The Irish Loop is a 300km circuit south of St. John’s that should be on any touring cyclist’s radar when in Newfoundland. Named after the rich Irish heritage that populates the coastline this ride has it all: barrens, the ocean, moose, caribou, whales, head winds, tail winds, quiet roads – the list goes on.
If starting in St. John’s I highly recommend heading out to Bay Bulls and then crossing the Witless Bay Line versus heading out on the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH). The roads are quieter and Witless Bay Line gives you great exposure to the glacial barrens that you will be seeing all along the trip.
I like to do this trip in 3 days, 2 nights, typically camping near St. Mary’s on the first night and at/near Chance Cove the second night. I also strongly advise you to ride this counter-clockwise for two reasons:
1) During fair weather the winds are typically out of the southwest; this puts the wind at your back while crossing the barrens which begin near St. Vincents and end near Cappahayden. I’ve ridden it the other way (clockwise) and this section was pure hell with a headwind.
2) There are many more towns in the last 100 km if ridden counter-clockwise which makes for easier resupply when you’ll need it the most.
This time I did the trip in two days and a bit, leaving after supper on Friday and returning home on Sunday. I camped the first night on Witless Bay Line (40 km), near Chance Cove on night two (160 km) and then rode the final 100 km from there.
If you take the Witless Bay Line then there is just 10 km to ride on the TCH until you get to Route 90 or what is know as the Salmonier Line. This road heads south and again, if the weather is fair, this will be the section where you encounter a headwind. This section of the road gets less traveled the further you go, winding itself through boreal forest, along rivers and eventually the ocean.
At the southern end of Salmonier Line is the town of St. Vincents. It is significant for two reasons:
1) there is a great beach there where you can often see humpbacks feeding, and;
2) The road takes a sharp left (east) and the wind finally is at your back!
From St. Vincents the road begins to climb from sea level up to the barrens. I think this is my favourite section of the route. There is just something about all that nothingness that tickles my fancy.
Plummeting down from the barrens with a tailwind is a real thrill and gets you to the town of Trepassey where there is a motel with a restaurant, a take-out and two convenience stores. Another great way to ride the loop is to do it in two days, staying overnight at the motel. This allows you to pack light and make better mileage each day. Doing it counter-clockwise means doing 170 km the first day and 130 km the second.
After leaving Trepassey you soon pass by the road to Cape Race; it was here where the distress call from the Titanic was first picked up.
At Portugal Cove South the road turns north and you are in the barrens for another 15 km. Beginning at Cappahayden, however, you start getting into small fishing communities every 10 km or so. You also get into the hilly section, which lasts all the way to Bay Bulls.