“No, you’re not.” “Oh, fuck off.” These were the responses of two men at the pub the night before we set off on our traverse across Newfoundland on the T’Railway when we described our plans for the next twelve days. My partner and I had arrived in Channel Port-aux Basques only a few hours earlier after a long and unanticipated 36 hours of travel. I was exhausted and wasn’t interested in the negativity from these men when they had probably never spent more than a few miles on the trail.
We chose Newfoundland for our big 2022 trip because of my partner’s ties to Canada: his grandmother from Carbonear, Newfoundland, his grandfather and mother from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Plus, the miles upon miles of gentle grades and remote landscape was highly appealing. The Newfoundland T’Railway is a 548-mile linear provincial park. It forms part of the Trans Canada Trail system as well as the newly created Eastern Divide Trail. The T’Railway is a rail bed using the abandoned Newfoundland Railway stretching from Channel Port-aux Basques to St. John’s. The conditions and usage vary widely across the province; anywhere from smooth, almost-like-pavement gravel to rough doubletrack and rugged creek bed. For this reason, a proper mountain bike with at least 2.0-inch tires is recommended. I chose my Chumba Sendero with 2.4-inch Rekons and a rear rack with panniers. It’s also recommended to ride the route from west to east due to the prevailing winds (though those riding the Trans Canada and Eastern Divide Trails don’t generally get this benefit).
There are a few options for travel logistics into Channel Port-aux Basques. We opted to fly into Sydney, Nova Scotia (by way of Toronto) and take the North Sydney ferry. Our flight out of Toronto was delayed and we arrived in Sydney at 4:30am NST. What should have been a somewhat relaxing evening in a hotel of assembling bikes and getting some sleep ended up being a rather exhausting early morning activity of putting bikes together in the ferry terminal which is fortunately open 24 hours a day. Right away, we were reminded that you can make a plan, but you have to be prepared for that plan to change or even fall apart entirely. Once we got the bikes together and found a place to recycle the cardboard bike boxes, we grabbed some Tim Hortons and lined up for the ferry. The Marine Atlantic ferry from North Sydney to Channel Port-aux Basques is about seven hours. I highly recommend securing a private cabin (2 beds and a bathroom w/a shower); well worth the $53 per person, though advance reservations are needed. Once in Channel Port-aux Basques, we found our hotel, grabbed some food and beer from the pub down the street, chatted with the locals, and then off to sleep before our first day of riding.
Now, for the good stuff. We originally planned 12 riding days for this route (plus three logistics/travel days). My typical approach for planning a bikepacking trip is to create a spreadsheet that roughly outlines the mileage goal for the day along with any services and potential camping or lodging. Sometimes, real life matches the spreadsheet, but more often than not, it is used more as a directional tool to stay on pace. Once we began riding, we decided to trim the overall ride time down to 11 days by increasing our daily mileage over the course of the route and allow us one extra full day in St. John’s. In hindsight, the decision to add a day in St. John’s was one we did not regret; it gave us more time to pack our bikes for the return flight and spend extra time in the city.
There are many different ways this route can be done as well as several branches of the T’Railway that could be explored. While we rode it in 11 days, a guy we ran into was taking 20 days. The great thing about bikepacking is that the route may be the same, but everyone gets to approach it their own way.
Day 1 – Channel Port-aux Basques to Robinson
Description: For the first 15 miles, the route hugs the coastline with amazing views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There are some great sections of beachfront with swimming opportunities. About 20 miles in, we encountered a solo thru-hiker who had started from St. John’s 30 days before and was training for the East Coast Trail. It’s amazing to consider she had hiked over 500 miles on essentially gravel doubletrack. The terrain is extremely varied between Channel Port-aux Basques and Robinson, ranging from smooth gravel to deep gravel to riding through creek beds. After 67 miles of riding, we ended our day at Pirate’s Haven RV Park which has a campground with showers and an on-site restaurant.
Day 2 – Robinson to George’s Lake
Description: After leaving Robinson’s, the route enters a remote stretch with endless miles of mountain holly acting almost as shield for the T’Railway. The route travels through St. George’s where we resupplied at Chubb’s convenience store. Shortly after St. George’s is Stephenville Crossing where there is another opportunity for resupply at the local grocery store. From Stephenville Crossing, the route becomes remote again. We chose to wild camp at George’s Lake. Camping can be a bit tricky here as there are many residential lots surrounding the lake, most of which are marked with no trespassing signs. We were able to find a great spot tucked away on the beach.
Day 3 – George’s Lake to Pasadena
Description: After a few remaining rough miles along George’s Lake and a five-mile climb, we hit the smoothest pavement-like gravel I’ve ever ridden. It was a long and easy descent into Corner Brook, which has all services. I highly recommend Harbour Grounds for vegetarian food options. There are also a few breweries in this town, but we had our eyes set on Pasadena and an efficiency unit at Pineridge Cabins. After leaving Corner Brook, the route connects with the Trans Canada Highway for a short amount of time. For those interested in avoiding the highway, there are detours detailed on the Bikepacking.com route profile. Pineridge Cabins in Pasadena are a great option for a bed, laundry, and a restaurant. We ventured out after our chores to the Oasis Grill which happened to be closing for the season the following day and all food was 50% off – a bikepacker’s dream!
Day 4 – Pasadena to Kitty’s Brook Bridge
Description: The several miles from Pasadena to Deer Lake follows the edge of Deer Lake (the actual lake). Despite the size of the lake, the route is mostly hidden in the trees with little visibility to the water itself. The town of Deer Lake has all services. We opted for a second breakfast at Tim Hortons. The section of the trail between Deer Lake and Howley has some of the most interesting terrain. First, there is the Main Dam. The T’Railway across the dam was closed off with a gate at some point, which resulted in some extra route finding for us. The route actually goes below the dam now and when the water is moving, I can imagine this section is impassable. Fortunately, the water was low when we crossed and other than some small sections of cursing and bushwacking, we made it across seamlessly. From there, the route passes by Grand Lake, which meant sand and also swimming opportunities. After a stop at the Howley Shopping Center, we started the climb towards the high point of the route. With no intent to finish the climb that day, we opted for wild camping by the Kitty’s Brook Bridge.
Day 5 – Kitty’s Brook Bridge to Badger
Description: On our fifth day, we woke up to our first day of rain – and plenty of it. The steady rain started early in the morning and never really let up the entire day. We packed up, demolished some soggy bagels, and took off. We had 12 miles to the top of the climb, which was the high point on the route (1,514 feet) and also the most secluded section. At the top is Gaff Topsail, a mostly abandoned railway settlement. The rain and fog had an eerie effect on the abandoned structures and was a unique and special way to experience this exceptionally remote part of the route. We decided pretty early in the day we wanted to find a room in Badger, our destination for the day, since everything was completely soaked from packing up in the rain and riding in it all day. We found the seemingly last available room in Badger at the Badger Brook Efficiency Units.
Day 6 – Badger to Notre Dame
Description: The section of trail from Badger to Notre Dame didn’t have many distinguishable features outside of the typical route terrain. There are ample resupply opportunities in Grand Falls-Windsor (including pizza) and Bishop Falls. Since the previous day was filled with steady rain, it made for an interesting ride from Bishop Falls to Norris Arms where all of the dips in the trail had turned into large puddles. We eventually stopped making the effort of trying to ride around them and accepted our destiny of being wet and muddy yet again. Our final destination for the day was Notre Dame Provincial Park and were thankful for the swimming, showers, and laundry the campground provided. This is a well-maintained park and campground and would recommend it to anyone passing through (though advance reservations are encouraged).
Day 7 – Notre Dame to Grants
Description: We had a short stretch of riding on the highway from the provincial park and then hopped back on the trail for a fairly effortless 30 miles to Gander. Gander is known for its support on 9/11 when 38 planes were diverted to the town. The town of 10,000 people took in an additional 6,700 people and made room for them in every school, gym, church, community center and hotel possible, and residents provided food and other necessities. Passengers were stranded for five days in total. For the full story, check out the book or musical, “Come From Away“. Gander is one of the larger towns on the route until you get to St. John’s, and you can find all services here. The Shawarma Station has especially good food (including vegetarian options) and we loaded up on pita sandwiches. Somewhere between Gander and Gambo is where things started to go downhill for me. We stopped briefly in the park in Gambo for a snack. Since there was nowhere to camp near town, we decided it was best to keep moving for another several miles and find some wild camping. Water was a little scarce in this stretch, it was getting dark, and the miles were feeling really slow. We finally found a flat, secluded spot off the trail which I endearingly refer to now as the “Trash Camp” as there was a clear disrespect of this piece of land. We set up our tent, ate dinner in mostly silence, and went to bed. I finally fell asleep around midnight (once the Labor Day commotion of four-wheelers and side-by-sides died down from the nearby gravel road).
Day 8 – Grants to Clarenville
Highlights: We were up early the next day, grateful to be moving on from the “Trash Camp”. I was pretty excited for this day because our destination was Clarenville where we had a room booked at the Stanley House and the Bare Mountain Coffee House was nearby with hot food, desserts, coffee, and beer. We had a pretty easy pedal into Terra Nova where we stopped at The Dep for a second breakfast. Other than some lengthy climbs, the rest of the riding was pretty undemanding on this day. We made it to Clarenville around 2 p.m., enjoyed more than one beer on the patio of the coffee house, did some laundry at the hostel, and had an early bedtime.
