Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is a wild area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. It is at the end of the Avalon Peninsula, on the southeast side of Newfoundland. The Mistaken Point Formation, which gives the reserve its name, is one of the best places in the world to look for fossils from the Precambrian period. The Ediacaran fossils found at the site are the oldest proof we have that life with more than one cell existed on Earth.
Mistaken Point Newfoundland
Mistaken Point is a small point on the Avalon Peninsula. Mistaken Point has been mistaken for Cape Race in the past because of the fog that often hangs around the area. When sailors made this mistake, they would turn north, thinking they had reached Cape Race Harbor, but they would soon hit dangerous rocks.
Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve
The first fossil found in the area was of a creature called Fractofusus misrai. In June 1967, a graduate student in geology at Memorial University of Newfoundland found it. In the mid-1980s, the site was quickly seen as important because it had the oldest deep-water marine fossils in the world and possibly the oldest fossils of metazoans in North America. A five-kilometer stretch of coast was set aside as a reserve by the provincial government in 1984, but it wasn’t made a permanent reserve until 1987. In 2009, when more fossils were found, it was made bigger.
Mistaken Point Fossils
Studies have shown that the fossils at Mistaken Point are the oldest Ediacaran fossils that have ever been found. And the organisms there are the oldest, biggest, and most architecturally complex on Earth. On July 17, 2016, the fossil sites along the shore of the reserve were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Avalonia Terrane: The Mistaken Point fossil terrane is in a place in Western Europe called the Avalonian terrane. It was made when Gondwana and Pannotia broke up in the early Cambrian. These two continents are now South America, Africa, Antarctica, and Australia.
IUGS Geological Heritage Site: Mistaken Point is the best example of an Edicaran fossil community anywhere in the world. It was the first place where life got big and metazoan communities grew. In October 2022, the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) released a list of 100 “geological heritage sites” from around the world.
An “IUGS Geological Heritage Site” is a “key place with geological elements and/or processes of international scientific relevance,” according to the group. Throughout history, they were used as guides or made important contributions to the advancement of the geological sciences.
Cultural References: The Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip mentions Mistaken Point in the song “Fly,” which is the fourth track on their 2006 album World Container. On the same song, Moonbeam, Ontario, is also mentioned. On September 1, 1985, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) from Mistaken Point, the wreck of the RMS Titanic was found.
Mistaken Point Tour
How to get there? The Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is at the end of the Avalon Peninsula on the southeast side of Newfoundland. It is in the ecoregion known as the Eastern Hyper-Oceanic Barrens. This place is close to the town of Portugal Cove South, which is two hours south of St. John’s on Highway 10 and on the Irish Loop Drive.
From Argentia, you can drive to Portugal Cove South by taking Highway 100 north to the Trans-Canada Highway No. 1, going east to Exit 35, and then staying on Highway 90. From the Trans-Canada Highway, you can also get to the Irish Loop Drive by taking Exit 37.
The Edge of Avalon Interpretive Center in Portugal Cove South, which is right next to Highway 10, is where official tours to Mistaken Point start. Access to view the fossils is by guided tour or permit only. You can’t drive any kind of motorized vehicle in the Reserve. This includes off-road vehicles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and snowmobiles. You can’t bring bikes or horses, either.
Mistaken Point Fossil Protection Zone
The Watern Cove Trail goes by the Watern Cove River and into the Fossil Protection Zone. This is a part of the Reserve’s coast where fossils are most likely to be damaged by erosion and people. You can only see this part of the Reserve on a tour with a guide. A “Traditional Use” Pass can sometimes be used to get into the Fossil Protection Zone, like when the area is used in a traditional way.
But most people can’t go into the zone because the fossils there are world-class and need to be protected. Call the Natural Areas Program or the staff at for more information about the Fossil Protection Zone or the Traditional Use Pass (709-438-1012). Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve has guided tours that you can learn more about on the Activities page.