The Coast of Bays (355 km)

To reach this stunning stretch of coastline take Route 360 South from Bishop's Falls to Bay d'Espoir, which means "bay of hope" in French – although, ironically, it's pronounced "bay despair." The Coast of Bays trail, however, is just as it sounds, an area scattered with beautiful bays as well as spectacular fjords.

Take Route 360 through lush forests

To begin this tour take Route 360, which intersects with Route 1 just east of Bishop's Falls. It's a 130-kilometre drive through the interior wilderness to the intersection of Route 361. Along the way you might see moose or caribou because a large section of the forest is re-growing following a fire in the late 1970s.

At the intersection of Routes 360 and 361 is the Coast of Bay Arts and Exploration Centre, which provides an introduction to the people and places of the Coast of Bays region.

East of Route 360 is the Bay du Nord Wilderness Reserve, 2,895-square kilometres of ponds, rivers, barrens, bogs and fens, forests, and thickets that comprise one of the last remaining untouched areas on the Island of Newfoundland. If you'd like to travel into the reserve you can obtain a free entrance permit from the Conservation Officer in Milltown, or from Parks and Natural Areas offices. The reserve offers an excellent opportunity to view wildlife and canoe.

Route 361 goes to Milltown-Head of Bay d'Espoir, or "Head of Bay" as the residents call it. Bay d'Espoir is an old French name meaning bay of hope. The hydro plant here generates about 60 per cent of the power used on the Island of Newfoundland. The plant is located to take advantage of the momentum generated by the immense watershed area of the central Newfoundland plateau as it flows to the sea. The power plant is open to visitors Monday to Friday during working hours.

Because the ocean temperatures on Newfoundland's south coast are higher than elsewhere on the island, there are several trout and salmon farms near St. Alban's. This is a very pretty community that is a service centre for the area. The town is at the placid head of a long inlet and is a great place for a hike. Like many communities along Newfoundland's rugged south coast, St. Alban's occupies flat land on the seaside base of a high escarpment.

The other communities in the Bay d'Espoir area include Morrisville, St. Veronica's and St. Joseph's Cove. All along Route 361 there are a number of scenic lookouts from which to view the magnificent fjords.

Back on Route 360 to Conne River

Proceed south to Route 365, which leads to the Mi'Kmaq community of Conne River. This enterprising town has developed a bustling lumber industry while preserving many tribal arts. The community holds an annual Pow-Wow each summer, which over the years has introduced previously little known Newfoundland Mi'Kmaq traditions and culture to a much wider public. The Pow-Wow allows visitors to experience Mi'Kmaq culture first hand, and to learn more about the traditions and cultures of the other aboriginal groups from North America who attend. Drop by the craft centre to see traditional crafts being made.

Jipujijkuei Kuespem (Little River Pond) Park is located nearby, back on Route 360, and is run by the band council in Conne River. Campsites amid trees or near a lake are available May to September.

Back on route 360, travel 35 kilometres south to Route 362 for an Outport Adventure

Eight kilometres further south, another road branches off to the east to nearby Pool's Cove, from where you can take an Outport Adventure Cruise – The Southwest Coast by Boat - Part 3 – a coastal boat east to remote Rencontre East and Bay L'Argent on the Heritage Run.

St. Jacques and Belleoram are at the end of Route 362. Belleoram is one of several picturesque communities perched on the sea-swept South Coast. Famous for its participation in the Grand Banks fisheries, the community is mentioned in historical reports as early as 1759. On the third weekend in July each year the town hosts the Iron Skull Folk Festival, named for the mountain behind the town that provides a great view of Fortune Bay.

Several small communities – all rich in local folklore – are accessible from Route 363. One of these, English Harbour West, is known throughout Canada as a supplier of first-rate knitted goods. Lobster is also a major export from this area. This is a good place for hiking, and English Harbour Mountain provides a great view of Fortune Bay.

Another community, Boxey Harbour, was famous in colonial times for a "spy hole" in a rock formation, which was used to navigate safely amid treacherous rocks to the St. John's Bay area. It was here, according to local legend, that a man named Jacob Penney and his companion, Simon Bungay, ran aground. They were said to have been tricked by spirits off Boxey Head while on a treasure hunt to haunted Deadman's Bight, just up the coast. As the story goes, the two arrived late because of their misfortune and just caught a glimpse of the treasure as it slid behind a rock door in the bight, never to be recovered again.

At the end of this route are Coombe's Cove and Wreck Cove on Great Bay de L'Eau, the English translation for the French name of Bay of Water.

Head back to Route 360, where a spectacular drive awaits you

The highway climbs up and over steep hills and passes through varied vegetation as you approach the ocean. Forested interior gives way to oceanic barrens interspersed with trees growing in more sheltered areas of the highlands. The lakes are picture perfect, and some shorelines are dotted with cabins.

At the head of Connaigre Bay the highway forks where the land is divided by a deep fjord called Hermitage Bay. Follow Route 364 to Hermitage-Sandyville. The two small communities have grown into one over the years, and as the name suggests, there's a sandy beach at Sandyville.

From Hermitage you can take the An Outport Adventure Cruise - The Southwest Coast by Boat - Part 2 – a coastal boat to Gaultois and McCallum, and from the latter community an overlapping coastal boat service stretches west through a handful of remote villages as far west as Burgeo.

The highway beyond Hermitage takes you to the tiny villages of Dawson's Cove and Seal Cove. An unpaved road then extends to the abandoned communities of Grole and Pass Island.

Take Route 364 back to its intersection with Route 360 and drive south to Harbour Breton

Now it's on to Harbour Breton, the former capital of Fortune Bay. It would be hard to improve on a visiting bishop's description of the community in 1848. It was, he said, a "picturesque harbour, so completely land-locked that a stranger could hardly guess the passage to the sea, and surrounded by hills of bold and fantastic outline." The hills at the back of this community – and others along the south coast – range from 200 to 1,000-feet in height and seem like mini-mountains when you're driving over them. There are a couple of trails in the town, including one to the hidden beaches at Deadman's Cove.

Harbour Breton is one of the oldest and largest centres on the south coast, having been first settled by French fishermen from Placentia in the 1600s and later taken over by the English. In the 19th century, commercial life was dominated by the Newman firm, whose name is familiar to those who have sipped Newman's port wine.