Photograph by Duncan de Young, Shutterstock
Location: Newfoundland and Labrador
Date Established: 1973
Size: 446,000 acres
Surrounded by silent granite guardians whose tips stretch into endless sky to regularly converse with clouds, you might feel the natural and unavoidable impulse to look up. Succumb to the temptation. But don’t forget—an equally impressive and revealing story lies patiently beneath your feet.
• Miracle Gros That the literal French translation of gros is “big” seems a criminal understatement when applied to Gros Morne National Park. Even words like “immense,” “majestic,” and “momentous” fail to do it justice. This, the second largest of Atlantic Canada’s national parks (more than four times the size of its east coast boreal cousin, Terra Nova), is host to a gargantuan panorama of natural wonder: Newfoundland’s second highest peak (2,622 feet), a freshwater fjord sheltered by towering cliffs, the highest waterfall in eastern North America, sandy beaches, sea stacks, and sea caves.
• Geology Clash All of this natural beauty helps account for the park’s standing as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The scenery, however, is a by-product of Gros Morne’s greatest gift: a highly visible example of plate tectonics. Here, on the isolated and uninhabited mountaintops of western Newfoundland, you will find one of the world’s best examples of continental drift and the physical remnants of those millennia-old collisions and separation. Here, deep ocean crust and rocks from the Earth’s mantle lie exposed for all to see. Glaciation has added an alpine plateau, coastal lowland, fjords, glacial valleys, waterfalls, and lakes to this breathtaking landscape.
How to Get There
Of the four commercial airports in Newfoundland, Deer Lake is the smallest and the closest—a mere 20 miles from the park entrance. It has direct flights from Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax.
If you’re driving or cycling to Gros Morne, you’ll have to catch the ferry from North Sydney in Nova Scotia. A six-hour ferry ride will land you in Port aux Basques, 186 miles from the park entrance. If you take the 14-hour North Sydney–Argentia crossing (which operates from mid-June to September), it’s a 354-mile trip to the park. A word of warning: Both ferries regularly feature weather and mechanical delays; reservations are a must.
When you’ve landed in Newfoundland, take Trans-Canada 1 to Deer Lake. Then leave the highway and head 20 miles north along Rte. 430 (also known as the Viking Trail) to the park entrance in Wiltondale.
When to Go
Precipitation is a given in Gros Morne, with some form of it falling every two days on average. Summer can bring rain and fog, which sometimes creates an otherworldly atmosphere for summit seekers. For winter visitors, the rain, drizzle, and fog give way to thick falls of the white stuff that ski, snowshoe, and snowmobile enthusiasts adore.
Given the extreme differences in elevation throughout the park, temperatures and wind speed can quickly fluctuate. As long as visitors are of the non-complaining sort and come prepared with multiple layers and water-resistant clothing, Gros Morne is a park to be adored year-round. That said, you should check with park officials prior to setting out. The Gros Morne Mountain and Long Range Traverse highland trails are closed in spring to minimize soil erosion and human interference with animal habitats and breeding. They are also closed for hiker safety during periods when snow conceals the trails.
How to Visit
Truly appreciating the natural wonder of Gros Morne requires extended excursions along challenging uphill trails. However, the park is prepared to play host to many different age levels, with shorter, easy walks on level ground, lots of coastal access, and great sandy and pebble beaches.
If you are visiting with children, there are five frontcountry camping locations in Gros Morne, most of which have playground facilities (though none offer serviced sites). Combined, the five frontcountry locations have a total of 235 campsites between them. Each of the five sites has something different to offer, from wide-open grassy areas to beachside locales to glorious mountain vistas. The berry Hill location offers the broadest range of services; Green Point’s 31 beachside sites are the only frontcountry campsites without showers and flush toilets.
If you aren’t a camper, a number of alternative accommodations are available in communities adjacent to and inside the park.
—Text adapted from the 2011 National Geographic book Guide to the National Parks of Canada