Special thanks to Québec Maritime who partnered with us and sponsored our visit to the Gaspé Peninsula and this post.
When you picture any ‘Bucket List Trip’, what probably comes to mind are spectacular images of that destination: panoramic vistas, iconic landmarks and natural wonders. Checking all those boxes is Québec’s Gaspé Peninsula, one of Canada’s greatest road trip destinations, and one we had our sights set on since before the pandemic struck. When Henk and I finally hit the road this summer, we had pretty high expectations for our first major trip since lockdown, and the Gaspé overdelivered. Not just with breathtaking views of landmarks like Percé Rock, but with several off-the-beaten-path ‘views from above’ that surprised and delighted us. Here are 9 of the best Gaspé Peninsula overlooks that we discovered (some of which many locals don’t even know about).
Looking for Overlooks in the Gaspé Peninsula
While I was researching our trip to the Gaspé, I spent a fair bit of time looking for the most picturesque viewpoints in order to help plan our itinerary. This was how I discovered something that seemed made for us: the Route des Belvédères in the Gaspé Peninsula’s Matapédia Valley.
‘Belvedere’ is French for ‘lookout’ and the Route of the Belvederes is a relatively new tourism initiative that establishes a circuit for tourists to discover via a collection of five overlooks at some of the Matapédia region’s most beautiful locations. The plan for the Route is also to feature observation structures that are architecturally interesting in their own right. As fans of interesting architecture ourselves, Henk and I were as curious to see the lookouts as the views they promised.
Must-Sees in the Matapédia Valley
Once the idea of ‘lookouts’ got into my head, I took the idea and ran with it. As it turns out, the Gaspé Peninsula has no shortage of overlooks, not just in the Matapédia Valley, but throughout the region. But having learned about these new belvederes in the Valley, Henk and I decided to head there first and do a counter-clockwise loop around the Peninsula.
The Valley drive was the perfect introduction to the Gaspé since it was a picturesque route that skirted the shores of Lake Matapédia and followed the winding path of the Matapédia River as it flowed downstream through forested hills and small towns.
And from here the views only got better.
1. La Chute à Philomène
Before starting the official Route of the Belvederes, Henk and I made another must-see stop just outside the small town of Amqui: La Chute à Philomène, a 33-metre tall waterfall and one of the Matapédia Valley’s main natural attractions. The added bonus here was something made by man, not Mother Nature: a cantilevered viewing platform that extends out into the beautiful treed valley overlooking the waterfall.
The platform was built recently by the ATV Club of Matapédia and offers a unique viewpoint on the waterfall and the surrounding valley, including a small glass floor for an even more terrifying perspective. There is also a hiking trail that takes you down to the base of the waterfall, but since the waterfall was just a trickle when we visited, we decided to spend our time admiring the views from above on the platform.
The views of the platform itself were pretty impressive, too.
TIP: The waterfall is free to visit and there is a parking lot only a short walk to the platform. If you are afraid of heights (like Henk), you will notice the platform bounces a bit when there are people walking on it. But rest assured it is extremely well engineered and safe.
2. Route of the Belvederes: Horizon de Deux Rivières
The Horizon des Deux Rivières lookout serves as the ‘poster child’ for the Route of the Belvederes, because it is situated right in the local municipality of Matapédia and was one of the first lookouts to be architecturally reimagined. As its name suggests, this Two Rivers belvedere looks out over the confluence of two rivers, the Ristigouche and the Matapédia. But in order to see the lookout – and to get there – you’ll need to look and hike up. Straight up, to the top of the cliff just beside the highway. The short, steep hike is definitely worth the elevated heart rate, however, as the structure at the top is unlike any lookout you’re likely to have encountered, (and the view is pretty impressive, too).
The lookout is formed like an rectangular wooden tunnel, but twisted and curved so that you can’t see the exit, keeping the view at the end a bit of a ‘reveal’ for when the visitor emerges onto the uncovered platform. Even though the lookout is firmly attached to the cliff, the impression you have when you emerge is that you are suspended over the town and the rivers below.
TIP: The trail to the lookout rises 360 metres and is actually part of the International Appalachian Trail. Parking is available just opposite the trailhead on the other side of the highway at the Route of the Belvederes visitor centre. Here you’ll also find a gift shop, information about the Route, and washrooms.
3. Horizon de Rêve
When you talk about ‘off the beaten path’, the Horizon de Rêve belvedere certainly qualifies. Bumping our way along a dirt road with fields of cows on one side and the occasional farmhouse on the other, we were skeptical whether the ‘horizon of dreams’ would live up to its name.
But after parking at the trailhead and walking the forested path that led down to a humble wooden platform, we were blown away with the view that opened up in front of us. Three hundred metres below us the Ristigouche River snaked its way around a horseshoe-shaped bend before continuing along its way, offering us a spectacular panorama and practically a birds-eye vantage point.
