Trans Labrador Highway
Québec City, Baie Comeau, Gagnon, Labrador City, Churchill Falls, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Red Bay and ferry to Newfoundland
We left home on Thursday, May 26, 2022 for Québec City, Labrador City, Churchill Falls, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and arrived in Red Bay to take the ferry to Newfoundland on Sunday, June 5, 2022. The blackflies and mosquitoes were not yet around. The cold nights around the freezing point kept them from hatching. The days were anywhere from 8 to 15 Celsius and mostly cloudy with only two days of light drizzle. We travelled well before the tourist season, so many restaurants, attractions and campsites were either closed or not fully operational yet. Many of them opened for the July long weekend.
Road Condition and Driving
April 2022: When we planned the trip, we found little information about the Trans Labrador Highway. Most travel reports were several years old. We pull a small camping trailer with our Jeep Wrangler and never worried too much about road conditions and services. The next four paragraphs cover the trip through Québec. The Trans Labrador Highway officially starts in Labrador City, but the first 580 km are in Québec with hwy 389 after Baie Comeau. Most of the highway in Québec was not paved. The gravel road got really bad between the Fire Lake Mine and the Mont Write Mine in Québec. Lots of potholes and extremely uneven surfaces. Long travel trailers with big overhang require caution when approaching the many railway crossings.
Once we entered Labrador, the road was paved all the way. The only exception was a 30 km stretch west of the Cartwright Junction. They were still working on the road. Our guess is that this will be done this year as well. We didn't go north to Cartwright and have no information about that road.
Always fill up the tank when there is a gas station. There is no gas station after Happy Valley Goose Bay for about 400 km.
There are no services (camping, washroom, water, food) between Labrador City, Happy Valley Goose Bay until you reach the coast. Services in Churchill Falls are limited.
There are no sideroads. Camping in the wild is possible in the very few dormant gravel pits. Please keep the sites clean.
Don't take the Trans Labrador Highway if you are in a hurry. From Baie Comeau to Red Bay, it is over 1,600 km through mostly untamed wilderness. We didn't see another vehicle for hours at times.
It is safe to say that there is no phone connection anywhere.
With this short summary done, let's start with the first day of our trip.
Driving 840 km the first day
May 26: We left at 6 in the morning and made it to Île d’Orléans 14 hours later. The island is down stream of Québec City in the St. Lawrence River. The rain started when we got closer to Québec City and by the time we passed over the bridge, it was just plain nasty. About 20 minutes before we arrived at the camp site, the engine noise increased to a deep rumbling sound. After a short while, it was obvious to us - the muffler was broken. We setup camp and worked out a plan for Friday. The plan was simple, get the repair done.
Dealing with disaster, nougat and cider
May 27: We had breakfast in the camping trailer on the gas stove. The night before, when we setup the trailer, it was my job to install water and power. The outlet looked like one of those big monster receptacle. I informed Ursula that we didn't have the correct adapter. Well, it turned out that outlets appear larger in the dark and rain. The problem was rectified after breakfast, we had power in the trailer.
Anyway, I drove to Technic Auto R T on the island, only 20 minutes away @ 6798 Chem. Royal, Saint-Laurent-de-l'Île-d'Orléans. The mechanic had a quick peak at the muffler, confirmed that it broke between the down pipe and the catalytic converter. He then referred me to a specialist in Québec City. Back to the camp site to extend our stay til Monday. We had to switch from site 64 to 68 and we could finally hit the road by 11. We got to Les silencieux PROTEAU just before lunchtime. They looked at the problem and quoted $80 for the welding work. The shop closes from 12 to 1 for lunch, so we left the Jeep there and walked 15 minutes to Casa Crecque for lunch. The souvlaki was amazing. It took a broken muffler to find this place.
