Last summer around this time, some friends and I took a day trip along the Discovery Trail, otherwise known in Newfoundland as the Bonavista loop. On Sunday, we decided to tackle the Irish Loop, which is another well-regarded road trip route here on The Rock. It was equally as beautiful, with stunning views and incredible wildlife. It is a smooth, enjoyable drive that doesn’t receive all the attention that it deserves. Ride along with us as we explore the Irish Loop. (If you’re wondering about our Discovery Trail roadtrip, check it out here. It’s worth it, I promise!)
We started our day bright and early and left St. John’s for Bay Bulls, which kind of starts the drive. You can also take the Witless Bay exit off the Trans Canada Highway (TCH). Throughout the entire drive, you could see whales in the distance and the spray from their blow holes, which was incredible— little did we know it was foreshadowing what was to come.
Our first stop along the way was Ferryland, a small town on the South coast of the Avalon Peninsula. Ferryland is known internationally for the Lighthouse Picnics. Unfortunately for us, it books up months in advance and, because we were behind on our game, we were unable to actually have the picnic experience. Nonetheless, we explored around the lighthouse and walked along the cliffs and gorgeous Atlantic coastline. We couldn’t believe it when all of a sudden the whales started to put on a show! They were feeding on fish just offshore so we were able to see them in action from the safety of land. They were swimming, diving, coming up for air and splashing their tails. It was magical!
After we finally peeled our eyes away from the beautiful sight, we walked back to the car and continued along to Aquaforte, where we tackled a path along the East Coast Trail we hadn’t hiked before. The name is a little, well, strange. It’s called ‘Mudder Wet Path’ and is about 3 kilometres one way, so 6 kilometres altogether. The trail takes you through the woods to a gorgeous view of a tidal estuary, which is where we stopped for a picnic (if you would like to see an article about picnic lunches, comment!!). After lunch, we continued along the trail, which soon leads to a long downward set of stairs (the way back up is killer for the glutes!) that lead to the estuary. Just to the right of the staircase is a trail which is pretty grown in, so you have to look for it a bit. This trail leads to a really pretty waterfall which is another great spot to stop for a rest or a picnic. Dip your feet in the water to cool off and just be in the moment.
When you return to the top of the stairs, I recommend turning back the way you came. There is only about a kilometre of trail left, and it just leads to the road. Nothing left to see.
We got back to the car, took a few minutes to hydrate and catch our breath, and continued along. Don’t miss the cool windmills along this part of the drive! The next stop was supposed to be Mistaken Point, one of Newfoundland’s most recent UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Known for having some of the most ancient fossils on this earth, it really is a unique experience. Much to my dismay, however, the site is only accessible by a guided tour which only leaves once per day at 1 o’clock. Although the tour is free, they require that you book in advance, and pets aren’t allowed— which ruined it for us because we weren’t leaving behind the dog!
If you really want to visit the fossil site, which I think would be a worthwhile experience, make sure you book the tour beforehand and arrive earlier than 1:00 pm. I really think they should offer more tours in the run of a day, to make it more accessible to people who are only visiting for a short period of time.
Along the entire drive, there are many small, rural communities. These are all so quaint and unique. They really make the drive interesting. The one community in particular that blew me away, though, was St. Vincent’s. This was an unplanned stop on our roadtrip, but am I ever glad we stumbled upon it! Coming around the turn into the town, we noticed a huge crowd of people on a big beach and thought “ok, something is happening here so we have to see what it’s all about.” We parked the car, walked down the rocky beach and there we saw them: No more than 20 feet offshore was a pod of whales, frolicking in the waves. It was one of the most spectacular sights of my life! I’ve seen whales before, and we even saw whales just a few hours earlier in Ferryland, but I’d never seen them like this. Never this many, this close to shore. I’m still not over it. Luckily for you, some locals told us that they come back there every year!! So if you plan to drive the Irish Loop, don’t just pass through St. Vincent’s.
The last stop of our day, only about 5 minutes from the TCH that would take us back home, was Salmonier Nature Park. This is a 3-kilometre boardwalk that takes you through enclosures that house local animals from the smallest bat to the largest moose. There are owls, woodchucks, beavers, and more. Don’t get the wrong idea— this is not a zoo. This is a wildlife rehabilitation centre. They take in injured or abandoned animals and take care of them with the goal of releasing them back into the wild if that is safe for that animal (some are born in captivity and will sadly never survive in the wild). This park is completely FREE for you to explore and I really encourage you to do so.
The whole day was about 8 hours. You know what’s the coolest thing about this trip? The only money we spent for this entire day was for gas, about $30 between 4 people. It is totally possible to explore on a budget if you know what to do and where to go. Atlantic Canada is truly a beautiful place and largely unexplored. Not many people talk about the Irish Loop and don’t appreciate it’s beauty and authenticity. Add the Irish Loop to your summer bucket list.
Have you driven the Irish Loop? Where did you stop? What other Newfoundland road trips have you tackled? We want to know where to go next! Leave us a comment or reach out on social media, @twowildtides. We love hearing from you!