Exploring the Trans Labrador Highway Two couples head out for a 14-day journey along one of the most iconic routes in Canada to discover the true, untouched beauty of the East Coast.
We set out with two F150 trucks fully-rigged with caps, roof racks, Wild Coast roof top tents, awnings and trailers that concealed fridge/freezers, stoves, propane, bedding and an assortment of other essentials. Of course, chaos ensued as we scrambled to pack last minute items right before our departure. Nevertheless, we were packed with enough gear to handle almost any situation.
My husband Peter and I, along with another adventurous couple, Sandy and Barb Swantee, were ready to roll on an expansive journey that would take us from our home base of Bear River, Nova Scotia through Newfoundland, Labrador, Quebec and New Brunswick via the Trans Labrador Highway. It was a trip we wanted to do for years and after much contemplation, we made a plan for the open road in early September 2018.
After meeting up with Sandy and Barb for lunch in Halifax, we double-checked our gear and hit the highway for the fourplus hour drive to North Sydney, Nova
Scotia. It was here where a ferry would take us to Port Aux Basques Newfoundland, the beginning of the first leg of our journey.
Since we had been up since dawn, we stopped for a well-deserved coffee break, then dinner, before joining the line of vehicles for entry to the ferry. We finally got the green light to board and with a lengthy seven-hour, overnight trip ahead of us to Port Aux Basques, we settled in for a long ride since we didn’t opt to reserve cabins.
When dawn broke, the mere thought of getting off the ferry raised my spirits. It was going to be a good day. After pulling into Port Aux Basques, we stopped for fuel (and more coffee) and hit the visitors centre. The first stop on our trip was Marble Mountain where we enjoyed some zip lining – if you have never been, make the time if you are in the area. It’s well worth it with the stunning view of waterfalls.
After a joyful day, we spent the night at Trout River in Gros Morne National Park where had the chance to admire the famed Tablelands, a stunning, rust-coloured mountainous region, as well as Western Brook Pond to see the amazing fresh water fjord. After exploring the park, we headed slightly north to Portland Creek and set up camp for the night.
Realizing we had an extra day in Newfoundland, we drove to St. Anthony where we stayed at nearby Pistolet Provincial Park. We setup a snow peak fire pit, a table and savoured some red wine, Disarono and listened to music – what else could be better?
With rain overnight and into the morning, we packed up our soggy mess and headed up to L’anse Aux Meadows. We went for a hike to see Viking Village and took in the breathtaking scenery and incredible history. Since our ferry was departing the next day, we chose to stay at an RV park in St. Barb near the port. While the park was nothing special, it gave us chance to dry out our gear and enjoy dinner.
It was a bit of a wobbly ride on the ferry, but we all made it in one piece to Blanc Sablon, Quebec. Following a short drive, we crossed into Labrador. Although it was raining and overcast (and of course, windy), the stunning scenery made up for it. With so many lakes, rivers, rolling hills and endless wilderness, it was a sight to behold.
Our first night in Labrador we camped in a gravel pit of sorts between St. Lewis and Mary’s Harbour. We setup camp, cooked dinner and sat by the fire. The evening was cold, clear and a crescent moon and a shooting star made for a stunning sky. We all had a restful night and our Portable Buddy Heater soon became one of our favourite pieces of gear.
Leaving camp about 9 am, we made our way to St. Lewis and Iceberg Alley, which stretches with scattered ice giants from the Coast of Labrador to the Southeast Coast of Newfoundland. About 28 km (17 mi) off the highway from Iceberg Alley is a long dusty road that leads to the beautiful, rural town of St. Lewis. We stopped for fuel and visited the most easterly point of mainland Canada.
This turned into an epic, off-road adventure that was filled with mud, rocks, roots, steep grades and descents. We also made a brilliant (and successful) effort to turn around on a spot the size of a postage stamp! A local stopped by to give us each a little homemade gift and told us about life in St Lewis. He explained while it was a gorgeous place to live, it’s also very isolated.
On our way to Cartwright, we admired the vast scenery and words just cannot do it justice. Even though dust clouds ensued, we made it to Cartwright for fuel, more coffee, and of course more dust…did I mention the dust? Our mission was to find a place to setup for the night.
We finally found another gravel pit to camp in and when we opened the trailer and truck, we were greeted to a sea of talcum powder-type dust! It was everywhere. It was on the trailer marker lights, wires, safety sticker, and some paint on the trailer was stripped off to bare metal. The Scout trailer, however, endured the least of the two with just a little paint stripped off the fenders and damage was minimal.
However, once we settled in, the night was warm yet windy and a magical sunset made for a perfect evening. Later that night, the rain just poured down. The next morning, we hunkered down in the annex room before a very wet pack up.
During our pleasant run to Happy Valley – Goose Bay, we were hoping to spot some moose and thanked our lucky stars for the rain, which made it easier to travel. At one point, the road was unpaved with potholes and washboards as we only clocked between 60-70 km/h (37 – 43 mph).
