Home to the first sunrise in North America, eastern Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula is the perfect place for a road trip. It offers exceptional wildlife-viewing opportunities, ample hiking trails, some of the oldest archaeological projects on the continent, and the most fetching and inviting seaside villages imaginable. And it’s not just people who road trip here -- icebergs are on the move, too, down a route known as Iceberg Alley.
Iceberg Alley is the nickname for the coastline that starts in northern Labrador and curves around to southeast Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. Every spring, icebergs from the Canadian Arctic and Greenland slowly make their way down Iceberg Alley, delighting thousands of visitors with their gorgeous colors, which range from snowy white to deep turquoise.
Iceberg season along Iceberg Alley runs from April through August, but the peak viewing time along the Avalon Peninsula is between late May and early June. As it so happens, that is also the ideal time to see migrating whales and seabirds heading north.
While Iceberg Alley is most active during late spring and early summer, the iceberg spirit can be enjoyed all year long -- in the form of spirits! Vodka, gin, rum, and even beer are made in Newfoundland with pure glacial water from icebergs.
Here are some of the best places to stop on a road trip down Iceberg Alley.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city should be the starting point for any road trip on the Avalon Peninsula. This pretty city is full of character, from its cobblestone streets to its brightly colored houses.
It’s a favorite of history buffs eager to check out Signal Hill, the site of the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901 (and home to some pretty spectacular views today). Another must-see attraction is The Rooms, Newfoundland’s provincial archives, museum, and art gallery. A visit to The Rooms provides valuable insight into Newfoundland’s culture, which is always beneficial when you’re about to explore farther afield.
Bay Bulls And Witless Bay
The towns of Bay Bulls and Witless Bay are just a 20-mile drive from Saint John’s. Together, these two tiny communities make up one of the finest nature-viewing destinations in North America. The whale watching here is nothing short of spectacular, and there are a number of different tour outfitters operating out of Bay Bulls. Comfortable sightseeing boats (often with a bar and sometimes live music), thrilling Zodiacs, and even sea kayaks will take you up close to these magnificent animals. Just down the road, Witless Bay is home to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and the largest colony of Atlantic puffins North America, with more than 250,000 nesting pairs.
Bay Bulls and Witless Bay are also two of the best places to see icebergs along Iceberg Alley. During peak season, it’s smart to reserve your tours in advance to avoid disappointment. Both communities also boast a strong restaurant scene, with a number of properties offering unencumbered views of the water and the icebergs.
Fish and chips is a Newfoundland classic, but to really impress the locals, order your chips “fries dressing gravy” style. This twist on Canadian poutine tops the fries (or chips) with the same kind of bread dressing or stuffing you’d make at Thanksgiving, and the whole dish is finished off with rich gravy. Dressing in Newfoundland is traditionally seasoned with summer savory, and packages of this herb are available everywhere (even at corner stores and gas stations!) and make for fun souvenirs. Finish off your meal with a local craft beer or a can of pineapple Crush soda (the only other place you can find this particular flavor is in Hawaii).
Ferryland is the heart of Newfoundland’s Irish community. Irish music, folklore, traditions, language, and even accents thrive here.
This is also the area where Lord Baltimore founded the Colony of Avalon in 1621 before heading down to Maryland to settle his namesake city. Today, archaeologists are at work uncovering the housing foundations and cobblestone streets from the 17th century. Many of the preserved artifacts are on display at the area’s interpretive center, which visitors are welcome to explore.
Just down the road at Ferryland Head is the town’s lighthouse, which dates to 1870. If you’re eager to stretch your legs, the lighthouse is a 25-minute walk on a gravel trail from the Colony of Avalon. The on-site Lighthouse Picnics company makes delicious picnic baskets for guests to enjoy on the grounds or while scanning the waters for icebergs. (Reserving your basket of goodies in advance is a smart idea.) If bakeapple tarts are on offer, be sure to grab them! Bakeapples (known as cloudberries in Scandinavia) grow across the Avalon Peninsula and are a prized ingredient in cakes, pies, and sauces.
Cape Saint Mary’s
The community of Cape Saint Mary’s is home to the Cape Saint Mary’s Ecological Reserve, the most accessible seabird rookery in North America. This is where thousands of gulls, razorbills, common murres, black-legged kittiwakes, northern gannets, and double-crested and great cormorants nest and where scoters, long-tailed ducks, harlequin ducks, dovekies, thick-billed murres, and kittiwakes settle down come winter.
If you have extra time to spend in the area, take one of the photography workshops focused on capturing the birds of Cape Saint Mary’s. They’re available in the nearby community of Saint Bride’s.
Hold your jokes -- Dildo’s residents have heard them all! This memorably named community may owe its unique moniker to the French term Ile d'Eau, or “Water Island,” a reference to the area’s freshwater springs. Then again, it may not. Everyone in Dildo has their own theory, but one thing everyone can agree on is that Dildo is a must-visit destination on the Avalon Peninsula -- and not just for the fun photo ops with the town sign. Even celebrity talk show host Jimmy Kimmel is a fan -- and he’s also the town’s honorary mayor!
The Dildo Brewing Co. & Museum is the ideal place to stock up on craft beer, have some lunch, learn about local history, and catch some great views of the icebergs. If you’d rather be out on the water, Dildo Cove Heritage Experience & Motorboat Excursions offers guests the chance to ride in a traditional Newfoundland motorboat and to meet a real Newfoundland dog.
If you can’t get enough of this unforgettable destination, the community’s festival, Dildo Days, takes place each year at the end of July.
The East Coast Trail
The East Coast Trail is a long-distance coastal footpath made up of 25 linked wilderness paths that add up to more than 200 miles of trail. The East Coast Trail passes through 30 communities on the northeastern section of the Avalon Peninsula. You can explore on your own or join one of many guided hikes that vary in difficulty.
Each section of the trail boasts its own distinct topography, scenery, and attractions. For instance, along the Cape Saint Francis to Cappahayden route, hikers will pass The Spout (a wave-driven geyser), a 164-foot suspension bridge at the abandoned settlement of La Manche, the Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site, and La Manche Provincial Park, plus icebergs in the late spring and early summer.
Even if Cupids weren’t so romantically named, there’s no doubt that people would be falling in love with this small town. Cupids might just be the prettiest corner of Newfoundland, and the town’s picture-perfect beauty is so captivating that you’ll think you’re on a film set.
But the beauty here is more than skin deep. History buffs and archaeologists love the area’s many layers. Cupids is the oldest continuously settled British colony in Canada. At Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site, you can see an abandoned settlement from 1700 slowly come back to life.
Pro Tip: The word Newfie is a delicate one for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. It was used as a slur by Canadian and American service members stationed on Newfoundland and was further adopted as a synonym for “foolish” or “dim-witted” (as seen in Newfie jokes). While some Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have reclaimed the word as a matter of pride, it remains deeply hurtful for others.