Geology and Fossils

The fascinating and complex geological landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador attracts scientists and rockhounds from across the globe. It tells the remarkable story of Earth’s evolution and features some of the oldest rocks and fossils you can find anywhere in the world. This 11-day itinerary takes you coast to coast exploring unique landscapes, including two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gros Morne National Park is a major geological attraction and Mistaken Point’s fossils date back 565-million-years.

Day 1 - St. John’s and the Manuels River

The perfect start to your journey is the Johnson GEO CENTRE, carved out of the prehistoric rock of Signal Hill. Travel deep underground to learn the Earth’s story, told from a particularly local perspective. Learn of the volcanoes, earthquakes and natural forces that shaped our world from beneath its surface.

A short road trip to beautiful Conception Bay and you’ll arrive at The Manuels River Experience and the world of the curious and unusual trilobite, a marine invertebrate that thrived in these waters hundreds of millions of years ago. You can view trilobite fossils scattered along the shale beds of the river’s lower section. There are a variety of specimens of these prehistoric creatures on display, as well as guides to take you through the fossil sites.

Day 2 - Bell Island

Bell Island is a quick ferry ride from Portugal Cove, and boasts a history of iron-ore mining from the early 20th century. A guided tour begins in the Community Museum, and will lead you straight down into what was the largest sub-marine iron-ore mine. Once 12-year-old boys worked long hours by candlelight, and miners risked their lives pulling this precious metal from deep under the ocean.

The rock layers of Bell Island tell a story all their own. The island is part of the ancient continent of Avalonia, which drifted here millions of years ago, building layer upon layer as it went. A quick walk along the beach will give you a perfect vantage point.

Day 3 - Mistaken Point

Drive across the Irish Loop to Mistaken Point UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Mistaken Point site is the only place in the world to view a 565-million-year-old sea floor that accurately preserves these fossils of ancient complex life forms. Detailed impressions of these multicellular organisms and their intricate, soft bodies are preserved beneath the volcanic ash layers exposed by the retreating ocean. The guided walk along the coastline reveals a spectacular story of life on Earth.

Access to Mistake Point is available during scheduled guided tours. Contact the site to reserve in advance, as space is limited. The tour begins at the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre in Portugal Cove South. From the Centre, it is a 30 minute drive upon the gravel Cape Race Road to reach the trailhead where the hike begins. The tour involves a 6 km round-trip hike (3 km one-way) and it takes approximately 45 minutes (one-way) to reach the Mistaken Point fossil viewing site.

Take time to visit the Cape Race lighthouse and the Myrick Wireless Interpretation Centre Titanic exhibit before starting back north to the Trans-Canada Highway.

Day 4 - Fortune Head Ecological Reserve

Fortify yourself with local jams and preserves before starting out for the Burin Peninsula. Affectionately known as “the Boot”, it is home to a strong fishing heritage, as well as today’s destinations.

In St. Lawrence, the same continental shifts that brought iron to Bell Island made North America’s most significant fluorspar deposits. For years miners from the region endured a hard life extracting this important chemical component, and the Miners’ Museum showcases the day-to-day experience of these men.

Further east, the Fortune Head Ecological Reserve and Geology Centre showcase the geological boundary between the Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian eras. Fossils here represent some of the first skeletal creatures from 540 million years ago. The exhibits allow you to walk through time, and showcase tsunamis, earthquakes, and even prehistoric predators.

Stop in Grand Bank for a bite to eat and to visit the Provincial Seamen’s Museum, where you’ll learn even more about the region and the hard-working people that have made it their home.

Day 5 - Port Union

No road trip around the province would be complete without a visit to the Bonavista Peninsula, and Port Union’s fossils are as good a reason as any. The discovery of a 560-million-year-old fossil – believed to be the oldest know complex-muscled animal in the world – makes the region a notable geological site.

And once you’re in the area, there is so much to take in. Hike the Skerwink Trail along the coast, or visit historic Trinity. Watch puffins in Elliston and climb the stone tower at Cape Bonavista Lighthouse.

