Biking the Viking Trail in Newfoundland is for those of you who have an adventurous spirit and don’t mind some hard, even challenging cycling.
The 600 km trip up Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula is a fantastic bike ride. The route primarily follows the rocky, barren coast through a series of sparsely populated but picturesque fishing villages with names like Sally’s Cove, Cow Head and Brig Bay.
But the ride offers so much more than just rugged coastal beauty. At the top of the list are the people of Newfoundland who in my experience rank as some of the friendliest and most generous on the planet. Where else in the world does a complete stranger offer their car to you so you can drive to dinner in the rain instead of cycling?
And then there’s the option of doing a number of unique and highly worthwhile side trips. That’s why 10 days is ideal for this bike ride.
Although you cycle through Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – it merits more of your time. The park showcases one of the best examples of plate tectonics in the world along with an unrivaled landscape of great natural beauty. At a minimum take a boat ride up the fjord or hike to the top of Gros Morne Mountain.
Allow another day to ferry over to Labrador from St. Barbe. Whale sightings are common and the biking, though hilly, is also very beautiful, rugged and treeless. And besides when are you likely to return to Labrador?
The last must do side trip is a visit to L’Anse aux Meadows at the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula. It too is a UNESCO world heritage site. What you see are the wood framed sod house remains of an 11th century Viking settlement – evidence of the first European presence in North America. If your timing is good you may see an iceberg float by too.
- Start in Deer Lake and cycle 89 kms (55 mi) across the rocky barrens to beautiful Trout River.
- On the second day take a boat to Norris River, perhaps spend half a day kayaking and continue 42 kms (26 mi) on to Rocky Harbour.
- Get off the bike on Day 3 and explore Gros Morne National Park on foot.
- On the fourth day head 50 kms (31 mi) north to Cow Head but allow time to do a boat tour of the fjord at Western Brook Pond.
- On Day 5 cycle 101 km (62 mi) along the coast to Hawkes’s Bay.
On day 6, 86 kms (54 mi) to St. Barbe. Don’t miss the visit to the Port au Choix National Historic Site along the way.
- From St. Barbe take the ferry to Labrador and back in a day. Look for whales on the crossing.
- On Day 8 pray that the wind is at your back as its 125 kms (78 mi) across a desolate stretch of the northern interior barrens to Pistolet Bay. It’s even further if you don’t plan to camp.
- On Day 9 bike 72 kms (45 mi) to L’Anse aux Meadows and back to Pistolet Bay.
- On the final day it’s an easy 30 kms (19 mi) to St. Anthony and from there a shuttle is required to get back to Deer Lake.
There are variations to this itinerary depending on what company you choose and whether you plan to camp but the one day you cycle across the barrenlands is a tough one, no matter who you go with.
Chances are you’ll see moose along the way. They pop out of the woods quite unexpectedly – in fact one fellow in our group was followed down the highway by a moose but never even knew it!
By cycling and exploring this barren yet beautiful section of Newfoundland you will come away with a new appreciation of the land, the history and the people.
Highlights: Rugged, coastal scenery, unexpected moose encounters, Gros Morne National Park, whale watching, l’Anse aux Meadows, seafood, music, outdoor theater, exceptionally friendly people
Distance: 523 kms (325 mi) plus an additional 72 kms (45 mi) to visit L’Anse aux Meadows. If you cycle in Labrador add at least another 30 kms (19 mi) – more if you’re up for it.
Where: Start in Deer Lake and finish in St. Anthony’s near the tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula
Time Needed: A minimum of 7 days, ideally 10 days to allow for side trips
When: June through to September
How: Best to join a tour unless you take your own bike and figure out a shuttle back from St. Anthony’s
Cost: It’s possible to camp along the way; there are numerous B&B’s, some motels and hotels
Tour companies: Atlantic Canada Cycling, Freewheeling, Bicycling World
*Image of coastal cliffs on Cape St Mary in Newfoundland via Shutterstock