The Gaspé Peninsula (La Gaspésie), in southeastern Quebec, Canada, is sandwiched between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the adjacent St. Lawrence estuary on the north, and Chaleur Bay (la Baie des Chaleurs) to the south. The Gaspé is a sparsely populated region, but it boasts among the most beautiful scenery Quebec has to offer: tiny fishing villages and lighthouses cling for dear life to the shoreline as the majestic Chic-Choc Mountains plunge precipitously into the sea below. Inland, tree-covered mountains and salmon-filled rivers are even more remote. The Gaspé is a popular warm-weather destination, with the peak season in July and August (book your accommodations early!), but the summer traffic has done nothing to diminish the warm and welcoming nature of the locals, nor the authentic slices of Québécois and Acadian culture to be found here. Winter presents a whole different side of the Gaspé, with skiers and snowshoers taking to the Chic-Chocs and snowmobilers riding the trails.
The Gaspé Peninsula's official tourism board, the Gaspé Tourist Association (Association touristique de la Gaspésie), divides the peninsula into five regions:
| The Coast (Matane, Métis-sur-Mer, Mont-Joli)|
| Upper Gaspé (Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Gaspésie National Park)|
| Land's End (Gaspé, Percé, Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock National Park, Forillon National Park)|
| Chaleur Bay (Bonaventure, New Richmond, Miguasha National Park)|
| Matapédia Valley (Amqui)|
- Amqui — The largest town in the Matapédia Valley is a commercial centre surrounded by bucolic farmland quite atypical of the Gaspé Peninsula.
- Bonaventure — The beating heart of Acadian culture along Chaleur Bay, containing the massive Quebec Acadian Museum.
- Gaspé — The gateway to Forillon National Park. Gaspé doesn't have much of interest to visitors, but its status as the Peninsula's largest town and main service centre means you'll probably pass through anyway.
- Matane — A small industrial city that serves as the terminus of the easternmost ferry crossing of the St. Lawrence.
- Métis-sur-Mer — This charming seaside town, together with its next-door neighbour Grand-Métis, host a historic lighthouse complex and the internationally-renowned Reford Gardens.
- Mont-Joli — On the Gaspé's western border with the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, Mont-Joli is a regional transportation hub (boasting an airport, train station, and important highway crossroads) and also contains a museum dedicated to the art of weaving.
- New Richmond — British and French influences collide here in an ambience of jaw-dropping views over Chaleur Bay.
- Percé — This tourist town at the eastern tip of the peninsula is most famous for its namesake, Percé Rock—an arch-shaped rock formation just off the coast swarmed constantly in the summer months by tour boats (and seabirds!)
- Sainte-Anne-des-Monts — Nestled in a majestic setting on the St. Lawrence coast, this large-ish town is the gateway to Gaspésie National Park and boasts a range of accommodation and services.
- Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock National Park — squawking seabirds and the Gaspé Peninsula's iconic offshore rock formation, situated where the Appalachians meet the Atlantic.
- Forillon National Park
- Gaspésie National Park
- Miguasha National Park
The Gaspé Peninsula covers an area of over 40,000 square kilometres and boasts a population of about 130,000, almost all of whom live along the coast. (Though that is the St. Lawrence you see as you drive along Highway 132, make no mistake: this is no river, it's the sea, with salt water, tides, and whales!) Its name comes from the Mi'kmaq word gespeg, meaning "land's end" and referring to Cap Gaspé, the peninsula's eastern tip.
Belying its reputation as a summer paradise, in 2012 National Geographic magazine rated the Gaspé one of its Top 10 Winter Adventures in North America. This is just the latest in a growing string of NatGeo awards the region has racked up lately: in 2011, it was listed in their Top 20 Best Destinations in the World (the only Canadian place to be so honoured), and in 2009 as #3 in their best destinations for sustainable development and among the top 50 essential places to visit in one's lifetime. As well, the Québécois people named Percé Rock, the Gaspé's marquee attraction, in a Léger Marketing survey to identify the Seven Wonders of Quebec.
If you're driving there from more populated parts of Quebec, keep in mind that the Gaspé Peninsula is pretty far-flung: it's a nine-hour, 750-kilometre (450-mile) drive from Quebec City to the tip of the peninsula at Percé; add another two and a half hours and 250 kilometres (150 miles) if you're coming from Montreal. For best results, don't try to do the Gaspé in a day or two: this place deserves at least a week to work its charms on you.
