Mistaken Point, Newfoundland

Unique fossils that make Mistaken Point a UNESCO World Heritage Site

This was our first visit to the eastern shore of Newfoundland. No matter how much research we do, we always find more that surprises us. This is the joy and challenge of traveling to new places.

Interpretive sign at the Mistaken Point

We stumbled across the UNESCO World Heritage site, Mistaken Point, inadvertently (um… by mistake). As we explored the southeastern coast of Newfoundland during the summer of 2022, the Mistaken Point Interpretive Center by the side of the road caught our eye, so we pulled in to investigate. From St. John’s, Newfoundland, Mistaken Point is about a two-hour drive south. Follow NL-10 south along what is called the “Irish Loop”.

Well explained interpretive installations helped us better understand the significance of this special place

Soft-bodied organisms, now preserved in stone, constitute a large majority of exposed fossils on this singular stretch of coastline. The renowned fossil beds that earned the UNESCO World Heritage designation are off limits to casual visitors (like us). Guided tours are available by reservation, and scientific studies are granted by permit only. Since we missed the tour that was headed out as we arrived, we spent time investigating fossil samples, photos of the cliffs, and detailed information about the area in the museum that is part of the interpretive center. A brief video is available for visitors to watch, detailing the discovery of the fossils, the studies that have been conducted, and the pride local residents feel in having this singular stretch of coastline their backyard.

Because the site is so fragile, advance planning is essential if you want to view the fossils in person. The cliffs are relatively rugged, so with my limited mobility I would have had to forego the in-person experience regardless. It turned out that the interpretive center offered me the best view of the cliffs and fossils.

Our original goal was to reach Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve where thousands of gannets nest each year. We never got that far, but we found other stunning sights along the way. As we explored the area in this rather remote part of the island we stopped to investigate a derelict bridge just off the road. A cascading streams flowed under the bridge, headed to the sea. This old cart road offered an Easy Walk where we stretched our legs during a six-hour explore of the area.

Open grasslands where caribou roam

A small parking area along NL-10 had signage noting that we were on the edge of the Avalon Wilderness Reserve, where we might be able to see caribou (if we were lucky). No luck that day, but the sight of so much flat, open grassland offered a stunning contrast to the otherwise rugged coastline. The wilderness reserve is the breeding ground for caribou, native to Newfoundland. The better-known moose, another common large mammal on the island, are not native to Newfoundland and now threaten the fragile ecosystem of the interior of the island. They were brought to the island in 1904 by a government initiative in an effort to attract big game hunters.

We began our day trip from the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve area where we saw hundreds of thousands of puffins on their nesting grounds. Learn more about our experiences seeing puffins on our visit HERE. We brought our camper with us and stayed right along the shoreline at a local campground overlooking the marine sanctuary.

Mistaken Point is a treacherous stretch of coastline for sea-going vessels. The fog that is common to the area presents a real hazard for boats. Evidently many ocean-going travelers discovered their mistake in sailing too close to the shore, with tragic consequences. Thus the name of this point on the far south of the Avalon peninsula. Visiting by road is your best option. The visitor center closes for the winter, but reopens every spring, in May.

We found no shortage of beautiful places to explore on this visit to that included Mistaken Point. In fact, there were too many places for us to take them all in. We simply will have to go back. Happy trails!


Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionEasy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.


Filed under Blog posts--Easy Walks

4 responses to “Mistaken Point, Newfoundland

  1. jan jorgensen

    So cool!!

    Sending hugs and lovejan

    “Blessed are you who bear the light in unbearable times, who testify to its endurance amid the unendurable, who bear witness to its persistence when everything seems in shadow and grief.”  (Jan Richardson) Jorgensen (she/her) lawnchairsoiree.org/janjorgensen

    • Marjorie

      Oh my dear–It’s a long trip from most anywhere, but certainly worth the trip if you are able. We want to go back.

  2. mnimiros

    Very cool! I love the place names. Mistaken Point, Witless Bay! I’m a big fan of geological points of interest so this one is definitely on the list now.

    • Marjorie

      Yup–a lot of Newffie humor thereabouts. Definitely worth the trip, especially if you enjoy geology. A geologist’s paradise, for sure. Gros Morne is another stunning geological wonder–very cool stuff going on–what New England must have looked like eons ago. much less erosion, the mountains stopping at the water’s edge is amazing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.