The Canadian Rockies? Check. The Arctic? Check. But what about Torngat Mountains National Park? If you haven’t crossed this epic destination off your bucket list, it’s time to plan a trip. This dramatic, otherworldly landscape of sweeping peaks and valleys in Newfoundland and Labrador named for the Inuktitut “Tongait” or “place of the spirits” is remote with a capital R, which is why most travellers never make it there. Here’s why you should.
What all the fuss is about
It’s hard to describe the Torngats without gushing. It’s simply superlative. It’s a place of unusual geology created by some of the world’s oldest rocks. Towering glacier-carved mountains in hues of peach, green, and gray rise up dramatically from river-cut valleys and fjords far below like a cinematographer’s flipside take on Mordor. The place feels brooding, uplifting, and spiritual at the same time. Not surprisingly, it was once the stomping grounds of Inuit shamans. A visit means experiencing nature at her most unspoiled. Go for solitude, rugged adventure, to meet the Indigenous Peoples who live there, and to see creatures like polar bears, whales, and caribou in their pristine natural environment.
How to get there
The Torngat Mountains are remote and there are no roads — that’s the draw. The park is 9,700 square kilometres of wilderness on untamed northern Labrador’s Atlantic coast. It’s a long journey because you have to fly through Labrador, either Goose Bay or Nain, from St. John’s, Newfoundland or Montreal, Quebec. From there, it’s a charter flight, then a 40-minute boat ride to the park’s base camp. It’s just all part of the experience.
On your way in, stop in rowdy St. John’s and an outport fishing community to get to know "the Rock," a poetic landscape that’s unpretentious and authentically captivating along with the irreverent, musical, and proudly salt-of-the-Earth folks. The guys at CapeRace Adventures can connect you with friendly neighbours and a kitchen party or two.
When to go and what to pack
July and August are the time for adventure in the Torngats. But be prepared for weather delays and be sure to bring the right gear. That is, you’ll want to pack rain wear, sturdy hiking boots, warm outdoor clothing, and a cold-weather insulated sleeping bag — and, as the operators say, bring along “flexibility and a hefty sense of humor.”
Where to stay
Options vary widely from do-it-yourself roughing it, to luxe heated accommodations provided by high-end operators. For example, wild camp on your own (there are no permanent campgrounds) and charter your own flight in, or hire an outfitter to set it all up and take you heli-hiking. Perhaps the most authentic, unusual experience, though, is the Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Research Station. Open late July to late August, it’s a seasonal solar-powered tent camp and lab just outside the park’s southern edge on Saglek Fjord, in addition to some remote fly-in locations for research projects. There’s no Internet, but there is running water, plus showers and flush toilets, and all meals are provided. Guests can stay alongside researchers. And those that do rave about the experience.
Top things to do
- Go to base camp: Only a dozen or so intrepid adventurers visit the Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Research Station each year. That, and the spectacular location, make the experience incomparable. This is a spot where scientists embark on all kinds of research, from anthropology and physics, to climatology and oceanography, with guests alongside. Embark on hardcore hiking and scouting expeditions via the crew’s Zodiacs and helicopters, with a skilled Inuit bear guard who’s always in tow.
- Meet the Inuit: At base camp, you get to hang out with Nunatsiavut and Nunavik elders and youth. Learn how they catch and fillet Arctic char in a matter of seconds, smoke it (“pitsik”), and whip up a traditional dessert of char eggs and seal oil with foraged berries. Watch Inuit throat singing, learn Inuktitut, and watch traditional Inuit games.
- Explore: If you’re on your own, Parks Canada offers itineraries and outings almost daily in the summer. Go wildlife viewing via boat, motor around looking for icebergs, boat to Silluak (North Arm) among the astonishing fjords and then hike to a waterfall or fish for char. Sometimes there’s a fish fry on the beach, plus bannock (traditional bread roasted over the fire on a stick). Another top spot is Sillikuluk (Rose Island), an archaeological site of 600 Inuit graves.
The best views
Hike wherever as long as you’re prepared — panoramic views are literally all around you. From basecamp, favourite vistas are from the hilltop inukshuk and Torr Bay. If you want to get up higher than the clouds, rent a helicopter and hover over the Torngat peaks.
On the Atlantic and Canada’s farthest east point, Newfoundland and Labrador — the far-flung communities, seafaring culture, Celtic musical roots, and emerald cliffs — will stir you. Find out what makes the place enchanting and like no other.