Each year, a stretch of water along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador known as Iceberg Alley provides passage to massive ancient slabs of ice that have broken free from more northern Arctic glaciers. Come spring, hundreds of these luminous, sculptural objets de nature float south past Canada's eastern coast into the open sea. As its name implies, this aquatic tract is famously one of the world's best spots to see icebergs.
This marine zone is infamous for its bounty of icebergs and the danger they pose to boats, most notably when one sank the RMS Titanic. This disaster led to the zone being nicknamed "Iceberg Alley" and the movement of the icebergs to be carefully monitored, something that benefits both persons at sea and tourists.
For visitors, the experience of seeing the icebergs is a unique and wondrous one; even Newfoundland residents are not jaded by the annual appearance of these glacial giants that range in size from itty bitty to 150 feet tall and in color from dazzling white to rich aquamarine. By the time the icebergs arrive, they have been carved and contoured into sculptural works of art.
In addition to the visual impact, these frozen blocks of timeworn water creak and rumble, sometimes even collapsing in front of you.
Iceberg Alley — and Newfoundland and Labrador in general — make it on to many a Canadian bucket trip list with good reason. Newfoundland and Labrador (though commonly referred to simply as, "Newfoundland," Canada's most easterly province comprises the island of Newfoundland and the more sparsely populated mainland Labrador to its northeast and is properly called, "Newfoundland and Labrador") is geographically rich and diverse, with a population of people famous for their humor and hospitality.
Iceberg Alley is just one of the province's many natural wonders, but possibly the most unique and dramatic, so let's start planning.
Where Exactly Is Iceberg Alley?
Iceberg Alley is the stretch of water that runs from Greenland alongside the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The popular towns in which people gather to see the icebergs are dotted along about a 1,000 km of coastal land.
How Do I Get To Iceberg Alley?
Most likely you will fly into St. John's (airport code YYT) and then head to one of the popular viewing spots, which are for the most part on the island of Newfoundland (as opposed to the more remote, northern mainland of Labrador). These places, which include, Bay Bulls, Witless Bay, St. John's / Cape Spear, Bonavista, Twillingate, La Scie, and St. Anthony, are readily accessible by road from St. John's either by rental car or organized tour.
Other established viewing spots are in southern Labrador: St. Lewis, Battle Harbour, Red Bay, and Point Amour. To access these towns, you must cross by ferry from the island of Newfoundland.
The icebergs tend to settle into bays and close to the coast, making it convenient for viewing by the shore, but other options, including boat excursions, are widely available.
When To Go to Iceberg Alley
The best time to go view the icebergs of Iceberg Valley is in the spring, namely in May through early June. The spring actually coincides with the best times to watch for whales and migrating birds along Newfoundland and Labrador's east coast as well, so if you are really lucky, you may be rewarded three-fold.
How Do I Know Where the Icebergs Are?
Elaborate iceberg tracking is both in the name of tourism and marine safety. Icebergs are obviously dangerous to boats and have been tracked ever since one sunk the RMS Titanic.
The icebergs are fairly reliable along their Iceberg Alley route, but iceberg tracking technology can make their locations and path of travel more precise.
See the whereabouts of icebergs at Iceberg Finder.
News reports regularly begin to show up in January or February announcing the arrival and predicted route of the bergs. For example, by early 2017, it was already clear that it would be a stellar year for iceberg sightings.
How Many Icebergs Will I See?
On average about 400 to 800 icebergs make it to St. John's, Newfoundland. This number can vary greatly year to year, with 1984, for example, being recorded as more than 2,200.
The number of icebergs you see on a visit to Iceberg Alley depends on how willing you are to travel. You may see a few each day from one location or you may have to chase them down.
Icebergs are on the move, so they come and go from town to town. Some do get harbored for days or weeks, such as the leviathan that hung around the village of Ferryland this year.
How Can I See the Icebergs?
The best ways to watch icebergs are by boat tour, kayak, and from land. If you do choose to see these glacial giants by kayak, be sure not to get too close. They do break apart and can be dangerous. Don't forget to pack your binoculars and camera.
The towns along Iceberg Alley are not major cosmopolitan centers and, other than the capital city of St. John's, will not have hotels. Lodges and bed and breakfasts are the type of accommodation to expect on an iceberg viewing adventure in Newfoundland and Labrador.
With no big hotels or resorts, accommodation is limited, so early booking is required.
Also get your expectations in check. The bed linen may not have a high thread count, but more often than not, your hosts' enthusiasm and warmth will more than make up for the lack of luxury.
Iceberg Fun Facts
- Almost 90% of an iceberg is underwater, so what we see from a safe distance is literally just the tip.
- Icebergs come in all shapes and sizes, including arched, pyramidal, domed, block and tabular, to mention a few. Some are snow white, others appear more turquoise. Some have waterfalls cascading down their side.
- Icebergs can be volatile. Their irregular shapes combined with the varying degrees of melting and breakup means they can tip or roll suddenly. Beware!
- Icebergs are comprised of water that is 10,000 to 12,000 years old.
- The smallest icebergs are known as "bergy bits," which are the size of a small house, and "growlers" are the size of a grand piano.
- Icebergs "talk," meaning that because they are in a constant state of melting and shifting they make low rumbles and other noises.