It’s no surprise Newfoundland and Labrador is a popular place for paddling. Newfoundland has more coastline than any other province and there’s an impressive amount of things to see and do. Millions of rare seabirds migrate here each year, the largest concentration of Humpback Whales make an annual pilgrimage to these waters, and massive icebergs from Greenland and the Canadian Arctic float by in the springtime. With all this going on in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, it’s easy to overlook some of Canada’s best freshwater padding located in the same area.
Newfoundland’s lakes, ponds, and inland waterways offer some of the best freshwater canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding in Eastern Canada. The calm freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers of the Eco Reserve provide watersports enthusiasts friendly calm warm water scenic venues right next to the Atlantic ocean. If you’re looking for a place to brush up on your paddling skills before heading on the salt water or a spot to introduce a friend to your favourite paddlesport, you don’t have to go far from the seaside.
The Witless Bay Marine Ecological Reserve is an internationally recognized marine protected zone. Activities like sea kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing, and hiking are superb here and are often featured in National Geographic specials. Wildlife sightings including moose, fox, coyote, arctic hare, and a little further south, caribou. The East Coast Trail that wraps along the Witless Bay and Mobile Bay coastline is a great place to experience nature and wildlife. Marine mammals like seal are seen regularly and whale sightings are more common here than anywhere else. You can see fin whales (the second largest whale on the planet next to the blue whale), humpback whales, minkie whales, and orca whales throughout the spring and summer as they feed in the rich coastal waters of Mobile Bay. If you like whales, seabirds, and breathtaking scenery, this is the spot for you. Even if you’ve been whale watching in other global hot spots like Tofino and the Canadian Arctic, it’s hard not to be impressed with Newfoundland whale watching. We don’t just see one or two whales, sometimes we count hundreds of humpback whales in a single day. The whales here come close to shore and close to your boat. Sometimes they even interact with you in the most special ways.
Although generally calm all summer long, the Atlantic Ocean is known for harsh conditions that can pose challenges to even the most experienced paddlers and adventure seekers. With conditions that don’t always favour tiny watercraft like paddleboards and kayaks, during the harshest conditions even large whale and puffin tour operators like O’Brien’s, Gatheralls, and the Molly Bawn all close because of swell that’s too big or winds that are too high. On days when conditions in the Witless Bay Eco Reserve are too harsh you can often find ideal freshwater paddling conditions just a few kilometres away.
Tor’s Cove Pond, for example, is less than 5 min away from Mobile Bay and offers an opposite orientation to Mobile Bay, Witless Bay, and Bay Bulls. What that means is when it’s windy on the ocean, water in Tor’s Cove Pond is generally calm. Don’t let the term “pond” fool you either, since almost all inland bodies of water in Newfoundland are referred to as ponds and not lakes, even when they’re too big to see across. Tor’s Cove Pond is one of those big bodies of fresh water and it has everything you want in a paddlesports venue. Tor’s Cove pond has several islands you can visit and numerous sheltered sand beaches perfect for reading a book and relaxing in the sun. The wind is almost always calmer than on the ocean and, best of all, the water is warm, making it a perfect spot for swimming. You can drive right up to the water, making it easy to launch a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard, and if you’re a novice paddler, you’ll find Tor’s Cove Pond is a relaxing place to hone skills and familiarize yourself with paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking.
A little further south is La Manche Provincial Park offering fully serviced campsites, hot showers, and a calm water lake teeming with trout. (If you’re looking to fish, however, check out our salmon fishing, trout fishing, and ocean fishing articles for Newfoundland fishing venues since fishing in the provincial park is restricted). As you enter La Manche Provincial Park, just 15 min south of Mobile Bay, it’s easy to see why the lake is so sheltered. The entire park is in a giant depression surrounded by hills, making it one of the best calm water lakes in Newfoundland. The lake also feeds multiple streams and rivers, making it a good choice for those that want to go further and explore more.
There’s an old saying in Newfoundland “If you don’t like the weather when you walk out the front door, go back inside and go out the back”. What they mean is, conditions can change so quickly that by the time you go back inside the front door and go out the back door, the weather will most likely have changed. The same holds true for paddling in and around the Witless Bay Marine Ecological Reserve; If you don’t like the swell and wind on the ocean, turn around and go inland for freshwater paddling conditions that are often opposite to what you find on the coast. Regardless if you’re a beginner paddler looking for warm calm waters to improve your paddling skills or a seasoned professional looking for a new adventure, freshwater paddling in Newfoundland is something you won’t want to miss.
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