Part of the easternmost Canadian province (along with neighboring continental Labrador), the island of Newfoundland is unspoiled and vast. Visitors will be awed by its coastal beauty, scenic hiking, majestic icebergs and extensive seafaring culture. It’s best suited for active families with older kids and teens who are intent on the journey and have the desire to truly explore. Newfoundland travel is not about the quick adrenaline hit of sightseeing, but about communing with this special corner of the earth.
Newfoundland is massive — more than 42,000 square miles! We suggest allowing at least 10 days for this trip to truly get a feel for the terrain. Renting a car is a must, as there is plenty of ground to cover and lots of nooks and crannies to explore along the way. For reference purposes, traveling time from L’anse aux Meadows to St. John’s — tip to tip from north to south — is roughly 13 hours. Our guide starts in breathtaking Gros Morne National Park and then heads north to the top of Newfoundland before turning back south toward the capital of St. John’s.
Note, you could easily spend days in any one of these areas. This article is intended to whet your crew’s appetite for Newfoundland and let you decide how much you’d like to check off your list or narrow down your holiday focus and pace. A vacation in this point of North America will be cemented in your family’s memories with both simple moments and larger-than-life spectacles.
Gros Morne is one of Canada’s largest national parks and is a magnet for visitors to Newfoundland. You’re likely to see plenty of wildlife, including caribou, moose, foxes and bears, and a stunning variety of landscapes. There’s hiking galore, ranging from Gros Morne Mountain, which is more than 2,600 feet tall, to the more family-friendly Southeast Brook Falls, which can be climbed via stairs that lead to a scenic waterfall.
Zodiac boat tours in Bonne Bay are a perfect way for families to see whales and porpoises and learn more about the area at the heart of the park where two fjords connect. Another top attraction is the boat tour on Western Brook Pond, a glacier-carved fjord with sides 2,000 feet high. Families can reach the area by a 45-minute walk along the boardwalk trail just past Sally’s Cove. The sand dunes located north of there at Cow Head (named for the head of a walrus, a.k.a. sea cow, found here) are also a popular stop.
Slightly south within the park are the Tablelands, a barren area that looks much like an extraterrestrial desert. Imagine walking directly on the earth’s mantle on rocks that are more than a billion years old!
Heading north from Gros Morne, families can watch salmon swimming upstream to spawn through underwater observation windows at Torrent River Nature Park in Hawke’s Bay. Nearby is the Port aux Choix Historic district, with a chance to learn about the ancient indigenous peoples who fished here for thousands of years.
From Gros Morne, head to the northern edge of Newfoundland and travel back in time 1,000 years, when the Vikings became the first Europeans to visit the New World. L’anse aux Meadows is the historic site where they landed, and families can get a feel for life at this Viking village thanks to guides in period dress. Afterward, visit Norstead to see a re-creation of an 11th-century Viking port.
Families will be wowed by a cruise around the northern and eastern coasts of Newfoundland to view the 10,000-year-old glaciers. Stunning icebergs in every imaginable shape and size are on display in a range of colors that span white to green, blue and gray. Visitors can even taste the icebergs by trying Berg water or, for moms and dads, Iceberg beer.
Don’t miss the chance to take part in a “boil-up,” a local tradition where family and friends gather on a beach to eat food cooked over an open fire. Seafood, of course, features prominently on the menu and some people call it a “mug up” because hot tea is usually involved.
Adventure seekers will be keen to visit Aspen Brook for a thrilling whitewater adventure on Exploits River. Then, stop by nearby Beothuk Interpretation Centre Historic Site to learn about the now-extinct culture that thrived here more than 300 years ago.
Further east is Twillingate and Iceberg Alley, home to the most icebergs in the world. See the lighthouse, take a boat tour to get up close to the showstoppers and then try your hand at fishing at the interactive Prime Berth fishing museum and heritage center (look for the whale skeleton that marks its entrance).
