Newfoundland is definitely a driving destination, with big open roads, and beautiful views from every highway. But it is worth knowing a bit about exploring Newfoundland by car before you set out on your adventure.
Finding your way in Newfoundland
Newfoundland is big, and there aren’t many people around. This means that many towns are very small, with no street names, or addresses of any kind.
When researching NL you may find that many places are listed as being located at ‘1 Main Rd’. The Skerwink Hostel, for example, is listed at 1 Main st Trinity East, though you wouldn’t find that on a map anywhere.
The reality is that these places don’t have a physical street address, and have adopted the simplest option.
As a result many GPS and mapping systems are of little help when getting around. Newer businesses may have their correct location pinpointed on google maps, however cell service is very unreliable in NL, so it is not always a safe tool to rely on.
To be sure of finding your accommodations, contact your host, or check online information, for clear driving directions before you depart. Although the maps aren’t helpful, there are not very many roads in this province, so the directions will generally be very simple.
To get to us from the Trans-Canada in St John’s for example is a total of 3 right turns! Click here for driving directions!
Road Conditions in Newfoundland
The roads in Newfoundland unfortunately leave much to be desired. The combination of a small population, large distances, and rough weather mean that the roads are often left in poor condition.
We always recommend renting a car that has a decent amount of road clearance, and good suspension to reduce the discomfort of irregularities in the road.
Always be alert on the roads and keep an eye on what the locals are doing. You may find yourself following a local car that is swerving around the road like crazy. No they haven’t had too much to drink, they are probably from that area and are avoiding the worst patches of road.
The most dangerous time is when the roads are very wet. Large puddles of water will be hiding the depth of potholes, making them seem less dangerous.
Always take it slow on wet days, and try to avoid driving to new locations in the dark.
Renting a car in Newfoundland
If you’re thinking about renting a car for your trip in Newfoundland, make sure you plan ahead! Many rental car companies sell out during peak season, so last minute rentals are often not an option.
The next thing to consider when renting are the roads you will be driving. Always check with your accommodations for information on the kind of roads to get to them. Some remote vacation homes or cabins, or great hikes and viewing points, may be down winding coastal gravel roads, so be sure check that your insurance covers you for gravel roads if necessary. (The Skerwink Hostel is accessible by fully paved roads, so no extra coverage required!)
Our top pick for a car to explore NL is a small-mid range SUV, such as a Ford Escape or Edge. A car this size will roughly put you back about $350 per week in July, before taxes and additional charges. These cars are comfortable for the longer drives, are versatile, and have a good ride height for some of the less maintained roads.
For the more economical traveler, something smaller like a Chevrolet Sonic may be a better option at around $250 per week. These smaller vehicles are a wonderful asset in the windy historic streets of St John’s, and will save on fuel on the longer road trips.
If your plan is to live like a local and explore off road, then a large pick-up is your best option, at around $550 per week. These are the most popular cars in Newfoundland, and you will see many on the road. They are great for transporting various toys, including quads and boats, if that’s your plan, and grant access to even the most inaccessible terrains–though we don’t necessarily recommend exploring too far off the beaten track without a local. There are great guides all over the province, whether you’re interested in hunting, angling, or shooting through a camera lens.
Moose and Caribou
Newfoundland is known for its moose population, and for good reason. Moose are common throughout the province, and pose a serious risk to motorists. They can be very hard to see, move very quickly, and don’t tend to run at the sight of a car heading straight for them.
“I live with loads of deer, what’s the big deal?!” The main difference is size.
A deer over the hood of a car will cause a bit of damage, a moose over the hood will smash straight through the windscreen. That’s a 600 kg unwelcome hitchhiker.
When we first moved to Newfoundland we were anxious about moose, but after six years we have realized the main thing is awareness, and maintaining a safe speed.
∗If you are driving at night, go slower, and be prepared to slow down or even stop if you see moose.
∗Fog can make life harder, but once again, if you maintain a safe speed, and keep your fog lights on, even a surprise moose will pose no danger.
∗Always be aware of other motorists. If someone has stopped or slowed down, check that it’s not for wildlife.
∗If a motorist flashes their lights at you, always slow down. They are alerting you to an oncoming hazard.
∗In Spring keep an eye out for yearlings. These are moose that have recently left their mothers, and are still getting used to striking it out alone. They tend to be more confused, but also more scared and usually run off.
∗In Fall bulls can pose a bigger risk as they are a bit preoccupied with mating and can become aggressive.
∗Keep an eye out for caribou around Gros Morne, and on any of the highways to the Southern Shore, including the 210, 360, and 480.
∗Caribou will be in larger numbers, so if you see one grazing at a distance keep an eye out for others.
Wildlife in Newfoundland are one of the key reasons people come to our province. Moose, caribou, bear, and more, are all amazing to see in the wild. But always be mindful that they are wild. Never approach animals in the wilderness, and always be mindful that where there is one, there could be more.