Gros Morne, Newfoundland and Labrador

Gros Morne" translates roughly from the French as "big gloomy," and if you arrive on a day when ghostly bits of fog blow across the road and scud clouds hover in the glacial valleys, you'll get a pretty good idea how this area got its name. Even on brilliantly sunny days there's something about the stark mountains, lonely fjords cut off from the ocean, and miles of tangled spruce forest that can trigger mild melancholia.

Gros Morne National Park is one of Canada's true treasures, and few who visit here fail to come away awed.

Perhaps the best way to put the park into perspective is to say that it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That designation puts it on a par with such natural wonders as Australia's Great Barrier Reef. With its fjords, mountains and spectacular ocean scenery, Gros Morne offers unexcelled opportunities for outdoor activities and sightseeing.

Glacial scraping and erosion formed the breathtaking landscape that makes this a paradise for the outdoors 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 scrambling, sightseeing, boating, swimming, camping and fishing are just some of the recreational activities in which the visitor may participate.

Proceed along Route 430 through Wiltondale where both forks in the road lead to the park.

Route 431 takes you to Trout River and the Tablelands, while Route 430 continues into the northern section of the park. 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 area a must-see part of the park. Trails explore the lunar-like landscape of the Tablelands and the ancient volcanic formations along the Green Gardens Trail.

Trout River Pond is nestled in a valley of stark contrasts. The internationally known geological features make exploration of this unique area a highlight of any vacation. For extra adventure and insight, there is a two-hour boat tour on Trout River Pond and a hiking trail, both of which leave from the day use area. Trout River campground is available for those who would like to extend their stay.

Plan some time for exploring Woody Point, which was once the economic capital of western Newfoundland. Here artists and camera buffs 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. Opened in 2000, 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.

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 the park's exciting natural and human history is available at the Visitor Centre just before you get to Rocky Harbour. The Centre has displays, movies 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. And Neddy Norris Nights are evenings of improv comedy staged are various communities by the players of the Gros Morne Theatre Festival.

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's strenuous hiking. A few kilometres away is the park's largest campground at Berry Hill near Gros Morne Mountain. 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 that 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. 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.

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. During the summer, the cove below the lighthouse becomes a stage once a week for the evening campfire.

North of Rocky Harbour, the highway 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 outlet is a large sandy estuary that's great for an easy stroll.

About 15 minutes from Sally's Cove is St. Paul's. St. Paul's is a fishing village. Most of the fishermen use Old House Rocks and Tickle as home base for their fishing.  Both of these places are located directly on the ocean and are definitely worth the visit.

Just 5 minutes south of St. Paul's 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. Paul's Inlet where harbour seals are a common sight sunning themselves on the rocky shore. This area, accessible only by boat, is also one of the best birding areas on the West Coast.

Continuing on Route 430, be sure to visit the community museum at Cow Head. It is said that Jacques Cartier, the French explorer and navigator, anchored at nearby Cow Cove in 1534. Today's travellers can rediscover the scenic reaches of this part of the coastline. 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.