This point in the itinerary allows families to hop over to Fogo Island via the ferry from Farewell. Fogo is the largest of Newfoundland’s offshore islands and has extensive hiking options (the Brimstone Head trail is a local favorite) as well as being home to a bucket-list overnight destination, Fogo Island Inn.
The journey to Fogo Island Inn is part of the adventure, and this property champions its locale in a way that few places do. The hyper-locally focused project is exceedingly unique, from its building design overlooking the North Atlantic coast to the way every item is sourced and used with purpose. The innovative design of the inn using stilts pays homage to Newfoundland outport fishing structures and is also intended to minimize the building’s impact on the local topography. Striking rooms awash with modern aesthetics somehow remain true to Newfoundland heritage and set the stage for the floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the real treasures: the sea and sky.
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The inn’s “Community Hosts” bring guests into being with this singular locale, providing context about everything from local flora and fauna to the source of all of the food produced for the inn. Sustainability is a huge focus here and the Inn was created using all natural materials, priding themselves on details such as the fact that the only plastic used is in the telephones. There is also intentional soundproofing so that guests can easily hear the ocean waves.
Another unique aspect of the Fogo Island Inn is its pioneering Economic Nutrition certification, providing guests with crystal-clear transparency into the use of proceeds from room rates and how they benefit the local community.
Activities at the inn are spread across seven distinct seasons: Summer (July 1-August 31), Berry (September 1-October 31), Late Fall (November 1-30), Winter (December 1-February 28), Pack Ice (March 1-31), Spring (April 1-May 31) and Trap Berth (June 1-30). Families are spoiled for choice depending on time of year; outdoor pursuits might include snowmobiling, hiking, stargazing or wildlife watching. With luck, you may spot caribou or whales at play. There’s also the chance to learn about and experience local culture, from boat building to jam and jelly or quilt making.
Back on the mainland, head for Canada’s easternmost national park, Terra Nova. This beautiful place is perfect for a hike or nature walk, and people flock here for the chance to spot one of several hundred bald eagles.
An hour and a half east of Terra Nova is Skerwink Trail, one of the best-known trails in Newfoundland. Starting at Trinity East on the Bonaventure peninsula, it curves around a headland, making for fantastic iceberg viewing and whale spotting.
With enough time, families will enjoy a detour up the peninsula to visit Salmon Cove and its popular beach, as well as the Wooden Boat Building Museum to learn about the boat building craft. There’s also the chance to check out charming Brigus on the return, home to the national historic site that pays homage to famous Arctic explorer Bob Bartlett. Nearby Cupids is worthy of a stop to see the first English settlement in Canada. The Cupids Legacy Centre was opened in 2010 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the settlement and is an engaging way to learn about the area.
Next up, take the “Irish Loop” along the Avalon Peninsula and visit Witless Bay Ecological Preserve to watch for local wildlife, including the largest colony of puffins in North America. Families can opt for a variety of boat experiences from Bay Bulls, ranging from calm, scenic excursions with heated cabins to zodiac boat tours.
Finally, families will enjoy the charming city vibe of Newfoundland’s capital with a stay in St. John’s (not to be confused with St. John, New Brunswick). St. John’s is the oldest English-founded city in North America and Signal Hill is the beacon that kept it protected from the 1600s through World War II. It is also the place where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901. A quaint and rugged hamlet north of Signal Hill is the seaside fishing community of Quidi Vidi (pronounced “kiddy viddy”), home to Quidi Vidi brewery and a popular stop for an Iceberg beer.
Full of character, hills and hidden alleyway’s, St. John’s is also known for its “jellybean row houses” packed into the hillside and vividly painted to make it easier for sailors to find their way home. The Johnson GEO Centre is a great spot for families to dig in and learn about the area’s 550-million-year-old rock bed as well as getting a broader understanding of geology and local cultural history. There’s a section of the center devoted to the Titanic, which sank just 350 miles off the coast. Don’t miss nearby Cape Spear National Historic Park, the most easterly point in North America, for a spectacular sunrise — the first sunrise on the continent each day.
TIP: The traditional summer months of June, July and August are the most popular times to visit Newfoundland as the weather is mildest.
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