There's a heady mix of regional cultures in the Gaspé, including two distinct French-speaking groups that both go back to the 17th century. France had three main colonies in North America: Quebec, Louisiana much further south, and Acadia in what are now the Maritimes and parts of Maine. The British took Acadia in the early 18th century and soon expelled much of the French-speaking population; many of them ended up in the Gaspé, where they retained some of their culture and accent. The first large group of English-speaking immigrants were United Empire Loyalists who left the United States around the time of the American Revolution; their descendants are mainly in the south of Gaspé, on the shore of Chaleur Bay.
The historic diversity is reflected in the language spoken in the region. Thanks to its isolation, the distinct Gaspesian accent is a lot more similar to 17th-century French than to what you'll hear in Montreal or Quebec City (let alone modern-day Paris). Those who've been charmed by the Acadian twang will be similarly pleased with the dialect here. In the south, near Chaleur Bay, you'll experience a true linguistic mix: the English that's still spoken by some of those old Loyalist descendants mixes freely with French, and you'll see signs for streets named Notre-Dame and de la Montagne running through towns with names like Carleton and New Richmond.
If you don't speak any French, you should be fine in larger towns like Gaspé and (especially) Percé, but may run into trouble off the beaten path. See Wikivoyage's French phrasebook for help. If you do speak French, don't worry—despite the distinct regional accent, Gaspesians will have no trouble understanding you. Standard French is the language used on radio and television, in public schools, and in all other official capacities, and the locals are used to hearing it.
By far the most popular way to get to the Gaspé Peninsula is by car and motorcycle, and it's not hard to see why: the enchanting drive through a nearly endless chain of windswept coastal fishing villages, each more picturesque than the last, is a road tripper's dream come true.
Those who are coming from points west—i.e. the vast majority of travellers to the Gaspé—will arrive via Autoroute 20 (A-20). The longest and most important of Quebec's freeways, it links Montreal with Quebec City and onward along a trajectory that roughly follows the south shore of the St. Lawrence. A-20 does not enter the Gaspé directly, though: the freeway portion dead-ends about 110 kilometres (68 miles) before the Gaspé's western frontier, and eastbound travellers continue via the two-lane Provincial Route 132—with the exception of a 31-kilometre (19-mile) bypass of Rimouski where A-20 reemerges. (Plans are to connect these two discontinuous segments; an eastern extension of A-20 as far as Trois-Pistoles is set to open to traffic in 2015, with the remainder to come in the future.)
If you're coming from the Maritimes or perhaps Maine, the Trans-Canada Highway northward through New Brunswick is an alternative route. At the Quebec-New Brunswick border, it becomes Provincial Route 185 (soon to be supplanted by Autoroute 85), which links with A-20 near its eastern end in Rivière-du-Loup. Another option for Maritimers is the route from Campbellton, New Brunswick across Chaleur Bay and through the Matapédia Valley—an arcadian expanse of gently rolling farmland quite unlike the stereotypical Gaspé—to Mont-Joli.
Arriving in the Gaspé Peninsula by plane usually means flying into Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (Aéroport international Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau de Montréal) (IATA: YUL), the province's largest airport which serves 40,000 passengers every day on their way to or from 130 destinations worldwide, and then settling in for the long drive up A-20. A possible alternative is Quebec City's Jean Lesage International Airport (Aéroport international Jean-Lesage) (IATA: YQB), which serves 32 destinations mostly in Canada, the U.S., and the Caribbean, but some as well in France.
Those who are coming from elsewhere in the region—and who don't mind paying an arm and a leg—also have their choice of three small airports within the Gaspé itself that handle scheduled passenger flights. The largest of these, Mont-Joli Airport (Aéroport de Mont-Joli) (IATA: YYY), is located in the town of the same name and serves eleven destinations in Quebec (Baie-Comeau, Bonaventure, Havre-Saint-Pierre, Îles de la Madeleine, Montreal-Trudeau, Montreal-Saint-Hubert, Quebec City, Rouyn-Noranda, Sept-Îles, and Val-d'Or) and Labrador (Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Wabush). As well, Michel Pouliot Gaspé Airport (Aéroport Michel-Pouliot de Gaspé) (IATA: YGP) and Bonaventure Airport (Aéroport de Bonaventure) (IATA: YVB) are located in the towns of the same name and each serve a handful of Québécois and Maritime destinations.
