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St. John's Day Trip: Witless Bay, Ferryland, and Mistaken Point

Updated: May 17

The most eastern point of my grand adventure of driving across Canada (and back) was St. John's, Newfoundland. I planned to explore St. John's and the surrounding area and was looking for a day trip outside the city. My ear was getting used to the Newfoundland cadence and unique accent. I needed some coastal meanderings. My host suggested that the perfect St. John's Day Trip should include a coastal drive along the "Irish Loop" to Ferryland, promising great views, a good walk, a historic lighthouse and "chances a-plenty for lollygagging, for sure". As a known lollygagger, I couldn't miss this opportunity.

I created a day trip to include stops at Witless Bay, Ferryland, and Mistaken Point before returning to St. John's along the same route. An unexpected sign encouraged a delightful stop to check out a small cove led to a delightful encounter with some local fishermen showcasing the warmth and welcome that every traveller experiences in Newfoundland.

Pack your road trip snacks, download some podcasts, and charge up your camera. It's going to be a great day!

A quiet cove with small fishing boats and recreational sailboats tied to a pier
Bay Bulls, Newfoundland


Planning A Day Trip from St. John's

The drive along the eastern coast of the Avalon Peninsula using Highway 10 is very straightforward. This itinerary is a full day, including all the stops and taking advantage of spontaneous diversions. The total driving time in each direction is approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Witless Bay is a short scenic stop unless you choose to book an ecotour or walk part of the East Coast Trail. The nearby River of Boats is a must-stop.

Ferryland Lighthouse requires a 2 km walk from the parking lot, so add another 30 - 40 minutes each way. Plan to enjoy the famous picnic lunch at the Ferryland Lighthouse. You'll want to spend at least two hours at the lighthouse, more if you arrive during peak lunch hours. Mistaken Point features a UNESCO World Heritage Site with rare fossils that I found endlessly fascinating. I needed 2 hours.

Witless Bay  (35km 31 min)

Along with Bay Bulls and Mobile, Witless Bay is where most of St. John's eco-tours depart. The waters surrounding the Avalon Peninsula are teeming with humpback and minke whales. The Avalon Ecological Reserve encompasses four islands that attract millions of seabirds, including puffins. Puffins always get me excited.

two yellow painted wooden beach chairs facing a pretty cove, with a red painted picnic table in the foreground
Witless Bay Beach Path

The town of Witless Bay is a traditional outpost town that has embraced ecotourism. It is one of the very few Newfoundland towns growing in population. Originally named after the founding family, the Whittles, it was known as Whittle's Bay. After Mrs. Whittle returned to the UK after her husband's death, locals began to call the town Whittleless, which eventually got shortened to Witless.

I had a tour planned for the following day, leaving from Bay Bulls, where I participated in a Screeching-In ceremony and saw puffins and whales. I booked my tour with O'Brien's Whale and Bird Tours. We saw minke whales and puffins while enjoying a lively and educational narration.

2 Puffins on a grassy hillside nesting area

Walk along the waterfront and through the town for a short and scenic stop. The Beaches Path trail is part of the East Coast Trail and is rated easy. The entire length of the trail is about 7 km (one way) and passes through several different biomes. Since the day was early and I still had the rest of my day ahead, I walked about 2-3 kilometres before turning back.

River of Boats

About 2 minutes past Witless Bay, look for the signs advertising the River of Boats. This is an amazing display of model boats and structures lovingly created and maintained privately. The boats are displayed in charming dioramas. I consider this a must-stop attraction. Read more about it in this dedicated post.

Ferryland Lighthouse  (43 km 43 min)

Ferryland is one of the oldest settlements in Canada, founded in the early 1600s. The Ferryland Lighthouse was built in 1870. Visitors approach the Ferryland Lighthouse on foot along a 2 km gravel-coated trail. The lighthouse is perched on top of hill, with splendid views of the surrounding waters.

A white wooden 2 story building with a red, domed light on top
The Ferryland Lighthouse

Visitors can explore the lighthouse and grounds, browse in the gift shop, and order a hearty picnic lunch. Lighthouse Picnics offers picnics that include a thick sandwich, pickles, and a mug of delicious lemonade ($15 - $25). Order your favourite and head outside to choose your spot on the grass, where your lunch is delivered to your (provided) picnic blanket. Don't be surprised to see whales, seabirds, and maybe even an iceberg pass by.

A picnic of sandwich, salad, and lemonade on a picnic blanket on the grass with a lighthouse in the background

Mistaken Point UNESCO World Heritage Site (78 km, 1 hr 13 min).

