In 1996, we drove the traditional counter-clockwise route from southern Ontario, east through Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and then ferried across to the Island of Newfoundland. From Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula, we boarded a second ferry to Labrador and drove the short road between Red Bay, Labrador, and Blanc-Sablon in Quebec.
This time our route took us clockwise, from Ontario. The plan was to spend a little time in Quebec, but to head north as soon as possible since it was getting late in the season and the weather would soon be changing. Colder temperatures could be arriving soon and even snow was a possibility.
We chose to go straight to Labrador partly because of it being mid-August and because we didn’t know how much time we would spend in Labrador. Since we had already been to the other provinces, it made sense to shorten the time spent in them again. We wanted to leave ourselves open to the possibility of spending more time in Labrador and not be forced to move on.
We had no schedule and no reservations. Our goal was to drive the Trans-Labrador Highway and allow an itinerary to just unfold itself after that.
Planning and Packing
By mid-August, we were packed and ready with spare fuel and a stocked emergency kit. Our GPS maps were updated, the Backroad Mapbooks were marked, the Delorme inReach for emergency communications was on-board, and we had the Rogers Hub for Internet communication. We had food, water, warm and cold weather clothing, bullet proof rain gear, and new mesh bug suits.
We didn’t find we were lacking anything. In fact, we probably didn’t even need the Delorme inReach since there was lots of traffic on the road and we wouldn’t be stranded for too long.
We brought along a bug tent that we didn’t use, but that was only because we didn’t find any place to camp for several days. We were hoping to find a nice spot along a river or stream to fish but, because of the construction, those spots were not accessible at this time. Black flies can be a problem at certain times of the year in Labrador, but we only wore our bug gear once.
A few hours after leaving home in Ontario, we were in the Province of Quebec. We by-passed the busy city of Montreal and crossed over to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.
We had decided to travel the historic Chemin du Roy, which is the King’s Highway, Highway 138. The road was completed in 1737. At the time it was the longest road north of Mexico, and Canada’s oldest. It is a beautiful drive through historic villages and farms with lots of roadside fruit and vegetable stands. The area is also renowned for their fromagerie, or cheese makers.
(Decisive military engagements here were primarily responsible for the split of British North America into the two nations of Canada and the United States.)
We stopped at the sacred shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, a major Roman Catholic pilgrimage site that is credited with performing many miracles of curing the sick and disabled. Visitors leave behind crutches and canes as a testament to the miracles.
Our research revealed that over half the Trans-Labrador Highway was still under construction and that we could expect more than 500 kilometres of dirt and/or gravel. Conditions varied from new pavement to frost heaves, to gravel washboard, to an absolutely horrible stretch of pot-holed dirt with no shoulders. In addition, we were anticipating similar rough road conditions along Route 389 through Northern Quebec.
There are five hydroelectric dams in the area (Manic-1 to Manic-5) in addition to numerous mining and forestry projects.
Finally, after five days on the road, we are at the start of the Trans-Labrador Highway and, believe it or not, pavement!
We stopped in Labrador City and enjoyed a pizza lunch. Then we restocked food, wine, and fuel. The Visitor Center informed us that the Churchill Falls Generating Station had lost their tour guide and weren’t currently offering tours. What a disappointment. One of the reasons we wanted to drive the highway was to tour one of the world’s largest generating stations.
We chose to just rely on our Delorme InReach in case of an emergency and to update family and friends back home on our progress. We bought the inReach two-way satellite communicator without the GPS since we already have an RV GPS and a backcountry GPS that we use on remote wilderness canoe trips. We paid around $350 Canadian for the inReach. Unlike some satellite phones, you can use these anywhere in the world, and they actually work.
There is no more climbing to a high point in order to obtain a clear signal. In addition, there are two-way communications, so we could send short email messages and receive answers. We could post to Facebook and include an exact location of where we were located. Since we had virtually no Internet access in Labrador, the Delorme InReach worked really well to let people know where we were and that we were safe.