VIA Rail served the Gaspé Peninsula with the Chaleur, which ran thrice weekly between Montreal and Gaspé with a multitude of stops in between. $125 bought an economy-class ticket from Montreal to Gaspé, and sleepers were available from $160. Trains left Montréal Central Station at 7PM on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, arriving in Gaspé the following afternoon. VIA Rail Canada suspended service between Matapédia, New Carlisle and Gaspé on August 22, 2013 due to rail infrastructure problems.
Note: As of 2016, rail service east of Matapédia on the Montreal—Gaspé line remains suspended indefinitely due to malfunctioning signals and the poor condition of the track. There's currently no timetable for the resumption of full service.
The tentacles of the Orléans Express bus network extend all over Quebec, including the Gaspé Peninsula. Tickets run about $130 from Montreal to Gaspé with transfers in Quebec City and Rimouski, and about $120 from Quebec City. Passengers are allowed two pieces of checked baggage and one carry-on bag free of charge; additional checked bags cost $5 each up to a maximum of four total.
There are no bridge crossings of the St. Lawrence River downstream of Quebec City, but fear not: the Quebec Ferry Company (Société des traversiers du Québec) operates two year-round car ferry routes that serve the Gaspé Peninsula. The Camille-Marcoux makes one or two departures each day, depending on the season, from the North Shore at Baie-Comeau and Godbout to Matane. Fares are $18 per person (less for children and seniors), plus $31.25 per motorcycle, $44 per car, and more for large trucks or if towing other vehicles. Bikes travel free! In winter, it's even possible to take the ferry with a snowmobile.
Those who'd like to combine a trip to the Gaspé with a visit to the Îles de la Madeleine might be interested in a cruise on the M/V CTMA Vacancier. Fifteen cruises per year—both "classic cruises" and themed voyages focusing on health and wellness, Madelinot cuisine, Acadian history, and other specialties—take place between mid-June and late September, leaving from Montreal and taking in the beautiful shoreline scenery of the St. Lawrence River and estuary before making a one-hour stopover in the Gaspé Peninsula at Chandler at 10PM on the second night. After spending Days 3, 4 and 5 on the Îles de la Madeleine, the ship turns back upriver, with a longer stopover in Chandler on the morning of Day 6 (complete with a shuttle to Percé) before visiting the Charlevoix and Quebec City on its way back to Montreal. Those who don't want to take the whole cruise can take advantage of one-way service between the different stopovers. Prices start at $434 per cabin for the two-day Montreal-Chandler route, plus $205 per car and $25 per bike; those who want to visit the Îles before disembarking at Chandler on the way back pay $730 per cabin, plus $519 per car and $50 per bike. For those taking the entire cruise from start to finish, rates start at $999. All prices quoted here include meals and onboard activities but exclude taxes, service fees, port costs ($82 plus tax), and a $300 deposit that's refundable if cancelled at least 60 days in advance.
If you have your own boat, you can berth in one of the many marinas located all along the three coasts of the peninsula, both in the St. Lawrence and Chaleur Bay. Nautical maps are available for identifying marinas, harbours and other places to anchor, as well as other relevant information.
The main road through the Gaspé Peninsula is Provincial Route 132, the single-carriageway extension of A-20. The road's lasso-shaped trajectory takes it eastward from the south shore of the St. Lawrence Estuary, turning south at the far end of the peninsula through Gaspé and Percé. After Percé, Route 132 curves back west along Chaleur Bay as far as Pointe-à-la-Croix, then proceeds northward through the Matapédia Valley and doubles back on itself at Sainte-Flavie.
As you might imagine, it's sometimes confusing to navigate a circular road where the signs read ouest (west) and est (east) rather than "clockwise" and "counterclockwise". When you're heading eastward along Route 132 at Sainte-Flavie, you'll see a fork in the road where both directions are signed "132 Est" (turn right for the Matapédia Valley and Chaleur Bay; keep going straight to stay on the shore of the St. Lawrence). And, at some point north of Percé, you might notice the direction on the signs has changed from est to ouest (or vice versa) even though you haven't made a U-turn! It pays to have a map handy.
