Trans Labrador Highway Adventure (with photos)

Started by ghYHZ, October 02, 2010, 03:13:28 PM

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The recent completion of the 290km section of the Trans Labrador Highway between Cartwright Jct. and Goose Bay opened up the opportunity for a drive across Labrador, in a "loop"  without having to backtrack.

First leg of the trip was from Antigonish, NS to the Marine Atlantic Ferry at North Sydney, NS. I had reservations on the 2am crossing to Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland which meant leaving home just after 10pm for a midnight check-in at the terminal.

The "Atlantic Vision"  was running a couple of hours late and we were finally able to board at 3am. I went straight to my cabin for a good sleep as it would be a long drive later that day. The Vision is one big boat.......500 cars, 1000 passengers, and a full range of cabins, restaurants and lounges.

Arrival in Port-aux-Basques was at 11 am......I always haul into the Timmy's at the east end of town for 20 minutes or so to let the ferry traffic clear then you basically have the Trans Canada Highway to yourself.....wide & smooth, paved shoulders, passing lanes (four lanes wide in places)..... Looking ahead you may not see another vehicle......same behind!

At Corner Brook you pick-up a four-lane divided section of TCH1 to Pasadena then head off onto NL430 the "Viking Trail"  at Deer Lake......A very scenic drive which parallels the west coast through Gros Morne National Park to the 1000 year old Viking Settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows. I followed NL430 as far a Plum Point (280 km) and found a motel for the night.

The next morning I had a 20 minute drive to the Labrador Ferry at St. Barbe and again, a late running ferry.......instead of leaving at 10:30am it was 1:30pm when we departed. Guess I had expected a small ferry and only a few passengers but found the large xEuropean ferry "Apollo"  handling about 125 cars, trucks and buses.....and full going across. It takes about 1 1\2 hours for the 35 km crossing of the Strait of Belle Isle.

Arrival is in Blanc-Sablon, Quebec when you pick up the isolated far eastern end of QC138 then immediately cross into Labrador on NL510....and the start of the Trans Labrador Highway. This road is paved as far as Red Bay, 80km and was quite rough in places. It had been sunny and warm on the drive up through Newfoundland but had now turned windy and a cold 6C with mist and fog......the locals even said this was very unseasonably cold for July 2!

At Red Bay it starts to rain and NL510 turns to gravel......the next pavement is 500 KM away at Goose Bay but the road is fine......Some loose gravel in places from recent grading but also hard packed and I can easily maintain 80. (Posted limit is 70) This can generally be said about all of the Trans Labrador and the newer sections are best described as a super-two without the asphalt......high, wide and straight.

I was planning to stop for the night at Port Hope Simpson but it was only 7pm. I had some camping gear with me, so gassed up @ $1.29 and decided to continue on. This section of road was constructed several years ago and runs to Cartwright where until recently you had to catch another ferry to Goose Bay. But now, on reaching Cartwright Junction (87 km south of Cartwright) you meet the new 285 km section of the Trans Labrador Highway that's been under construction for the past several years and can now continue straight-through into Goose Bay.

I was going to haul-off onto a side road and camp for the night but there are no side roads......there's not even a borrow or gravel pit and any that were used during the previous construction phases have been closed-off.  I continued on for another 100 km or so to an area where some road work is still being done and found a place to pull-off for the night.

The next morning I was into an area of some major work where rock-cuts were being blasted through, new bridges constructed and it was a bit rough for a few kms.....but still easily passable for my Corolla. Construction had been rushed last December to get this section things were being finished up this summer. Then it was onto Goose Bay......The Churchill River is wide here and crossed just before the junction with NL500 about 10 km west of town.

Goose Bay was once a large US Air Force Base and is still a refueling point for trans-Atlantic flights. Population is around 8000.....with several hotels, restaurants and gas was a more reasonable $1.16.

Leaving Goose Bay there's about 30 km of new asphalt then 260 km of gravel to the next town: Churchill Falls. It's was a nice day with sun and cloud and much warmer than along the coast. Not much sign of (human) life in-between but I did see several black bear, moose and caribou. Churchill Falls is a company town and exists only for the hydro-electric development here. There's a couple of KMs of asphalt through town then onto Wabush/Labrador City......another 240 kms away (200 gravel/40 paved) with quite a bit of road work going on.....widening and grading. I really felt sorry for the flaggers....covered with netting to protect themselves from the black flies!

I met very little traffic other than in the construction areas. There had been rain the previous couple of days but the road wasn't muddy......just enough moisture to keep the dust down.  

Next sign of civilization is a railway crossing in the middle of nowhere! This is the busy Quebec, North Shore & Labrador hauling iron ore 500km down to the port at Sept-Iles. I reached Wabush at 7pm after 13 hours and 700 km of mostly gravel driving for the day.......Probably could have done it faster but the scenery is great with lakes, rivers and lots of opportunity for pictures and video.

Wabush/Labrador City, population around 10,000 has shopping centres, several motels, restaurants and gas @ $1.18. Most here work for the Iron Ore Company Of Canada and in the mines. I got a good nights sleep at the Hotel Wabush and ready for another 575 kms tomorrow.

NL500 continues 30km to the Quebec border and the start of QC389. I drove about 3km into another company town......Fermont......the main building in town is a kilometer long and contains over 500 apartments, a shopping centre, pool, gym, school, etc. all under one roof.