The day was not even close to over. We were on the way back by 3 and visited the coffee shop I notice this morning. The La Maisonnette De L'île serves good coffee and we sat down on a small tables on the porch. The small café sold artisan crafts. We got a postcard to send home and coffee, of course. With a running Jeep and all the pressure gone, we still had enough time to visit La Nougaterie Québec. Growing up, we were treated with Türkischer Honig (Nougat) when we visited the carnival in Switzerland. We couldn't leave the shop without local honey. Circling the island, we noticed numerous orchards. This must be apple blossom honey, we concluded. Actually, it is not, but still honey. We also noticed a lot of places producing cider. As we learned, it is not the carbonized cider. They create a cider without adding the bubbles, which gives it a more apple-ish wine taste. Very unexpected. Very pleasant taste. We got some bottles from Domain Steinbach with two jars of Apple Butter. This is a spread for our breakfast toast. By now, we ran out of time and we returned to the camping trailer. What a day we had.
May 28: Today is Vieux-Québec, or Old Town Québec and "The Red Door" on the list. We had a slow morning and by the time we left the camp, we were ready for a coffee. We found Ma P'tite Folie @ 4685 Chemin Royal in St-Jean, a 10 minute drive. They served a nice coffee with a rasperry cookie. It is more a galerie than a coffee shop. We walked in and were captivated by the artwork from local artists.
It was already lunch time when we made it to Vieux-Québec. The first stop was the Château Frontenac, built in the late-19th century. To get there, we walked on top of the city walls, along several antique canons. A sure sign that Quebec City is truly a town with a lot of history. There are countless historical plaques, statues and monuments. Even so the tourist season didn't officially start, the small roads were packed with visitors. Below the dominat Château Frontenac, we strolled along the stores and restaurants.
On the way to find the 'Red Door', we had to climb down a series of stairs. On every platform was a boutique and on the last one was a restaurant, the Le pup des Borgia. Looking in, we saw old stone arches and a most interesting layout. The menu was short, we went with Crab Cakes and a Pizza. Only 50 meters down the road was the 'Red Door'. This featurless door became famous by the Korean soap opera Goblin.
May 29: We enjoyed coffee and desserts yesterday. The Cider is still in the fridge, or what is left in the bottle. Today we ended up buying bread and cheese. Along the side of the road, we saw the sign Pain Chaud, it means Hot Bread. We pulled over and bought an Apple-Raisin Bread and a jar of Confiture (jam). When I pointed to the loaf of bread and asked "Ce pain avec raisins?", the lady answered "This is the raisin and apple bread". Hmm, bonus points for trying to speak the local language. After lunch at the camp, we walked up to the Dépanneur Du Quai. This grocery store has many local products such as Raspberry Puff Pastry desert, local wine and Artisanale Toast. One hundred metres down the road was the Fromagerie Ferme Audet. The sign Dégustation Fromages & Crème Glasée Gratuit lured us in. We learned that all the products, cheese and ice cream are made from goat milk. We got a soft cheese spread and a cheddar-like cheese. The ice cream was delicious.
Along St. Lawrence to Baie Comeau
May 30: We had one last task on the island, visit the mechanic at Technic Auto RT. We were so thankful for his help and advice, we brought him a bottle of wine. They were surprised and thankful. We crossed the bridge one last time and drove east on hwy 138.
Looking over the water from Île d'Orléans, we noticed a church. We had to get a closer look at Sanctuaire Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.
Our next stop was at La Malbaie. The road was winding through town, over the bridge and up above the river. We heard church bells and pulled over. The Presbytere La Malbaie-Cap-A-L was ringing all the bells. The sound carried over the river and up to our pullout. It was peaceful.
About 4 and a half hours after leaving the island, we reached the ferry over the Rivière Saguenay. The ferry is free and only takes ten minutes to cross. We arrived relatively late in Baie Comeau, uncoupled the trailer at the camp site and went for dinner. We found another good Greek restaurant. After the meal, we took a stroll along an art exhibit at the harbour.