Despite that, Route 132 is a pleasant drive—and with the exception of the stretch between Sainte-Flavie and Pointe-à-la-Croix, it's got all the stunning seaside scenery you could ever ask for. Most of the towns you'll pass through have their own halte municipale (municipal rest stop), which are usually situated at an especially scenic spot and boast picnic tables, washrooms, and, occasionally, tourist information kiosks.
To see an entirely different facet of the Gaspé Peninsula, take Provincial Route 299, which cuts through the virgin wilderness of the peninsula's interior alongside the Grande-Cascapédia and Sainte-Anne Rivers, from New Richmond through Gaspésie National Park to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. Like Route 132, Route 299 is incredibly scenic—but rather than fishing villages and salt air, these 138 kilometres (85 miles) are just you, the towering Chic-Choc Mountains, and maybe one or two passing logging trucks.
Other roads are few and far between. Provincial Route 195 serves as a shortcut around Mont-Joli for those heading from the Matapédia Valley and/or New Brunswick toward the northeastern part of the peninsula; it splits off Route 132 at Amqui and links back up with the main road at Matane. Also, Provincial Route 198 begins at L'Anse-Pleureuse and cuts eastward through the interior, providing a quicker if much less scenic route for those heading east to Gaspé or Percé.
If you're flying directly into the Gaspé Peninsula via one of its three airports, you will in all cases find at least one rental car facility nearby: Thrifty has a location in Bonaventure directly adjacent to the airport there, while in Mont-Joli Discount is a 4-kilometre (2.4-mile) taxi ride from the terminal. In Gaspé, you have your choice of Budget, National, Thrifty, and the homegrown Sauvageau company.
Elsewhere in the Peninsula, rental cars are available in Matane (two locations of National and one of the Québécois chain Bleu Pelican), Sainte-Anne-des-Monts (Bleu Pelican and Sauvageau), Grande-Rivière (Thrifty), Chandler (Discount), New Richmond (Discount and Sauvageau), and Amqui (Discount).
While the bus is by no means the fastest way to get around the region, it's comfortable, affordable and far more amenable to sightseers than the train. Three Orléans Express buses per day follow Route 132 around the whole peninsula, including the south shore of the St. Lawrence where the full splendor of the Gaspé's majestic scenery is on display. Best of all, not only does it stop at all the little towns along the way, but passengers who don't have checked luggage can also be dropped off by the roadside at any point along the route, subject to the discretion of the driver. Check Orléans Express' website for information about schedules, fares, and fees.
Another alternative is RéGÎM (Régie Intermunicipale de Transport, or Intermunicipal Transportation Board), a rural public transit network with about a dozen routes that cover most of the Gaspé Peninsula, except the Matapédia Valley. Tickets cost $2.50 each, and are available in books of ten from participating retailers around the region and from the bus drivers themselves. RéGÎM's scheduled departures are infrequent and, for the most part, timed for the convenience of commuters (buses run Monday through Friday only), which makes this a less convenient service for tourists than Orléans Express. However, private trips (including evenings and weekends) can be arranged at rates based on distance and availability; visit the website or call +1 877 521-0841 for details. Also unlike Orléans Express, RéGÎM drivers never let passengers on or off the bus anywhere other than designated stops.
Hitchhiking is not the most popular way to get around the Gaspé Peninsula, but for folks who know some French, have a little bit of patience, and want to meet and socialize with locals, it can be an appealing and budget-friendly option. Hitchhiking is lawful on all roads in the region, including Route 132, as long as you stay on the shoulder and out of traffic lanes.
Inaugurated in 1995, the Route Verte is the largest network of bicycle routes on the American continent, with over 5,000 kilometres (3,100 miles) of on-road bike lanes and off-road trails traversing the entire province of Quebec, including the Gaspé Peninsula. Route Verte 1 consists, for the most part, of a bike lane along the paved shoulder of Route 132, though from time to time there are detours (oftentimes even more scenic than 132 itself!) along secondary roads and directly through village centres that are bypassed by the highway. Keep in mind that the Route Verte is still under construction, and there are many sections within the Gaspé Peninsula that have not yet been completed. These include several discontinuities between Matane and Cap-Chat, as well as the entire 83-kilometre (51-mile) stretch between Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-Madeleine and Rivière-au-Renard. But don't let that cancel your bike trip around the peninsula: Route 132 itself is easy and safe enough for cyclists.
