5 Reasons to Plan a Trip to Gros Morne National Park

Soaring fjords, sandy beaches, barren cliffs, boggy tundra, thick forests, and the Earth, naked. That’s Gros Morne National Park. Situated on the western coast of Newfoundland, the park was established in 1973 to protect a nearly 700-square-mile area of glacial and geological significance. It was later designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the best examples of the effects of continental drift. The isolated mountain tops are home to the physical remnants of ancient collisions and separations, further shaped by massive glaciers. But even if you’re not into geology, one look at any of the best-known spots in the park makes it easy to see why it’s worth the trip. And thanks in large part to the park’s geological wonders, there’s an incredible variety of outdoor fun to be had.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

1. Explore Massive Fjords

This spot at the top of Western Brook Pond is one of the most famous views in Gros Morne National Park. And it’s one of a few similar views depending on how hard you’re willing to work to get to them. Gros Morne’s fjords were carved by ancient glaciers, and when the glaciers receded, the land rebounded, free from an incredible amount of pressure, cutting the ponds and lakes off from the sea.

Just driving along route 430 gives you glimpses of the fjord, but there’s more than one way to get up close to Western Brook Pond’s towering cliffs. Take a boat tour if you only have a few hours, or sign up for a guided hike if your goal is to stand near the top of the fjord. If you have multiple days and wilderness navigation experience, reserve a permit for one of the backcountry routes to go beyond the top of the fjord. Views of Ten Mile Pond are equally spectacular and can be seen from the top of Gros Morne Mountain, a 10 mile round trip day hike.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

2. Have a Real Wilderness Backpacking Experience

If backcountry experiences described by Parks Canada as “mentally and physically challenging” sound appealing, then you’ve come to the right place. Exploring the Long Range Mountains isn’t for the faint of heart, and requires hikers to be completely self-sufficient. Proficiency in GPS and map and compass navigation is paramount; There are no maintained or marked trails, and plenty of game trails to throw unsuspecting hikers off route. Terrain can be muggy, boggy, snowy, rocky, and slippery, and depending on the season, the bugs are relentless. Weather can change in an instant, and if you get yourself in trouble, rescue can be days away.

Aside from the many hazards, the scenery is incredible. The Northern Traverse, Long Range Traverse, and a combination of the two are the best ways to see the most of the wilderness in the Long Range Mountains, but choose wisely, and read up on documentation from Parks Canada before you go. The more prepared you are for the terrain, weather, and navigational challenges, the better. Permits are required and must be reserved in advance.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

3. Take a Walk on the Earth’s Mantle

“This rock I’m standing on used to be at the bottom of an ancient ocean,” is a pretty incredible realization to have on a hike. Gros Morne Tablelands were once thought to be remnants of molten rock, but when geologist Robert Stevens discovered rocks much older than other rocks in the area lower in elevation, he proved otherwise. The rocks had eroded from the Tablelands, illustrating that the Tablelands aren’t old molten rock. They’re really old remnants of an ancient ocean, pushed up from below during the collision of two ancient continents.

The rock is high in toxic heavy metals and other minerals, making it challenging for things to grow and leaving the majority of the terrain completely bare. But there’s still so much to see. Choose an out-and-back hike ranging from 1.8 to 5.6 miles in length, or a 7.5 mile off-trail loop, all starting from the Tablelands Trail parking area, to get up close and personal with this fascinating landscape.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

4. Watch Beautiful Sunsets Beachside

Whether you’re winding down after a long day of hiking or just love hanging out near the water, there are plenty of beach spots to watch the sunset from. Green Point, home to the park’s northernmost campground, is known for long sandy beaches and beautiful views. After dinner in camp, wander the Coastal Trail for a 3.7-mile round-trip hike as the sun sets. Though less beach and more rock pile, Lobster Cove is a spectacular sunset spot. Explore Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse and take the trails down to the water.

Interested in a more rugged, hard to reach beach? Make the 5.6-mile round-trip on the Green Gardens Trail to Old Man Cove, just be sure to check tidal charts before you head down to the beach or explore the sea caves along it. And just outside the park boundary in Trout River, the short Eastern Point Trail is all beautiful ocean scenery all the way.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

5. Day Hike All Sorts of Different Types of Terrain

Whether you’re a waterfall seeker, wildflower lover, summit chaser, or just looking for a leisurely stroll, there a day hike for everyone. Start with a day in the southern end of the park on the Green Gardens Trail to see Tablelands rock, deep forest, beach views, and sea caves all in one 5.6-mile hike. Then, another day on a landscape that looks and feels like another world in the Tablelands on the off trail loop (7.5 miles round-trip), or one of the shorter out and back routes.

Next, spend a long day climbing Gros Morne Mountain (10 miles round-trip) for spectacular views on a rocky, tree-less summit before heading to the Berry Hill Campground for a shorter day on the Baker’s Brook Falls Trail. The walk to the falls traverses deep woods on narrow boardwalks, perfect wildflower spotting terrain, and ends at a stunning cascade. Finally, finish your multi-terrain hiking adventure with a walk along the beach via the Coastal Trail or Old Mail Road.


A Guide to Backpacking the Virginia Triple Crown

From lush, dense forests to stunning overlooks and winding ridges, Southwestern Virginia offers plenty to keep any hiker busy. And, the three iconic destinations included in the Virginia Triple Crown give hikers an unparalleled set of challenges and rewards.