Cape Race, at the southern end of the Avalon Peninsula, was where the New World explorers first saw North America. The waters and storms common in the area were treacherous, sending hundreds of ships beneath the waves. The lighthouse was built in the mid-1800s. The wireless station nearby received and transmitted the Titanic's distress call

A tour group walking along a rocky bluff with a large waves crashing against the shoreline
image credit: Mistaken Point Interpretative Centre

A highlight for me was a guided tour at this UNESCO World Heritage Site along paths atop a 565 million-year-old sea floor where a professional guide pointed out fossils with vivid descriptions of turbulent geology and emerging life. A guided tour is required to enter this delicate area.

A close view of a fossil in the rocks

The guided tour also includes admission to the Mistaken Point Interpretative Centre, which features exhibitions about the wireless station, lighthouse, and Titanic. The Centre also includes a Gift Shop where you can purchase unique souvenirs and artisan crafts.

Open May to October

Admission with Guided Tour $23

Bonus: I Don't Know Bay

A favourite part of any road trip is finding unexpected treasures along the way by making diversions based on intriguing signs or inexplicable whims. One of those whims sent me driving down a narrow road towards a sheltered cove, looking for something pretty to photograph. This time I didn't see a sign, just a pretty view and a road. I got my photographs, but I also got so much more.

A fisherman wearing bright yellow overalls cleaning a fish on the docks

In the cove, there was a small dock with a fishing boat tied up. As I approached, two fishermen were cleaning their fish. I asked for permission to include them and their work in my shot, which quickly turned into some fun bantering, multiple tall tales of fishing glory, and multiple suggestions for the name of the cove. We also shared a very nuanced discussion of overfishing and the impact of fishing regulations on fishing stocks and Newfoundland fishing families. I was invited to stay longer to share a fish fry. I sadly declined the offer as I had evening plans and more kilometres to cover.

4 cleaned fish on the cleaning table

I never did learn the name of the cove. I have learned to embrace the desire to follow that whim. I encourage all road trippers to do the same.

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5 days ago

Anything for a puffin, fossil remains, gorgeous views, lighthouses and unnamed coves (and the men that come with them) -  a merry mix of travel treat is such a delight to have and encounter on a Canadian road adventure #flyingbaguette

Jan -


6 days ago

What a stunning place to visit. I'd love to learn about the history there. I think it's awesome you got to connect with the local fisherman. It's a respected way of life there and connecting with the community is one of the best reasons to travel. I'm sure there are plenty of shipwreck stories out there as well. So cool


May 20

I'm intrigued now by the connection of Mistaken Point and the Titanic, as well as the numerous excellent fossils. Have to admit, these are really well-preserved and provide a unique glimpse into early multicellular life. The rugged coastal landscape adds to its allure, and like you, I could have fully immersed myself at the site for hours.

Carolin | <a href="">Solo Travel Story</a>

Replying to

Mistaken Point was an unexpected treasure for me. I hadn't been aware of the site previous to my visit. It was a real highlight.


The area certainly has a lot to offer from ancient fossils, to whales and puffin spotting, to lighthouses and magnificent scenery.

It has the kind of variety I love in a visit, a mixture of different aspects of geography and history that inspires me to travel.

Those fossils would be a must-see for me, as I believe I have never seen any in situ - only in museums, so would be an exciting first.

This whole region of Canada is so steeped in history and yours travels around it have been enlightening to read and digest.

Replying to

We are lucky in Canada with many areas where fossils can be seen by regular folks but fossil fields are special and carry a sense of awe and connection to the pre-human world.

Another great place you'd enjoy if travelling in Western Canada is Drumheller, in Alberta. (About 2.5 hrs east of Banff.)


Wow! So many amazing things to see on this day trip and perfect lollygagging opportunities. The Ferryland lighthouse looks like a wonderful place to stop and have a picnic, especially a delicious one that you can order, while you can potentially see whales, birds and even icebergs! But it is Mistaken Point that would be the highlight for us - we would be in our element seeing the fossils on that ancient sea floor.

And how great to chance upon a cove and friendly fishermen. Although we won't be able to visit Newfoundland on our forthcoming trip to Eastern Canada, we hope that there may be a chance for us to make similar discoveries in Nova Scotia.

Mitch from

Replying to

I predict you will have a marvelous time in Nova Scotia which will have you arranging to return to explore the other Atlantic provinces.

You'll have lots of lollygagging opportunities to enjoy.

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