Before you even get a whiff of the Long Range Traverse, the premier backpacking trail on Canada’s east coast, you must pass a serious navigation test and get a full orientation by staff at the Gros Morne National Park Visitor Center.

The navigation test is nothing to sneeze at. You must understand declination and know how to take a compass bearing from the map. Although you can take along a GPS, and it might help in foggy situations, it’s your map and compass skills that are of utmost importance. It’s the only place in Canada that I am aware of that requires you to pass a navigation test. I guess what happened in the past, is too many backpackers set out, only to get lost – as there is no marked trail – and ended up needing a rescue.

Insider tip: Visit the Gros Morne National Park website for all the details and timelines for reservations.

"Route finding is a serious issue on the Long Range Traverse"

Route finding is a serious issue on the Long Range Traverse

You are given a location device before you leave the Visitor Center. If you have a real emergency, one press of the button will bring on a helicopter. Don’t do what one fellow did a few years ago though. He pressed the button when he saw a moose, figuring that constituted an emergency. You should expect to see moose on this trail – and possibly black bear and caribou as well.

The trail begins with an easy three kilometer walk from the parking lot to the boat dock at Western Brook Pond. From there, you can organize a shuttle with Bontours if you have enough people – or join a tour group, but that’s the slower option.

The boat ride is such a highlight, especially on a sunny day when the water sparkles. It took us less than 30 minutes to reach the end of the fjord and the start of the Long Range Traverse.

"The Long Range Traverse in Gros Morne National Park"

First you must walk 3 km to the boat dock at Western Brook Pond

"John and I looking fresh and clean as we head for the boat"

John and I looking fresh and clean as we head for the boat

"The boat ride to the end of Western Brook Pond is glorious"

The boat ride to the end of Western Brook Pond is glorious

Once the boat pulls away you are good and truly on your own with the way out two to five hiking days away.

The Long Range Traverse is never signed and there is no official trail. Much of what you follow are game trails, but they can take you off course if you’re not paying attention. But on the first day, because of heavier use, there is an obvious route to follow. Initially it’s flat and you can dispatch with it quickly.

"The official start of the Long Range Traverse - a the dock at the far end of Western Brook Pond"

The official start of the Long Range Traverse – a the dock at the far end of Western Brook Pond

"A flat section early on the Long Range Traverse"

A flat section early on the Long Range Traverse

"Looking up the gorge - our next major destination"

Looking up the gorge – our next major destination

"start of the Long Range Traverse"

The start of the trail was much prettier than I expected

Next up is a section with filled with house sized boulders. This can be very slow going and in places there were yawning holes – where you certainly didn’t want to get a leg stuck. I had to have John pull me up several times and on more than one occasion I was on my hands and knees.

The one word of advice from the park staff is stay right off the waterfall. That wasn’t so hard to do; mind you we had a clear sunny day so navigation was never an issue. The waterfall is a delightful spot for lunch.

"The waterfall is a great place for lunch"

The waterfall is a great place for lunch

From there the climbing starts in earnest. From the dock to the top of the gorge, there is a couple of thousand feet of elevation gain – all while carrying a backpack. But in short order, the first of the classic Western Brook Pond views appears in your sights – and that spurs you on.

"Peek a boo views of Western Brook Pond after a steep section of hiking past the waterfall"

Peek a boo views of Western Brook Pond after a steep section of hiking past the waterfall

"The top of the gorge on the Long Range Traverse"

The hard work of climbing out of the gorge is all worth it when you get this view

We marveled at the view and took plenty of photos before continuing on and up. When you get out of the trees, you’re still not at the top of the gorge. There is more steep climbing ahead, this time with better and better views to reach the “trail” at the top of the waterfall pictured below.

From there, the only way I can describe the hiking is as delightful. The scenery was one of outcrops and small lakes with big time vistas. Arctic cotton was a beautiful addition the landscape.

"Waterfall at the top of the gorge"

Waterfall at the top of the gorge

"The full view of Western Brook Pond"

The full view of Western Brook Pond

"Arctic cotton"

Arctic cotton

"Exploring above the gorge in the evening without carrying a backpack"

Exploring above the gorge in the evening without carrying a backpack

"Wonderful walking on rock at the top of the gorge"

Wonderful walking on rock at the top of the gorge

"Looking down Western Brook Pond at about 9:30 PM"

Looking down Western Brook Pond at about 9:30 PM

"I couldn't get enough of this landscape"

I couldn’t get enough of this landscape

The campsite most people head for on the first day is at Little Island Pond. Its buggy in June and many of its’ tent platforms were destroyed in a storm. Because of that, we had permission to camp at the top of the gorge. It shortened our day, which was fine with me – and where we camped ended up offering one of the best views from any campsite I have ever stayed at. We had the entire place to ourselves. It was absolute magic. And although there were some bugs, they weren’t bad as we had a breeze because we were up high.