In fact, the only other visitor with a better view was an eagle that we spotted just below us, catching updrafts and soaring on the warm breezes. For the next half hour or so, we shared the peaceful beauty of this place with only that eagle and a few locals, one of whom was a woman who told us she had grown up in Matapédia but had only just learned about this lookout now. This hidden gem really was the stuff of dreams, and well worth the dust and potholes to discover.
NOTE: The lookout platform at Horizon de Rêve will be replaced with a more evocative design, but construction was delayed due to the pandemic.
4. Coeur des Plateaux
Whoever was responsible for naming the lookouts on the Route of the Belvederes did a great job, as this vertical lookout is located at the ‘heart [coeur] of the plateaus’ on the highest point in the Matapédia region. Don’t let that elevation worry you, though, as the walk to the tower is a flat one, following a grassy path along the edge of a farm field, and the only climbing you’ll need to do is up the 60 steps of the wooden tower itself. The ascent takes you up a uniquely-designed spiral staircase encircled by wooden slats mounted to a steel skeleton, designed by the same architects who constructed the Deux-Riviéres belvedere. Once at the top, the reward is a 360-degree panorama of the entire region.
We timed our visit for late afternoon, and the golden light and long shadows across the neighbouring farms and fields made the views even more beautiful. With the entire tower to ourselves, and views of farmland and forested hills for miles all around, we literally felt on top of the world.
TIP: For more information about the Route of the Belvederes, including directions to the lookouts, check out the website.
5. Chaleur Bay – Mont Saint-Joseph
After driving through the Matapédia Valley and enjoying some of the best views of that region from its overlooks, Henk and emerged on the south coast of the Peninsula, and set our sights on our next destination: a spectacular lookout on the summit of Mont Saint-Joseph behind the small town of Carleton-sur-Mer.
Rising 555 metres above sea level, Mont Saint-Joseph is part of a regional park and one of the highest points in the Chaleur Bay area. There’s no better place to take in the breathtaking view over what many consider one of the most beautiful bays in the world. You’ll also find kilometres of hiking and mountain biking trails, a charming stone chapel that dates back to 1935, and the region’s newest ‘glamping’ accommodation option: private self-catering geodomes that are perched along the sides of the mountain, each one boasting million-dollar views over Chaleur Bay.
At this elevation Mont Saint-Joseph is often shrouded in mist, especially in the mornings, and when Henk and I first visited we were above the clouds and couldn’t see much. Luckily, the clouds cleared for us the following day and we were able to take advantage of the views from the terrace and its wooden lookout platform. It was well worth that return trip, as the views out over Chaleur Bay were stunning.
6. Surprise! It’s Percé Rock!
You wouldn’t think that something as massive as Percé Rock could sneak up on you. Yet our first view of this incredible geographic landmark was a huge surprise, and one that had both Henk and I dropping our jaws in amazement.
We had left Chaleur Bay and were continuing along our winding coastal route, assuming that at some point we would see a far-off view of Percé Rock in the distance. Instead, as we crested a hill, suddenly there it was, a gigantic horizontal monolith catching the last rays of the afternoon sun on its far edge. We almost stopped dead in our tracks (definitely not recommended on a highway!), but had the presence of mind to pull over at the adjacent lookout to try to capture the last of the afternoon light illuminating the rock.
We found out later that this particular spot is named ‘Côte Surprise’ (Surprise Coast) because of its startling first view of Percé Rock, and Henk jokingly commented that “there must be a lot of accidents here!”
TIP: No photos can really do justice to the sheer size or proximity of Percé Rock. Even the photos that we took make it seem like the rock is miles away, and yet in person, the Rock is in your face. Whether it is that first impression from the overlook at the south end of the bay, or even the sight of it from your hotel room, Percé Rock absolutely dominates the views here, and nothing compares to seeing it in the flesh.
7. Percé from the UNESCO Global Geopark’s Glass-Floored Overlook
If you want a view of Percé Rock from above, the UNESCO Geopark in the mountains right behind the town of Percé is where you should head. Not only does the park offer kilometres of hiking trails with lookouts and rest areas that offer great vistas, there is a suspended glass platform cantilevered out from its 660-foot high perch on the mountain. From here you have an unparalleled panorama overlooking Percé Rock, Bonaventure Island and the Gulf of the St. Lawrence.
TIP: You can either hike up to the platform (about 45 minutes) or take a shuttle for $6 that leaves from the visitor centre’s main reception, just off the main street that runs through Percé. Access to the platform requires a ticket and prices for this and other park activities can be found on their website (there’s even a zipline you can take from the glass platform!)
Sadly, when Henk and I visited Percé, Hurricane Ida decided to pay us a very badly-timed visit, and we had to forgo the visit to the glass overlook, and our planned descent to sea level via zipline was cancelled. (Unless we wanted to be blown back up the zipline in 100 km/hour winds, this was definitely the right call!)