Baie Comeau north on Route 389
From Baie Comeau we took Route 389 Nord towards Labrador. It didn't take long to realize that this is not your average highway. The first few kilometers were under construction. The lack of traffic made this an non-issue. Keep in mind that we are travelling ahead of the tourist season, so this will likely be a different experience during the summer months. We made it to Manic 5 Hydro dam. The road climbs up the mountain to the top of the dam. Shortly after, no more pavement. The road was loose, dry gravel for the next 95 km. Crossing the trucks was like driving into a sand storm with zero visability for 10 seconds. Along this strech of road, there is no gas station for over 200 km. We refueled at Relais Gabriel, 60 liter Regular for $150. It was already 6:30 pm and we decided to drive to Ville de Gagnon. It was already late when we setup camp. We had dinner and enjoyed a peaceful sunset overlooking the lake.
Ville de Gagnon
May 31: The temperature dropped to zero and there was frost on the ground. The sunrise was around 4:30 AM, the lake without a ripple. Two loons landed in the water and began diving for their breakfast. I took the time to take pictures and went back to bed around 6 AM. When we got up later, we had breakfast and started to explore the remains of Gagnon.
The Site de l'ancienne Ville de Gagnon was abandoned and completely removed after the mine ceased operation in 1985. Except for the sidewalk and curb along Route 389 and some sewage cover, only shrubs are left. Three commemorative plaques tell the story of the town that once was. Ironically, the mine started operating again.
We continued our journey to Labrador City. The landscape changed to Black Spruce. No more deciduous trees. The paved road changed do gravel when we came to the Fire Lake Mine. A train was waiting with about 100 cars loaded with rocks from the mine. The road continues for about 70 km to the Mont Write Mine and hugs the landscape. A constant up and down with bends and multiple train track crossings. We came across many dump trucks that were in a hurry, as they always are. Once we passed both mines, the raod conditions improved and we made it to Labrador City late afternoon.
June 1: Labrador City is just north of the provincial border. The city just south in Quebec is Fermont and only 20 minutes away. Both are mining towns. Most cars we saw had a two-meter whip with a red triangle flag. 80% are pickup trucks. The only traffic jam we encountered was caused by a gigantic bucket being hauled to the mine.
We arrived late afternoon, setup camp and had dinner. After we needed some exercise. A short trail outside Labrador City leads to the Crystal Falls, where we got a good view of the city. The hike up was nicer than the destination. The falls are somewhat hidden in a gully where we had to climb down a steep slope. Parking is @ 52.94507, -66.97407
June 2: We left Labrador City early to make it to Happy Vally-Goose Bay. Well, we got stuck in Churchill Falls in the best way possible. Travelling in Labrador means talking to the people you meet along the way. And this is how our story goes.
The Internet has little reviews about Churchill Falls, so we didn't plan to do anything else than have lunch in the only restaurant we could find. But not before we stopped at the actual Churchill Falls, before the bridge, 22 km west of town. The rest area extends to a lower parking area, where you find the trailhead to the waterfall. Most of the water is diverted to the power plant. The river bed is impressive, the waterfall is not. We continued to the Height of Land Hotel & Restaurant. Before we even made it to the restaurant, Jason flagged us down. "Are you looking for a hotel?" We replied that we're after food. He continued with "you can park here and plug in the trailer, most outlets should work". We stayed for the night and used the facilities in the Donald Gordon Center. We got free WiFi in the restaurant, access to the washrooms and even a shower and best of all, it was free. Churchill Falls is a company town owned by Labrador Hydro. If you don't work for them, you can't live here. Everything is run like a good business, clean, efficient and safe. The restaurant and gas station are independently operated. Talking to somebody in the parking lot, we learned that the tailrace down at the Churchill River has a turbine on display. The tailrace is the outflow of the turbines. Parking is @ 53.51637, -63.98292. On the way down to the river, we saw two bears feeding on the bushes.
In the morning, we were invited to view the display in the information center. It is about the production of electricity and the importance of safety. We learned about power generation and power distribution. The unexpected overnight stay in Churchill Falls was worth while our time. We continued our journey before lunch time and made it to Happy Valley-Goose Bay by late afternoon.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay
June 3: The Road after Churchill Falls follows the big Hydro line. For most of the time, they were always around somewhere. Getting closer to Goose Bay, the ground turned mostly into bright, soft sand. We noticed an increase in deciduous trees, possibly birch.
