An ATV Adventure in Central Newfoundland
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 8 seconds
When you’ve lived in Newfoundland for almost 20 years and you tell people you’ve never been on an ATV you get some funny looks. What can I say? I’m a city girl. So it was a good thing that Adventure Central added a backcountry ATV excursion to my epic Central Newfoundland summer itinerary. I was already pushing my comfort zone with salmon fishing and rapids rafting so what was one more thing.
It was going to be an all day private tour so I was advised to pack a lunch and arrive bright and early. No matter where you go, the locals are the ones who know better than anyone what makes a place special so I was happy to spend the day with my guide Rob, who grew up and still makes his home in the area.
Located directly across the turnoff to Route 390 (and the Springdale Junction Esso), Rob Clarke Motorsports rents snowmobiles, ATVs, and side-by-sides (SxS) as well as offering daily guiding services year-round. If water is more your thing you can also book a tour with sister company, Green Bay Eco-Tours.
The plan was to explore the backcountry and maybe spot some wildlife along with amazing scenery, which central Newfoundland is not lacking. When you’re just rushing along the highway it’s so easy to miss the beauty, but exploring on an ATV or SxS you’re able to see so much more. The island has so much untouched wilderness but it’s easy to forget that when you spend most of your time on the coast.
Being an ATV newbie, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the ride. I started off trying to brace myself with my feet and holding onto the front grab bar while the SxS rocked and rolled over the terrain but that didn’t feel very sustainable for 8 hours so before long I let go and just went along for the ride. I tell you what though, I should’ve worn a sports bra. It’s amazing what kind of terrain a SxS can go over. If you’re prone to motion induced nausea, prepare accordingly. We experienced everything from fast and smooth roads to slow and bumpy bushwacking.
As we ventured further off road the sights and smells of the backcountry filled my eyes and nose. We passed black acidic boggy pools next to crisp white stands of birch. Tree stumps gnawed to a point by a busy beaver. A few majestic red pines, which because of its rareness, efforts are being made to make it a protected species. The smell of wildflowers and spruce wafting in the air. A caribou mom and baby crossed our path before darting into the brush. We stopped at one look and got the binoculars out to scan for moose. Bingo! With the naked eye it just looked like a rock that had moved but it turned out to be a bill bull moose off in the distance.
We stopped for lunch on the shore of Birchy Lake. Central Newfoundland was going through a dry spell and less winter snow and spring rain meant that the lake had a pebbly beach not usually seen. This is also when I realised just how dusty the whole SXS affair is. Thank goodness I had wet wipes backed in my bag!
We mostly travelled on snowmobile trails maintained by the NL Snowmobile Federation, but I soon gave up on trying to figure out which direction we were heading or how far we’d gone. During stops, I’d take a peek at the map on my phone to get an idea. We travelled about 160km round trip over our 8 hour ride. Rob told me that we’d done a big figure 8 on the trails but I’ll have to take his word for it. It wasn’t hard to see that he knows the ATV trails around Springdale Junction like the back of his hand.
Though they were bumpier and slower, I preferred the parts of the trail that were narrower. It just felt like you were that much more off-grid.
I was surprised when the track we were on widened out and became well graded. Not long after I spotted a cabin, and then another and another all along the Sheffield lakeshore. Then we were passed by a truck. OK, maybe not everything was backcountry exploring on this day.
ATVing is a big hobby in this part of the world. Rob told me about once taking his ATV all the way to Grand Falls for an ice cream because it was a nice day. Or about him and his dad driving to Deer Lake for an overnight trip. And how now, with the new power lines installed, you can ride all the way to Hawkes Bay. It would take you countless days to explore all the ATV trails just in this part of the province alone. I can see why it’s popular.
We went right to the top of a hill by a communication tower to get a panoramic view of Birchy Lake and more than once it felt like we were right on the edge of a mountain. Is there nowhere an ATV can’t go? We revved up a hill and I was tilted at an angle that felt like being in a recliner. We’d pick our way down a hill and I was bracing with my feet to not pitch forward.
We stopped for an afternoon snack by Sheffield Lake and low and behold, there was a caribou getting ready to have a little siesta. We were upwind, so even though we’d made noise, he wasn’t bothered by us. All three of us just hung out at that lake for a bit before it was time to continue the SxS tour.
We travelled along the power lines for a while. These ones were older lines and any easy access had long been erased. There were moments when it didn’t look like there was any trail at all, not that you could get lost going power pole to power pole, and that all we were doing was bushwhacking. While it made my stomach lurch a little, it was actually one of my favourite bits.
My brand new Goodr sunglasses really had a harsh test run. They live up to the hype though. Didn’t bounce or slide all day, despite the heat, dust, and bouncy SxS motion. If you’re looking for some stylish sport sunglasses, you can’t go wrong.
Nearing supper, just before we got back to home base, Rob made a detour to show me the swimming hole and waterfall on Burnt Berry Brook he and his friends used to go to as kids. It looked like the perfect spot for a summer dip, starting shallow but then dropping significantly to a depth of 20’ in the middle. He said there were caverns so you could swim behind the falls and a natural whirlpool at the top. It was all quite magical. He told me about how they used to jump off the cliffs and climb back up with a rope they’d installed. The rope is long gone now and it was kind of sad to see this hidden gem overgrown and abandoned. Even if someone came with brush cutters and cleared the path, are there enough kids and teens in the area anymore to make it a lively summer hang out again?
All in all, I had an excellent, if dusty, day exploring the central Newfoundland backcountry getting to see things I would never see from the highway.
What: All day ATV Adventure with Rob Clarke Motorsports
Where: Springdale Junction, NL
Length: 5-8 hours
Cost: from $300
Make sure you bring:
- A lunch and snacks, water
- Sunscreen, bug spray
- Wet wipes
- TP/baggie & hand sanitizer
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