It bears repeating that the Gaspé Peninsula is a sparsely populated region, and distances between towns can sometimes be long. Accordingly, cyclists on the Route Verte should remember to keep enough water handy to avoid dehydration. A little pre-planning goes a long way. The Route Verte's website includes a map and an itinerary planner to help with logistics, as well as information on attractions, cyclist-friendly accommodations, road construction, and other hazards along the trail.
VIA Rail trains serve the Gaspé Peninsula three times weekly. But despite the romantic, majestic experience you may be picturing, the train is decidedly not the best way to see the Gaspé. For one thing, it eschews the most scenic parts of the region, cutting across the peninsula through the bland Matapédia Valley and along the only marginally more impressive Chaleur Bay. For another, a majority of the trip takes place in the dead of night—the train crosses into the Gaspé Peninsula at 12:30AM and arrives in the city of Gaspé at 1:15PM.
Note: As of May 2014, rail service east of Matapédia on the Montreal—Gaspé line has been suspended indefinitely due to malfunctioning signals and the poor condition of the track. Repair work is ongoing, but there's currently no timetable for the resumption of full service.
Flying within the Gaspé Peninsula is prohibitively expensive and, unless you own a private plane, not terribly convenient either. If money is no object, and you really don't care too much about all that stunning scenery anyway, Pascan Aviation flies once daily between Mont-Joli and Bonaventure. This 30-minute hop will set you back $600-800 (round-trip).
When it comes to tourist attractions per se, the Gaspé Peninsula is somewhat lacking—but don't be fooled. To a large degree, the appeal of this place lies in long, lazy drives along the coast and in the mountains, letting the landscape of towering crags, wild rivers, and seemingly endless shores leave you agape at every turn. The Gaspé is a place to wander wherever your car (or bike, or feet) lead you. Rest assured, you'll never be steered wrong.
As for specific destinations: in case it's not clear from what you've read thus far, in the Gaspé Peninsula the great outdoors is king. That's natural enough: in a place like this, who wants to stay inside? Most notably for outdoorsy types, the Gaspé Peninsula boasts four national parks (note: in Quebec, the term parc national is also used for provincial parks, with Canadian national parks specified as parcs nationaux du Canada; the count includes both). From the rugged backcountry adventuring and world-class fishing of Gaspésie National Park (Parc national de la Gaspésie) with the only herd of caribou south of the St. Lawrence, to the 8-kilometre (5-mile) Les Graves Trail at Forillon National Park (Parc national du Canada Forillon) that passes old fishing shacks and placid pebble beaches on its way to Cap Gaspé, to the 370-million-year-old fossil cliffs of Miguasha National Park (Parc national de Miguasha), these preserves are arguably the area's top destinations of any type. And, of course, worthy of special mention is the Gaspé Peninsula's marquee tourist attraction, Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock National Park (Parc national de l'Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé), which lies off the shore of its eastern tip and is comprised of Percé Rock (Rocher Percé), the iconic rock formation "pierced" through the bottom by a 15-metre (49-foot) arch, as well as Bonaventure Island (Île Bonaventure), home of the world's largest breeding colony of gannets as well as thousands upon thousands of cormorants, puffins and murres. Outside the realm of national parks, the small seaside village of Grand-Métis boasts the internationally-renowned Reford Gardens (Jardins de Métis), which contain 3,000 species of flowering plants—including their pride and joy, a collection of beautiful, mysterious Himalayan blue poppies—and play host each year to the International Garden Festival.
And on those days when your outdoor adventures get rained out, why not take some time to learn about the Gaspé Peninsula's vibrant mélange of cultures? In Bonaventure, the Quebec Acadian Museum (Musée acadien du Québec) is a sprawling complex on the wave-lapped shore of Chaleur Bay that boasts artisans' shops, a café, and, at its nucleus, an interpretive museum that retells the saga of the Acadian settlers of Quebec. Down the road apiece in New Richmond, the Gaspesian British Heritage Village (Village gaspésien de l'héritage britannique), affectionately known as "Britville", is even larger: a recreation of an 18th-century Loyalist town with twenty authentically reproduced period-style buildings including houses, a school, a general store, and even a lighthouse.
