Travel to Newfoundland via Maine?
May 14, 2007 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a road trip from Maine to Newfoundland in August or September '07. Could any Newfies/travelers share thoughts on cross-border car rental, the ferry system, the roads, and of course sights and places to stay?

I'd like to visit Newfoundland this fall. I read the '06 askMeFi post on Newfoundland, but I have more logistical questions than otherwise. I have just two weeks- my partner gets out of his conducting contract in August, and grad school starts again in September. We're interested in seeing the New England colors, which neither of us has ever done as we drive north. From some preliminary googling, it looks like only 25% of the leaves change by mid-September, which made me think that we'd be better off going in late September. But will that be too late for the earlier season in Newfoundland?

We were considering flying into Portland ('cause its cheap) and driving up to Bar Harbor, and taking the Cat/ferry north into Canada with a rental car. It seems like most companies don't mind this- any feedback? How do-able is driving up to Newfoundland in several days? Mapquest suggests it would take 22 hours, driving the speed limit. Would we be better off just flying to St. Johns, despite it being 3x the price of air travel to Maine (and we'd miss the Maine leaves)? Anyone have experience with doing a one-way rental, in either direction, across the border? That would give us more time to enjoy the trip rather than having to do a long round-trip, but I'm not sure if the car rental places would go for it.

I've read Newfoundland roads can be atrocious- some books have suggested packing with the expectation of being stranded "at least 48 hours" and listed places where one can rent a satellite phone. I'm fairly experienced driving on weird little remote roads in tiny cars- that said, any advice?

I don't mind roughing it, but my partner is a fan of those cute little country guesthouses/B&Bs, the kind that sell their own jam. Any suggestions for lodgings, anywhere on the route from Portland, ME, to Newfoundland?

Finally, can you guys suggest books/blogs/anything to buy/read in advance of the trip? Travel guides, local history, local fiction all appreciated. Thanks!
posted by arnicae to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I had a friend who did this trip and they ended up driving on the ice, ripped the chassis off their SUV and nearly died. It is possible to find yourself in an extreme environment and you should prepare accordingly.

Couple suggestions:

1. Rent an SUV, NOT a "tiny car"

2. Get a Sat phone

3. Expect if you get stranded you could be there for days - take the usual for snow camping - water, sleeping bags, stoves for heating snow into water, spare water, flares, snow camping equipment, snow shovel, beacon, etc. etc.

4. Go in August not September - it may snow on those roads in Sept and that can be EXTREMELY dangerous

5. Take the ferry from Maine, its VERY cool and fun
posted by zia at 9:41 AM on May 14, 2007

I also have a friend who made a similar trip, driving to PEI. He and his family went in the early summer, so they didn't face the challenge of encountering snow and ice.

I could hook you up with him via e-mail if you send me an e-mail (in my profile). He also lives in Maine and might be able to answer some of your more general questions.
posted by briank at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2007

Are you driving to Newfoundland or Labrador? The remote driving sounds more like Labrador than understanding of NFLD is that it's pretty populated and used to tourists on roadtrips. Labrador on the other hand...
posted by LunaticFringe at 10:44 AM on May 14, 2007

Zia's suggestions are overly-cautious. Newfoundland has a regular, paved two-lane highway connecting the major towns. You can always go far enough off the beaten track to be driving on... beaten tracks, but you can get everywhere important on quality roads. There's an off-chance of snow in September, but it won't amount to much. You would only run the risk of being stranded in the winter, when Atlantic storms can bury the highway in snow.

Getting to L'Anse Aux Meadows far up the Northern Peninsula may take a slightly rougher road, but it was fine in the 1980s in my parents' Buick LeSabre pulling a camper-trailer.

Which ferry are you planning on taking? The one to Port aux Basques runs year round but leaves you with a long drive across the island, while the ferry to Argentia puts you an hour or so outside of St. John's but stops running in the winter and is down to one boat a week by late September which can often be affected by high seas. You should get a reservation at the Marine Atlantic website ahead of time to guarantee a spot on the boat, whichever one you take.
posted by cardboard at 11:06 AM on May 14, 2007

I would seriously consider blowing off NFLnd if you only have two weeks. Explore Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick instead.

Take the CAT to Yarmouth. Drive up the Acadian shore (Bay of Fundy), drive over to Halifax, then head north to Cape Breton, then take the bridge to PEI, and head home through NB, and Down East ME.
posted by Gungho at 12:53 PM on May 14, 2007

My thoughts as a Nova Scotian:
I don't necessarily suggest you rent an SUV- the roads (even the real Trans Canada Highway) can be pretty twisty and narrow in spots, so rent whatever you feel comfortable handling, and something that can do hills.

It is highly unlikely that there would be snow in early September-but even in Nova Scotia, the leaves aren't usually very pretty until the very end of the month and through October.

I don't suggest driving up through Labrador, because you would have to back-track through New Brunswick and Quebec, and Northern Quebec/Labrador are the places where there aren't very many towns, villages or even gas stations. It would take at least 3 days.

The ferry from Bar Harbour, Maine is very cool and quite fast--the ferry from North Sydney in Cape Breton, NS is not so cool or fast, but still enjoyable. You really can see whales and stuff sometimes. Be sure to make a reservation (the wait times can be killer in high season).

Also, try calling the local state/provincial tourist boards-they'll let you know what to expect.
Newfoundland toll free 1-800-563-6353
Nova Scotia toll free 1-800-565-0000
posted by MissSquare at 12:58 PM on May 14, 2007

Another thing about visiting Newfoundland in August/September is that ferry service may shut down if there's a tropical storm or hurricane in the northwestern Atlantic. The Atlantic storms often skirt Newfoundland but can make the sea a bit treacherous, so you can be stuck waiting even if you have a reservation. We were stuck four days in North Sydney.

It also very rarely snows in September in Atlantic Canada. If you want snow in September, you have to go to southern Alberta (and even then it's rare and is usually followed by a 90F heatwave).
posted by watsondog at 2:31 PM on May 14, 2007

As long as you stay on the Trans-Canada Highway, you'll be fine. The roads there and in most of the larger towns are fine, but if you leave the TCH, they may get a bit more dicey (exceptions being roads on the Avalon Peninsula and Route 430, which goes up the Great Northern Peninsula—they're both pretty good). Towns in Newfoundland may be spread out, but the TCH and the more heavily traveled roads tend to have enough traffic so that you could get help if you needed it.

Do not drive at night unless you are actually within a municipality (like St. John's, Corner Brook, St. Anthony, or Deer Lake). Newfoundland has moose. They weigh more than you, and they weigh more than what you will be driving. They also have a habit of charging into automobiles.
posted by oaf at 4:56 PM on May 15, 2007

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