The Virginia Triple Crown combines three spots along the Appalachian Trail, all of which are located in close proximity to each other, and can be reached via day hikes or in one fell swoop through 30- to 40-mile backpacking routes. Whether you’re a day-hiker or backpacker, you’ll enjoy what the Triple Crown has to offer.

Things to Know Before You Go

If you’re considering day-hiking or backpacking the Triple Crown, plan to:

  • Start your hike early. Parking lots fill quickly during the peak season.
  • Be challenged and know your limits. Each day hike covers five to eight miles with a minimum elevation gain of 1,500 feet. Triple Crown backpacking routes may feature up to 16-mile days, depending on your route.
  • Spend time doing careful, thorough route planning. Water sources and campsites may be few and far between.
  • Practice Leave No Trace, observe group size restrictions, and camp only in designated areas to help protect the trail and landscape.
Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Day-Hiking to McAfee Knob

Start: McAfee Knob Parking Area
Round-Trip Distance: 7-8 miles, steep
Time: 4-5 hours
View Route

McAfee Knob is one of the area’s most photographed hiking destinations. It has also seen an exponential increase in visitation recently, making observing rules and Leave No Trace principles paramount. You’ll share the trail with others, but the overhanging cliffs and panoramic views will be worth it.

Start at the McAfee Knob Parking Area, cross VA 311, and pick up the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, heading north. Pass an information kiosk, wind through dense forests, and pass the Johns Spring Shelter (0.8 miles) and the Catawba Mountain Shelter (1.5 miles). As you continue to gain elevation on the AT, you’ll see signs for an overlook, and as you hike through, you’ll arrive at McAfee Knob. To return, retrace your steps on the AT or take the McAfee Knob Trail back down to the parking lot.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Day-Hiking to Tinker Cliffs

Start: Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot
Round-Trip Distance: 7.5 miles, steep
Time: 4-5 hours
View Route

Tinker Cliffs offers beautiful creek crossings, panoramic valley views, and a trail section named after a 1980s incident called Scorched Earth Gap. It’s a tough, steep hike but absolutely worth the journey.

From the parking lot, follow the yellow-blazed Andy Layne Trail. Cross two bridges over Catawba Creek, avoid stepping in cow patties, and move through a gate (1.2 miles), which indicates passage onto private land. The remaining part of the Andy Layne Trail is steep; you’ll gain 900-plus feet of elevation before arriving at the white-blazed AT and Scorched Earth Gap. Turn right onto the AT, and then, you’ll come to the first good viewpoint (0.5 miles). Over the next quarter mile, take in the views along Tinker Cliffs. To go back, retrace your steps to the parking lot.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Day-Hiking to Dragon’s Tooth

Start: Dragon’s Tooth Parking Lot
Round-Trip Distance: 5.7 miles, steep and technical
Time: 4 hours

Dragon’s Tooth is a giant, scraggly rock formation sticking out of Cove Mountain and the sand-covered land above the Catawba Valley. It’s the shortest of the three Triple Crown day hikes but by far the steepest, and it requires some hand-over-hand climbing and good balance.

From the parking lot, pick up the blue-blazed Dragon’s Tooth Trail, cross two small bridges, pass the yellow-blazed Boy Scout Connector Trail, and continue up. Here, climb steadily through dense tree cover, until you reach the intersection with the AT (1.4 miles). Then, turn right onto the AT. The next 0.7 miles cover extremely rocky terrain, including rock steps, two sets of iron rungs, and narrow sections just wide enough for two feet. As this portion eases, continue 0.3 miles to Dragon’s Tooth. To return, you have two options: Retrace your steps, or follow the AT north, turn left onto the Boy Scout Connector Trail, and catch the last bit of the Dragon’s Tooth Trail back to the parking lot.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Backpacking the Virginia Triple Crown

Start: McAfee Knob Parking Area
Type: Loop
Round-Trip Distance: 37 miles
Time: 3 days, 2 nights

If you’re a seasoned backpacker looking for a challenge, you can visit all three Triple Crown destinations in one trip. The recommended route is a loop, but it’s also possible to complete it via a point-to-point route along the AT. For the recommended loop, refer to this trip report and the following itinerary:

Day 1: 10.6 miles. Starting at the McAfee Knob parking lot, follow the AT north. Then, pass McAfee Knob, three AT shelters (Johns Spring, Catawba Mountain, and Campbell), and Scorched Earth Gap, and stay overnight at Lamberts Meadow Shelter.

Day 2: 15.5 miles. Retrace your steps 0.7 miles south on the AT to Scorched Earth Gap, and take the Andy Layne Trail down the valley. Pass through the Andy Layne Trail parking lot, cross the road, and hike up to North Mountain Trail (yellow blazes) via the Catawba Valley Trail (blue blazes). Come down North Mountain, cross VA 311, head through Dragon’s Tooth parking lot, and camp at the campsites off the Boy Scout Connector Trail.

Day 3: 9.6 miles. Leave your packs at the Boy Scout camp, and then, tag Dragon’s Tooth via the Dragon’s Tooth Trail. After you retrace your steps back to camp, pick up your backpacks, and take the Boy Scout Connector Trail to the AT. Follow the AT back to VA 311 and the McAfee Knob parking lot.

Have you done any of the Triple Crown destinations as day hikes, or done all three via a backpacking trip? We’d love to hear from you!