Whether it be white-water rafting or mountain biking in the summer, leaf-peeping and wildlife spotting in the fall, or world-class skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, the Gaspé Peninsula is a twelve-month-a-year destination for adventurers from all over the world. No matter what you're into, you can do it here in style.
The Gaspé Peninsula's roster of golf courses, including links in Amqui, Bonaventure, Carleton-sur-Mer, Chandler, Gaspé, Matane, Métis-sur-Mer and Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, all have one thing in common: their majestic setting. Golfers can play with the majestic Chic-Choc mountains as their backdrop, or the wide seaside vistas of the Gaspesian coast—or maybe even both.
For ATV fanatics, almost 2,600 kilometres (about 1,600 miles) of trails crisscross the Gaspé Peninsula, linking seaside villages and penetrating the rugged interior too. Gaspésie Trails (Sentiers Gaspésie) has a website whose map of ATV trails around the peninsula is comprehensive and updated annually. Use of all ATV trails, in the Gaspé Peninsula and elsewhere in Quebec, is free of charge—but you first have to purchase a trail pass either directly from the Quebec Federation of ATV Clubs (Fédération québécoise des clubs quads) or from a local FQCQ member club. Also, it's best to avoid riding the trails in the fall, which is moose-hunting season.
There are trails for hikers, too: hundreds of kilometres (miles) of them, along the coast as well as in the mountains. The most famous of these is a segment of the International Appalachian Trail (Sentier international des Appalaches), the whole of which extends for some 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles) from Newfoundland to Mount Katahdin in Maine, where it links with the Appalachian Trail proper. The Quebec leg of the IAT crosses the Gaspé Peninsula from Matapédia, on the border with New Brunswick, to Cap-Gaspé in Forillon National Park, and passes through the Matapédia Valley and Gaspésie National Park and along the St. Lawrence coast. For more information, check out the website of the Quebec Hiking Federation (Fédération québécoise de la marche), in French only.
On the water
Being the Gaspé Peninsula, naturally a lot of what there is to do in the region during the warm months is on the water. Whether it's fishing, boating, water sports, or just lazing around on the beach, the waters of the St. Lawrence estuary, Chaleur Bay, or the many pristine mountain streams and lakes in the interior have you covered.
To the delight of anglers worldwide, the once-scarce Atlantic salmon is on the rebound in Quebec, and that includes the Gaspé—there are no fewer than 22 rivers in the peninsula, many of them internationally renowned, where salmon can be easily caught. Salmon fishing requires a license and permit, and the season runs from June to September. For more information on fishing regulations and the Gaspesian salmon fishery, check out the official websites of the Quebec Salmon River Management Federation (Fédération des gestionnaires de rivières à saumon du Québec) and the Quebec Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (Ministère de l'Énergie et des Ressources naturelles du Québec).
Canada may not be what you think of as a diver's paradise, but there are a couple of places in the Gaspé Peninsula worth checking out for scuba divers. Facilities exist at Percé Yacht Club (Club nautique de Percé), Cap-aux-Os Beach in Gaspé, Saint-Martin Beach in Port-Daniel, and Paspébiac Municipal Beach. You can even explore the depths of the inland Matapédia Lake from the beach at Bois-et-Berges Park (parc des Bois-et-Berges) in Val-Brillant.
The fun doesn't stop when the snow starts flying. Far from it—the Gaspé Peninsula is one of the best winter-weather destinations in North America, according to National Geographic magazine. Why? For starters, the region makes up part of Quebec's snow belt, with the mountain landscape transformed into a winter wonderland perfect for fans of skiing, snowmobiling, and the like.
The skiing scene in the Gaspé flies under the radar compared to other Québécois destinations like the Laurentides, the Charlevoix, and the Eastern Townships. Other travellers' loss is your gain—the 6 metres (20 feet) or more of snow a year that fall on the Chic-Chocs make for some of the best downhill slopes Eastern North America has to offer. The Peninsula's best skiing can be had at Gaspésie National Park, accessible via Route 299 south from Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. Other favourites include Chic-Chac in Murdochville, the Chic-Choc Mountain Lodge (Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs) in Cap-Chat, Mont-Comi Park near Mont-Joli, Pin-Rouge Resort (Station touristique Pin-Rouge) in New Richmond, Ski Chic-Choc in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, and Val-d'Irène Regional Park near Amqui.
