Gros Morne National Park, located on the west coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, might be one of the most underrated national parks in Canada. Its stunning landscapes and geological formations make for some of the most beautiful photographic backdrops, and yet, you won’t find yourself overwhelmed with tourists or the traffic typically found in most mountain towns.

Before you go: Note that public transit is unavailable within the park, and therefore it is a good idea to rent a vehicle upon arrival in Deer Lake (or town of origin). In the summer, a water taxi operates from Norris Point to Woody Point, cutting down on the hour-long drive you would normally take.

The following are some sights that are not to be missed within the park.

Gros Morne Mountain

The mountain for which the park claims its name, Gros Morne Mountain is an imposing figure anywhere you go in the park. It also makes for a great hike (albeit a tough one if you’re not prepared).

It takes about two hours to hike through the gulch and to the base of the mountain. The trail is narrow and dense with forest, and you’re likely to come across some wildlife (moose!). Take a deep breath – you’re in Newfoundland, the smell of peat and mud is worth filling your lungs with.

The mountain, from afar, doesn’t look intimidating. Its bald, grey surface is a sharp contrast to the surrounding verdant hills – nothing grows on it, because the mountain is actually exposed quartzite from an old beach which occurred as a result of continents closing over the Iapetus Ocean, somewhere between 600-400 million years ago. It’s essentially the earth turned inside out.

The climb upwards isn’t steep, but it’s steady. Once you reach the top, you’re treated to incredible views of a deep blue fjord. The hike takes about 6 hours total, and can be rough, rocky terrain at points.

Green Gardens

If you want to see a lot of diverse terrain in a short amount of time, hike Green Gardens.

The Green Gardens hike starts out in the Tablelands, on a rocky, rusty surface dotted with red rocks and orange boulders. Like Gros Morne Mountain, the barren land is a result of colliding continents. Do not step off the path, lest you crush rare vegetation growing alongside the boardwalk.

The landscape in Green Gardens changes up quickly. Turn the corner, and you’ve reached the tundra – low shrubs, rocky terrain, and lots of marshland. Be careful with your footing here, as you’re sure to get stuck in small puddles of black, soft mud.

After a short hike through dense forest, you’ll break through to a meadow overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Here you’ll find sea stacks jutting up out of the ocean, and a long, hidden beach. You can climb down to the beach via the staircase built into the cliff. Keep an eye out for a “bubbly” looking cliff-face – those pockets were caused by volcanic activity from millions of years ago. 

Keeping to the left of the bottom of the staircase, wander the beach until you reach the waterfall. The hike is about 9 kilometres total, so pace yourself wisely.

Cruise Trout River Pond

Located near the town of Trout River, this pond is one of the most geologically significant areas of the park. It’s deep enough to sit a 40-storey building, was carved out by glaciers, and is surrounded by two extremely different landscapes: on the left, the peridotite rock of the Tablelands, where plants can barely grow; to the right, the greenness from flourishing vegetation allowed by the gabbro rock.

Be sure to take a guided zodiac tour with Ocean Quest – the guides really know their stuff. They’ll be sure to point out an example of Mohorovicic Discontinuity, one of the rarest pieces of geology in the world, and literally the point at which two plates collide.

Western Brook Pond Fjord

One of the highlights of any trip to Gros Morne is taking the boat tour through Western Brook Pond Fjord. The fjord is part of the Long Range Mountains, and also the northern part of the Appalachian Mountains. Glaciers carved out the area thousands of years ago, leaving behind hanging valleys, serrated cliffs, and freshwater so pure that it can’t conduct electricity. When the depressed land bounded back from the glacier, the pond was cut off from the ocean. Ancient whalebones have even been found here.

The pond is deep, quiet, and only navigable by guides with Bon Tours. You can canoe or kayak, but it’s strongly discouraged because of the lack of emergency response nearby and the unpredictable conditions of the area (i.e. rockslides).

Keep an eye out for beautiful cascading waterfalls flowing from over the tops of the fjord from sources unseen (but apparently originating from Stag Brook). One is named Pissing Mare Falls, at 1150 feet high.

To get to the boat launch, you drive 27 kilometres north from Rocky Harbour, and then take an easy 25-minute hike from the parking lot. Because the lake is classified with a special “ultraligotrophic” status, Bon Tours is the only boat operator allowed to use motorized vessels on the water. Pack mosquito repellent for the hike.

The Tablelands

Finally, when you haven’t exhausted yourself on otherworldly landscapes, The Tablelands must make your “to-do” list. Here you’ll find a lunar-like setting, void of vegetation and surrounded by nothing but red, red rock. It’s the ultramafic rock (peridotite) that makes this place so barren, which means that the Tablelands is actually one of the few places in the world where you can see exposed earth’s mantle. The rock was forced up to the surface millions of years ago during a plate collision, and peridotite lacks the nutrients that allow plants to grow. Because of this, there’s virtually no wildlife—a weird concept considering the entire park has thousands of moose.

Pick up an Explora Navigation Device from the Discovery Centre – it’s a free audio and visual guide that uses GPS to help pinpoint your location on the trail. When you approach a place of interest, a little bell will go off to alert you to a particular place of interest. It’ll even point you in the right direction of a pitcher plant, Newfoundland’s official flower…and a carnivorous one, at that.

This hike takes less than two hours to complete and can be done at a leisurely pace.