In Port aux Basques
Port Aux Basques (technically, its full name is Channel-Port Aux Basques) is a workday town built on fishing and, now, tourists getting onto and off the ferry boats to Nova Scotia. There's not much of interest in the actual downtown.
On your way out of town, however, you pass the Heritage Museum Port aux Basques (tel. 709/695-7560) on Route 1, which began life as a train museum but now folds in interesting local artifacts, as well. It's a pretty good (though seasonal) museum open daily from mid-June through mid-September, 9am to 9pm.
The original focus of this facility was the "Newfie Bullet," a much-maligned but now much-reminisced-about passenger train that ran between Port aux Basques and St. John's from 1898 until 1969. (The cross-island highway opened in 1966, dooming the train.) The train required 27 hours to make the trip (which was hardly bulletlike), but it did get the job done even in deepest winter. During a tour of several restored rail cars, you can learn how the train made its run through heavy blizzards; how passengers slept at night (very cozily, it turns out); and what life aboard the mail car and caboose was like. Train tours from the costumed staff cost C$5 for adults or C$10 for families.
In a newer section, this museum now also displays the holdings of the former Gulf Museum, whose interesting collections include a very rare Portuguese astrolabe dating from the 1620s -- fishermen used it to navigate their way from Europe using the stars as guideposts. (A local diver found it in the waters just offshore.) Admission fees are the same as for the railway-museum section.
Departing from the edge of the Heritage Museum is another "sight," the T'Railway, a coast-to-coast, 885km (550-mile) pathway along the Bullet's old train bed. It's used by pedestrians, bikers, and ATVs, and in this stretch runs through marshlands and along the ocean to Cheeseman Park and beyond. It's a good spot to get your mountain bike limbered up for further adventures.
J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park (tel. 709/695-2222) is 16km (10 miles) west of town on Route 1 (confusingly, you follow "Rte. 1 East" to get there) and has one of the prettiest beaches in Newfoundland. Much of the park lies along sandy dunes, which are home to the piping plover, an endangered species; these plucky birds scratch shallow nests out of the sand but are very vulnerable to beach walkers; tread lightly. An observation platform offers a view of the plover's habitat -- bring binoculars and be patient. You can swim at the park's lovely Cape Ray Beach if you dare, but bear in mind that the water's chilly and there are no lifeguards. Walk it instead, beachcombing for the mussels, sea urchins, and other goodies fetching up in the wake of the tide here.
The park also maintains about 100 campsites costing C$15 per night, depending on the level of amenities. One bonus: You're right alongside a section of the T'Railway, which is good for walking or mountain biking. Admission to the park is C$5 per car.
In Corner Brook
Downtown Corner Brook looks promising on approach -- it's located on the hill-flanked Humber Arm, a well-protected ocean inlet and famed salmon-fishing area. But the actual city center is likely to disappoint you, since it consists mainly of a large paper mill plus a couple shopping malls. These enclosed malls offer little charm; the mill offers an interesting olfactory experience when the wind is blowing wrong.
It's still worth a quick detour into town, though, if you're passing through. Tree-lined West Street is fun to explore (it's full of coffee shops, restaurants, and the like), while the Broadway shopping area has a bit of a frontier-town look to it.
The Corner Brook Museum and Archives, 2 West St. (tel. 709/634-2518; www.cornerbrookmuseum.ca), are housed in a solid 1920s-era building that once was home to customs offices, the court, and the post and telegraph offices. A visit here shows you just how new this city is (grainy black-and-white photos show empty hills surrounding the paper mill as late as the 1920s), and how civilized it has become since its establishment. An assortment of locally significant artifacts (a doctor's desk, ship's models) round out the collection. The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm in July and August, weekdays only (and until 4:30pm) the rest of the year. Admission is C$5 for adults and C$3 for students, and children under age 12 enter for free.
Nearby, from the Glynmill Inn, you can follow a connector trail to the Corner Brook Stream Trail, which runs right through the heart of the city along groomed gravel paths and over footbridges. The trail is still being developed along 19km (12 miles) of the stream (which was once the city's water supply); for now it offers access to a narrow and pleasantly green sanctuary within the city, in two sections. From Glynmill Inn you round a man-made pond; you can head upstream to Margaret Bowater Park (a locally popular spot with a swimming pool and playground) or downstream toward Main Street and City Hall.
A Road Trip to Bottle Cove -- One of western Newfoundland's most scenic drives is between Corner Brook and Bottle Cove, driving west on Route 450, also known as Captain Cook's Trail. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to drive to the end of the road at Bottle Cove -- if you don't make any stops. But you should. This region stands up well to careful exploration.
The road is winding and dramatic, running between the looming Blow Me Down Mountains (gotta love the name) and the dark waters of Humber Arm. Near Lark Harbour is the Blow Me Down Provincial Park (tel. 709/681-2430), a fine destination for a hike and a picnic. Start off with the kilometer-long (1/2 -mile) hike to the lookout tower. Along the way you can view the Governor's Staircase, a rock formation that's something like 450 million years old. Continue along the up-and-down trail for 3 more kilometers (2 miles) to Tortoise Point, with its exceptional views of the Bay of Islands. The park is open daylight hours from June through early September; admission is C$5 per car. There's also a campground here, with about two dozen sites.
On the way back to Corner Brook is the Blow Me Down Nature Trail, west of the village of Frenchman's Cove and about 530m (1/3 of a mile) west of the bridge over the brook. This is an especially appealing walk on a warm day, since this easy 800m (1/2 -mile) trail leads to great swimming holes in Blow Me Down Brook. Bring towels.
In Deer Lake
The Newfoundland Insectarium (tel. 866/635-5454 or 709/635-4545; www.nfinsectarium.com) is on Route 440, just off the Trans-Canada Highway. Inside a retrofitted dairy farm framed in red cedar, its exhibits are mostly located on the spacious second floor: more than 4,000 mounted insects (no fake bugs here) and two dozen-plus terrariums of -- if you're eating lunch right now, set it aside -- live insects including tiger beetles, cockroaches, honeybees, and other creepy crawlies. A walking trail and bug-themed gift shop (including chocolate-coated crickets) round out the experience. I'd say the appeal of this place is not necessarily universal, but they sometimes do special exhibits on butterflies, and those are definitely worth checking out.
The facility is open to the public daily in July and August, from 9am to 6pm; daily but slightly shorter hours (from noon on Sundays, for instance) in May, June, September, and October; and closed from November through April. Admission is C$10 adults, C$8.50 seniors, C$6.50 children ages 5 to 14, C$30 families.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.