One of my great hikes beyond the borders of Maine last year was a brilliant late summer trip to Gaspésie National Park on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, far enough to qualify as exotic but within a reasonable striking distance by car.
The Gaspé Peninsula is a vast expanse of high peaks, alpine tundra, dramatic escarpments, deep valleys, ancient forests and pristine lakes and rivers that stretch over 70 miles from west to east just outside interior of the St. Lawrence River. It is also home to a remnant herd of woodland caribou, as well as moose, deer, black bears and 150 species of birds.
The park is crossed by the Sainte-Anne River. To the west, the Chic Choc Mountains run in an east-west direction, while to the east, the McGerrigle Mountains run north-south and include Mount Jacques-Cartier; at 4,167 feet, it is the second highest peak in Quebec. Twenty-five peaks exceed 3,000 feet.
The International Appalachian Trail traverses the length of the park as part of its long route from Baxter State Park to the northern tip of Newfoundland. This “Grande Traverse”, as it is called, was our goal, and we wandered around for eight glorious days carrying relatively light packs and staying in simple but comfortable backcountry huts.
At the heart of the park, on Route 299, is the Discovery and Visitors Center, where exhibits highlight the fascinating natural and human history of the Gaspé wilderness. A small store sells park maps and guides, camping supplies, and some groceries. At the information desk, rangers hand out park passes and camping and shuttle reservations. Hungry hikers will enjoy the bistro, which whips up a delicious platter of burgers and pours cold beer from tall frosty mugs.
Two nearby drive-in campgrounds offer the usual site amenities, plus hot showers and laundry facilities. They make a good base for the night before and after the big backpacking trip, and as you’ll notice below, halfway through too. For a little more luxury, Gîte du Mont Albert has beautifully appointed hotel rooms and chalets. Enjoy fine dining in the bar and restaurant, which also serves a fabulous buffet breakfast that is well worth the price.
The park makes it easy to get to both ends of the hike with an excellent shuttle service. From the visitor center it’s a four-hour journey over increasingly rough roads to the start of La Chouette, where the first refuge is perched on a picturesque hill. Along the way, the van stops at two shelters on the planned route where you can drop off a supply box (critter-proof, of course!). This means never having to carry A more than two days worth of food.
The refuges are separated by a good day’s walk. Each well-maintained outpost has bunk spaces for eight people, a table and chairs, a wood-burning stove, a water source, and toilets. You only need to bring a sleeping bag; no tent or mattress needed.
The first six days of traversing the park along the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) connect Mount Logan to Mount Albert and then to Highway 299. Both peaks feature extensive alpine terrain and a good chance of spotting caribou. In between are miles of excellent ridge walking with great views and good swimming.
Back at the Visitor Center, spend the night before boarding a bus for the east end of the park.
Follow the rangers to the alpine summit of Mont Jacques-Cartier and admire the awe-inspiring panoramic views from the enclosed observation tower. It’s only a matter of time before the caribou wander your way here. Then head to the Tetras refuge before ending this magnificent hike via Mount Xalibu and Lac auxAméricains.
Other shorter backpacking and day-hike options abound. The maritime influence of the St. Lawrence River combined with mountainous elevations produce frequent cold and wet weather, so prepare accordingly. For more information on planning your own hiking adventure in the Gaspé, visit www.sepaq.com/pq/gas or call 418-763-7494.
Bowdoin’s Carey Kish is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. For more advice on hiking in Gaspésie, contact him at: