One of the great things I have come to enjoy about Gros Morne National Park is given its popularity, it does not feel overly crowded. It’s a treat to stop at the Visitor Center and ask the staff “What are the most scenic hikes here?” without the fear of encountering a human highway on the trail.
Of course, the Tablelands, or walking on the earth’s mantle, is considered the park’s “premier park experience,” along with the boat ride to Western Brook Pond. But coming in a close second and third are the hikes to Green Gardens and Baker’s Brook Falls. I plan to do both of these, though they are on opposite ends of the park.
Green Gardens trail (“10 km return,” or about 6 miles round trip) goes through quite varied terrain. It starts out in the periodite rust-red rocks on the outskirts of Tablelands, then traverses some boreal forest, marsh wetlands, crests a few small peaks, then breaks out over a trail following the shoreline. Along the way, the trail overlooks sea stacks and swooping wildflower-filled meadows, with alternating aromas between the sweet and resinous fir trees above, and the salty seaweed from the beach below. It would really be just about the perfect hike, were it not for one reason. It’s three miles of solid “down hill.” Which of course, means a return of three miles of relentless, thigh burning, lung busting uphill, much of it uneven stair climbing on what is my warmest day in Newfoundland yet. BUT! Who am I to complain? The vistas are worth it.
Unlike National Parks in the US, most trails in Gros Morne are dog friendly. Once I reach the beautiful overlooks, I am shocked at the amount of poop on the trail! I hold back my righteous judgement as I pass dog owners, wondering if they are the ones who didn’t pick up after their dog, and how could they be so insensitive to the environment. Until I hear “baaaaaahhhhh!” SHEEP! I later learn that residents of Trout River use these meadows as grazing areas for their sheep. I wonder if they can appreciate their view?
The Green Gardens trail head is near Trout River Campground, where I had no trouble securing a nice level spot near the park’s wifi without reservations. I figure the Berry Hill NP CG on the opposite side of the park should be just as easy. I’ve been on a good run now with finding places to boondock, but I don’t want to push it inside the national parks.
I pull up to the kiosk near dark, surprised to find it staffed this late with a security guard. No iron ranger here. This doesn’t bode well.
As I pull up to the kiosk window, the security guard says “As soon as you pull into this spot, I’m going to make all your cares melt away.” I reply, “That’s music to my ears! So you have space then?” feeling hopeful. But then he gets that furrowed-brow look, “Oh. You don’t have a reservation?” (gulp!)
He goes on to tell me that this is Gros Morne’s “premier park,” due to its central location. It even offers hookups, but all are reserved. Even his group section is filled. I tell him I don’t need hookups. All I need is a “legal” place to park, and also hoping to get a shower. (I have been trying not to fill my fresh water tank at provincial or national parks after seeing the “boil first” signs on the spigots.) He hems and haws for a while, muttering “Let’s see….where could I put you…which way are you headed tomorrow?” I tell him “I’m just here to hike Baker’s Brooke Falls, and then I am headed on to Deer Lake.” The Baker’s Brook Falls trail head is 50 yards behind me. He says, “Well, I reckon if you was to park there for an early start in the morning, I wouldn’t run you out.”
He then tells me I am welcome to use the campground showers, and in fact, if I go down and get settled, he’ll come down in 10 minutes in the Park Security SUV to pick me up and drive me up to the shower house so I don’t get lost. Then, he loans me his flashlight for the walk back. When’s the last time you had a park ranger tell you it was okay to park illegally, okay to use the shower without paying, and he’ll offer a shuttle service there? Not exactly what I expected when he promised to “make all my cares go away,” but he surely did it! “Only in Newfoundland.”
Unfortunately, I awake the next morning to constant drizzle. But I’ve been told by the interpreter at the Visitor Center that there are “Showy Lady-slipper orchids,” somewhat rare and fleeting along the Baker’s Brook Falls trail (Baker’s Brook Falls Trail: “9.2km return,” a little under 6 miles.) So I figure that’s why I paid extra for Gortex boots, right? I soon find out they do an excellent job at holding water in, as the rain runs down my chins and soaks my socks. But at least my feet are warm.
By the time I am nearing the falls, it begins a downpour. I am soaked to the gills. I consider turning around, then ponder the ridiculousness of that notion. It’s an hour walk back to the Winnie. How much wetter can I get? There’s a little river running down the trail ruts. Since my shoes and socks are already soaked, it’s liberating to just march on through like a defiant kid splashing in the muddy puddles.
Sadly, it wasn’t the best day for photographing the falls, but the Showy Lady-slippers didn’t seem to mind…