8. Lands End in Gaspé’s Forillon National Park
The Gaspésie region is actually named after the Mi’kmaq word gespeg meaning ‘lands end’, but there is a specific narrow point of land at the extreme northeast edge of the Peninsula that is considered to be the actual Lands End.
This headland lies within Forillon National Park, one of Canada’s most beautiful parks (no small compliment since the Gaspé Peninsula alone boasts several gorgeous ones!). From the Park there are several outstanding places – and ways – for visitors to view Lands End from above (or below) depending on what you like to do.
Lands End From a Trail
Hikers will want to head out on the Les Graves trail on the south side of the Park. The trail is moderate and takes you along the edge of this narrow piece of land until you reach the Cap Gaspé lighthouse on the point. From there you can continue a few hundred winding yards to a wooden viewing platform. At this eastern end of the Gaspé Peninsula, the cliffs fall nearly 700 feet into the sea, with the Gulf of St. Lawrence opening up below. What better bragging rights could there be than to say you hiked to Le Bout du Monde (the ‘end of the world’)!
TIP: To shorten the round-trip hike from 16km to 8, drive to the end of the Blvd de Grande-Grève and start your hike to Cap Gaspé from Anse-aux-Amerindiens.
Lands End From a Tower
This option requires a hike as well, and a pretty steep one at that. But if you are going to do only one hike in Forillon National Park, you should definitely make it the Mont St. Alban Tower hike. The views are just that good. The trail is only tough because it’s uphill, but as you approach the top there are some amazing vantage points that make the huffing and puffing all worthwhile.
At the summit is one of the Gaspé Peninsula’s most impressive belvederes, the Mont St. Alban observation tower. But it’s not the architecture of the wooden tower that is the draw here, it’s the view waiting at the top. From the tower’s platform you can see the entire Lands End headland extending out in front of you in one direction, the northern coast of the Peninsula undulating away from you in the opposite direction and a true 360-degree panorama of everything else around and in between.
Bring a camera, bring a snack, and plan to spend some time up here, because it’s that beautiful.
Lands End From a Boat
If you are planning a whale-watching excursion in Gaspé like Henk and I were, you’ll likely be booking it with the Croisiéres Baie de Gaspé, which leaves from the South Entrance of Forillon Park. From the boat you’ll have a front-row seat as you cruise along the south coast before emerging into the Gulf, giving you another view of the Lands End headland, this time from below.
Although a boat doesn’t give you the same perspective that a lookout might, it offers other advantages. On the way out to open water we spotted seals hanging around on the rocks, gannets soaring above us looking for fish, and of course a few hikers heading to Lands End the hard way.
Once out beyond the point, we were able to admire the cliffs of Lands End which were equally impressive when seen from below. And thanks to our friend Hurricane Ida, who had dumped buckets of rain on our bucket list itinerary, Henk and I had another pleasant surprise waiting for us here as well: all that rain had created a ‘popup waterfall’ cascading off of the headland, something that we would never have seen had we not been on a boat. (Call it a silver lining, Jurassic Park-style!)
Of course, the main reason we were on the boat was to see whales, which we did, including a humpback just as we were heading back to Lands End. So we got to enjoy two things for the price of one without so much as breaking a sweat.
9. Cap Bon Ami
At the base of Mont St. Alban, (and technically part of the same trail that takes you to the Mont St. Alban Tower) is the viewpoint overlooking Cap Bon Ami, another one of Forillon Park’s most beautiful landmarks. Fortunately the lookout here requires very little climbing to reach, as the parking lot is only a few dozen metres from the platform, and the path to the platform is relatively flat. But even with its modest height above the sea, this lookout still offers beautiful views of the dramatic cliffs that form the profile of this part of the Peninsula.
There is also a staircase that takes you right down to the beach where you can spot shore birds, watch the surf roll in, or admire the craggy grey rocks and cliffs that shelter these coves. Even if you don’t do the tower hike that is part of the same trail, this view of Cap Bon Ami alone is worth the visit.
Gaspé Peninsula Overlooks That Went Above and Beyond
When Henk and I first decided on our Gaspé Peninsula road trip, we were hoping its landscapes and natural beauty would meet our expectations. And after months of lockdowns and pandemic fatigue, those expectations were pretty high.
As it turned out, the only thing higher than or own expectations were the spectacular vantage points we discovered from which to take in all of that Gaspésie beauty. Each of the Gaspé Peninsula overlooks that we visited offered exactly what we had been hoping for: unique views – and memories – of this beautiful part of Québec that truly went above and beyond.
TIP: If you are planning to circumnavigate the Peninsula, you should definitely do the Hwy 132 loop in a counter-clockwise direction. This will gives you that ‘surprise’ of Percé Rock on the south coast. And as you travel west on the north shore towards Sainte-Anne-des-monts, you can easily pull over on the paved shoulder to take in the stunning cliffs as you zig-zag along the coast between picturesque coves and fishing villages.
Check out this ‘overlook’ of these overlooks with our video: