Our annual November trip took us mountain biking to Terra Nova National Park (TNNP) this year. Terra Nova is located about a 3 hour drive from St. John’s and is about equidistant between the towns of Clarenville and Gander. The park is a wonderful meeting place between the boreal forest and the long inlets or “sounds” of the Atlantic Ocean.
The November trip has its beginnings back in 2001 when it actually took place in September (if you can follow that!). That is when my friend John and I did our first hike together on the East Coast Trail and decided to make it an annual event. I suggested we start doing the trip based around the Remembrance Day holiday of November 11th and we did just that in 2002. In 2003 Marc and Gerry joined us and it has been the group of us ever since. We backpacked the East Coast Trail for a lot of years until that grew stale and then we hiked Cape Chignecto in Nova Scotia. In 2009 the trip morphed into a mountain bike trip (to Terra Nova) because we had all been getting back into mountain biking and we were running out of places we hadn’t hiked. This year we found ourselves returning to Terra Nova to ride.
Terra Nova National Park is a great place to ride in the autumn. During the summers the trails are just too busy with hikers. Though the trails are designated hiking trails the wardens have always been OK with mountain biking in the off season. We have always let them know in advance (via a phone call or email) that we were coming out to ride and they have always approved it. We encountered a warden on this trip who made a deliberate effort to turn his vehicle around to talk to us to make sure we knew that he was OK with us riding in the area but wanted to caution us about the hunters that we might encounter and for us to be safe (TNNP has recently introduced moose hunting in the park to help cull the high moose population).
We left town Saturday morning and were riding by 1 PM. We decided to start with a loop around Sandy Pond which is flat and about 3 km in length.
After that we crossed the highway and started up the long grind toward the trailhead of Ochre Hill, a wonderful 8km trail that swoops and swerves past ponds, through boreal forest and to a stunning look off toward Clode Sound.
These two trails together took us about 3 hours in total to ride. We then headed to our cabin on loan to us by a friend of Marc’s that overlooked Sandy Cove.
The preeminent mountain bike ride in TNNP is a combination of the Coastal Trail, Blue Hill Pond, Buckley Cove, the Campgound Trail and the Outport Trail. This combination of trails can easily take you 5 hours to ride and it is a wonderful mixed bag of riding: singletrack, boardwalks, stairs, bridges, Oceanside, riverside, and boreal forest. Everyone comes back from this with a big grin and a good kind of tired. Our dear friends Dave and Leslie joined us for this ride.
Monday found us exploring the trails around Sandy Cove where we were staying. We rode the Old Trails that lead to Salvage for a few kilometers until we came to a small waterfall. This trail was right up my alley and I can’t wait to return to explore the entire length of it. We also rode the beach of Sandy Cove and then took the old road to Happy Adventure (a 2 km ATV trail) and hung out and relaxed on the wharf and chatted with some fishermen getting their boat ready to go fish herring. It was interesting to learn that the herring would be sold to lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia as bait for their traps.
Between the trip in 2009 and 2012 we have explored all of the trails in TNNP and here is a summary of what we have discovered:
Louil Hill (4 km loop): fun, fast single and double track. There is an opportunity to hike up to a look off – take that opportunity!
Sandy Pond (3 km loop) : fun, fast single and double track. Very flat. There are sections of boardwalk that can be slippery when wet or snowy. Some very pretty sections.
Ochre Hill (8 km loop) : Mostly single track that goes up, down and all around. A crowd favourite. Some spectacular scenery. Combine this with the Sandy Pond loop.
Dunphy’s Pond (10 km in and out). Double track, a long gradual climb at the beginning (but a fun downhill at the end). Nice scenery at when you reach Dunphy’s Pond. Do it once just to say you’ve done it and that would be enough. This is the only designated bike trail in the park.
Platters Beach (10 km in and out): starts in the community of Charlottetown. We tried this in 2009 and it wasn’t rideable.
Southwest Brook (6 km in and out) : a lovely trail, through some nice forest, along a brook and out to some great views over the water. Sadly it was closed this year due to windfall from Hurricane Leslie.
Old Trails (12 km one way) : Not part of TNNP. The trail runs from Sandy Cove to Salvage. What we rode I liked and I want to try the whole thing.
Trailway/Trans Canada Trail: The Trailway (a rails-to-trails project) runs near TNNP. There is the potential to ride a 60 km loop like this: start on the Trailway where Northwest Arm of Clode Sound meets the Trans Canada Highway (TCH). Ride west to the community of Terra Nova. Ride from Terra Nova to the TCH on the dirt road. Ride the TCH back to where you started. Just an idea I’m throwing out there – I’ve never ridden it.