The Viking Trail (489 km)

A car cruising the Viking Trail is really a time machine that takes you to the beginnings of our planet, ancient native burial grounds, and the thousand-year-old Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. Home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Viking Trail is one of those rare places on the planet that transcends the hype and stirs the deepest of emotions. You will travel through wooded valleys, over mountains and along a windswept seacoast. This tour can take from two to ten days, and you should relax and soak it up, for time will move gently, urging side trips to fjords and falls, sand dunes and fields of wildflowers.

Begin your journey at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 430

The Viking Trail begins near Deer Lake. Almost immediately there's an intriguing attraction to visit: the Newfoundland Insectarium in Reidville. Here, all sorts of bugs from around the world – both live and mounted – are on display. The live displays include a butterfly house.

Take a side trip on Route 422 to Cormack

This will take you to the agricultural community of Cormack.

Cormack was named after the famous Newfoundland explorer William Epps Cormack, the first European to walk across the island's interior. This area was settled in the late 1940s by veterans of World War II. Families with previous farming experience who were willing to relocate were given 20 hectares of land, a six-room bungalow, and money for the construction of a barn, purchase of livestock and equipment, and to buy supplies for the first winter. Today, the local residents are growing vegetables and some of the sweetest strawberries you'll ever eat.

Beyond Cormack on the unpaved portion of Route 422 you'll find Sir Richard Squires Memorial Provincial Park. The park protects one of the most beautiful parts of the Humber River. Big Falls offers a unique natural attraction. Atlantic salmon have to make their way over this barrier if they are to spawn in the river above. During the summer months, you can see these large fish leap out of the water as they attempt to scale the falls.

Back on Route 430 to Gros Morne National Park

Drive to Wiltondale, the gateway to Gros Morne National Park. With its fjords, mountains and spectacular ocean scenery, Gros Morne offers unexcelled opportunities for outdoor activities and sightseeing.

Perhaps the best way to put Gros Morne National Park into perspective is to say that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That designation puts it on par with such natural wonders as Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Ancient glacial scraping and erosion formed the breathtaking landscape that makes this a paradise for the outdoor enthusiast and camper. The park, open year round, has hiking trails to meet the skills of the novice as well as those of the experienced long-distance walker. Rock climbing, sightseeing, boating, swimming, camping and fishing are just some of the recreational activities on offer.

Proceed along Route 430 through Wiltondale

Both forks in the road through Wiltondale lead to Gros Morne National Park. Watch out for moose as you drive. They are plentiful in the park.

Take Route 431 to Trout River and the Tablelands

On Route 431 is Lomond River Campground, one of five campgrounds in Gros Morne National Park. It is situated in the East Arm of Bonne Bay. Anglers will find Atlantic salmon in this scheduled river and large schools of mackerel in the bay itself. The next community, Glenburnie, is named after the Scot who first settled there.

Continue on to the coastal settlement of Trout River, which has an excellent sandy beach. The magnificent views on this part of the coast and the startling geology of the nearby Tablelands make this a must-see area of the park. Trails explore the lunar-like landscape and the ancient volcanic formations along the Green Gardens Trail.

Trout River Pond is nestled in a valley of stark contrasts. The internationally-renowned geology here make exploration of this unique area a highlight of any vacation. There’s a 14-km return hiking trail from the day use area that traverses boreal forest and alpine barrens, and provides an excellent lookout over The Narrows where Trout River Small Pond and Trout River Big Pond meet.

Woody Point

Plan some time for exploring the lovely town of Woody Point, which was once the economic capital of western Newfoundland. Here, artists and photographers can discover a wealth of interesting subject matter in this picturesque fishing village. It's also where you'll find the Gros Morne National Park Discovery Centre. This is where you can get an in-depth understanding of the park's natural history. This is not another interpretation centre, but an integral part of a learning and adventure vacation at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The town hosts the Writers at Woody Point festival each August, and it’s one of the hottest tickets around. Book well in advance. Writers from near and far talk about their work and rub shoulders with the guests.

Drive north of Wiltondale on Route 430

North of Wiltondale, Route 430 climbs into the mountains and descends again to the valleys – several times. One of the climbs is over South East Hill, one of the highest points of road elevation in Newfoundland.

Information on Gros Morne National Park's exciting natural and human history is available at the Visitor Centre just before you get to Rocky Harbour. The Centre has displays and videos on the park. Be sure to view the slide show for some great spots to visit, and ask about the boat tours that are offered in the area.

During the summer, park interpreters are available to offer suggestions for hikes and walks, and to give lectures and slide shows to acquaint the visitor with the wonders of Gros Morne. Winter activities include cross-country skiing and the exotic sport of ice climbing.

Nearby Norris Point and Neddy Harbour are both named for Neddy Norris, one of the earliest pioneers in this area. He has even lent his name to Neddy Norris Nights, evenings of improv comedy staged at various communities around the park by the players of the Gros Morne Theatre Festival.