Day 9 – Clarenville to Bellevue Beach
Start/End: Clarenville to Bellevue Beach
Description: After a stop at Tim Hortons, we left Clarenville. We saw an opportunity on the Google Maps satellite view to cut through some doubletrack and gravel side roads to get back to the T’Railway rather than backtracking through Clarenville. After a bit of route-finding missteps, we found the shortcut, which had much more dramatic elevation than the route itself and was a welcomed variation from the previous many miles of rail grade. We made a worthy side trip to the Big Stop convenience store in Goobies where I stocked up on vegetarian taquitos and cherry turnovers. Our destination for the day was Bellevue Beach, which meant we were finally getting back to the coastline and the ocean. Bellevue Beach and the Bellevue Beach campground is about a 15-mile (roundtrip) side trip off the route but worth every bit of it for the views and proximity to the Sea of Labrador.
Day 10 – Bellevue Beach to Holyrood
Description: This was a pretty cloudy and dreary day, and colder than the previous ones. We stopped for some fresh baked goods from Linda’s Mini Mart in Whitbourne. From Whitbourne to Holyrood, there’s a lot of interesting landscape: remote and rugged scattered with cabins and camping trailers. By the tenth consecutive day of riding, we were starting to get tired. Our breaks on this day were brief, and we kept moving at a pretty consistent pace; we were eager for a hot meal and a bed which awaited us in Holyrood.
Day 11 – Holyrood to St. John’s
Start/End: Holyrood to St. John’s
Description: The last day of riding — so bittersweet! It was another dreary day with some mist. The stretch of the T’Railway from Holyrood to Conception Bay South hugs the coastline with some amazing views. On a sunny, summer day, this probably makes for a really lovely stretch of riding with swimming opportunities. For us, it was clouds and 25 mph wind gusts. It was becoming clear that our weather luck was running out and autumn was on its way to Newfoundland. After leaving Conception Bay South, the T’Railway veered away from the coastline and the wind calmed down. From this point all the way to St. John’s, the trail was smooth chat gravel (think Katy Trail or Mickelson Trail).
Eleven days and 575 miles later, we were at the other end of the Newfoundland T’Railway.
We had an opportunity to spend two full days in St. John’s before flying home. Here are some of our favorite spots: Mallard Cottage (if you have the means and time, the Chef’s Menu and selected pairings is one of the best meal experiences we’ve ever had), Quidi Vidi Brewery, Chinched, Battery Cafe, Toslow, The Rooms.
Here’s some of our general learnings about Newfoundland and the route:
- The people in Newfoundland are some of the most friendly I’ve ever met. There were days that took longer than expected simply because of the number of people that wanted to stop and chat about our “pedal bikes”.
- While there isn’t that much climbing on the route, the riding is relentless. The descents are so gradual that it often doesn’t feel like descending and the pedaling is constant with limited time out of the saddle. The terrain varies greatly throughout the route and isn’t the typical smooth chat gravel that we often associate with rail trails.
- Even though the T’Railway mostly parallels the Trans- Canada Highway, much of the route feels very remote.
- Since the T’Railway is a provincial park, you can wild camp most anywhere along the route. If it’s private property, it was generally posted as such.
- There are many opportunities for resupply on this route, but the food options are limited. It was challenging to find vegetarian-friendly food on the route, much less healthy vegetarian food. Aside from a few meals that came from some of the bigger towns, which I captured in the route description, many of our meals came from convenience stores.
- The weather in Newfoundland can be very rainy. We only had two days of rain, but everyone we spoke to said this summer was not ordinary.
- It’s fairly humid in Newfoundland and I recommend at least the occasional hotel room or efficiency unit for showers, laundry, and dry things out.
- There are short sections that require riding on the Trans-Canada Highway. The Bikepacking.com GPX does offer detours for those that want to avoid those sections. We chose the highway and were happy with the decision.
Newfoundland is a unique place with an immense amount of history and lovely people. My hope in sharing the details of our trip is to inspire more people to explore Newfoundland, or other countries, by bike. Traveling by bike offers a perspective like nothing else and an opportunity to become fully immersed in the landscape and culture.
Here is our GPX file which is a version of the Bikepacking.com file with updated services: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/40679769.
If you have any specific questions about the route, I’d love to hear from you! IG: @sarahlweber
Lastly, thank you to The Town Bicycle for the opportunity to relive this amazing trip through written words and photographs.
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