Traffic dropped off considerably in the last few hundred kilometres of the Trans-Labrador Highway, but someone would eventually come along if you needed assistance. The highway is paved between Labrador City and Happy Valley/Goose Bay. The road is in great shape. One of the unfortunate consequences of this upgraded road is that the new road bed has been raised several feet above the old road and access to those older pull-outs has been temporarily eliminated, especially with our full-sized rig.
There is no app like All Stays for camping in Labrador. There is an older guide from 2012 (see above), but it is outdated. I did some research ahead of time reading other people’s blogs, but even those were out of date. There are visitor centers in Labrador City, Happy Valley/Goose Bay, and in Red Bay. Fortunately, they were very helpful at providing information.
When we boondocked at Mary’s Harbour, we asked at a store and they told us to park on the water at the new wharf in town. We just got set up and a truck and tractor pulled in and started off loading building materials for the wharf. Dann asked the man if we were in his way and, in typical Newfoundland and Labrador fashion, he replied, “Oh no, me boyyo. If ye are, I’ll just move ye out of me way”. They are the friendliest people in the world. They will go out of their way to help you.
A side trip from Happy Valley/Goose Bay will take you to North West River. This community was the most north-easterly point that you can drive to in North America. From the beginning, Northwest River has been the meeting place for all the cultures of Labrador; the Innu, Inuit, Metis, and settlers. It was established as a Hudson’s Bay Trading Post in 1743 and is the oldest community in central Labrador. It is also home to the Labrador Cultural Center.
After taking the ferry from Labrador to St. Barbe, Newfoundland, we headed north to explore the area around St. Anthony and L’Anse Aux Meadows, an archaeological site of a Viking settlement showing evidence of the first European settlers in North America. There are Viking interpreters that will explain the archaeological digs and what life was like in the recreated Viking settlement.
The ferry from Blanc Sablon, Quebec to St. Barbe, Newfoundland was about $40 and under an hour in length. The 6.5-hour ride from Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland to North Sydney, Nova Scotia was around $250, which depends on the passengers’ ages and length of your vehicle. You can book a room if you want.
There is a longer, overnight ferry that runs from Argentia, near St. John’s, Newfoundland to North Sydney. Of course, this costs more. The ferry has restaurants, bar, and a gift shop. They take tractor trailers, so there was no issue with the truck camper. You must turn off all propane, so we made sure our refrigerator was empty.
After the ferry from Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland, we headed to the back roads of Nova Scotia and followed the coastline from Sydney (Cape Breton Island) until the Bay of Fundy. What a pleasant surprise! There were beautiful picturesque villages, historic sites, lighthouses, fishing boats and amazing fresh seafood.
We witnessed the tide change on The Bay of Fundy, which is home of the highest tides in the world. The Bay of Fundy is a 270 kilometres long ocean bay that stretches between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Every day the bay fills and empties over a billion tons of seawater during each tide cycle. That is more than the combined flow of the world’s freshwater rivers. The height of tide difference ranges from 3.5 meters (11 feet) along the southwest shore in Nova Scotia to over 16 meters (53 feet) in the Minas Basin in New Brunswick.
We visited Five Islands Provincial Park. When the tide is out it allows for a lovely shoreline hike on The Bay Of Fundy. We did not camp there, but they had beautiful sites. We wanted to go a little further that day, so we set up in an area that had more hiking to offer.
We left Nova Scotia and continued following the coastline of The Bay of Fundy into New Brunswick. Since we were running out of time, we decided to spend a few days hiking in Fundy National Park before heading home.
This was a good trip. We traveled through a variety of landscapes. We were exposed to intriguing, early North American history. We enjoyed wonderful local cuisine throughout and met many interesting people. Even though we drove a little over 8,300 kilometers (5,157 miles) and were gone seven weeks, there still wasn’t enough time to experience everything that Canada’s Atlantic Provinces had to offer.
Remote roadways like the Trans-Labrador Highway are a privilege to drive. They provide access to regions that were once only reachable by air or water. Driving the route from Northern Quebec, across Labrador to the ferry port at Blanc Sablon, Quebec is not for the unprepared. Highway conditions at the time of our trip ranged from excellent to very poor. Drive slowly, give truckers the right-of-way, and stay off the soft shoulders.
