Although I grew up not far from the Irish loop in St. John’s, it wasn’t until I decided to hike the East Coast Trail that I truly discovered how beautiful this part of Newfoundland truly is. Since many of the trailheads are along the Irish Loop, I’ve spent a lot of time driving on this road – and it is breathtaking.
Some of the features along the Irish Loop in Newfoundland are beautiful coastal communities, historic sites, geological wonders, incredible wildlife, and stunning hiking trails. If you’re visiting Newfoundland or just a local looking for a fun day trip or weekend getaway, here are the best places to visit and things to do along the Irish Loop in Newfoundland.
What is the Irish Loop in Newfoundland?
The Irish Loop is a beautiful loop drive along a section of the Avalon Peninsula, named so because of the Irish history dating back 400 years or so. Many of the communities were settled by the Irish in the 17th century, so a lot of the surnames here are Irish. You’ll also meet friendly locals with accents that may remind you of the Irish! The landscapes you’ll find along the Irish loop are also similar to those you’ll find in Ireland.
Best Places to Stop on the Irish Loop
Leaving St. John’s, you’ll take route 10 to Kilbride/Goulds where you can see herds of dairy cattle and rolling hills of farmland. Much of this land is still being farmed by the descendants of the Irish who settled it! Keep driving and you’ll reach Bay Bulls, which is home to one of the biggest attractions on the Irish Loop – the Witless Bay Ecological reserve.
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve for Bird and Whale Watching
If you’re looking for wildlife, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve is one of the best places to visit on the Irish Loop. It’s home to thousands of puffins who nest along the cliffs during the summer. I just love watching these guys – they are so cute and goofy! You can also see many other types of birds at the reserve, including common murres, black guillemots, northern gannets, greater shearwaters, and northern fulmars.
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve is also the perfect place for whale watching in the summer when thousands of whales migrate to the coast of Newfoundland to feed. You can see more than a dozen species of whales in Newfoundland, but the humpback and minke are the two most commonly found at Witless Bay ecological reserve. I’ve been whale watching all over the world, and it doesn’t get better than Newfoundland. I always make a point to do this every summer since it’s so amazing!
The best time to see the whales in Newfoundland is from mid-July to mid-August when the Capelin are rollin’, it sends the whales into a feeding frenzy! Nothing is ever guaranteed with wildlife, but your chances are very good if you go during this time! If you get very lucky, you may also see icebergs here.
To visit the island you’ll have to hop on a boat tour from Bay Bulls. This is an easy day trip from St. John’s, it’s just a 25-minute drive from the city. The tour takes about an hour and a half. If you’re prone to seasickness, I recommend using a motion sickness patch, as the ocean in Newfoundland can be rough sometimes.
If you’re looking for a quick hike with amazing views, head up to ‘the Tolt’ in Witless Bay (it’s marked on Google Maps, you park by the graveyard). It’s just a 10-minute hike up the hill but the views at the top are phenomenal, especially if you go for sunset!
While there are plenty of good fish and chips places to stop along the Irish Loop, if you’re looking for something different, check out Fork Restaurant in Mobile. They are open four nights a week for dinner from 5-9 and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday, so it can be tricky to eat here. Timing has never been on my side, but I have heard SO many people rave about this place, and the pictures look incredible.
Tors Cove is a cute little community where two East Coast Trail paths meet. It marks the end of Tinkers Cove Path (starts in Mobile) and the start of La Mache Village Path. Tors Cove is a good place to look for whales from the shore!
Tors Cove is also home to Running the Goat press, where you can buy some unique Newfoundland souvenirs including original prints, handmade books, and cards.
La Manche Provincial Park
Keep driving along the Irish Loop, and you’ll come across La Manche Provincial Park. This is the perfect spot to go camping if you want to spend the night. Inside the park is La Manche River, which leads to a gorgeous waterfall you can go swimming in.
There’s another trail there which takes you to the abandoned townsite of La Mache, which was once a French village that got destroyed by a bad storm. This trail is part of the East Coast Trail, and a new suspension bridge has been built by the ECT association, which is very impressive to walk on.
If you really want to get into the wilderness, you can obtain a permit for the Avalon Wilderness Reserve at the La Manche Park office. It’s a 1,070 sq km reserve that’s home to the world’s southernmost herd of woodland caribou. This is a great place to go canoeing, fishing, and hiking.
Continuing along the drive, you’ll pass right through Ferryland which is well worth stopping in. There you can visit the Colony of Avalon, which was established in 1621 by Sir George Calvert. It’s a significant archeological site, that is widely recognized as the best-preserved early English colonial site in North America. At the visitor center, you can see artifacts that were found from the colony.
My dad was an archeologist and worked on this site when I was very young, so I remember coming here often. At the time, I was disappointed because I thought it was FAIRY-land, and sadly, I didn’t find any fairies there. But coming back as an adult, Ferryland certainly does have a magical feel about it.
Another fun thing you can do at Ferryland is book a picnic at the Ferryland lighthouse, which was built in 1870. They will make you a gourmet lunch picnic, that you can enjoy amongst the scenery of the lighthouse and the surrounding landscape. This is a great place to spot whales in the summertime!
You need to book it well in advance, possibly months during the busy tourist season. You can either fill out the form on their website or e-mail to request a booking. If you don’t book in advance but are around the area and want to have a picnic, try giving them a call. Sometimes tourists don’t show up and you can get a last-minute spot.