While in Norris Point, visit Memorial University’s world-class Bonne Bay Marine Station. This research and teaching facility is strategically located to study marine life that lives at the edge of its range, whether it be southern or northern.

Near Rocky Harbour you'll find the Gros Morne indoor swimming pool, which is open in the summer, and its adjacent 25-person hot tub. This is the ideal antidote for sore muscles after a day of vigorous hiking.

A few kilometres away is the park's largest campground at Berry Hill near Rocky Harbour. There are 156 sites and a playground for the kids. Berry Hill is close to several of the park's hiking trails including the James Callaghan Trail. Pack a lunch, water and warm clothes for the day and plan plenty of time to linger along the trail and summit. Remember to keep a camera handy. Because of the late snow melt, the trail is usually not open until late June.

The James Callaghan Trail will take you to the peak of Gros Morne Mountain. A challenging day's hike along this trail will reward the climber with an unsurpassed panorama of the park and surrounding coastal communities.

If the climb up Gros Morne is a little too strenuous, you can walk one of the many shorter trails in the area, such as Berry Head Pond, Bakers Brook Pond or Lobster Cove Head where there's a lighthouse with a display about the area's history in the light keeper's residence.

Drive north of Rocky Harbour

The highway north of Rocky Harbour follows the relatively level coastal lowlands, with the mountains off to the east providing spectacular vistas along the way.

In the park's northern region on an elevated coastal plain, you'll find campgrounds at Green Point, a few kilometres south of the community of Sally's Cove. Nearby is one of the park's most breathtaking and popular sights – the amazing Western Brook Gorge and steep sided Western Brook Pond.

Just off Route 430, a hiking trail will take you across the bogs and ridges of the coastal plain. It is an easy hike along a well-groomed trail with boardwalk extensively used to traverse wet areas. At the end of the walk, a two-hour boat tour will take you to the end of Western Brook Pond where the 2,000-foot ravine-like sides rise to a spectacular plateau above this inland fjord. At the fjord's seaside outlet is a large sandy estuary that's great for an easy stroll.

Just north of the outlet is Broom Point. This was a summer fishing residence for many years, and today you can still meet the fishermen who work in the restored cabin and fish store. Not far away is St. Pauls Inlet where harbour seals are a common sight sunning themselves on the rocky shore. This area, accessible only by a boat tour, is also one of the best birding areas on the west coast.

Continue on Route 430 and visit Shallow Bay, Cow Head and the Arches

As you continue to drive on Route 430, be sure to visit the Dr. Henry N. Payne Community Museum and Craft Shop at Cow Head. Today's travellers can rediscover the scenic reaches of this part of the coastline.

It is said that Jacques Cartier, the French explorer and navigator, anchored at nearby Cow Cove in 1534.

At Shallow Bay you can roam the sandy beaches in search of a prized piece of gnarled driftwood, just one of the treasures from the sea that wash up along this coast. The beach's backshore dunes have been planted with dune grasses to help prevent erosion.

Just behind the dunes you can explore the Old Mail Road Trail, where dappled sunlight, the soft chirps of birds and the nearly muffled sound of waves breaking on the other side of the dunes will entice you to linger. The Shallow Bay campground adjoining the trail is an ideal place to take a breather and soak up the scenery before the next leg of the journey.

Cow Head is home base for the Gros Morne Theatre Festival. Enjoy a repertory theatre festival of comedy, drama, dinner theatre and evenings of Newfoundland music and recitations.

Just north of the national park and past Parson's Pond is Arches Provincial Park. This pebble beach features two large arches, which were cut through a bed of dolomite by the action of the sea – when the arches were under water. A subsequent uplift of the land raised them above sea level where they remain as a distinctive geology lesson of the Cambrian and Ordovician periods of prehistory.

Continue to the next stretch of coast, which includes the Portland Creek River

Portland Creek River was made famous by the late Lee Wulff, one of the foremost anglers of the mid-20th century. This part of the highway takes you through Portland Creek, Daniel's Harbour, Bellburns, River of Ponds, and Hawke's Bay.

The Portland Creek area is filled with lakes, rivers and ponds that teem with salmon and trout. Fishermen from all over the world come to try their luck in these waterways. Keep an eye out for the herd of caribou in this area.

Just north of Bellburns is Table Point Ecological Reserve, which protects rare marine fossils that date to the era 458 million years ago when the Appalachian Mountains began to form.

River of Ponds has a scheduled salmon river and is one of the province's most delightful camping and picnic areas. It is ideal for a meal stop or an overnight stay. River of Ponds has a number of upstream pools carrying a run of trout that have been known to grow up to 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds). River of Ponds is also an excellent base from which to tour the surrounding area.

