How NOT to hike in Gros Morne: Ontario family shares midnight tale of woe

A family of experienced hikers recently ran into trouble on the Green Gardens trail, heading out on the nine kilometre hike at suppertime.

Hikers take children, 2 and 5, and grandma on 9 kilometre evening walk

Kevin Wagar and his son, with the sun looking awfully low in the sky... (Courtesy of Kevin Wagar)

A family of experienced hikers recently took on the Green Gardens trek in Gros Morne National Park — and they have a few regrets.

"It was an absolutely stunningly beautiful hike, that we were completely unprepared for," admitted Kevin Wagar, a Toronto-area dad of two young sons who blogs about how to travel with children.

"We've done extensive hiking in places like Jordan, Colombia, Iceland, Portugal and beyond." 

But the family appears to have met its match in Newfoundland, with the troubles beginning before even getting to the trailhead. 

Sleep deprived after arriving from Ontario earlier the same day, Wagar, along with his wife, sons, and mother, got waylaid on the way there, making it to the hike's parking lot between 4 and 5 p.m.

Wagar's mom and two-year-old son are well-prepared and all smiles... at the beginning of the hike. (Courtesy of Kevin Wagar)

The Wagars chose the short(er), nine kilometre version of the hike, in order to accommodate a kids-and-grandma pace.

Parks Canada recommends taking four to five hours to complete the route that winds through the Tablelands, up and down through forest, and leads hikers out to gorgeous coastal views and a stony beach.

One of Kevin Wagar's own kid-friendly hiking tips is to always double the suggested time to allow for dawdling — "children, as you know, are notorious for stopping and smelling the flowers at every point along the way," — but with the trail temptation in front of them, the family decided to let the math slide.

In retrospect, a big mistake.

Moonlight and midnight

The Wagars trekked the 4.5 kilometres out to the coast without incident, taking in the iconic red chair view, the volcanic sea stacks, and world-class beachcombing. But watching the sun set over the ocean also meant a very dark hike back through very dark woods.

"We had not prepared by bringing flashlights or anything like that to help us on our way," Kevin Wagar told CBC Radio's The Corner Brook Morning Show.

Mother Nature must have taken pity on the family as night settled in, giving them clear skies to work with.

"We were lucky enough to have had a fair amount of moon that night. So the moon helped give us a little bit of light when we were outside of the trees," he said, adding his smartphone also came in handy.

"Thank god for the flashlight app on the cell phone, because that really did help us."

The view along the coast of the Green Gardens trail is breathtaking, but means you're pretty far from civilization once the sun sets. (Kevin Wagar/Submitted)

The Wagars' youngest son had his own technique to deal with the dark.

"Our two-year-old fell asleep about ten minutes into the hike back," said Wagar, who got to carry that weight on his shoulders for the remaining half the hike, while his five-year-old bravely managed along on his own way past his bedtime.

"As our oldest son's energy failed, closer to midnight, when we were getting closer to the end of the hike, we were all singing songs to each other to try and keep his spirits up," said Wagar.

"He was fantastic. He made it to the last half-kilometre before he needed to be picked up and carried."

Wagar said there was no real fear for safety, although it was his mother's first time hiking and they tried to keep the pace slow for her as she struggled before finally making it back to the parking lot, safe and sound.

​Despite the unexpected midnight walk, Wagar said they're all happy they've ticked Green Gardens off the hiking bucket list.

"The views were absolutely breathtaking, and things like that are exactly why we do these types of hikes with our children. Because they get to see these incredible places, that they take a little bit of work to get to, and always leave you with stories to tell at the end of them."

Although Wagar now has a little bit of extra advice for families looking to take on a similar journey.

"Definitely leave earlier than we did."

With files from The Corner Brook Morning Show