Destination name: Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec, Canada
Common nickname: The name Gaspé derives from the Micmac word gespeg, which means Land’s End
Location: Directly north of New Brunswick and northeast of Maine, the Gaspé Peninsula (also known by its French name, Gaspésie) forms the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River where it flows into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Flights are available from Quebec City and Montreal near the eastern tip of the peninsula, Mont-Joli in the west, and Bonaventure on the south coast; flight time ranges from about 90 minutes to 2 ½ hours.
Primary Active Pursuits: The rugged coastline is ideal for hiking, biking, and water-based activities like kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, and the mountainous interior also has many miles of hiking trails. In winter, plentiful snowfall makes the region ideal for snowmobiling and winter sports such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Gaspé also offers outstanding opportunities to see wildlife, including marine mammals, seabirds, and moose.
Key Micro Destinations
Forillon National Park
Just north of the town of Gaspé, Forillon National Park encompasses a varied landscape of steep sea cliffs, beaches, forests, and mountains. An extensive network of trails offers hiking for all levels of difficulty, with some trails also open to mountain bikers. Cycling on the park’s secondary roads is also popular; bikes are available for rent at Penouille and Grande-Grave (mountain bikes only at the latter location). The park’s marine environment and stunning coastline are ideal for water-based adventures. Sea kayaking, snorkeling, and diving excursions depart from the harbor at Grande-Grave in the park’s South Area from June into September. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is also an outstanding whale watching destination, with trips departing from Grande-Grave between June and mid-October. Various species including Atlantic white-sided dolphins, harbor porpoises, and fin, minke and humpback whales are regularly seen, while blue and North Atlantic right whales are occasional visitors. Forillon is also home to abundant wildlife on land, including moose, black bear, beaver, red fox, coyote, lynx, snowshoe hare, and other mammals, as well as approximately 240 species of birds.
The interior of the Gaspé Peninsula is mostly wilderness, with dense forests covering the rounded slopes of the Chic-Chocs Mountains. The eastern part of the range is part of Gaspésie National Park, which also encompasses the adjacent McGerrigle Range, while adjacent areas are preserved within the Chic-Chocs and Matane fauna reserves. Hiking trails abound, as do waterfalls, including the Chute Hélène, which thunders over a forest cliff; swimmers willing to brave the cold can enjoy a refreshing dip in the clear pool at the base of the falls. The Chic-Chocs Mountains also contain one of the most concentrated populations of moose in North America, and the higher reaches of Gaspé National Park are home to the only herd of caribou south of the St. Lawrence River. In winter, the Chic-Chocs are transformed by about 20 feet of snow into a wonderland for winter sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
One of the main towns in eastern Gaspésie, Percé is best known for Percé Rock, the distinctive geologic formation just offshore. With a shape sometimes described as that of a horse standing in the water and bending its head to drink, the rock is an irresistible lure for kayakers who enjoy paddling through the enormous archway carved out by sea and wind. Nearby, and accessible by boat tour from Percé, Bonaventure Island is home to one of the world’s largest populations of northern gannets. These large seabirds nest in a raucous, crowded colony atop the cliffs on the eastern side of the island. Boat tours typically cruise past the towering cliffs before disembarking passengers on the gentler west side of the island, from which trails lead back across Bonaventure to viewing platforms providing close-up views of the squawking nesting birds.
Best Season: The main tourist season in Gaspésie runs from late May to mid-October, and services are very limited outside this period. With the arrival of snow comes a secondary, quieter tourist season focused on winter sports and snowmobiling on the peninsula’s many marked and groomed trails.
Other Recreational and Cultural Gems: Lighthouse lovers will find plenty of scope for their passion in Gaspésie, with more than a dozen beacons lining the rocky coastline. Highlights include Matane, which has great views and a museum about the area’s maritime history; Cap-des-Rosiers, Canada’s tallest lighthouse; and La Martre with its striking fire-engine-red lighthouse and historical displays.
In the town of Gaspé, the Musée de la Gaspésie has a permanent exhibit on the history of the region, as well as temporary exhibits about different aspects of Gaspésie culture and heritage. Outside, a monument commemorates the 1534 encounter between French explorer Jacques Cartier and the native Kwedech (Iroquois) people of the area.
In Grand-Métis, the Reford Gardens (Jardins de Métis) boast more than 3,000 species of plants carefully chosen for their ability to survive in a northerly climate with long, snowy winters and short, humid summers. The annual International Garden Festival brings outdoor installations incorporating creative design into the garden landscape each summer. Estevan Lodge, from 1887, houses special exhibits and a restaurant that serves creative meals using edible plants from the garden and other local ingredients.
Overlooking the St. Lawrence River in Sainte-Flavie lies the Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon, an inn/art center with an intriguing outdoor sculpture group called Le Grande Rassemblement (The Great Gathering), made up of more than 100 life-size figures. At low tide, you can see the statues up close, while at high tide many are at least partially submerged, as if sailing on or emerging from the sea.
Lodging and Dining Summary: The Gaspésie has a wide range of accommodations to suit any budget. Dorm beds in hostels start at around $20, and private rooms in motels and simple inns run about $40 and up. Hotels, B&Bs, and self-catering chalets are also readily available. For a bit of a splurge, the cozy Auberge de Montagne Chic-Chocs makes a wonderful off-grid retreat deep in the Chic-Chocs Mountains; rates start at about $200, including all meals and activities. Along the coast, an unusual lodging option is to stay in a lighthouse keeper’s house at either Cap-Chat or Cap-d’Espoir.
Best Single Reason to Visit: Despite its decent flight and road connections to other parts of eastern North America, Gaspé remains relatively undiscovered. Its quaint villages, grand scenery, and unspoiled nature are a world apart from the rest of Quebec.
Getting Equipped: The Quebec Maritime regional tourism board’s website provides useful information about the Gaspé’s highlights. Another good resource is the Gaspé-specific website run by Tourisme Gaspésie.