With its rugged cliffs and breathtaking coastline, Cape St Mary’s is one of the most well-known capes in the province of Newfoundland. Surrounded on three sides by the restless Atlantic, thousands of visitors flock to the cape each year to experience some of the most impressive seabird colonies in North America. Here is everything you need to know about Cape St Mary’s, a must-visit spot on your trip to Newfoundland.
There’s even a well-known folk song written about the area, “Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s”. Originally written by Otto P. Kelland, it has been covered numerous times over the years, including this beautiful rendition from The Irish Descendants.
Cape St Mary’s Ecological Reserve
The star of the shore, Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve is home to almost 70,000 seabirds. For centuries, naturalists have been drawn to the cape to experience this natural treasure, which has been strictly protected as a provincial Ecological Reserve since 1983.
Its focal point is ‘bird rock’, a tall sandstone block just metres away from the clifftop viewing platform. There, during the breeding season, you will find a moving, breathing spectacle of seabirds including 24,000 Northern gannet, 20,000 black-legged kittiwake, 20,000 common murre, and 2,000 thick-billed murre. In addition, more than 100 pairs of razorbill, more than 60 pairs of black guillemot, double-crested and great cormorant, and Northern fulmar make their nests there.
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Likely the most fascinating display of bird activity you’ll ever see, from the cliff you can watch with wonder as the birds perch, dive and scramble across the rock, all against a stunning backdrop of the North Atlantic Ocean. In the summer months, you may even be so lucky as to spot a pod of breaching whales offshore.
Bird rock can be reached via the reserve’s interpretation center, following a 1.5km path that meanders along the grassy cliffside. The walk to the rock is a treat in itself, with alpine wildflowers, mosses and lichens, and views of the open water immediately on your right. Whether you’re a keen birdwatcher or are simply visiting to enjoy the great outdoors, you can’t help but be taken aback by this truly unique nature experience.
Cape St Mary’s is located on the southwestern Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. It’s around a 2.5 hour drive from the capital of St John’s via Route 92, or a 1 hour drive from the Port of Argentia driving south down Route 100. The ecological reserve is clearly signposted, and reached via an access road around 5km east of the small town of Saint Bride’s.
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When To Visit
With the ecological reserve being the main draw of Cape St Mary’s, the best time to visit is in early summer, when ‘bird rock’ will be teeming with activity. The interpretation center is open daily from mid-May to early October.
What To Bring
The trail to the reserve can sometimes be slippery, so proper walking shoes or boots are essential. Between April and June, in the early part of the breeding season, the weather at Cape St Mary’s can be cool and damp, so be sure to wear layers and bring a waterproof jacket. Staff at the interpretation center will be able to best advise you on the trail conditions before you set off to bird rock.
And of course, don’t forget to bring your camera so you can capture the natural spectacle of one of the largest sea bird nesting sites on the continent.
Where To Eat
Dining options are extremely limited at Cape St Mary’s, so if you’re planning on visiting for any length of time you might want to pick up supplies en route. Casual, cozy diner Da Bird’s Eye is the only restaurant in the nearby St Brides, serving up fish and chips, hot sandwiches and comfort food classics. Off-season, Da Bird’s Eye is closed on weekdays, so don’t forget to check opening times before you plan your visit.
Where To Stay
If you’d like to spend the night in Cape St Mary’s, you have a couple of options fairly close by. Be sure to book within plenty of time, as their closeness to the cape means they can get filled up fast.
A former convent transformed into a welcoming inn, The Capeway, offers spacious, tasteful rooms in the heart of Saint Bride’s. The Capeway Inn has been recently refurbished and has a well-deserved reputation in the area for cleanliness and quality. Offering free parking, WiFi and with a continental breakfast included, it’s the perfect place to get a good night’s rest before carrying on your Cape Shore adventure.
Bird Island Resort
Also in Saint Bride’s, you’ll find pleasant, budget-friendly accommodation at the Bird Island Resort. This family-run oceanfront motel is around a 20 minute drive from Cape St Mary’s, with 5 rooms and 15 clean, basic cabins that overlook the water. The cabins are equipped with their own cooking facilities, where you can rustle up a meal with ingredients from the on-site convenience store.
There are a number of Airbnbs available in the area as well. Check out the listings here.
There you have it, everything you need to know about the must-see destination of Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland. For more help planning your Newfoundland trip, check out our What To Do section.