How to explore the Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park

The Tablelands at Gros Morne National Park are still one of my favourite destinations in Newfoundland. Coming across them is a startling experience: you’re cruising down the highway and suddenly you round a corner and you’re face to face with a desert-like landscape practically void of vegetation. Even if you’re not a geology nerd, chances are you’ll find this place fascinating. My experience there has me convinced I’ll move back to Gros Morne someday to live permanently. You’ll be sorry to ask me about the west coast, because chances are I’ll launch into a 30-minute discussion with arms flailing about how great it is.

It’s ultramafic rock (peridotite) that makes this place so barren, which means that the Tablelands is actually one of the few places in the world where you can see exposed earth’s mantle. The rock was forced up to the surface millions of years ago during a plate collision, and peridotite lacks the nutrients which allow plants to grow. Because of this, there’s virtually no wildlife—a weird concept considering the entire park has thousands of moose.

Here are two ways to see the Tablelands.

Take a tour on Trout River Pond with Ocean Quest Adventures

Ocean Quest is an adventure tourism group located within the province. They do all kinds of exceptional tours, including snorkelling with whales (doing that one next year—it’s happening).

I had initially signed up for their kayaking tour on Trout River Pond, but high winds forced me to opt for the Zodiac tour instead. It was basically a blessing in disguise, because I was treated to a full tour of the pond rather than just a small introduction.

My guide, Andrew, explained how the lake is deep enough to sit a 40-storey building, and how it was carved out by glaciers. It’s also one of the world’s most perfect examples of continental drift (see below): on the right, you’ll see the barren red landscape of the Tablelands, and to the left is the green vegetation of the gabbro rock. Since the gabbro actually sits atop the earth’s mantle, the Tablelands on the left would have been MUCH higher before the plates went all willy-nilly.

You’ll also find an extremely rare example of the Mohorovicic Discontinuity here (the boundary between the earth’s crust and the mantle). Use that phrase when you’re talking to a geophysicist. My roommate almost married me on the spot.

Use an Explora Navigation Device

The Explora Navigation Device is actually a new device offered by Parks Canada to allow visitors to navigate the Tablelands Trail (four kilometres in total) with the aid of an audio & video guide. I swung by the Discovery Centre to pick up my device, and headed out to the Tablelands.

How it works: the device’s GPS tracks where you are on the trail, and when you reach a point of interest, a little bell starts ringing to alert you. Pause, and have a listen.

Admittedly, I felt like an idiot at first. The trail was busy, and every time the bells went off, people turned to look. It didn’t help that the guide was hilarious, and I stood alongside the trail bending over to observe a pitcher plant or an unusual rock while giggling like a maniac. The guide was more thrilled by geology than me, his voice occasionally rising to unexpected pitches while he explained vegetation and rocks and rivers and I grinned away with glee.

But I was entertained the whole time, and the accuracy of the GPS was perfect. The bell would go off, the guide would direct me to a giant red boulder about 15 feet to my left, and there it was. Voila. Definitely pick up one of these babies if you want to brush up on your rock knowledge. Those little tidbits are great to use at parties.

Is it just me who thinks this stuff is amazing? The fact that millions of years ago, Newfoundland looked NOTHING like how it does now because it wasn’t even Newfoundland? I find it both terrifying and humbling to realize the forces of the earth move with or without me.

**Thanks to all of you who commented on my last blog post. Wow! What a response. I appreciate all your words and support, and will follow up as soon as I get a chance.

  • October 24 2011

    Droooool–geology overload, and jealousy overload :p
    Love it! I need to go there.

  • October 24 2011

    Oh gosh… I love learning about the underlying geology of places and how it impacts all that happend after :D So good!

    If you can ever get your hands on “British Columbia: A Natural History” by Richard Cannings and Sydney Cannings I totally recommend it :D

    • October 24 2011

      Same, fascinating how the world has changed without any aid of humans! And thanks for that, I shall pick it up

  • October 24 2011

    I am impressed with your geology talk, Candice :) And Canada gets more interesting to me all the time!

    • October 24 2011

      Trust me, it took some research and going back through old notes! Haha. Comeon over!

  • October 24 2011

    I love when you visit a place in your own province like this, someplace that’s different from the landscape you know. I get lost in my own town, so that GPS tour sounds like a great idea.

  • October 24 2011

    I already want to spend some time in Gros Morne and this post is just putting me over the edge. Brilliant reading; satisfies my inner geek. Love!

  • October 27 2011

    I love that ‘terrifying and humbling’ feeling! Trying to shut my eyes and imagine the desert existing under the sea or the mountains melting into a valley a million years from now. It makes one feel small… but our power is in our infinitely imaginative minds that can even approach the subject at all!


    • October 28 2011

      DEEEEP Joshy, DEEEEP! Love it.

  • October 29 2011

    Ahhhh! I want to go back so bad! I don’t know if my dad and penny would be up for a 4km hike, but that sounds like all kind of fun to me! :)

  • October 31 2011

    Hi Candice, Some useful info. I’ve added a link to the The Travel Bloggers Guide To Newfoundland i’m developing.

    Kind regards

    • October 31 2011

      Be my guest, Si. Glad you found it useful :)

  • January 18 2012


    I’m ridiculously JEALOUS AS HELL that you’ve spent so much time in Gros Morne!

    I just wrote a post at my blog “And Many Miles Before I Sleep” talking about where I might travel this year, and Newfie has been on my list for such a long time – including Gros Morne! The bummer for me is that airfare from the New York City area is insanely expensive…something like $1200 USD roundtrip, which is astronomical.

    I’m sitting here wringing my hands just thinking about going to Newfie…I’ve been to many parts of Canada, but not there YET!

    P.S. please do not publish my email addy, it’s not for public consumption

    • January 20 2012

      Just sent you an email about this as well…I understand how actually getting here can be a bitch, trust me! But I’m certain you can find cheaper flights. I really hope you do make it here!

  • June 20 2012

    I find it interesting to see your comments and enthusiasm. Well done. I’m off to Woody Point Bonne Bay NFLD for the summer…can’t wait! To the person above who is finding the cost hard to get to Nfld, yes…but your trip will be worth it. Cheers~MikeMadigan

    • July 04 2012

      Woot! I really want to spend a year in Gros Morne. Feel like I’d get a lot of creative work done there.

  • July 03 2015
    Adam Anon

    I’ve been to three magical places so far in my life: The Grand Canyon, The Death Valley and Gros Morne. I want to go back to Gros Morne this Summer for a full week. This place is amazing. I want to hike up the Tablelands this time.

    • July 06 2015

      I LOVE that you’ve paired Gros Morne with The Grand Canyon and Death Valley! Says it all! One of my fave places in the world for sure.

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