From the World Heritage inscription:
This fossil site is located at the south-eastern tip of the island of Newfoundland, in eastern Canada. It consists of a narrow, 17 km-long strip of rugged coastal cliffs. Of deep marine origin, these cliffs date to the Ediacaran Period (580-560 million years ago), representing the oldest known assemblages of large fossils anywhere. These fossils illustrate a watershed in the history of life on earth: the appearance of large, biologically complex organisms, after almost three billion years of micro-dominated evolution.
Mistaken Point is the location of the oldest multicellular fossils on Earth.
The fossils are one of the few places where you can see evidence of life from before the Cambrian explosion. The fossils can be found in a very thin layer of rock which is right on the coast. The fossils look like an aspen leaf, but it is doubtful if they were actually plans as we know them today. Most probably they were creatures with a leaf-like morphology that were attached to the bottom of the seafloor. They date back to the Ediacaran Period which dates back 635-541 million years ago.
The entire rock surface where the fossils can be found has been captured in a rubber mold so they can be studied in the future, regardless of what might happen to the rock surface.
How to Get There
Mistaken Point is located on the Avalon Peninsula near the Southeasternmost point of the island of Newfoundland. Driving time from St. John’s is approximately 90 minutes to 2 hours. St. John’s is the nearest major airport to Mistaken Point.
There are several small hotels in the towns of Trepassey, Biscay Bay, and Portugal Cove South.
It is entirely possible to visit Mistaken Point on a day trip from St. John’s, however, you have to plan the timing of the trip so you arrive at the visitor center on time for group tour(s) as that is the only way to visit the fossil sites.
What to See at Mistaken Point
There are several important things you need to know before you visit Mistaken Point.
- If you are a world heritage site collector, make note that the official boundary of the world heritage site is only a few meters of the shoreline. Most of the Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is not technically does not have world heritage status. If you drive or walk into the ecological reserve, you are not actually entering the world heritage area.
- The only way to officially access the world heritage site is to take part in a guided tour, which is run out of the Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve in the town of Portugal Cove South. Check on the official website for tour times as the number and times of the tours changes throughout the year.
- You will have to walk 6 kilometers round trip to access the fossil site. Because it is an ecological reserve, you cannot drive directly up to the fossil site. You have to park your vehicle about 1.5 kilometers away and walk there on a path. Once there, you will have to put cloth booties over your shoes to access the actual fossils. There are no facilities in the ecological reserve.
- Since Mistaken Point was placed on the world heritage list, demand for tours has increased and it has been reported that several hundred people in 2016 were not able to get on a tour. Make sure to call ahead to get a reservation.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada.
View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.