We knew that there is no operating campground in the area. The abandoned campground at Goslin Park in Goose Bay, NW River Rd @ 53.41715, -60.40425 remains open and can be used for free. There is no washroom, water or electricity on site. Some sites have small growth, but keep in mind that we were there before the growing season. Bring some cutting instruments to cut the willows. A big open space is ideal for large RVs. We moved from there to a more private spot. Considering all pros and cons, it is actually a very nice spot to stay for the night.
No matter what you hear, there is a sanitary station with water to flush the tank. This is NOT drinking/potable water. There is no garbage or recycling at this location. The address is on Ottawa Ave in Goose Bay @ 53.32813, -60.41003.
The one attraction that was of interest was the Labrador Military Museum. It is located in the Canex Goose Bay Supermart. The display is informative. Just outside the entrance are several shelves with CFB Goose Bay souvenirs. We couldn't resist, they have some real nice and practical souvenirs. On the way out we asked for restaurant recommandations. They sent us to the Mariner’s Galley down the road. We enjoyed our pasta dinners, they were very delicious.
After dinner, we needed some exercise and visited the Birch Island Boardwalk. Part of the boardwalk was closed due to high water. After the stroll, it was time to go back. The night was cold, so were we
June 4: The weather turned miserable, cold and drizzly. To make matters worse, the highway was under construction for 35 km west of the Cartwright Junction. With a non-functioning heater in the trailer, we decided to skip our visit to Cartwright. The next stop was Port Hope Simpson where we arrived with 5 Liters left in the tank. We filled 70 liters and dropped $170. That is now our new record to break. Next stop was Mary's Harbour. No attractions or restaurants were open. So we moved on to Red Bay.
We arrived in Red Bay shortly after 6 PM and it was time for dinner at the Whaler's Restaurant at 7276 W Harbour Dr. We had Seafood Soup and Fish & Chip. Wow, sooo good. Nothing could break our good spirits anymore. On the way out, we asked for a place to camp and were referred to the gas station. They have three parking spots (not camp sites) with electricity. They were all occupied and they sent us to the Tracey Hill and Boney Shore walking trails parking. The weather deteriorated with more rain and strong wind. Setting up camp and refilling the generator was a challenge.
While driving to the parking area, we saw two guys dumping a trailer full of "muck". Ursula "Oh look, they are dumping manure on the side of the road", I said "No, these are gardens". We didn't come to an agreement. We setup our camping trailer and the dude drove by with another load. I waved, he stopped and we talked. I found out that seaweed makes the best potato fertilizer, interesting
The night was wild, the wind shook the trailer, the wind was howling, the rain was coming vertical and the generator was purring away to feed our heater. Our campsite was at the trailhead to the Tracy Hill walking trail. We were alone with nature's forces. After breakfast, we climbed the 687 steps up to the top of the hill. The view blew us away. Actually, the very strong wind did that. The whole trail was one long boardwalk with steps going up. Well worth the climb.
After the hike, we visited the Whaling Museum. The highlight was the Chalupa. The well-preserved remains are over 400 years old. Impressive, they went out to sea to capture a whale in these tiny little boats. Like many things here in Labrador, the story that goes with the artifact is more impressive than the artifact. The guide had many interesting tales and facts to tell. By the time we finished the exhibit at the museum, it was time for lunch. Back to the Whaler's Inn for a Chalupa Fish and Chips. Now at least we know what a chalupa looks like.
Ferry to Newfoundland
June 5: It was an 80 km drive to the ferry and the Trans Labrador Highway climbs up to over 200 meters. The temperature was just above freezing and the snow walls were lining the road.
We had a struggle with the timezone changes. The ferry from Blanc-Sablon QC to Saint Barbe NL left at 3 PM . We were travelling in Labrador. When our clock showed 12 PM, we were concerned that we would miss the ferry. On the way there, the time suddenly jumped back one and a half hours. Then it dawned on us. Oh, different timezone. Now we had time to waste, which we did.
The ferry over to the Rock was $48.75, yes, less than 50 bucks. Keep in mind that the Nova Scotia to Newfoundland ferry is around $400.