The Newfoundland T’Railway is an 883km long rail-trail that crosses Newfoundland from East to West, running from St. John’s in the East to Port aux Basques in the West. As a mixed-use rail-trail, the T’Railway takes you across some of Canada’s most unique landscapes. Crossing 130 bridges along the route whomever takes on this route will be subject to beautiful vistas throughout the entire 883km.
The T’Railway follows an old rail line from Channel Port aux Basques to St John’s. Now a linear provincial park, the trail provides a close-up view of the diverse landscape and culture on the island. You will see historic and new urban neighbourhoods, secluded forests, quiet meadows, fishing villages, inlets, sprawling barrens, massive rock outcrops and grand ocean and mountain views. To travel the T’Railway is to step back in time. The railway served Newfoundland from 1898-1988, moving so slowly on its narrow gauge track it was affectionately nicknamed the ‘Newfie Bullet’. Today reminders of the railway era abound. There are relic and restored stations, museums with old trains, railway cars now revamped as homes, and trestles – 132, which have been restored for trail users.
Newfoundland T'Railway Provincial Park
Scenery: As predicted the section from Port-aux-Basques to Badger was the most scenic. Central NF (Badger to Terra Nova Nat’l Park) was mostly boreal forest – the good news is that the trail in this area is in good shape, and you can make good time. From Terra Nova to St. John’s there is a great mixture of scenery.
Bridges: One great thing about riding these old train lines is you are sure to cross lots of bridges. There is something like 130 or more bridges along the route.
Animals: I saw no moose for the entire ride but did see rabbits, grouse, spawning salmon, fox, caribou and beavers.
Maps: NL Tourism provides free maps that show the T’railway. This is more than enough to ride the route.
Distance Table: Print the distance table to use for planning food and water stops.
While most times you would assume that rail trail should be pretty easy going, the Newfoundland T’railway is anything but. It will throw everything it can at you as you cross the harsh landscape that is Newfoundland. You will ride crushed gravel, ruts, sand, ATV trail and more.
Mountain Bike: For this route, the recommendation is to use a mountain bike. It is recommended to use tires on the bigger end of the spectrum, in order to provide as much comfort as possible. The recommendation would be to ride something in the 29+ range of tire size, or even a fatbike if you have one.
Gravel Bike: A cyclocross bike is not recommended for this route. That does not mean it is impossible to complete it on 38C tires, it just means that it would be overly difficult. If using a gravel bike with 700 wheels, you’ll want to have a newer style gravel bike that can accommodate tires in the 2″ or larger range or outfit it with the largest tires your bike can accommodate. Many parts of the route can be ridden on smaller tires such as 45C, but some parts would be overly difficult.
Setup: Run tubeless if possible. You can use bikepacking style bags or a hybrid setup with small panniers. A lighter set-up allows of easier riding, especially in the hillier and more technical sections. You are also going to want to have a wide-range of gear options for climbing the bigger and tougher hills.
People: As always on adventures, meeting people is a highlight, and an especially welcome break from yourself when traveling solo. I met two couples on ATV’s on the west coast who offered me cookies and a can of pop, another couple on an ATV who stopped and asked “Is that a Pugsley?” (I just about shit) and offered me a place to stay if needed in Grand Falls, and a mountain biker in Deer Lake who was all jazzed about my bike and what I was doing, to name just a few.
The Trail: The condition of the trail was good. The roughest section was in the Gaff Topsails which are the most remote section of the trail and the section that gets the worst weather. The only time I dropped my tire pressure was in this section as there were a lot of “baby heads” and I was bouncing a bit. The trail was in its best shape in Central and approaching St. John’s, where you could easily ride a road bike
Campgrounds: Check the POI’s for camping locations and use your diligence to look over the maps beforehand.
Wild camping: There are several abandoned Provincial Park campsites along the way which could be used for comfortable wild camping sites. Although much of the route is dotted with towns, there are still ample amounts of place to pitch a tent for the night without being seen. Remember to follow “leave no trace” practices.
Food and Fuel: Access to stores occurred every day. Most communities have a small convenience store where you can get a least the usually array of junk food; I was able to get bananas, for example, most days. For those of you not from Newfoundland convenience stores here also sell beer, and if you are really lucky they may also have a Liquor Express so you can get wine and distilled spirits as well. Also, fuel for alcohol stoves was readily available in most of these stores as well – it is sold as gas line antifreeze, about $1.60 for 150ml (three good burns). Canisters and white gas were available in the major centres (Corner Brook, Grand Falls, Gander).
As this route follows rail trail it is not overly difficult physically, aside from the fact that it is nearly 900km long. However, there are a few considerations to take into account. Newfoundland is notorious for its prevailing wind, so it would be a wise decision to tackle this route from West to East. Rail trail also doesn’t provide as many rests while going downhill as you would get on roads, so much of the time is spent in what may feel as never-ending pedalling. Finally, although there is a good amount of climbing to be done each day, it is low grade rail trail, but may once again give you the feeling of a never-ending climb.
The route does not provide much in terms of technical challenge. Rail trails are typically comprised of low-grade climbs, wide riding surfaces and gentle curves. Throughout the entirety of the route, you will encounter many different types of trail surface, from fast rolling hardpack to loose gravel and sandy sections, there is a little bit of everything throughout this route. As much of the trail is multi-use and allows ATV and snowmobile access, you will come across many sections with dips and hollows that are referred to locally as “Yes Mam’s”. These are also prone to filling up with water after rainfall, which can slow down your pace significantly.