This is an area with very few amenities, so be prepared to boondock. In Labrador you have to boondock, but in the other provinces there are RV parks, Provincial Parks, and National Parks where you can camp. Some of the remote areas in Newfoundland offered little camping, so don’t assume you’ll find some place to camp in every village.
In another few years the Trans-Labrador Highway will be completely paved and driving it will certainly be easier, but not nearly as challenging or interesting.
Your vehicle’s tires, suspension, undercarriage and body should be heavy duty and well-built for rough road travel. Carry a spare tire, vehicle recovery and medical kits, and an emergency communication device like a DeLorme inReach, or borrow a satellite phone (see www.tourismlabrador.com for locations).
We use Rogers WIFI in Canada, which is Verizon in the USA. Availability was pretty much restricted to Labrador City and Happy Valley/Goose Bay in Labrador. Our mobile hotspot never worked in Labrador. In Newfoundland, the RV parks all had WIFI. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had WIFI in all RV parks, but not in Provincial or National Parks. Our mobile hotspot worked in these parks and in the more urban areas.
There is very little information on the Trans-Labrador Highway, so do your research well ahead of time. Most of the information I obtained I got from other bloggers. There is so much to see in a large area that you should really take lots of time. Get online and contact the provincial tourism sites. They will send you all kinds of maps and information.
For additional detail on road conditions, camping, attractions and activities, contact us via our website or read our blog posts about the trip dated August and September 2015. Out blog has details on Our Rig specifications.
About the authors...
Helen and Dann have shared with us an overview of their trip, which explored the wilderness of roads less travelled, such as along the Trans Labrador Highway, as well as designated bio spheres and heritage sites that make travelling through the eastern part of Canada truly unique. For more information about some of the sites and places they visited, see our list below.
Trans Labrador Highway
For more information about the Trans Labrador Highway, see these links:
- Want to know what the weather is like right now on Route #500, Looking East towards Happy Valley - Goose Bay? Find out here: www.roads.gov.nl.ca/cameras/trans_labrador.stm
This site also lists the locations where you can borrow a satellite phone when travelling the route.
- The Newfoundland and Labrador Transportation government website lists winter and summer road conditions, links to a document listing satellite phone pick up and drop off locations, and has road webcams (which we listed above):
- To get information about travelling the Trans Labrador including general information, virtual tours, maps, ferry service, and more, see http://tlhwy.com/index.html
- There are some good pictures of the road in different seasons on the Dangerous Roads website here:
- The Tourism Labrador site has a driving guide here: www.tourismlabrador.com/home
- The Newfoundland/Labrador provincial government loans satellite phones to travellers along the highway. There are few fuel stops and there is a 420 kilometres (260.9 miles) stretch between fill-ups. Phone pick up and drop off locations are outlined on several sites, such Destination Labrador, which offer this downloadable PDF:
Equipment Mentioned in this Article
- "Loaf" the O'Kane's overland adventure rig conventionally referred to as a 2011 FORD F350 pickup truck fitted with a 2013 Lance 855s truck camper. You can find details about their rig and its many modifications on their Meet Loaf site here http://loafmodsandupgrades.blogspot.ca.
- Route planning was done with the help of printed Backroad Mapbooks and GPS maps were used for route navigation.
- Internet communication was via a Rogers Rocket Hub. This is a mobile internet device that access Roger's Canada-wide network, so that you can use the internet from anywhere . . . well, not anywhere. It only works where there are people, which is not everywhere in Canada. Roger's network coverage map can be found here: http://www.rogers.com/consumer/wireless/network-coverage. (The O'Kane's use Verizon when travelling in the USA.)
- A Delorme inReach satellite phone provided emergency communications, because there is no cell coverage or emergency services on the Trans Labrador Highway . . . and along many other northern routes and remote locations.
- Helen and Dann were using the app All Stays for camping in Labrador.
