Newfoundland Road Trips: Guide to the Baccalieu Trail
My family goes back generations in Carbonear, Newfoundland. Maybe even back to the 1600s. Though I grew up in New Brunswick, summers were spent in the “hub of the bay” on the Baccalieu Trail. Despite all that time, I hadn’t really explored the towns nearby. Recently, I decided to spend a weekend doing the trail. It’s the perfect distance for a two day road trip.
The Baccalieu Trail gets its name from the island at its northern tip. The word itself is derived either from the Spanish, Portugese, or Basque word for codfish. The eastern coast of the trail is steeped with pirate history, being home to both Peter Easton and Gilbert Pike and his Irish princess bride Sheila Nageira. It’s also home to an arctic exploring sea captain, one of the most comically notorious town names, the first transatlantic cable, and the summer home of Rockwell Kent.
The Baccalieu Trail is a horseshoe shaped drive with endpoints roughly 35 and 45 minutes from St. John’s. You can either start in Whitebourne on the western edge and drive clockwise around the coast ending at Brigus, or you can reverse it. Each is just as good as the next.
While it’s possible to get from town to Bay Roberts or Carbonear with Bradbury’s Taxi (1-709-682-5566) you won’t be able to fully explore the Baccalieu Trail without your own vehicle.
Where to Stay
This gorgeous little inn is tucked away in a secluded part of Green’s Harbour. As they say, an hour from St. John’s, a million miles from anywhere. The best thing about the Doctor’s House are the lovely grounds where you can wander and also the resident chickens, goats, and horses. Each room is unique and named after a type of tree. Try to get one with a balcony.
If you’re looking for the cottage experience, try Coastal Cottages in Blackhead. While their two cottages are well appointed, their real strength is in the extra experiences they offer, like a musical shed party or a boil up.
If converted churches are your thing, you’ll love Cupid’s Haven. I highly recommend booking the suite if you can. Not only do you get a jet tub but you also have a sitting room in the former choir loft that overlooks the altar-turned-kitchen. It’s one of the more unique places I’ve stayed in Newfoundland. It’s also super convenient for shows by Perchance Theatre.
George House B&B was Instagrammable before Instagram was a thing. If you want more stately, historic luxury, make your booking here. Book the Lloyd or Thomas room and feel like visiting royalty.
Where to Eat + Drink
You don’t expect to find a winery in Newfoundland but, in fact, there are several turning local berries into delicious wine. A tour and tasting at the Markland Cottage Winery (formerly a cottage hospital – and where Shannon Tweed was born) is a great way to start or end your Baccalieu Trail adventure. My personal favourite is the Barrens Blend, a tart mix of blueberry and partridgeberry (aka. lingonberry).
Casual dining with a great deck. This is the spot to stop if you like seafood. Be warned, a lot of the menu is the typical fried you find in rural Newfoundland and there might not be much for vegetarians. Fish & chips is the go-to here. Be sure to get gravy & dressing on yours.
Why the K in Krafts? Why not? Get caffeinated here with a gorgeous view of the harbour. Espresso drinks are hard to find in rural Newfoundland and especially shops with this great of a view. They even have bubble tea! You can also shop for a few souvenirs at the same time.
Gourmet dining in rural Newfoundland – the Doctor’s House serves some of the finest meals on the island. Tucked away in Green’s Harbour you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Their five-course prix fixe dinner menu is a bit of a splurge but entirely worth it.
The newest addition to the Baccalieu Trail dining scene is Sea Salt & Thyme in Brigus. If you’re looking for gourmet pub food without the gourmet price tag, this is the spot. Everything on the menu is between $9 and $14. There are even options for vegetarians. Try the touton beef burger with pickled onion rings.
Brigus is known for it’s wild blueberries and Country Corner knows how to use them. Their blueberry crisp is decadence incarnate. Crunchy, gooey crisp, topped with blueberry ice cream, and finished off with blueberry sauce. The place gets busy but it’s worth the wait. Pair it with a bowl of moose stew for a complete meal.
Louisiana cajun and Newfoundland seafood mix it up at this unassuming restaurant and community space on the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula. The two owners met while teaching in Korea and married their two food cultures back home on the island. The menu is small and changes regularly but you can find things like cajun fish stew made with Newfoundland cod, coconut lentil soup, or even sushi.
