Gros Morne National Park: A Canadian jewel and Newfoundland sanctuary
By Timothy Giilck
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I heard the couple from Alberta grumbling about the Green Garden Trail a minute or two before I saw them.
“This is kind of rough going, isn’t it,” the man was saying to his significant other.
The woman agreed, but their voices trailed off suddenly as they saw me limping along with both knees heavily wrapped and leaning with determination on two walking poles.
I was about three kilometres into the trail on the northwest coast of Newfoundland in Gros Morne National Park. It’s perhaps the most beautiful area I’ve ever seen, and that’s considering I walked it with both knees heavily wrapped.
Gros Morne is considered one of the jewels of the Canadian Parks system, and with good reason. It features a rare combination of surf and stone, where the north Atlantic Ocean collides with the Tablelands… a strata of rock normally seen only on the ocean floor. Basically, it’s one of the few places on Earth where you can readily see mantle rock, which is very cool if you’re any kind of a rock hound.
The Green Gardens Trail is accessed near the small fishing/tourist community of Trout River, which features a campground now rated as one of Canada’s top 10. My wife and I stayed there, and it easily lives up to that billing. It was our favourite spot on a tour of Canada’s east coast, exceeding more famous spots such as the Bay of Fundy National Park.
The campground is situated on a small plateau high above Trout River, with some delightful and inspiring vistas. Facilities were in excellent shape there, and the campground wasn’t busy, leaving us a pleasant feeling of isolation.
The trail features some interesting options, including a shorter, supposedly less-challenging route to the ocean, along with a longer, more difficult route. The short route is a roughly 10-kilometre round trip, while the longer is closer to 20 kilometres.
The trail begins in the open fields of the Tablelands, where the going is relatively easy, although you’ll want to take your time on it to study the geology.
“Green Gardens is a great place to discover some of the contrasting landscapes of Gros Morne National Park,” states Parks Canada about the footpath. “The trail begins on the open serpentine barrens of the Tablelands and descends through boreal forest to a fertile volcanic sea coast. The coast is a wonderful array of sea stacks, coves, and beaches topped off with lush cliff-top meadows. One can easily spend many hours exploring along the shore, admiring the abundance of wildflowers in the area, or just lazing on the meadows staring out to sea. Green Gardens was long used by residents of Trout River as summer range for their livestock, and sheep are still seen there today.”
I didn’t see any sheep as I hobbled along, with both knees banged up due to an over-ambitious attempt at playing some pick-up basketball before we left Ontario.
Other hikers constantly overtook me as I struggled down the trail, which I was nonetheless managing to enjoy considerably. My wife flitted ahead, unable to accommodate my plodding pace for more than a few minutes at a time. She was reassured though, as she would stop to wait and question other hikers as to whether they had seen me.
“Oh yeah, the guy with the poles,” she was told repeatedly. “He’s about a kilometre back.”
The open fields, which were almost tundra-like, soon changed into the promised boreal forest as the trail plunged down toward the sea. I picked my way cautiously as I went, relying more and more on the poles to help preserve my precarious balance.
The trail then cut down a series of stairs and steep pitches as I closed in on the shoreline. The icy water glittered in the distance as I finally made it to a rocky beach that nearly took my breath away.
The sea stacks were the first thing that caught my attention, and they were striking indeed. Unlike the top-heavy “flowerpot” formations I was much more familiar with from the shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario, these were stone fangs erupting from the water.
Further on was a semi-dry waterfall and river which was nonetheless impressive. There are sea caves as well, although the tides didn’t cooperate to give us much of a look.
We lingered for about an hour, and even took a plunge into the chilled waters. A few people saw us do so, and we wondered why they looked so appalled. A few days later, as we swam another beach in the park, some locals told us “no one ever swims here in the North Atlantic.”
Considering the water temperature was in the mid-50s, I can see why, although it didn’t feel a great deal different than Georgian Bay to me.
We then started the trek back, and that’s where my balky knees began to give me more trouble. I managed the staircase with some difficulty, but the steady uphill striding had me in considerable pain by the time we hit the open Tablelands again.
Charlene kept closer to me on the way back, but made sure she stayed at least a little distance away and generally refused to stop for more than a minute or two. She said later it was the only thing she could do to motivate me to keep moving, since she was afraid I would seize up if I stopped for too long.
The return trip, like the way in, took me more than two hours to walk, but it was certainly worthwhile in the end.
The Green Garden Trail is generally considered one of the easier trails in the park to walk, and certainly doesn’t compare with some other routes up to the top of the Tablelands, especially the formidable Gros Morne Mountain trail, which we didn’t attempt.
We’re looking forward to someday returning to the area, perhaps in the winter to do some snowshoeing.
Gros Morne National Park is located in north-western Newfoundland, north of the city of Cornerbrook.