Like the bicyclists, hikers and ATVers who come in the warmer months, snowmobilers in the region can take advantage of an extensive network of trails—almost 3,000 kilometres (about 1,850 miles) in the Gaspé alone, with many thousands more kilometres (miles) extending into neighboring areas such as the North Shore (via the Camille-Marcoux ferry which runs year-round) and the Bas-Saint-Laurent, and all over the province. The Quebec Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (Fédération des clubs de motoneigistes du Québec) is your resource for snowmobiling in the Gaspé Peninsula and elsewhere in Quebec: it's got a regularly-updated trail map as well as information on popular routes, hotel accommodations, and snowmobile rental. Gaspé Snowmobile Information (Info Motoneigiste Gaspésie) is another useful website; they publish updated reports on trail conditions that are a must for the snowmobiler in the Peninsula. As with other trails in the Gaspé Peninsula, you need a trail pass to ride the snowmobile trails—you can check with the Quebec Federation of Snowmobile Clubs or a local branch club, or send away for one via the Gaspé Snowmobile Information website linked above.
The Gaspé Peninsula's restaurants run the gamut, including everything from gourmet haute cuisine to humble roadside snack bars. The Gaspé Tourist Association's website has a search engine that displays restaurants by location and price.
The Gaspé Peninsula's local cuisine is heavy and hearty, the better to see the early inhabitants through the long, rough winters. The most famous dish native to these parts is cipaille (a French adaptation of the English term "sea pie", an old colonial-era dish popular in Eastern Canada), also known as six-pâtes. This delicious meal contains three or four types of cubed meats, potato chunks, and onions layered one over another and baked into a pie crust. An even more typically Gaspesian variation substitutes fish such as salmon, cod or haddock for some or all of the meat.
Produits du terroir (locally-sourced foods) are growing more and popular in Quebec, and in the Gaspé Peninsula, first and foremost that means seafood. The Gaspesian economy has historically been based on the fisheries of the St. Lawrence, Chaleur Bay, and the interior rivers, and while it's not the dominant monolith it once was, fishing is still an important sector of the regional economy. That means that the seafood you can find in the Gaspé—at local restaurants, specialty fish markets, and even right on the docks—is as fresh as it gets. Local specialties include halibut, lobster, scallops, crabs, and—above all—Atlantic salmon.
The poor soil and somewhat harsh climate of the area make much of the Gaspé Peninsula unsuitable for farming. An exception is the shore of Chaleur Bay, where there are a few farmers' markets and other outlets to pick up fresh produce direct from growers, as well as a nascent agritourism industry. Berries are a Gaspesian specialty—raspberries, blueberries, black currants, and to a lesser extent, strawberries—and in season you can buy them at roadside stands all over the region. As well, like pretty much everywhere else in Quebec, the peninsula's forests are chock full of maple trees. Maple syrup is harvested during "sugar season", a beloved annual ritual of early spring.
If you're a foodie, you can use the Gaspé Gourmet (Gaspésie gourmande) website to design your own culinary tour of the Gaspé Peninsula. It has all the information you could ever want about Gaspesian cuisine, specialty food shops, opportunities to buy locally sourced produce, and special events.
Quebec's robust craft beer industry is represented in the Gaspé Peninsula by a pair of microbreweries, Le Naufrageur in Carleton-sur-Mer and Pit Caribou in L'Anse-à-Beaufils, both of which produce a dozen or so brews available in bars, restaurants and shops around the region.
Visitors should keep in mind that the vast majority of the Gaspé Peninsula is a remote wilderness, especially away from the coasts. If your plans include camping or hiking at Gaspésie National Park, it goes without saying that you should educate yourself about the type of terrain you'll be traversing, drink plenty of fluids, and perhaps bring along a first-aid kit. Even if you're simply heading down Route 299 into the interior of the peninsula, it's a good idea to fill your fuel tank beforehand and take along a tire repair kit—there are no gas stations or other services anywhere on the road, and if you blow out a tire it will likely be a very long time before you see another car. Cell phone service is nonexistent.