Next on the highway are Port Saunders and Hawke's Bay

These two areas are also particularly attractive to sportsmen. There are many lakes and ponds, and two major salmon rivers – East River and Torrent River. At Hawke's Bay drop into the Tourist Information Centre and join a guided walk across three kilometres of boardwalk known as the Hogan Trail. This takes you to the salmon ladder on the Torrent River where, when salmon are migrating upstream to spawn, you can see them jumping up and over waterfalls, "climbing the ladder" to get upstream.

After Hawke's Bay the highway swings around the east end of the bay and then back west to Route 430-28, taking you to Port Saunders, Gargamelle and the aboriginal burial grounds at Port au Choix.

Ancient aboriginal burial grounds

Workers found what is now the Port au Choix National Historic Site by accident in 1967 while they were excavating a basement for a theatre. They found a mass of bones, tools and weapons. The following year, archaeologists discovered three ancient cemeteries and scores of skeletons. By studying the artifacts and human remains, archaeologists have been able to determine the Maritime Archaic People, a group of hunters and gatherers who lived along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Labrador, occupied the site 3,200 to 3,700 years ago.

A new dig just off the main road near the eastern end of the community is uncovering the remains of a Maritime Archaic village, believed to be that of the people whose cemetery was uncovered.

At another site near Port au Choix – Phillips Gardens – remains of a Dorset community have been discovered. These very distinctive people moved into the area after the disappearance of the Maritime Archaic group and learned to exploit the food-rich marine environment. The interpretation centre in Port au Choix will tell you more of this fascinating story, as well as that of the Groswater people who also inhabited this part of the coast. Before you leave the area you should visit the beautiful Point Riche lighthouse.

Port au Choix National Historic Site is the best-known archaeological site in this area, but there are actually hundreds of other sites, both prehistoric and dating from early European occupation, along this section of coastline north to Eddies Cove. An ongoing project at Bird Cove has uncovered a variety of both historic and prehistoric sites. The northern part of the island of Newfoundland is dotted with dozens of prehistoric and post-contact archaeological sites.

Over thousands of years, many groups have moved into the Port au Choix area because of its marine resources. Cultural habits and technologies have come and gone, but dependence on the sea remains a way of life, and a bond that connects half a dozen cultures over more than 50 centuries.

As you continue north on Route 430 notice St. John Island

St. John Island is located offshore between Eddies Cove West and Barr'd Harbour. Now deserted, it is the subject of tales of buried treasure. The stories tell of fortunes left behind by the pirates who once harassed Labrador-bound ships along this part of the coast.

Anglers will enjoy this area as it affords some of the best salmon fishing on the island, particularly at Castors River.

Many communities here were once part of the French Shore, so named because France held shore-based fishing rights along Newfoundland's west coast until 1904. Castor, which is French for beaver, is just one of many place names that show French influence. In Plum Point, Darby's Island and Brig Bay you'll find many relics of the French occupation. Old buildings, gravesites, tombstones and traditions remain as reminders of the French culture.

Take the ferry to Southern Labrador

St. Barbe is the ferry terminus to reach the Labrador Coastal Drive. Reservations are not required, but are recommended. The ferry can carry 240 passengers and 75 automobiles. Crossing time is 90 minutes and provides an opportunity to watch seabirds, some of which never come to shore here. Cars cross on a first come, first served basis. When travelling by coastal boat or ferry it's always a good idea to plan everything in advance. Schedules can vary.

On to Anchor Point

The next community, Anchor Point, is the oldest English settlement on the French Shore, dating from 1750. The local merchant family, the Genges, spent more than a century fending off French attempts to oust them from the area. When the French had fishing rights here, permanent settlement along the coast was forbidden. This community is one of many areas along this part of the coast to see icebergs.

Nearby is an interesting historic attraction, the Deep Cove Winter Housing Site. Between the 1680s and the 1940s, residents of Anchor Point used to move here in winter to get away from the torrid weather on the coast. Today, this area has been recognized as a site of national historic significance.

In Deadmans Cove, as in many Newfoundland communities, people learned to overcome many obstacles to make their living from the sea. Here they developed an innovative solution to the age-old problem of heavy ice sweeping away the wharves: they dismantled their wharves each fall and rebuilt them the following spring.

At Eddie’s Cove there’s a gravel road that goes seven kilometres north along the coast to Watts Point Ecological Reserve where a combination of climate and geology make it possible for rare arctic-alpine plants to grow. Some of these plants grow nowhere else in the world, and some are endangered. Individuals do not require permits to enter the reserve, but organized groups must obtain a permit from Parks and Natural Areas. You can also access the reserve from the north via the same abandoned road off Route 435.

Past Nameless Cove and on to Eddie's Cove the highway swings east away from the coast and inland across the top of the island of Newfoundland.