Although we still hadn’t come across any moose, we did see a few geese, ptarmigan,
and grouse. There were also a few vibrant, yellow colours on the shrubbery, indicating that fall was on its way. While we were in a very remote area, we saw the occasional Inukshuk, not to mention endless trees, lakes and rivers. All the solitude made us feel so small as we were surrounded by such an incredibly vast, untouched land.
About 140 km (87 mi) before Happy Valley – Goose Bay we stopped for a break only to discover that Sandy and Barb’s rig had a blown out back window! Approximately 650 km (404 mi) of rough gravel roads took its toll but it’s nothing that some Gorilla Tape and a tarp couldn’t fix. Once more, dust encapsulated our vehicles as we motored on to Goose Bay.
At this point we had travelled approximately 2500 km (1553 mi) and when we got to Happy Valley – Goose Bay we cleaned up, did laundry, checked email and did some shopping for dinner. After getting more fuel, we looked for a spot to camp for the night. We drove quite a while before finding a potential spot using the iOverlander app. However, we came across a pow wow with many glares and stares in be-wonderment as to what on earth we were doing there. So, we made a quick retreat!
While it was getting late, we finally settled into another gravel pit. The evening was beautiful – our best yet – with bright, shimmering stars in a very dark sky.
In the morning, we awoke to ice on our roof top tents and once again, it started to rain as we packed up. It was another wet start to the day as we set out on the long drive towards Churchill Falls. Chatting, snacking, clicking shots and being cut off from society was the order of the day.
We arrived in Churchill Falls and had lunch at a community building, which housed a hotel, a school, gift shop, grocery store plus a diner. What’s interesting is you can only live in Churchill if you work there. So, as soon as you retire or leave your job, you must leave. Interesting place!
After making it to Labrador City, which is a bustling, industrial mining town with trains running round the clock, we managed to find somewhere to shower, but decided to press on to find a camping spot. We drove for some time looking for a suitable area and ended up leaving Labrador and entering Quebec. As there weren’t many options, we opted to stay at another gravel pit for the night.
Following a night with a wind chill temperature of about 2°C with a horrendous, howling wind, snow and rain, the trailer swayed due to the weather and none of us had a great night’s sleep!
The morning couldn’t have come sooner, and the coffee was a godsend! Travelling on, the trees now bowed to the weight of the first snowfall and as the snow persisted, so did the mud. The road snaked up around the hills as we headed higher while visibility decreased, and grey clouds hung low over the hills. We finally hit a paved but snowy road with a resounding “yahoo!” from Peter. We stopped at the only gas station we had seen since leaving Labrador City. We definitely recommend filling up before you leave. At a $1.77per litre, it was a little pricey.
An interesting site to see in the area was the Manicouagan reservoir. Located in Central Quebec, the reservoir is claimed to be formed by an asteroid that hit Earth some 214 million years ago. In fact, it’s so large it took us more than an hour to drive past it. Further into the day, we passed the Manic 5 Generating Station and the Daniel-Johnson Dam, which is the highest multiple-arch-and-buttress dam in the world.
As our windshield wipers worked overtime, we pushed on to Baie Comeau, which is approximately 400 km (249 mi) from Quebec City. The time trickled by and it was very late when we arrived in Baie Comeau. With no signs of a dry evening, the thought of setting up a tent in the rain left us feeling uninspired. We once again hosed down our vehicles and trailers that were coated in mud and grime. We had been driving since 9 am and felt pretty travel weary. So, we grabbed a motel room for the night where we had a decent shower, caught up on some emails, booked the ferry and sorted out our gear.
The ferry from Baie Comeau to Matane, which took us to the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River, finally left after a delay. Following the two-hour cruise, we hit land and made our way east towards Kouchibouguac, New Brunswick. Beautiful forests, rivers and hills blended in with the turning colours of fall. Yet, the rain still refused to release its grip on us!
Arriving at Kouchibouguac in the late afternoon, the name of the game for the day was rain! After setting up camp, we made some dinner, a fire and sipped gin and tonics around the fire pit in our rain jackets and enjoyed the evening before turning in.
On our last day, we awoke at 5 am to the rumbling of construction. We said our goodbyes to our wonderful friends and hit the highway. After a 5.5-hour drive, we pulled into our driveway to unpack and clean out our F150. With 4000-plus km behind us, we aired out our gear, cleaned all the dust, while reminiscing about our journey.
The Trans Labrador Highway was an experience that we will always treasure with its untouched beauty, pristine rivers, picture-postcard communities and most importantly, true Canadian culture at its finest.
A gravel pit to call home.
A visit to western brook pond to see the fresh water fjord.
An epic off road adventure filled with mud, rocks, roots, plus very steep grades and descents
The first night in Labrador we found a gravel pit of sorts to camp at somewhere between St Lewis and Mary’s Harbour.
Beautiful sights in Labrador.
These gravel roads were rough enough to blow out a back window.
The rain just poured down that night so we hunkered down in the annex room for our morning brew.