Mention a road trip to Green Bay and your friends will envision cheeseheads, Packers jerseys, and shotgunning Schlitz faster than a spirit-crushing Favre interception. Understandable. But in this case, completely wrong. Let them have a couple more Schlitz and then tell them you were thinking more along the lines of sou’westers, kissing cod fish, and swigging shots of screech faster than a … faster than a … damn, I got nothing but dated, Joey Smallwood and offensive baby seal quips, so I’ll just quit while I’m ahead.
For those of us fortunate enough to enjoy a life beyond NFL piety, or unfortunate enough to cheer for a team like say the Oakland (cough) Raiders (cough), discovering lesser known Green Bays is just the kind of idiosyncrasy that makes exploring an expansive country like Canada so much fun. Having that lesser known Green Bay located on The Rock? Even better.
In Part I of this two-part love letter to parts-otherwise-unknown Newfoundland, I hope I piqued your interest into making a left at the exit of Deer Lake airport and heading east on the TransCanada Highway rather than the customary right most tourists take. I made that left because of family. You can make it because the accommodations awaiting you at Coffee Cove Seaside Retreat, my uncle and aunt’s guesthouse, are amazing.
Still, you might be wondering what you can actually do while staying in Coffee Cove. Not that doing nothing is necessarily a bad idea. Escaping time by slowly swaying on that patio swing overlooking Little Bay Arm is a perfect way to forget the world. But if you’ve got kids in tow like we did, or you prefer a dash of exploration in your escapes, then you’ll be thrilled to learn the lesser known Green Bay area of which Coffee Cove is part, has many interesting, beautiful, and even eccentric sights for you to discover.
Here are the seven that made our visit to Newfoundland even better than expected. And believe me, we expected a lot.
Springdale, Newfoundland and Labrador
Any visit to Coffee Cove will require at least one stop, if not several, in Springdale. This town of approximately 3,000 people, that’s a third as many as the Calgary suburb in which we live for perspective, is the largest urban centre in Green Bay. You’ll get your groceries, alcohol, and gasoline here, not to mention a new appreciation for adversity. There are no familiar franchises here; no big box stores, no fast food burger chains, no sprawling supermarkets. The only signs you’re likely to recognize as a mainlander adorn the local hardware stores.
Everything you need during your visit is available here, so stock up. We bought provisions for evening meals to cook in our cottage kitchen at Coffee Cove Seaside Resort and for packed lunches to take on our adventures. But keep your expectations in check. There won’t be heaping piles of fresh produce to pick over or made to order cuts of meat at the grocery store. We had half a dozen bell peppers from which to choose, and half of those were turning. It can be a bit of a (needed) shock for those of us used to the privileged, wasteful luxury of big city life.
Take heart as supplies are not the only reason to visit Springdale. We explored three local points of interest, two natural and one manmade, all three of which provided us with an enjoyable hour or more of relaxation and intrigue.
1) Indian River Estuary
The Indian River flows along the southern edge of town before emptying into Hall’s Bay on which Springdale resides. At its terminus, the river forms a coastal estuary known as Springdale Wetlands. Portions of these wetlands are accessible via a boardwalk and trail that mirrors the north bank of the river. We popped into the Wetlands for a picnic lunch and a walk.
Transitioning from tall grasses to thin woodlands and back, there are lots of birds to be seen including ducks, gulls, and crows. Dragonflies are abundant, as are wildflowers. And you’ll even see minnows in the waters beneath the boardwalk. Regular visitors undoubtedly see other creatures both great and small in this flourishing wetland. This is a lovely spot for a nice or walk or to set up your tripod and get some wildlife shots.
2) Indian River Falls
Further up river, near the entrance to Springdale you will find Indian River Falls. Unlike the cascading waterfalls of the Rocky Mountains near our home, these shallow falls took me back to the waterfalls of my childhood in southern Ontario. Sauble Falls comes to mind, as does Elora Gorge. More grandiose rapids than true waterfall, the Indian River Falls are nonetheless pretty.
Atlantic salmon can be seen jumping the falls as they head upstream to spawn, though this surely fascinating experience was not occurring during our visit. Infrastructure to assist in this migration is visible next to Indian Falls. And fishermen can be found casting their flies from the sand/mud bars or wading out into the waters below the falls.
A short trail from the parking lot gets you to the falls viewpoint, but if you are wanting of a longer hike, the trail at Indian River Estuary goes all the way to Indian River Falls, a distance of two kilometres or so. We didn’t walk the entire way since we visited the two sites on different days, but it would make for a nice afternoon stroll.
3) Glassy Beach
Beyond the northeast end of Springdale, is found the quirkiest attraction in all of Green Bay. The kids loved it and I must admit it was a fascinating little mistake to dig around in. A small sign stuck into the forest at the side of the road across form a cemetery pinpoints the dirt path taking you to Glassy Beach.
Many decades ago, this was a bottle dump, or so the story goes. What remains in this tiny cove between rocky protuberances is a pebbly beach brimming with sea glass. It really is quite neat. We spent a solid hour digging around looking for unique colours of rounded and frosted glass shards. Green and white dominate, along with shells and rocks and some pottery shards. Blue and other rare colours are the most coveted finds, but the place has been picked over quite thoroughly as its notoriety grows.
Nonetheless, Glassy Beach was a cool and unique little hideaway to check out. And even if sea glass doesn’t pique your curiosity, the view of, and from, the outcroppings on either side of the beach are alone worth the trek.
