OVERLANDING THROUGH A SEA OF MOUN­TAINS

Trav­el­ling solo on a two-week trip along Gaspé Penin­sula be­came a trip of long last­ing mem­o­ries.

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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?

Itin­er­ary

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.

Percé Rock

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.

Solo trav­el­ing

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.

Cap-Gaspe.

Cas­cape­dia Lake.

Fo­ril­lion Na­tional Park.

Cap de Rosiers.

Sun­rise at Perce.

Land's End.

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