Turn off Route 430 to Route 437 to Cook’s Harbour

Cook’s Harbour is named for Captain Cook who charted this area in 1764-65. It was fished by French and English fishermen in the 18th and 19th centuries, and although it was part of the coast where the French had exclusive fishing rights, it was the English who settled here.

On to Route 436 towards L’Anse Aux Meadows National Historic Site

Head for L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, where the Vikings established the first European settlement in North America over 1,000 years ago.

In 986, Bjarni Herjolfsson, a Viking trader, was blown off course on a voyage from Iceland to Greenland. When he finally arrived in Greenland, he reported seeing three new lands to the West, believed to be Newfoundland, southern Labrador and northern Labrador. He and his crew were the first Europeans to see North America.

About 15 years later Leif Eiriksson, son of Eirik the Red, who had grown up hearing the story of unexplored lands to the West, decided to search for them. On his voyage, made around the year 1000 A.D., he was accompanied by 35 men and did indeed discover new land.

He stayed at Vinland – or Land of Meadows, as he named it – for a year, eventually returning to Greenland. His brother Thorvald also came to Vinland and settled in Leif's house, but was killed by natives. This is the first known interaction between the Skraelings, as the Vikings named them, and Europeans.

Local legend says French settlers discovered Thorvald's helmet on nearby Quirpon Island in the early 17th century, but it was eventually lost. Thorfinn Karlsefni, another Viking, later led an expedition here, and during this period of colonization the first child of European descent, Snorri, was born in the New World.

During the 1920s, Newfoundland author W.A. Munn in his book The Wineland Voyages suggested the L'Anse aux Meadows area might be the Vinland of the Norse Sagas.

In 1960, Norwegian historian Helge Ingstad, who had been searching for Vinland of the Norse sagas for years, visited northern Newfoundland and met L'Anse aux Meadows fisherman George Decker who showed him what residents thought was an ancient aboriginal camp. Helge and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, excavated the site and found the remnants of Viking sod huts. Subsequent excavations by the Ingstads and Parks Canada uncovered artifacts that proved conclusively the Vikings had established a settlement in North America five centuries before the voyages of Christopher Columbus, John Cabot and other 15th-century explorers.

L'Anse aux Meadows was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. A recreation of sod houses lets the visitor experience life as it must have been, and an Interpretation Centre tells the story of these hearty adventurers who braved the North Atlantic in their small boats. The centre's translation of Norse sagas makes fascinating reading. Standing where the first Europeans set foot in North America is something you have to personally experience to understand the implications that momentous event had for two continents.

About two kilometres away you'll find Norstead, It replicates a Viking port of trade as it may have looked during the Viking era (790-1066 AD). Constructed in 2000 for the 1000th anniversary of the Viking arrival in Newfoundland, Norstead comprises of a chieftain's hall, a Viking boat, and some unusual features such as a Viking church and an ax-throwing arena. Various children's and education programs are available.

Turn off Route 436 onto Route 437 to Pistolet Bay and Burnt Cape

On the return trip, stop at Pistolet Bay Provincial Park at the tip of the island of Newfoundland. This park offers excellent canoeing in a nearby lake system. Also, on Route 437 just west of Raleigh, is Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve, which is the only known location in the world for the Burnt Cape cinquefoil, a rare plant growing amongst limestone.

Head back to Route 436, then East on Route 430 to St. Anthony

St. Anthony is the home of the Grenfell Mission, established by the International Grenfell Association to provide medical services to the scattered and isolated population of northern Newfoundland and Labrador.

The exhibits at the Grenfell Interpretation Centre commemorate the life of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell, who single-handedly tackled the medical plights of people in coastal Labrador during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Dr. Grenfell also established co-operative stores in several communities, encouraged women to produce handicrafts for sale, started a sawmill which eventually failed, and established orphanages, schools, agricultural stations and other invaluable social and economic endeavours. Today, the centre houses Grenfell Handicrafts, which provides training and a marketing service for beautiful, hand-embroidered parkas and other unique products that can be purchased.

The Grenfell House Museum is fully restored and you can see how Dr. Grenfell and his family actually lived while in St. Anthony. A visit to these sites is a must for anybody visiting the area. Another popular stop is Fishing Point Municipal Park where there are walking trails and platforms to view whales, birds and icebergs.

Dr. Grenfell’s name lives on in several local organizations, most notably Grenfell Campus, part of Memorial University, in Corner Brook. A statue of him was erected near Confederation Building in St. John’s in 1970. His former home in St. Anthony is now a museum.

The northern half of the Viking Trail is also the basis for E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Shipping News, which has been adapted for the big screen. Proulx invented characters, events, and even landscapes, for her book, which explores how an American, led by his Newfoundland-born aunt, adapts to the land his parents came from after he escapes the madness of modern New England. The movie version was filmed in the Trinity Bight area of Eastern Newfoundland and stars Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore and Dame Judi Dench.