If you’re looking for an interesting hike along the Irish Loop, consider the Spurwink Island Path trail from Aquaforte to Port Kirwan. It’s a long hike (20km one-way), but you can hike to the main attraction of the trail, the Berry Head Sea Arche, as in-and-out from Port Kirwan.
You park at the community centre in Port Kirwan and walk up to the trailhead which is well marked. The hike starts off with beautiful coastal views and then goes inland to the forest. It’s about 8km to the sea arch which you will not miss coming from the Port Kirwan side. It’s so impressive! It took me about 2 1/2 hours to hike each way, and I’d rate it as moderate.
Continue driving along to the next major point of interest, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve. Along the way you’ll pass by Chance Cove Provincial Park, which can be a good option for camping. When you enter Portugal Cove South, you’ll see the Mistaken Point visitors center.
Mistaken Point is one of the four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Newfoundland (the others are the Tablelands in Gros Morne, L’anse Aux Meadows, and Red Bay in Labrador), Mistaken Point is one of the world’s best-preserved fossil sites in the world and incredibly fascinating to visit. I just went for the first time this year and can’t believe I didn’t get here sooner.
The tour is a guided hike, 6 km in and out to the fossil site. It took us about 3 hours in total, although they say it can take 4 depending on the speed of the group. The hike is through a wilderness reserve and I enjoyed the walk as much as the fossil site itself. The land you’ll walkvthrough is an artic hyper oceanic barren landscape, so it feels quite different than anything else you’ll see on the Irish loop. The area is often windswept, which means it has these tiny little trees that never grow tall. I like to think Newfoundland fairies live inside them. There were also beautiful fields of iris, and gorgeous ocean cliffs.
The actual fossil site is a huge slate of rock which surprisingly, they let you walk on. You just need to remove your footwear beforehand. There are fossils of over 700 organisms on the rocks that date back to 620 million years ago, so it’s pretty impressive, to say the least. The fossils are remnants of the oldest known creatures on earth from the Ediacaran Period. Our tour guides were so knowledgeable and made the whole trip enjoyable.
To visit Mistaken Point you have to do a guided tour which you can book by e-mailing MistakenPointTour@gov.nl.ca or by phone at (709) 438-1011. Tours depart at 9:30 and 12:30 and cost $23 per person (2020 prices). If you’re coming from St John’s I recommend the 12:30 tour since it’s a two and a half-hour drive to Mistaken Point.
Cape Race Lighthouse
Nearby to Mistaken Point, there is Cape Race lighthouse, which received the titanic distress call in 1912. If you are heading all the way out to Mistaken Point, I recommend stopping here too! It’s just a ten-minute drive past where the Mistake Point hike starts.
Cape Race is a good place to have a picnic, which I recommend doing if you are visiting Mistaken Point because there aren’t any other food options here. We packed a picnic and ate it before our 12:30 tour.
St. Vincent’s is a nice beach you can visit along the loop. It’s known as being a great whale watching spot as the ocean becomes deep quickly, so the whales come close to shore. Unfortunately, it’s also an area prone to fog, and you have to visit on a clear day if you want to see whales. And just because it’s nice in town, doesn’t mean it’s nice out that way (as we discovered). It’s best to visit when they are Northerly winds, which blow off the fog.
After St. Vincent’s, you can continue the loop around following route 90.
Salmonier Nature Park
Salmonier Nature Park is a 1,214-hectare wilderness reserve where you can see several species of animals and birds indigenous to Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s a good place to see wildlife that you might otherwise miss while traveling throughout the province. Some animals you can see at the park are moose, caribou, beaver, owls, otters, foxes, and lynxs. I haven’t been here since visiting with school when I was younger, but I remember loving it as a child.
Continue driving along route 90, and you’ll link back up with the Trans Canada Highway 1, which will take you back to St. John’s and surrounding areas. If you aren’t ready to go home, you could spend a night camping at Butter Pot Provincial Park, which has a sandy freshwater beach and campgrounds.
How Long to Spend on the Irish Loop
The Irish Loop is 312km total distance and could be driven in 3-4 hours, however, I’d give yourself at least a full day since there are so many beautiful places to stop along the way. Better yet, turn it in a fun weekend getaway.
Irish Loop Newfoundland Accommodations
If you want to extend your stay on the Irish Loop, there are plenty of cute cottages, campsites, hotels and lodges to stay along the way.
As mentioned throughout the post, there are three provincial campgrounds you can stay: La Manche, Chance Cove, and Butter Pot. You can reserve campsites online here.
If you prefer a bit more luxury, here are some nice accommodations along the Irish Loop in Newfoundland:
Whale House Guest Post – This gorgeous guest house is located in Mobile, which is right after Witless Bay (and home to Fork restaurant)! This is the perfect place to spend the night after whale watching. The rooms have huge glass windows that overlook the ocean, and it’s got fantastic reviews.
Edge of the Avalon Inn – This award-winning inn and restaurant is located on the Edge of the Avalon, in Trepassey, which is right next to Mistaken Point. This is a great place to spend the night after visiting.
The Irish Loop is just another reason to fall in love with Newfoundland. I’m so happy that my hiking journey helped me discover this beautiful part of the Avalon Peninsula, it’s got so much to offer. And I’m sure there are even more places I haven’t discovered yet! Have you driven the Irish Loop? What’s your favorite place on it?
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