St. John’s Off the Beaten Path
Off the beaten path takes new meaning in relationship to St. John’s, Newfoundland. The path you take might take 90 minutes to 9 hours of travel time, but these attractions make the day trip well worth the effort.
What to See
A 90-minute drive down the Cape shore takes you to Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, a haven for nesting seabirds. During breeding season, St. Mary’s hosts about 24,000 Northern gannet, 20,000 common murre, 20,000 black-legged kittiwake, 2,000 thick-billed murre, and less rarely sighted birds such as 100 pairs of razorbill, about 60 pairs of black guillemot. You’ll also spot some double-crested cormorant, great cormorant, and Northern fulmar. The birds allow humans to get about 10 meters distance. Check out Bird Rock, a 100-meter high sandstone stack, for a great view of the gannets.
Catch the shuttle to Bay Bulls, about 30 minutes from St. John’s, for more animal sightings. O’Brien’s Whale and Bird Tours offers two-hour tours of the Witless Ecological Reserve. In addition to seeing the whales and birds, the O’Brien brothers treat guests to local stories and songs.
Visit the the province of Labrador, a nine-hour drive from St. John’s, but only two hours by plane. Explore its vast wilderness in a day hike or a camping trip.
Travelers with a military interest enjoy the Cape Spear lighthouse, the first erected in Newfoundland. The original still stands, but a more modern one now handles the light duties. You’ll also find World War II batteries and gun emplacements to explore.
For more military history, explore Fort Armherst, located on a cliff overlooking the Narrows. On the other side of the Narrows, you’ll spot Signal Hill.
It’s only a few minutes drive to Torbay. Drive down Motion Lane until you reach a dead end. Park and pick up the trail that winds along the water for beautiful ocean views and amazing architecture. Among the amazing homes you’ll see is that of Newfoundland media mogul, Geoff Stirling, owner of NTV.
Explore the Baccalieu Trail. Its sights include Cavendish, a mink farm offering tours and a peninsula that juts out into Trinity Bay and Conception Bay. Don’t be offended it someone asks if you saw Dildo. It’s a community along the trail with what is an amusing name in some languages.
You won’t have to leave St. John’s to admire one its most ominous examples of architecture, the insane asylum. The large hospital with a wing devoted to the criminally insane experienced an escape a few years ago. One of the inmates got around its reinforced windows by picking the putty off the window frame bit by bit, then jumping a couple of stories to freedom. You’ll have to admire it from outside its high chain-link fences.
Visit the Confederation Building, the unified seat of government for Canada and Newfoundland since 1949. Also visit the original legislature building, the Colonial Building, used when Newfoundland was an independent nation.
Many sheep and cows also call St. Mary’s home. They are not tame and you should not approach them or try to pet them. Keep your children close since the area features many steep cliffs and there is no protection, such as a fence or a guardrail.
Wear good running shoes or hiking boots when exploring Motion Trail. It’s mixed terrain, but worth the hike. Fans of geo-caching will discover “treasure” on Motion Trail. Make the hunt part of your exploration of the area.
Editor’s note: The information contained on this page was compiled using real traveler reviews about St. John’s off the beaten path.