Wild animals are something visitors to the Gaspé Peninsula should keep on the lookout for—this is especially true in the interior, but it's still applicable in more populated areas too. Black bears are common in the region, but your encounters with them probably won't go much further than watching a bear rummaging through the garbage at your campsite. You can prevent this nuisance by hanging garbage up in three or four layers of sealed plastic bags, at least 5 metres (16 feet) off the ground and at least 100 metres (330 feet) downwind of your campsite; the same should be done with food, cooking utensils, and anything else whose scent might attract bears. However, it's also not completely unheard of for black bears—especially mothers protecting their cubs—to attack humans. If you see a bear, try clanging a pair of garbage can lids together or making some other loud noise to scare it away; if that doesn't work, back away from the animal slowly, talking calmly to it throughout. Contrary to popular belief, bear repellent spray is legal in Canada so long as the package clearly states that the product is intended for use against animals.
Moose are arguably even more of a hazard in the Gaspé than bears. Though a mother moose can be as aggressive as a bear in defending her cubs against human interlopers, the greater danger by far is on the roads. Every year, scores of Gaspesians are injured or killed when their cars collide with moose: these animals are much taller and heavier than deer and other types of roadkill you may be familiar with, meaning they are likely to collapse onto the top of your car on impact, making for greater potential for damage. If you're behind the wheel, it pays to keep to a reasonable speed, always wear your safety belt, and at night, use your high beams for illumination if it's safe to do so. Moose are especially active in the autumn and around dawn and dusk, so be extra cautious during these times.
The Gaspé Peninsula is as wondrous a place in winter as in summer, but during the cold months extra measures should be taken to stay safe on the roads. It pays to slow down, keep your distance from the vehicle in front of you, and be flexible in adapting your itinerary to changing conditions. Vehicles with Quebec license plates are actually required by law to be fitted with snow tires between December 15 and March 15, and while out-of-province vehicles are exempted, it's a good idea to follow the locals' lead. An emergency kit can also be a godsend. See Winter driving for more tips.
- The remote Îles de la Madeleine (Magdalen Islands) lie in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, accessible from the Gaspé Peninsula by plane out of Mont-Joli Airport, via the M/V CTMA Vacancier cruise ship from Chandler, or by private boat. If you're a fan of the sea, you probably loved the Gaspé, and the Îles de la Madeleine offer more of the same: windswept cold-water beaches perfect for windsurfing, kiteboarding, and other pursuits, ringed by stunning red sandstone cliffs and topped by handsome lighthouses. As well, the Madelinot people are a hardy breed of Acadians (though the islands also boast some of Quebec's oldest English-speaking communities) with a distinct local culture that's quite unlike the rest of Quebec.
- Across Chaleur Bay is New Brunswick, the best-kept secret of the Maritimes. Travellers likely know it as little more than a place to pass through quickly on their way to Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island, but New Brunswick has plenty of charms of its own: the charming old-fashioned seaside resort of St. Andrews, the muddy bogs and seal-strewn beaches of Kouchibouguac National Park, and a robust Acadian culture on the shore of the Northumberland Strait, one of the few truly bilingual regions of Canada. Like the Gaspé, New Brunswick's interior is a remote wilderness, but many people say the salmon fishing on the Miramichi River is the best in the world.
- Was the Gaspé just not remote enough for you? Why not head across the St. Lawrence Estuary to the even more wild and rugged North Shore? Here the mountains are even craggier, the shore is even rockier, and the tiny fishing settlements—some not even accessible by road—cling even more precariously to the land. The North Shore also includes Anticosti Island, an outdoorsman's paradise of world-class salmon fishing, plenty of moose and white-tailed deer for hunters, and remote trails that wind through rugged canyons and over rocky hills.
- On the way back to Quebec City and Montreal, you'll pass through the Bas-Saint-Laurent (Lower St. Lawrence) region. Here, the broad valley of the St. Lawrence River cuts a watery swath through an arcadian expanse of fertile farmland, picture-perfect small towns, and, further from the river, dense forests. The Bas-Saint-Laurent is a place to hit the river on a whale-watching cruise, count as many lighthouses as you can find along the Lighthouse Trail (the one at Pointe-au-Père is particularly gorgeous), or just let the bucolic charm of the villages along Route 132 bring you under their spell.