Stay overnight nearby, or get a head start on tomorrow’s activities by spending the night in Clarenville or Terra Nova National Park.

Day 6 - Dover and Brimstone Head

Marking the collision of tectonic plates millions of years ago the Dover Fault is the boundary between the rock that was once part of the same mass that formed North Africa and Europe with that which became the Appalachian Mountains. Visit the interpretation centre, or take a guided tour up to the Lookout.

Continue on to Fogo Island and Brimstone Head Park, a favourite site for hiking and walking. It is also notable as one of the four corners of the Earth – at least by the considered opinion of the Flat Earth Society. Glacial erratics and uncommon formations dot this unusual and remarkable landscape.

Spend the day touring the island, and the evening in a comfortable B&B, or in the luxury accommodation of Fogo Island Inn. Be sure to consult ferry schedules before setting out for Fogo.

Day 7 - Baie Verte Peninsula

Head west to the Baie Verte Peninsula, the site of many mining operations for asbestos as well as copper, lead, zinc, and gold in the mid-1950s. The Miners’ Museum will show you the life of a miner and tells the story of six of the mines once active in the region. Continue on to Fleur de Lys to see the Dorset Soapstone Quarry National Historic Site, where the soapstone preserves evidence of Palaeo-Eskimo carvings from 1600 years ago.

On your return you can make a detour to Kings Point Pottery to see amazing works of art made from materials sourced nearby, and maybe take a moment to watch for whales in Green Bay. And then back to the Trans-Canada Highway and on to Gros Morne National Park to settle in for two days of exploration.

Day 8 - Gros Morne – The Tablelands

It took Mother Nature 485,000,000 years to mould Gros Morne National Park into the geological and visual wonder we know today. It was here that geologists proved the theory of plate tectonics. The Tablelands, a mountain of flat-topped rock of a kind usually found only deep in the Earth’s mantle, is a truly awe-inspiring sight.

Stop in at the Discovery Centre to find out what makes Gros Morne a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are interactive exhibits, live programming, theatre, gift shop, art gallery, and planning information – pick up an Explora unit for the Tablelands trail or get information on the daily guided Parks Canada walks. The 4-kilometre return, easy trail follows an old roadbed as it skirts the base of the mountain. The geology here marks a time when the continents of Africa and North America collided, pushing these rocks, originally beneath the ocean, to their present position.

Day 9 - Gros Morne Fjord

Take a stroll along the trail to Western Brook Pond, over marshland draped in butterworts, great sundew, orchids, dragon's mouth, and pitcher plants. At the end of your walk, hop aboard a boat tour through the landlocked, billion-year-old fjord. Sail through the glacier-carved wonder and feel the spray on your face from some of the highest waterfalls in eastern North America.

If a boat trip isn’t your thing, there are amazing hikes to be found in the park, including the trip to the top of the fjord, along the coast in Green Gardens, and to Gros Morne Mountain. Or travel north to see the amazing rock formations created by the tides in Arches Provincial Park or the unicellular fossils (thrombolites) at Flower’s Cove.

Day 10 - Humber Valley

Spend the day in the area surrounding the Humber River valley. Hike the Man in the Mountain trail, which is part of the International Appalachian Trail. The geological foundation of the mountain range that rises along the eastern United States is carried into western Newfoundland all the way to the Strait of Belle Isle.

Zipline across Steady Brook Falls, or connect with local tour operators and go caving, salmon fishing, on boat tours, or on river rafting excursions in the valley.

Day 11 - Stephenville and the Granite Coast Trail

For the final day, travel south just a short distance to Stephenville. Look for the Ancient Carboniferous forest – this is the oldest known fossil bed of mountain trees, which produced seeds more than 305 million years ago.

Continue on to the start of the Granite Coast Trail to visit the lighthouse at Rose Blanche. Originally built in the 1800s, it’s a showcase for the locally quarried white granite that gives the trail its name. And its view of the Cabot Strait can’t be beaten.

From here, it’s a quick drive back to the ferry terminal in Port aux Basques.