King’s Point, Newfoundland and Labrador
A twenty minute drive northwest of Springdale brings you to King’s Point, the second largest town in Green Bay. Located at the very bottom of Green Bay’s Southwest Arm, King’s Point is kind of the hipster cousin to staid Springdale. It too somewhat reminded me of my childhood home with a small but sincere attempt to attract tourists.
4) King’s Point Whale Pavilion
Our first stop in King’s Point was the fairly new Whale Pavilion. Housing a fifty foot humpback whale skeleton, the largest such display in the world, this was an interesting, inexpensive museum stop. The skeleton itself takes up almost the entire building and that alone is incredible to see. You better appreciate the size of these aquatic mammals when you can stand beside their internal structure.
There are informative displays and videos teaching about whales and explaining how this skeleton came to reside in King’s Point. That’s a bit of a kooky story itself. A small entrance fee gets you a yearlong membership. It won’t blow your socks off. It is, after all, a museum with but one exhibit. But since you’ll be in King’s Point anyway for the stuff below, it’s worth popping in for a look.
5) King’s Point Pottery
This is the place that most reminded me of my St. Jacobs home. A craft shop and gallery, King’s Point Pottery is an eclectic artisan shop displaying and selling all sorts of local and regional arts and crafts. There are some truly gorgeous works of art here. Just walking around looking at it all was enjoyable. If you like shopping, you’ll love it even more.
You just know it’ll be a cool place when you’re greeted by this.
6) Alexander Murray Hiking Trail
By far … BY FAR … the highlight of King’s Point is Alexander Murray Trail. Assuming you like hiking, of course. Alexander Murray was the first director of the Geological Society of Newfoundland, so you just know we had to check out this trail. It was amazing. It also almost killed me. It also almost destroyed our family. So worth it.
Alexander Murray Trail is shaped like a lasso and is approximately 8km long in total. The spoke portion (that’s the “straight” part of a lasso you hold onto … yes I looked that up) comprises a 1.35km trail through conifer forest before reaching Moose Barrens, a more open bog/muskeg type area.
At Moose Barrens you join the loop portion of the trail. You can turn left or right and make your way around the loop to Haypook Summit at the trail apex. Each way offers brooks to traverse and parallel, waterfalls, wildlife, and attractive vistas.
We took the left (again!), slightly shorter route and doubled back this way once we reached Haypook Summit for reasons soon revealed.
This left portion of the trail loop takes you to Corner Brook Gorge and Corner Brook Falls and is renowned for its stairs. Yes, stairs. Dear God, so many stairs. Thousands of stairs. Wooden stairs. Sturdy stairs. Rickety stairs. Broken stairs. Stairs going up. Stairs going down. Stairs to the left. Stairs to the right. Stairs, stairs, stairs, stairs, stairs. This is what just about killed me. And nearly broke apart our family.
Now, don’t be discouraged by my stair rant. The effort is rewarded many times over. Corner Brook Falls is dazzling and the view from Haypook Summit exceptional. I’ve also got chronic lung issues contributing to a multi-decade decline in my physical fitness. Yet I made it … barely. And I would do it again.
It isn’t an easy hike, though, and you may find yourself with an increasingly disgruntled tween who just wants to turn back after seeing the falls. Topography is a charlatan, and when you return to the main trail from the Corner Brook Falls decent, the summit doesn’t seem all that much further to go. Certainly not as distant as it looked from Moose Barrens.
So you push onward despite your child’s growing discontent only to learn it’s actually still a long way away with many more steps ahead. Hunger and frustration have now commandeered brains and everything short of fisticuffs is playing out along the peaceful, scrubby mountain ridge leading to Haypook Summit. Ah, family time.
We eventually made it to the summit and enjoyed the stunning view awhile, calming down and not so much making amends but reaching an armistice at least. We decided to return the way we came because a) it was shorter and b) more stairs would be going down than up. We just needed to get back to base and rest.
Our experience was a bit more harrowing than it needed to be. We didn’t plan well for such a long, at times arduous, hike. Rookie mistake on our part. Nonetheless, hiking the Arthur Murray Trail was an incredible experience and I definitely recommend you seek it out and give it a go. Mind your health limitations. Pack appropriately. And enjoy one of Newfoundland’s beautiful natural secrets.
Beachside, Newfoundland and Labrador
Beachside is another tiny village located at the very end of highway 392, north of Coffee Cove. We drove to Beachside on a whim one afternoon, having a couple hours to burn and wondering where the road went. Local maps indicated a short, scenic trail in Beachside. It was more curiosity than any desire for another hike, those stairs still haunting our muscles from the day before, that convinced us to investigate.
We never did find the trailhead. Signs were vague at best. Disappointed, we turned around to return to Coffee Cove when we noticed a vehicle parked beside the road at what appeared to be a narrow picnic spot across from a possible municipal camping area. There also appeared to be … stairs. Ignoring the screams of terror from our legs, we approached the upper stair landing and discovered this!
We scrambled down the stairs and spent the next solid hour beachcombing and exploring the nooks and crannies of Backcove. The whole place looked like a chilled, northern replica of a Caribbean cay.
We found pillow lavas in the ancient cliff walls, colourful stones all over the beach, and impressive panoramas of the rugged Newfoundland north shore and the calm (on this day) north Atlantic.
What an incredible surprise Backcove turned out to be. So pretty. So unexpected. Such a perfect finale to our Coffee Cove adventure and one final reason for you to make that eschewed left turn at Deer Lake airport and head to Green Bay in Newfoundland. Ah, what the hell; you can even wear your Packers jersey.