One of our grandest road trips in Eastern Canada took us up the south bank of the mighty St Lawrence River from Montréal to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, nearly 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) to the Northeast. After a few days in Gaspé, we continued south and east through New Brunswick and across the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island. In total, we racked up 2000 kms in nine days – A bit too much for even the most balanced family. If we had to do it again we would have stayed in Gaspé region. Why? It takes your breath away (as in gasp – Gaspé!!).
We broke our drive up with an overnight stop in Rivière-du-Loup (wolf river) – about 5 hours from Montréal (3 from Québec City). We had pre-booked a night at the dog-friendly Auberge de la Pointe – As with so many things in Québec, the hotel is very well-maintained and has added a restaurant, a gym, a lovely terrace with an outdoor fireplace. Don’t expect luxury accommodations (at least not in the dog friendly rooms – though we did appreciate ground floor access to a green lawn!), but the view of the sun setting into the mountains of the Charlevoix region across the St Lawrence was wonderful.
Day 2 was a long push to Percé (6-7 hours). If you have the time, you might want to pick a place along the way for another overnight stop. Starting after Rimouski on route 132, you pass through lovely towns, such as St Anne-des-Monts, which affords access to the Parc de la Gaspésie, highlighting the Chic Choc Mountains and the unique flora and fauna of the region. Further up the coast, your GPS will tell you to take the “short cut” route 198 inland to Percé – Don’t do it! The drive along the coast just gets better and better, at times on a road seemingly attached to the side of a mountain, with waves crashing just below, winding and twisting all the way.
The best part awaits you at the end of the road – in Parc National Forillon. This is where the ancient Appalachian mountain chain drops dramatically into the water (specifically the Gulf of St Lawrence). If you like lighthouses, the Cap des Rosiers Lighthouse is a must see. The park includes a range of accommodation options – but note that dogs are not allowed on trails or in the backcountry. In any case a drive through the park with photo stops along the way is well worth the effort. Restored homes and farms bring to life the harsh realities faced by early European settlers.
You’ll continue on route 132 around the Bay of Gaspé and through the town of the same name, including a monument to the explorer Jacques Cartier. The views are great, but you may be getting a bit road weary by this point. Make sure you take a break or switch drivers because about 20 Km outside of Douglastown you will begin to catch glimpses of the famous rock. You’ll be teased and taunted until you go over the last group of mountains before coming down quite steeply into the town of Percé itself, with views of Percé rock and Bonaventure Island just off shore all along the way.
Although Percé bills itself as a year round destination, clearly the summer and fall are the peak seasons. There are a range of auberges [inns], gites [bed and breakfast], motels and resorts from which to choose. With some trepidation, we booked the Au Pic de l’Aurore (Peak of the Dawn) largely because they are dog-friendly. From the website, we wondered if it would be too rustic for our tastes – In fact, it is rustic, but in a nice way. We felt like we were staying in a well maintained summer camp, each cabin with a fireplace and free firewood – and wifi! The cabins include kitchenettes, and you can get meals in the main lodge, but the best part is the view from the perch high above the town, in a setting of peace and quiet. From the front porch of many of the cabins, you can watch the colors of Percé rock change as the sun moves across the sky and see the frequent excursion boats to Bonaventure Island, one of the most noted (and populated) bird sanctuaries in the world.
We stayed for two days in Percé – and wish we had stayed longer. We hiked up into the hills above town for even more impressive views, enjoyed wonderful meals at a good selection of restaurants and outdoor cafes, wandered into the art galleries and boutiques, and strolled along the boardwalk. It’s really a lovely place that will stay in your memory for a long time – well worth the effort to get there… or perhaps because of it. As we did, you can continue on to other destinations or return to Montréal or Québec via the shorter inland routes.
Road Trip – Gaspé Peninsula, Québec
· 5-6 days minimum
· Type of vacation: primarily outdoor relaxing and adventure, some history.
· Year round, but best late August – early October
Drive from Montréal or Québec (11 or 9 hours respectively – break it up with at least one overnight stay)
Day 1 – Overnight in Riviere-du-Loup, recommended property: Auberge de la Pointe
Day 2 – Riviere-du-Loup to Parc Forillon or on to Percé. Possible extended stop or overnight in St Anne des Monts, with a visit to Parc de la Gaspésie. There are numerous accommodation options in Percé.
Day 3 – 4 – Depending on selected itinerary
· Overnight and day in Parc Forillon (hiking or boat excursion)
· Relaxing in Percé – hiking, boat excursion to Bonaventure Island, gallery-hopping and shopping, recommended cabins with fireplaces, dog friendly with killer view: Au Pic de l’Aurore (Peak of the Dawn)
Day 4 or 5 – Return
Other transportation options:
1. Train: There is a train option on VIA Rail
2. Ferry: You can take theonce weekly ferry from Montréal, where you can drive off with your car in Chandler, Québec, just north of Gaspé and Percé
3. Air: There is a small airport serving the region in Gaspé
Extended Option: If you have extra time you continue on (or catch) the ferry from Chandler to the Iles de la Madeleine (same ferry info as link above).