OVERLANDING THROUGH A SEA OF MOUNTAINS
Travelling solo on a two-week trip along Gaspé Peninsula became a trip of long lasting memories.
I grew up on very flat land and the mountains across from the Baie des Chaleurs were so mysterious to me. Last summer, I was talking to a colleague at work about taking a trip there someday. She said: “just go, do it, you will love it.” She was right. If I was to wait to go with a travel buddy or for the perfect time, I might never do it.
I took her advice and asked my boss for two week’s vacation so I could overland around the Gaspé Peninsula. It was a go! The only problem was that I would travel solo and be camping alone for the first time; I was excited, but a little nervous. Would I get lonely? Was it safe to drive on some remote gravel roads with no cell phone reception?
I didn’t have a fixed itinerary, but I planned to see the major points of interest including Bic National Park, Gaspésie National Park, Forillon National Park, and of course, that big rock in Percé.
Bic National Park
Leaving Ottawa, I first stopped at Bic National Park, which is in the St. Lawrence Estuary. The Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (SÉPAQ) manages this park along with 24 other national parks located across Québec. I had visited a few of these parks before so I knew that my stay would be enjoyable as they are well managed. I could have planned to stay for free on crown-owned lands, but since I was traveling solo, I preferred to stay at campsites and see other people from time to time. I left at the beginning of September – just after the regular tourist season – so I didn’t have to worry about reservations.
Bic is a smaller park, but it has so much to see. I stayed there for two windy nights then left for Gaspésie National Park. I drove on Route 132 along the St. Lawrence and then got up close and personal with Gaspésie’s mountains by taking Route 299 that travels inland.
Gaspésie National Park
Once I arrived at the park, I booked a campsite for two nights and went exploring. Since I had an injured foot that
was still healing, I settled for one of the easiest hikes that would bring me to the top of a mountain – Mont Ernest-Laforce. According to park personnel, this is one of the best locations within the park to see moose. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any as they were probably more active earlier in the day. The view from the top was impressive. The clouds were just floating below the peaks; in front of me was a sea of mountains. I was finally standing on one of Gaspésie’s mountains; a dream come true. It really did feel special to stand there. I chatted with some French tourists, took tons of pictures, then went down to eat some snacks and plan my next microadventure.
The Chic-Chocs Reserve
Being on an overland trip, doing some backcountry travel was also part of the plan so instead of returning on Route 299 to get back on the 132, I drove north-east across the Chic-Chocs Reserve. I left on a foggy morning planning to reach Forillon National Park. There is something special about exploring and driving on a gravel road between foggy mountains; this added to the expedition vibe and felt like I was exploring a primitive road – until I came across a Volkswagen Jetta that was going in the opposite direction.
Forillon National Park
After getting back on the 132, I drove east and finally arrived at Forillon National Park after driving through the thick sea fog with limited visibility. Once again, I booked a campsite for two nights and drove to the picnic area at Cap-Bon-Ami. The view at Cap-Bon-Ami was stunning and of course, the fog vibe added a little mystery to the scenery.
If you are motivated, you can hike up to Mont Saint-Alban’s lookout tower from the parking area at Cap-Bon-Ami for a view of Land’s End. I hiked up there on a clear afternoon and I could see Percé Rock in the distance. Since you are close by, stopping at Cap-des-rosiers to visit Canada’s highest lighthouse at 37 m (121 ft) is a must. I had the privilege of going on a tour as the only visitor. It was fascinating to learn about the history of
the lighthouse and how its whole system used to work. I recommend you hike the 8 km (5 mi) (round trip) the Les Graves trail to Cap-Gaspe (Land’s End) that’s also part of Forillon National Park. At the end is a small lighthouse and you are now as far east as you can get in Gaspésie. At that point, the Appalachian Mountains disappear in the Atlantic Ocean before re-emerging in Newfoundland. While I enjoyed my time at Forillon, the next destination was Percé.
I booked one night at the local Camping Côte Surprise. I got the best campsite with a direct view of Percé Rock. For the first time on this trip, I slept in my tent instead of the back of my SUV. The night was cold and humid but it was suddenly all worth it when I woke up to see the sunrise over the Baie des Chaleurs.
The Geopark of Percé had recently opened its new suspended glass platform located on a cliff of Mont Saint-Anne. The platform provided a great view of the Percé area and its infamous big rock. At the end of the platform was a glass floor. It was quite an experience, as I usually don’t like heights. Some other visitors were also struggling with their fear of heights but after some encouragement from each other, most ended up walking on the glass floor.
While you could plan to stay more than a day at Percé and go on a short boat trip to visit Île Bonaventure, the call of the mountains was just too strong; I had to get back to Gaspésie National Park, but first I had to eat a lobster poutine (this was high
on my bucket list!). I stopped at the Maison du Pêcheur and it was excellent. I highly recommend this restaurant. I left Percé with a full belly and drove west to get back on Route 299 but this time from the south.
Gite du Mont Albert
I arrived at the park late in the afternoon and decided to indulge myself in a few luxuries, since I had been sleeping in the back of my SUV for a week. I booked a room at the Gîte du Mont-Albert, a four-star hotel managed by SÉPAQ. I spent the night all cozy in a real bed; I was on a vacation after all. Now I was ready to “rough it” for another week of sleeping in the back of my Pathfinder. I spent the last part of my vacation at the park where I stayed at most of the campgrounds and explored many of the trails.
Contrary to what I had expected, I found traveling solo was not boring and I was never lonely. I interacted more with other travelers and the locals. As for safety, you just need to be more careful as you are selfreliant.
I left Gaspésie with fond memories. I could finally check that one off my bucket list but I know that one day I will return. I have now seen with my own eyes those mountains that were so mysterious to me when I was a kid. I feel that this trip in Gaspésie has prepared me for other extended trips to see more of eastern Canada. The best thing about that, is there’s still so much more to explore.