- A tent.
- Fishing gear. Why not, you are already here!
- Bug jackets.
Purchase a good jacket and bug hat that prevents mosquito, black flies, sand fleas, ticks, and deer flies from getting through. We recommend an all mesh jacket with no cloth panels, so there is more air circulation (you can wear a jacket underneath to keep warm), and a bug hat that fits over a baseball cap or has a built-in brim (or hat) to keep the mesh off your face. (We have not tested this product, but here is a link to a jacket and hat on Amazon.ca to give you an idea of what this looks like. You can find bug hats and jackets at Canadian Tire.)
Locations Mentioned in this Article
This article lists a lot of points of interest, historic places, National Historic Sites of Canada, and UNESCO heritage and biosphere sites. We thought we would summarize them here. The links to more information in this list are not always the same as those in the article, so you have more places to go on the internet.
- Blanc-Sablon, is a historic location that was seasonally visited in the 16th and 17th centuries by Basque and Portuguese fishermen.
- Chemin du Roy, or the King’s Highway (Hwy 138), was built between 1731 and 1737 and was the longest road in existence north of Rio Grande at that time.
- Vieux-Quebec (old Quebec City) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (#300) and a National Historic Site of Canada.
- Tadoussac was first visited by Europeans in 1535 and in 1600 it became the first trading post in Canada. It is located in the Charlevoix Region, which was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1988.
- Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is a Roman Catholic sanctuary credited with many miracles. In 1658 land was donated to build a Catholic Chapel at this location and in 1876 the first basilica was built. After a fire destroyed it in 1922 a second basilica was built in 1926.
- Baie Comeau has an area called Vieux-Poste (Old Post) near the mouth of the Amédée River that was founded in 1889 by Eudists who created the Saint-Eugène-de-Manicouagan Mission there.
- Highway 389 is a connecting route to the Trans Labrador Highway.
- Trans Labrador Highway is a remote route approximately 1,246.69 km (774.66 mi) in length. See our list above.
- Churchill Falls is a 75 metre (245 ft) high waterfall named after the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The community there boasts a population of about 650 who service and work at the Churchill Falls Generating Station.
- St. Barbe is a town and ferry connection to Labrador with some fantastic views of the coastline and the Long Range Mountains.
- Red Bay Basque Whaling Station is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (#1412) was listed as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1979.
- Gros Morne National Park is home to Western Brook Pond, which is a landlocked fjord.
- St. Anthony and L’Anse Aux Meadows, which is a National Historic Site of Canada, is a Viking settlement showing evidence of the first European settlers in North America.
- Port Aux Choix is a National Historic Site of Canada with over 6000 years of human history.
- Port aux Basque is a town and ferry terminal located at the southwestern tip of Newfoundland.
- North Sydney is the ferry terminal to Cape Breton Island.
- Sydney (Cape Breton Island) is a historic location founded in 1785 by the British.
- Bay of Fundy has the highest tidal range in the world. It is classified as a Hemispheric site and is one of six Canadian sites in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.
- Five Islands Provincial Park overlooks 90 metre (300 ft.) of Bay of Fundy shoreline.
- Advocate Harbour is a small fishing harbour that opens to the Bay of Fundy and is dry at low tide.
- Hopewell Rocks is an area along the Bay of Fundy shore where tall rock formations were caused by tidal erosion.
- Fortress of Louisbourg is the largest historical reconstruction in North America and a National Historic Site of Canada.
- Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (#741). It was a British colonial settlement in 1753 and still maintains the original layout and appearance.
- The Bluenose II, a replica of the original depicted on our Canadian dime.
- Cape Forchu Lighthouse, to see what it looks like there now, check out their webcam.
- Chignecto Campground is located in the highlands of Fundy National Park.
- Hartland is home to the world’s longest covered bridge.
Disclaimer: This seems like a good place to say that we support treading lightly, which means staying on designated trails and roads, travelling slowly through water crossings, not disturbing the wildlife and packing out what you pack in. This also means packing out all stray or broken fishing line, because it can harm wildlife.