Gros Morne (pronunciation: "grow morn") translates roughly from the French as "big/gloomy place," and if you happen to arrive here on a day when the fog's blowing across the road and clouds descend from the glacial valleys, you'll figure out how this area got its name. Even on brilliantly sunny days, there's something imposing about the stark mountains, lonely fjords cut off from ocean, and miles of tangled spruce forest here.
Nevertheless, Gros Morne National Park is one of Canada's greatest natural treasures, and few who visit here fail to come away with a sense of awe. In fact, it's been officially designated as one of the world's greatest natural treasures: In 1987, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, largely due to the importance of a section of the park known as the Tablelands. This weird geological quirk formed eons ago, when a portion of the earth's mantle broke loose during the continents' drifting and was forced up to the surface, creating an eerie, rust-colored tableau unlike any you've probably ever seen before.
The park is divided into two sections, northern and southern, by Bonne Bay (which is locally pronounced like "Bombay"), so exploring both sections by car requires some time. The park's visitor center, and most of the tourist services, are found in the village of Rocky Harbour in the northern section -- but you'd be shortchanging yourself if you skip a detour through the dramatic southern section, a place that looks to have had a rough birth, geologically speaking. Fortunately, a small ferry -- variously referred to as the "water taxi" and the "water shuttle" -- runs between the two sections three times a day.
To do Gros Morne justice, plan on spending at least 3 days here. (A week would not be too much if you're a serious hiker.) The dramatic terrain throughout the park is on a scale big enough to be appreciated even if you never even get out of your car. But to really get a sense of the place, do get out -- see it by foot, by bike, or from a boat. Some excellent hikes and awe-inspiring boat rides can take you right into the heart of the park's wildest places. Check with the park's information center for maps and details.
Of, if you'd prefer to let someone else do the planning for you, try Gros Morne Adventures (tel. 800/685-4624 or 709/458-2722; www.grosmorneadventures.com). Bob Hicks and Sue Rendell organize and lead guided hiking, biking, walking, sea kayaking, and multi-sport excursions throughout both sections of this amazing park.