The origin of the name Lewis Hills is unknown, but as Jacques Cartier named a nearby headland “Cape Royal”, it possibly derives from one of a number of 17th and 18th century French King Louis whose claim to this coastline dates back to Cartier’s voyage of discovery in 1534. French rule of the coast was officially recognized by the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 when the boundaries of the French Shore were changed to Cape St John on the northeast coast to Cape Ray on the southwest coast. A new detailed chart of the coast was published in 1768 by James Cook who surveyed the region in 1767 after the Seven Years War.
Map at left is from James Cook’s A General Chart of the Island of Newfoundland published in 1775, with Serpentine River named Coal River.
The Lewis Hills are the most southerly of the four Bay of Islands Ophiolite Massifs, and rising to a height of 814 meters (2,671 ft) at the Cabox, they contain the highest point on the island of Newfoundland. They are 24 kms (14 miles) long and 10 kms (6 miles) wide and bounded by Serpentine River in the north, Gulf of St Lawrence in the west, and Fox Island River in the south and east. Road access to the massif is provided by Logger School logging road in the northeast (via the Trans Canada Highway and towns of Mount Moriah and Benoit’s Cove in Humber Arm) and Cold Brook logging road in the southeast (via the town of Stephenville). The IATNL Lewis Hills Trail and UltramaTrex are north to south hiking routes that provide access to the plateau and most of the scenic gulches. Cell phone reception is available at some of the highest elevations such as the Cabox, as well as on the eastern and southern slopes at elevations above the surrounding hills.
Like the other Bay of Islands Ophiolites, the Lewis Hills are “broad, ocean-front mesas with enormous alpine tablelands”¹ composed primarily of two distinct geological formations fused together: ultramafic mantle in the east and mafic oceanic crust to the west. The former is characterized by rust-colored peridotite (oxidized when exposed to the elements) and other silicate rock types, while the latter is characterized by gabbro and other intrusive igneous rocks. These formations were forced to the surface by a process of obduction caused by the movement of the earth’s continental plates in a process called plate tectonics. In the 1960’s and 70’s, renowned Newfoundland geologist Harold “Hank” Williams helped confirm this theory by his innovative field work and geological mapping.
“The captivating beauty of Lewis Hills , as on all of the Bay of Islands mountains, is most evident in the cirques and ravines that adorn the north and south faces. The most eye-catching … and remote of these are the ocean-draining sister-cirques of Molly Ann and Rope Cove Canyons, set facing northwest on either side of Mount Barren. Molly Ann Canyon is a downright Rivendell-esque landscape of waterfalls, rivulets … cliffs, overlooking the ocean. Rope Cove Canyon, barely a 3 km (1.8 mile) walk across dry tundra to the northeast, could not be more starkly different. … Its headwall is serpentine, its eastern wall is gabbroic, and its western wall is apparently a combination of gabbros and basalts.”²
“There are few other places in eastern North America where such magnificent alpine scenery is juxtaposed so closely with the ocean.”³
Summer recreation activities, including hiking and camping
Winter recreation opportunities
¹ Beyond Ktaadn, Eastern Alpine Guide, ©2012, p. 183
² Ibid., p. 185
³ Ibid., p. 184-5