After passing the open pit mine at Mont-Wright the gravel begins with a few sharp 50km ph turns and several RR crossings in the first few kilometers......we're paralleling the Cartier Railway which runs down to Port Cartier.

Near the Fire Lake mine, asphalt begins and continues for about 100km, wide and straight to the abandoned town site of Gagnon. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere the road splits into a wide boulevard, the former town's main street with grassed median, curb/gutter and sidewalks

......But there are no buildings. Gagnon was another company town constructed around 1960. It lasted until the mid "˜80s when the mines closed.......then was abandoned and everything demolished. Even the airport is still there but no longer used. You can see the outline of the terminal building and ramp where Quebecair jets once parked......I just had to drive down the centre-line of the 6000' asphalt runway!

Gravel begins again just south of the town site. At Relais Gabriel KM315, an "Irving"  sign appears at the side of the road and I top up the tank at $1.35. There's also a restaurant and a few cabins. The scenery is great with views overlooking the Manicouagan Reservoir.....wild, beautiful country!

Just before Hydro Quebec's Manic 5 Dam at KM215 (from Baie-Comeau) the gravel finally ends.....I had made it through!  No flats (I had two spares with me just incase) and not even a rock-chip on the windshield!  There's a small community here with restaurant, gas and motel. The dam is huge and tours are offered. A couple of other dams are located along the Manicouagan River which we parallel for 200km down to Baie Comeau and every few KMs, signs indicate evacuation routes to be taken to higher ground. QC389 is an older, narrow paved road through numerous rock-cuts with long steep grades as you drop down through the valley......and good for an average speed of about 80.

I reached Baie-Comeau at about 4pm and headed straight for the ferry dock to get across the St. Lawrence River. There's a crossing to Matane at 8pm but all reservations were taken and I had about a 50/50 chance for stand-by. I was able to reserve for the 8am crossing the next morning and decided just to stay in the Baie-Comeau for the night at the Comfort Inn. The morning ferry uses the Godbout terminal, about 50 km east along's a quick drive and I'm there at 7:15.

The Traversier Quebec "Camille Marcoux"  (120 cars) was full for the 2 hour run over to Matane. From the dock there, the access road leads directly to QC195 then on to QC132 in Amqui. At Matapedia I crossed into New Brunswick and it's mostly "Super 2"  down the east coast on NB 11 & 8 to near Moncton then divided NB TCH1 to Nova Scotia's TCH104 at Amherst.......On through the tolls in the Cobequid Pass to the end of the 4 Lanes at New Glasgow......I'm home in Antigonish  at 8pm with 3300 km on odometer.

Link to more of my photos and a few notes:

Generally the gravel roads are in good condition........especially the newer sections that have been constructed high, wide and straight. There was quite a bit of construction so things are only going to get better.

Roads have been graded in places so watch the loose gravel but still lots of hard packed areas and it was easy to maintain a speed of around 80 (and a lot higher in places!)

The northern end of QC389 between Mont Wright and Fire Lake has several RR crossings and is an older gravel road with numerous 50kmph turns.  

There wasn't much traffic so dust and flying rocks weren't a problem.

I was prepared for the worst but didn't find it........but I would still recommend taking a couple of spare tires just in case.

Gas is far between so top-up when you can.

There are Motels and Restaurants in the larger communities: Goose Bay, Lab City/Wabush, Baie Comeau and with a little planning you can have a reservation for each evening......don't just chance walking in and getting a room.

There are emergency phone booths every few KMs along QC389. I have Rogers so didn't have any cell coverage from the time I left Nova Scotia until I got back to Campbellton, NB.....don't know about Bell or Tellus coverage in Labrador but there is Bell coverage on the island of Newfoundland. (There's Rogers in eastern NFLD but not on the west coast)  


Some nice pictures there - what camera do you use? You've used a program that doesn't save the EXIF.

Some of the gas prices you mentioned are a bit shocking. A couple of weeks ago in Alberta it was around 90c whereas remote parts of BC were over $1.10. If you happen to see anything approaching $2 it will be similar to what we pay over here.
Speed limits limit life


Quote from: Truvelo on October 02, 2010, 06:07:16 PM
Some nice pictures there - what camera do you use? You've used a program that doesn't save the EXIF.

Some of the gas prices you mentioned are a bit shocking. A couple of weeks ago in Alberta it was around 90c whereas remote parts of BC were over $1.10. If you happen to see anything approaching $2 it will be similar to what we pay over here.

Thanks......Half the pictures are from a Sony W150 Point & Shoot....the others are captured images from HD Video.

Yes, gas was high in's a long way to haul it to individual stations. It was also the July 1st Holiday Weekend so probably dropped a couple of cents the following Monday! Here is Nova Scotia it's a 1.02 but was just under a dollar a week ago.


Very impressive.  I wanted to drive up past Gros Mornes and see Labrador, but didn't have enough time for that in August (which is the trip that fueled my last update).  Still in my plans - I'd love to see the Viking settlement, and everything I've seen from the roads you drove indicates that I want to drive them too.


Impressive trip.  How many days total did it take you?


Great trip!  I'm planning a similar loop trip next year, with some extra time on Newfoundland island to cover the parts I didn't in 2003, as well as PEI. 

I'm still working out when's the best time of the summer to go, navigating around some things already on my 2011 calendar.  It sounds like you didn't go early enough (in early July) to avoid the black flies, which I've heard can be awful.
my Hot Springs and Highways pages, with links to my roads sites:

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