This restopub was a long time coming…over eight years! A painstakingly restored stone building on Carbonear’s main street, it’s a shining example of a repurposed heritage building. Its three floors of gleaming woodwork and 70+ chandeliers are just two of the reasons to go. The menu features a mix of burgers, sandwiches, and pizza for lunch with an expanded menu for dinner.
The cutest little coffee shop you ever did see. Studio Coffee has only one table and two chairs but their Instagrammable cups and delicious cappuccinos make up for it. You can always take a stroll along the beach with your latte.
The building has been home to a coffee shop and a B&B but before that it was the Carbonear telephone exchange building. Hotline Cafe is tapping into that history with it’s retro look full of telephones and teal. The menu features a changing line-up of light fare seasonal specials.
Not to be outdone by the craft beer scene, the Newfoundland Distillery Company has just opened their tasting room in Clarke’s Beach. There you can sample their locally produced vodka, gin, and seaweed gin. The whiskey is in the works but will take a few more years yet to mature.
What to Do
Go for a Hike
One of the best things to do in Newfoundland in the summer is to get out and enjoy nature. There are several walking and hiking trails along the Baccalieu Trail. If you want an easy coastal hike, head to Cupids for the Burnt Head Trail, a 4km looping trail that starts and ends by Cupids Haven B&B. For a more moderate hike, there’s the d’Iberville Coastal Trail. The trail can be accessed from many of the western Baccalieu trail towns from Heart’s Content to Old Perlican) and short hikes (1-2 hrs) or long hikes (8 hours) are possible. For the more hardcore hikers, there’s Crout’s Way, a rough trail from Cupids to Hopeall straight across the peninsula. It’s a 2 day hike meant for experienced hikers but what an experience!
Selfie with the Dildo Road Signs – Dildo
Was there ever a town with a more notorious name? Dildo is a pretty fishing town who’s name has nothing to do with what you’re thinking. But all the same, stop by a road sign for a naughty selfie.
It’s somewhat ironic that the location of the landing of the first transatlantic cable has no cell service today. Regardless, make a stop in Heart’s Content to learn all about life on the cutting edge of telecommunications technology in the early 20th century.
Newfoundland was built upon the fishery and wooden boats were what made it possible. Stop at the Wooden Boat Museum in Winterton and learn all about the difference between a dory and a punt, and what exactly a flake and a stage are.
Trio of Sheds – Cavendish
No trip to this part of the island is complete without stopping for a photo of the three colourful sheds in Cavendish. The yellow one has even been turned into a children’s library.
Get a Massage at the Doctor’s House – Green’s Harbour
The Doctor’s House in Green’s Harbour really is an oasis. On top of their accommodations and dining room, the property also has a day spa. Relax and recharge with a hot stone massage or the Doctor’s Prescription Facial.
Have a Beach Day
Newfoundland isn’t really known for its sandy beaches but we do have a few. If the weather is nice, stop at either Northern Bay Sands or Salmon Cove Sands for a picnic and to dig your toes into the sand. The water will be cold, even in August, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a beach bum.
In July and August sign up for a Moxley tour in Carbonear. Meander through the cemetery and hear the stories of Carbonear’s earliest residents, followed up by a “bed night lunch” and entertainment in the Loft Theatre of Rorke’s Store Museum.
Spirit of Harbour Grace + The Kyle – Harbour Grace
Two photo ops in Harbour Grace that you’ll want to see can both be hit up with one stop. The Spirit of Harbour Grace is a DC-3 Douglas aircraft that commemorates the town’s aviation history as a once vital stop for international flights. In 1932, Amelia Earhart set off from here to make the first Transatlantic flight by a woman. Meanwhile, the wreck of the SS Kyle lies tilting in the harbour. The 104-year old steam ship has been grounded since 1967 and has been a town attraction ever since.
Ever thought you’d find a mini Globe Theatre with high-calibre Shakespeare plays in rural Newfoundland? You will in Cupids. Every summer, Perchance Theatre puts on an 8 week season featuring two plays by Shakespeare as well as events by local playwrights, musicians, and comedians. Everything happen in the cutest outdoor setting directly behind Cupids Haven B&B.
One of the finest Arctic sea captains in the world hailed from Brigus. Today, you can tour Hawthorne Cottage, the once-home of Captain Bob Bartlett. Among many achievements, he was the first person to sail north of 88° N. Hawthorne Cottage itself is a fine example of the refined tastes of 19th century merchant families.
While you could do the entire Baccalieu Trail in a single day, to get the most from your trip I really recommend setting aside two or three days to give yourself time to get out and explore and relax.