Newfoundland is a land of many peninsulas and route planning can be a challenge at any time of year, but even more so off-season.
When we started exploring the province in August, we had been told every side trip to each peninsula holds treasures worth exploring; and we intended to do just that. We soon figured out that a two-month trip would not be enough time.
There’s only one option for crossing the Newfoundland by land: the Trans Canada Highway. Earlier in the year, we could have driven it one-way east, returning to Nova Scotia on the Argentia ferry (near St. John’s) but that ferry stops operating in mid-September. We were reluctant to do the route from east to west instead because we wanted to include Gros Morne National Park early, before colder weather sets in.
So, knowing we’d be returning the same way as we came, we skipped a few side trips to peninsulas, intending to include them on our return trip if time and weather allowed. This would make the return trip more interesting, plus if the weather was bad (as happened often on this trip), we hoped for better on our return.
The French Peninsula
So it was that we spent our last couple of days on the Port au Port Peninsula (also known as the French Peninsula) before our return to the mainland. It’s rich with history as one of the first areas in Canada where the French settled.
We camped at Cape St. George, the southwest tip where a municipal park welcomes visitors with signage that invites them to enjoy the park and camp for free.
During the summer months, there’s fresh bread, baked daily in a wood-fired community oven in this park. A historic Acadian tradition, the bread is then offered to visitors.
One of the big disadvantages of traveling this time of year is missing out on such opportunities. The ovens were shut down, but the views from our boondocking campsite were amazing and worth the drive.
The bogs and barrens all along our route are beautiful this time of year. All the green ground cover is turning red.
But it’s raining (again). And temperatures are below freezing at night. Uncharacteristically, we paid for camping three nights out of five this last week, so we could run our furnace as much as we wanted.
And we considered ourselves lucky to find a campground that was still open. Many had closed for the season.
Enough of this. We caught the next ferry back to the mainland.
The sun broke out during our ferry ride and shone on us the next day when we visited the Fortress of Louisbourg.
The history, costumed interpreters, and reenactments make this our favorite historical park anywhere. We were here three years ago (but it rained that day) so this was a much more enjoyable visit.
We found boondocking at Mira Gut Beach, not far from Louisbourg. A few local residents stopped to chat and confirmed that RVs are welcome to camp here overnight.
We were inside the camper in the early evening when another visitor approached us on the boardwalk. A fox!
The Cabot Trail
We spent the next two days driving the Cabot Trail. Although we have nice fall colors at home (in Ontario), we both agreed that this was, by far, the best display either of us has ever seen anywhere.
We didn’t pack our good camera on this trip (a mistake at times like this). So all these shots were taken with our cell phones so it’s impossible to capture the vibrancy. I haven’t edited or punched the color on these. Can you imagine how brilliant the actual scene is?
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do any real hiking along the route. Although no longer in Newfoundland, we weren’t clear of similar weather patterns. The forecast for the next day was strong southeast winds with heavy rain – a downpour that threatened to strip the leaves from the trees. If we stopped to hike a longer hike, we’d either have to stay put for a few days or be driving the last half of the Cabot Trail in that weather.
We drove on to exit the park and found boondocking on a secluded beach; however, by nightfall, a local man came to suggest we move inland. The storm would arrive sooner than predicted and he told us we were at high risk of sustaining significant damage to our camper in this exposed location. We thanked him and moved to the national park campground nearby.
Sure enough, by morning, the winds and rain were ferocious and we were grateful we had moved to safer ground.
Celtic Colors Festival
It was time to move to the “Celtic” part of “Celtic Colors”. Most of the activities associated with the festival are indoors, so poor weather could surely not interfere.
True to our preferred style of travel, we had not purchased any tickets in advance (as had been recommended). We knew we’d have very little chance of attending the concerts; however, with so many other related events across the island, we were about to test whether we could enjoy enough of the festival regardless.
The answer is a resounding, “Yes. There is plenty to take in, without advance planning.”
I learned to play the spoons at a workshop in Cheticamp. The workshop runs twice a day through the festival, and this particular morning, we were the only ones in attendance so we got a private lesson!
Not all ticket events were sold out. We checked the online schedule daily to figure out which ones in our area had availability. There was great music at fringe venues like open mic events, jam sessions, and ceilidhs – most of which don’t require tickets. Aside from the “official” schedule, many local pubs and restaurants feature live entertainers, either mid-day or in the evenings, throughout the festival.
Best of all was the “After Party” at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s. Be prepared to “party”! It starts at 11 pm nightly and goes until 3 am (or later). No reservations in advance and you’re treated to a variety of the same performers as at the concerts. (Whoever shows up after their official concert is over). Get there early; it was standing room only by 11:30 pm
We joined other campers for free boondocking in a grassy area of the Gaelic College parking lot. How great that this is available; we could relax and enjoy a few drinks at the party! Unfortunately, it had rained (a lot) and we should have known better. The grounds were soaked and a few of us found ourselves stuck.
Thankfully, an Ontario couple came to the rescue. They carry a tow strap and were able to easily pull us out.
All in all, the weather really has not been ideal, especially these last few weeks. Not in Newfoundland, and not in Cape Breton. Even a simple photo stop on the Cabot Trail turned into a near disaster. We drove through this puddle easily when entering this parking area, but not when we tried to exit. Our dump drain valve (now on the opposite side of the van) hit bottom, scraping on the gravel knoll we needed to cross. We backed out in time but found there was no way to avoid it. Luckily we do carry a folding shovel.
I think we finally got the message: it’s time to head home.
We lined up stops to visit friends in New Brunswick and two Boondockers Welcome hosts in Quebec on our way home.
At our final stop, at this host near Montreal, we stayed an extra night, when a major storm rolled in. This was just one more reminder: Bad weather can happen anywhere, and perhaps especially at this time of year.
Thankfully, we enjoyed a perfect, sunny day for the last leg of our journey. Two days ago, on our last travel day, we reached home in time for sunset.
We’re glad to be home and, despite the misadventures and bad luck we had with the weather, are eternally grateful for having done this trip. We enjoyed some of the most beautiful scenery in Canada, plentiful boondocking with great views, amazing hikes to rival any in North America, and met some of the friendliest people on earth.
These memories are now “banked”, ready to be withdrawn and enjoyed over and over and over again, in years to come. This is why we travel!
- Total trip duration: 62 days
- Total camping costs: $155.00