Archeologists discovered the forge with metal objects like boat nails and clothes pins that the Scandinavian peoples used. Indigenous tribes did not work the metal, so it left no doubt that the ruins in L’Anse aux Meadows were Vikings.
From the Sagas of Erik the Red and his son Leif Erikson, it is possible to determine a timeline for their voyages and discoveries in the new world. The Vikings never meant their settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows to be permanent as it was a gateway to the land they named Vinland for its richness in wild grapes.
Ruins of the ancient settlement
Once you have made the rounds in the exhibit, you can exit by the centre’s back door. The boardwalk will lead you directly to the ruins of the ancient settlement. They are mounds of peat moss, but archeologists’ finds have been able to determine what most of them housed, whether it was family quarters, the forge, or woodwork buildings.
One longhouse of timber and sod has been rebuilt to the likes of the Vikings’ dwellings. You can enter and visit. Costumed Viking interpreters explain the life and customs of the Norseman in the settlement.
Hiking in L’Anse-aux-Meadows
The trail continues along the shore of the Strait of Belle Isle with its rocky beaches. It turns sharply left before returning to the parking lot through bog and marshes. Keep an eye out for moose as we had the pleasure of watching one graze in the meadow on our return to the parking lot.
A short trail leads from the parking lot to the top of the hill with the giant statues of Vikings looking in the distance—the perfect place for a selfie. The view of the sea and the surrounding shores is quite beautiful.
The Return Home – The Ferry from St. Barbe NL to Blanc Sablon QC
The ferry LMI from St Barbe, NL to Blanc Sablon, Qc is a 1 hour and 45-minute ride across the Strait of Belle Isle.
Your vehicle will sit among 18-wheelers and campers, cars and trucks. The ferry sports two stories for vehicles; the low ones (cars and SUVs) are parked on the lower level, and the higher vehicles (big trucks, cargo vans and tractor-trailers) are on the second level.
Make sure to specify in your reservation if you need the extra height for your vehicle as the space on the second level is limited. You can make reservations online with Labrador Marine. You need only a deposit to reserve a spot for your vehicle and you can make changes to the reservation up to 24 h prior.
Once you get to the ticket office, they will issue you a boarding pass when you pay in full. Visit Labradormarine.com for fees and schedules.
Once on the ferry, before leaving your vehicle, grab everything you think you might need on the crossing. You will not be able to return to it until the announcement is made once the ferry has docked on the other side of the river.
The third level is the seating area with a cafeteria. The seats recline, and the huge windows will let you sneak views of the water. You can also have a seat on the deck outside. It has two levels and fresh air. Dress warm if you intend to spend some time outdoors on the deck. The wind is fierce and cold even in the middle of summer.
More Road Trips
If you are like me, you never want the road trip to end. My insatiable desire to explore new places keeps me going. From here, you can keep exploring this amazing province with a road trip through Labrador by completing the Trans-Labrador Highway in its entirety.