Great Winter Day Trip Destinations in Gros Morne
When winter’s blanket of white settles over Gros Morne National Park a whole new world of outdoor adventure begins. Cross country ski trails and snowshoe routes replace summer hiking paths. By late January brooks and ponds freeze over and a solid snowpack settles in creating great access routes for back-country skiers to venture deep into the Long Range Mountains. If you are thinking about a winter holiday in Gros Morne this year, here are some wonderful winter experiences to consider.
Snowshoeing destinations that are favourites among the locals include Gros Morne Mountain, Southeast Hills,Lookout Hills. Snowshoeing requires little in the way of equipment and it is an easy skill to learn so if you are new to winter exploring, it is a great way to get started!
The Gros Morne Mountain trail is a very accessible snowshoeing destination as it is located just off route 430 very near Rocky Harbour. This sheltered route winds its way up through thick boreal forest and vantage points along the way offer great views of Crow Cliff and Gros Morne Mountain. As you reach treeline, just near the base of Gros Morne Mountain, you are rewarded with sweeping views of the Long Range Mountains, Bonne Bay and the Tablelands off in the distance. Add to these great views a chance to see moose and caribou and you can see why this route ranks up there as one of my favourite snowshoeing destinations.
Highway route 430 crests at about 300m above sea level on the Southeast Hills just north of Wiltondale and because of the high elevation there is early snow cover and lots of it in this area. Burridge’s Gulch is a hanging valley located just as you begin your descent down the Southeast Hills toward the Eastern Arm of Bonne Bay. Formed by a small tributary glacier flowing out from the Long Range Mountains, this area is a classic example of glacial action resulting in a stunning u-shaped valley. The distance from the parking area to the back of the valley is about 3.5km (7km return). The route crosses Southeast Brook and then climbs gentle up through a forested hillside to this incredible valley of snow laden balsam fir trees, sheer granite cliffs and frozen waterfalls.
If you plan to explore the south side of the Park you can enjoy an amazing view of the Tablelands mountain of mantle rock from the Lookout Hills. Much less exposed than the Tablelands, the Lookout Hills offers equally stunning views and the forested hillside provides protection from winter winds. To access this route, park at the Discovery Centre, strap on your snowshoes and follow the summer hiking trail up onto the Lookout Hills. The view overlooking Bonne Bay and the Tablelands is well worth the climb. On a nice day, you can easily extend your adventure on the plateau. Despite there being a trail to the Lookout, be aware that finding it in deep snow can be a challenge in places.
If cross country skiing is your passion, Gros Morne National Park has some amazing trails to ski. Groomed and track set for classic skiing primarily, trails are located throughout the park near the communities of Wiltondale, Trout River, Rocky Harbour and Cow Head. The longest system of looped trails is located adjacent to the Visitor Information Centre in Rocky Harbour. For more of a back–country skiing experience, the single track set trail from Wigwam Pond to Stuckless Pond is fantastic. Located in the snowbelt of Gros Morne National Park near Wiltondale, this 12km trail follows the beautiful Lomond River Valley through a lush boreal forest and an interconnected chain of bogs and ponds. At the 4km mark from the Wiltondale trailhead there is a small warm-up shelter, a great place to stop for lunch. Not all trails are groomed and track set daily so it is a good idea to visit www.visitgrosmorne.com for up to date ski trail conditions.
After over 20 years back-country Skiing in Gros Morne National Park I am still finding new ski routes. The scenery is breathtaking, very accessible and you rarely encounter anyone else. Some of the wildlife that we see on our outings include woodland caribou, moose, rock ptarmigan and, on the rare occasion, arctic hare!
I categorize my back-country skiing into three unique experiences: back-country touring on the coastal lowlands; climbing to the top of the Long Range Mountains and touring on the Long Range Plateau; and spring skiing on the Tablelands. We do experience freezing and thawing cycles throughout the winter so you can encounter all kinds of snow conditions in the back-country from deep powder to wind swept hard pack and ice, especially on the exposed mountain plateaus. I have found waxless skis work best for all types of back-country skiing as you can experience all these snow conditions on one ski outing. When venturing into the Long Range Mountains, be avalanche aware, ensure that your navigational skills are well honed as whiteout conditions can occur in an instant, and carry enough gear with you in case you have to spend the night!
If you have lightweight back-country ski gear (metal edged skis, warm ankle high boots and poles with large baskets), I would suggest a tour on the coastal lowlands from the Rocky Harbour enclave toward Baker’s Brook fjord. If conditions permit, a ski trail is groomed in this area and is accessed through the Berry Hill Campground. It is certainly worth it, with or without the trail groomed, and there is a warm-up hut along the way. Burridges’ Gulch would be another great destination on lightweight touring gear.
If you intend to ski up onto the Long Range Mountains, it has been my experience that the steep accents and descents require wide metal edged skis (waxless is my preference), climbing skins, warm boots with lots of support, sturdy bindings with lateral support, and poles with large baskets. The Long Range plateau is riddled with lakes, ponds, river valleys, waterfalls, open forest, barrens, hills and mountain summits. Accessing this area is easiest from the Southeast Hills area and is typically our staging area for most of our back-country ski tours. Over many years of exploring we have discovered back-country skiing routes that wind through this incredibly intricate landscape, rivaling many back-country skiing destinations in North America. The added attraction to skiing in the southeast hills area is its designation as a snowmobile exclusion area by Parks Canada. Located to the right (east) of route 430 from Wiltondale north to Kildevil Mountain and from Bill Hill north to Gros Morne Mountain, the only tracks in this area are made by skiers, snowshoers and wildlife!
Every April we cap off our ski season with a trip to the Tablelands to ski the Trout River Bowl. This north facing bowl collects a lot of wind-blown snow from the Tablelands in addition to the huge annual snowfall in the region. On warm April days, skiing the corn snow in the bowl is hard to beat! The great thing about skiing the bowl is that it is so accessible. You can park in the Tablelands Parking area, put your gear on at your vehicle and start your climb into the bowl. The easiest route up is along the right (west) bank of the brook flowing out from the bowl. Stay well away from the brook, especially in late spring as the brook eats out the snow underneath and may not support your weight. At the end of the day, you just ski right back to your vehicle! This bowl does avalanche every winter. Be avalanche aware and pay attention to Parks Canada’s avalanche signage posted at parking area before venturing into the bowl.
Some Tips to help plan your Gros Morne Winter Getaway:
- The ski season in Gros Morne typically extends from January to April. Average daily temperatures for Rocky Harbour: −6°C in January, −8°C in February, and −5°C in March.
- As with any outdoor adventures, be sure you are prepared! Expect changeable weather anywhere in Gros Morne.
- Check the weather forecast.
- Choose a route according to your outdoor experience, physical condition, skiing abilities, difficulty of the trail, and the time available.
- Avalanches can occur in the backcountry. Be avalanche aware and prepare accordingly.
- Always let someone know where you are going and when you are expected back.
- Cell phone service is poor and non-existent in some areas of the park.
- Contact Gros Morne National Park for winter activity information.
- Read Gros Morne Adventures blogs for more detailed information on snowshoeing and backcountry skiing routes.
- Find out about wintertime services and events in the Gros Morne Region.
- Ski and snowshoe rentals available at Cycle Solutions.
- Guide service available through Gros Morne Adventures.