When I was young I read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and I remember thinking: “Gosh, imagine stepping into another world!”
In spite of the lack of magical cupboard, evil queen, or large feline, Keels inspires in me a sense of the otherworldly similar to the feelings provoked by C.S. Lewis’ famous Chronicles of Narnia.
Now don’t take this analogy too literally. Although a magical and mysterious place, even Newfoundland doesn’t have talking fauns that invite you to tea. That experience regrettably remains in the realm of fantasy.
Nonetheless, when walking through the shrubs and bushes, or climbing over the boulders in Keels, you may find yourself talking to the local wildlife, even if they’re not inclined to respond. And you will definitely find yourself following in their footsteps, as all the local trails are carved by the illusive caribou herd that call this outport town home.
Keels is a quaint little town located on the Northside of the Bonavista peninsula. Its charm comes from the bright colours and the sense that it hasn’t changed in 500 years. With all the houses, even the newer builds, sticking to the very traditional saltbox style.
On top of that many of the homes still have tiny outhouses that add to the colourful charm.
The rock beneath the houses is one of the most striking things in this little outport town. Because of a mineral deposit, the rock ranges between red and a fantastic shade of deep purple.
The geology in Keels is one of its main highlights, with a formation known as The Devil’s Footprints attracting geologists from all over.
The local story goes that this is where Satan walked out of hell into the human world, evidenced by the odd tracks in the rock that begin more hoof-like in shape, and turn more into shoe prints of a large man.
From the geologist perspective these odd formations are explained by erosion. Hard nodules develop from minerals located in softer sedimentary rock. As the rock ages, the harder balls fall out of the softer rock as it erodes, leaving the odd footprint-like formations.
For the adventurers, the Devil’s Footprints mark the starting point for a number of fabulous trails. Depending on your skill and comfort level, there is something for everyone in Keels.
If you’re looking for a challenging unmarked walk that offers ranging terrain and fabulous views, we can highly recommend the Keels Hill walk, which climbs the hill between Keels and Red Cliff, providing fantastic views of the Terra Nova Provincial Park, and excellent caribou sighting opportunities.
This path begins at the Devil’s Footprints then proceeds to take you along a quad track through woods and ponds and leads to the base of a big rocky hill. From there it’s a game of following the various caribou trails until you reach the top, and hoping you find the same ones back down again.
If you are not experienced with unmarked trails I would encourage a guide, or at least a satellite-tracking app such as View Ranger, which provides detailed topographical maps of routes. If you’re just keen on the caribou definitely hire a guide, as they will know the best way to approach the hill downwind of the famously skittish herd.
This is definitely a hike to enjoy on a clear day, and one I would avoid if there were any chance of fog or rain, as there is no cover once you’re on the hill.
To stay on the safe side, we always head into the town store before hitting the hill. The locals are very friendly, and will come looking for you on quad bikes if you’re not back within a few hours.
If this is all sounding a bit intense, don’t stress. While in the first stages of the hike there are many alternative routes that are all easily accessible on flat terrain and well worth exploring. If you’re looking for a nice pond to relax by while catching a glance at some moose, any of the paths that head off to the left will be perfect. Always keep in mind that inland trails in NL can get muddy after rain, so come prepared for the possibility of wet feet.
If you’re more interested in the seaside, there is a wonderful art-walk that hugs the coast that can be accessed either from the aforementioned quad-track through the woods by taking one of the paths on the right, or directly from the village by simply following the coast.
This track weaves in and out of the little beaches between Keels and the base of the hill, and is scattered with amazing abstract sculptures made of items scavenged from local beaches. The route along the coast is on rock so it doesn’t have the problems with mud as the inland paths.
The final reason to add Keels to your to-do list is blueberries.
Although blueberries are easy to find throughout the Bonavista peninsula, nowhere are they so prolific as in Keels.
Inland the climate is gentler and the berries will be available in August, whereas on the coast, you’ll find them at their best in September.
While foraging don’t be surprised to stumble upon local wildlife, such as moose, also taking advantage of the large supply of these delicious and healthy treats.
Time: Half Day – 3-4h (Longer if you’re stopping for lunch/dinner at the Bonavista Social Club).
Equipment: Comfortable exploring shoes, appropriate clothing for the weather, a camera, and snacks.
To Get Here:
Keels is easy to find through a Google Maps search, or entering “Main Rd, Keels, NL A0C 1R0” into an updated GPS.
From the hostel there are FOUR driving options available depending on the plan for the rest of your day, and your car.
First: If you want to explore Bonavista or Elliston first, then you can take the loop counter-clockwise. This would mean heading North of the 230 toward Bonavista, looping around the peninsula, and following Route 235 until the Keels turnoff in King’s Cove.
Second: If your plan is to head from Keels to the superb Bonavista Social Club for dinner, then we would recommend making a clockwise tour of the peninsula by heading South on the 230 toward Clarenville, until Southbay where you join the 235 heading North until you reach King’s Cove.
Third: You can cut through the peninsula in Catalina rather than heading all the way to Bonavista. This is a great option if you’re heading to lunch at the Social Club on your way to Keels.
Fourth: You can take the 20km dirt road through the middle of the peninsula. This option is only for those with 4x4s who enjoy a drive that makes you work. Route 236 joins Port Rexton and King’s Cove straight down the middle of the peninsula making the journey only 30kms. This route should not be underestimated however, and will take most drivers close to an hour.
However you choose to get to King’s Cove, from here the road is the same for everyone. Follow signs to Keels and Duntara for 8kms, until the road ends in Keels.
Once in the town follow the road until you hit a T-intersection that faces the only store: Hubert and James Mesh.
After popping in for a look at their small supply of goods (mostly Coca-Cola and old fashioned Scottish sweets), and to let them know if you’re heading up the mountain, turn left and follow the narrow road until the end. Here you will see the sign to the Devil’s Footprints where you are able to leave your car, and start exploring!