"What a view - from our campsite with not a soul around"

What a view – from our campsite with not a soul around

The first day, though physically tough, partly because of the heat, far exceeded my expectations. And I felt very fortunate that the weather cooperated. Normally you make a reservation well in advance, so you need a dose of luck in this part of the world when it comes to weather.

You still have time to do the trail this summer. Hiking lasts until late September most years – and there are no bugs in the fall. More blogs from our four day backpacking adventure will follow over the next month.

Have you ever been to Gros Morne National Park? What was the stand-out feature of the park for you?

Other posts you might enjoy:

Backpacking the Long Range Traverse in Newfoundland

***A big thank you to Western Newfoundland Tourism with helping with some parts of this trip – including the fabulous boat ride.***

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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Join the discussion 25 Comments

  • What an incredibly scenic backpacking trek, Leigh! I have heard such wonderful things about Gros Morne National Park that I do hope to visit one day. Sadly though, I would never be able to do a hike such as this one as my navigational skills just would not be adequate!

    • David Archer says:


      You could do it! The navigating is just another skill to learn. In our 4-person team, two of us were Scouters and compass-experienced however the navigating was done by one of our wives who wanted to learn-by-doing…and we still made it successfully to the car drop-off near Ferry Gulch! Parks Canada also gives you a transponder so they kind find you if you don’t show up at the check-out time.

      The hike is spectacular!

  • Mike says:

    For reason this thought popped into my head in the lengthy time I’ve been following you as a blogger and becoming friends. Is what incredible physical shape you and John are in! It’s amazing how you ascended from forest land to, as you said the word too, artic like landscape. When I was on call full time for search and rescue we of course had our gear with us 24 hours/day. Of course we didn’t have GPS so our compass was our best friend. I think all backpackers and outdoorsmen/women should be adept with them AND in coordination with a 15 or 30 minute map. It can easily save your life. Great post and we always like to see your smile, Leigh! :)

  • What a gorgeous hike. You both look like you relish the adventure of it all, too. I could probably handle the physical activity and even the navigation test (possibly), but I just might hit the emergency button if I saw a bear. Have never been to Newfoundland, but hoping it’s in my future, especially after following along on your posts.

  • Freya says:

    Oh wow what an amazing hike, the scenery is absolutely stunning. I’m not a big fan of camping but I would for sure do it to be able to hike here. I really hope to visit one day.

  • Alex Garner says:

    What an incredible place! Sounds like a pretty tough hike too, might be a bit beyond my skill and fitness level.

  • cindy says:

    Wow! I’ve traveled through that area, but not the way you are. It looks even more beautiful from the trail.

  • Andrew says:

    What stunning views, Leigh. Nice to see the photos of you and John, too.

  • stevo120665 says:

    Looks a stunning walk. The photo are spectacular. Feeling jealous as I look out into rainy UK.

  • Muza-chan says:

    Beautiful place….

  • Ayngelina says:

    So beautiful it almost makes me want to take up hiking.

  • Murissa says:

    Wow this is quite an intense hiking experience. I would have to train a bit before going and certainly brush up on my compass and map skills! Gorgeous scenery though, the trek looks well worth it!

    • @Murissa This is definitely a hike for people that have good navigation skills. But I think you can get a sense of just how rewarding the experience is from the photos. I highly recommend it.

  • I’m with Lisa – I’d totally fail the navigation test! If I go – and it sounds amazing – I’ll join a tour.

  • Mary Peterson says:

    I was planning about touring in remote places but after seeing your recommendation I have fixed your place for my next travel site. Thank you.

  • Corey says:

    Love it! I read this before I embarked on the adventure to Newfoundland and this article was such a big help. Was such an amazing experience!

  • Greg Hodgins says:

    Hello. Great post. What an incredible view. I really would like to make the trek to the top of the gorge and back to the parking lot by 7 PM at the latest with my family of 5. :-) Do you think that would be doable? The youngest in the family is 13. We’re pretty fit. We did Lone Cone on the west coast a few years back when they were younger. I’ll need to break out the compass for a refresher with navigation being the bigger challenge I gather. Thanks again for the great post.

    • @Greg There is a problem. You must take a boat ride coming and going and there are shuttles via Bon Tours. I’m guessing you’d have to arrange something well in advance and if that is taken care of then I think you need to allow 4-5 hours to the top and probably 4 hours to descend again. Check with Parks Canada and see what they would say. There are also private guides that may help surmount the logistical challenges – and I do believe they go up and down in a day.

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