Planning a bucket list vacation can be daunting for many: what to see and do, where to go, where to stay, how much time to spend where, and even how to get there. For our Gaspé peninsula road trip next summer, Henk and I are starting our planning with the ‘must-sees’ and ‘must-dos’. Because by deciding on the best things to do in the Gaspé Peninsula, it will help to determine our driving route, and even the amount of time we would like to spend in each place. So here’s our Top 10 list of the things we absolutely have to include on our visit to the Gaspésie region next summer.
1. Percé Rock
This is a no-brainer. This distinctive rock with its huge 100-foot-wide arch is about as famous a landmark as it gets in Canada. A former peninsula that was once attached to the mainland, Percé Rock once had 4 arches, but 3 of them have collapsed over time, leaving only the one you see today. We definitely want to allow enough time here so that Henk can shoot this beautiful rock morning, noon and night, but the real question is: do we do ‘the walk’?
Do We Walk to the Rock?
When the tide is low, it is possible to walk out to Percé Rock. But from what I’ve read, this isn’t a walk in the park. The shore near the mainland is rocky and can be very slippery and more difficult to negotiate that just strolling on a sandy beach. It won’t necessarily be dry all the way, either, and it’s never recommended to go too far out, or to get too close to the sides of the rock, as the rock is constantly eroding and shedding pieces. And then there’s the tide. We would need to time our departure and consult tide charts (like we did when we visited Hopewell Rocks) so that we time our walk just right and don’t end up racing back in front of rapidly-rising waters. So ‘the walk’ is still up for debate.
…or Kayak Instead?
There’s also another option to consider: sea kayaking near Percé Rock instead…..we may not make this decision whether to walk or kayak until we are actually there, and we see what the weather and the sea is like…so stay tuned and you’ll eventually see what we end up doing. (We are just as curious as you are!)
TIP: If there is something that is REALLY important for you to see on any bucket-list trip, I would recommend spending 2 nights at that location, so you have several chances to see it or visit it, especially if the weather may be a factor. (We did this on our bucket list trip to Machu Picchu.)
In the case of Percé Rock, because of its location, we will want to view it at sunrise, not sunset, which means we’ll be getting up early at least once or twice to try to capture photos of it.
2. Forillon National Park and Cap Bon Ami
Again, this is a must-do for us on the Gaspé Peninsula. Not only for the views that the Park will provide, but because from everything I’ve read, it’s a beautiful destination for hiking, too. And it looks like we’ll want to head to Cap Bon Ami for those views…(plus with a name like ‘Good Friend Cape’, what could be more inviting?)
3. Glass “Skywalk” at Géopark de Percé
If there’s a glass walkway or overlook anywhere, I’m there! And despite what Henk thinks, it’s not because I am trying to trigger his fear of heights! There’s just something about stepping onto a cantilevered structure and being able to look out AND down that really gives you a unique perspective. Which is why we will definitely include a hike to the glass Skywalk at Géoparc de Percé on the list of our top things to do in the Gaspé Peninsula!
(Besides, we did something similar on the Cliffwalk at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in BC, and Henk was just fine, so I’m not too worried about him.)
4. “La Grande Rassemblement” Art Installation by Marcel Gagnon
This art installation looks so cool that we will need to see it for ourselves! It’s on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River east of Rimouski, so it will probably be right on our route to the Gaspé, which makes it a perfect place to stop to photograph these sculptures ’emerging’ from the river. Plus the artist has a small inn and restaurant with a gallery in the town of Sainte-Flavie, so we may just drop in there as well.
TIP: La Grande Rassemblement is listed in Atlas Obscura, an online collection of weird and wonderful places all around the globe. It’s one of my go-to resources when it comes to finding unusual attractions, whether they be natural or man-made.
5. Bonaventure Island to see 116,000 Nesting Gannets
Bonaventure Island is home to the world’s second largest nesting colony of gannets. (The world’s largest is in Scotland, give or take a few thousand birds.) Regardless of Bonaventure’s ranking, with Henk’s love of photography and an opportunity to get this close to such a huge colony of these photogenic birds, a visit to this nesting site is definitely on our must-do list of the best things to do in the Gaspé Peninsula.
FYI, I’m already preparing myself for the noise and the smell of all that guano. This will definitely be a full sensory experience!
It should come as no surprise that a region described as ‘Québec by the Sea’ would have its fair share of interesting lighthouses. In fact, Henk and I actually stayed in an historic lighthouse right in the middle of the St. Lawrence near Rivière-du-Loup last year, a unique experience that was one of the highlights of our visit to the region.
But with the sheer number of lighthouses on the shores of the Gaspé Peninsula, we want to be selective about the ones we do visit. Two that have piqued our interest for their photogenic characteristics are the 8-sided, completely red lighthouse, La Martre, and the ‘buttressed’ Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse in Rimouski en route to the Peninsula. Since this last lighthouse is part of a National Historic Site, we’ll be looking for Parks Canada’s signature red chairs, too!
7. Whale Watching
Whale-watching just never gets old. It doesn’t matter where you do it, or how often, or what species of whale you see, there’s something about watching these leviathans breaking the surface of the water that just gets your adrenaline pumping. Henk and I spotted several of these amazing creatures on our previous visit to the Tadoussac region of Québec, but of course, we are hoping for another opportunity to see more. And since this region is a prime location to do this activity, a whale-watching excursion definitely makes the list of the best things to do in the Gaspé Peninsula.
8. Matapedia – Bridges, Overlooks and the Philomène Waterfall
The Matapedia river runs through the interior of the Gaspésie region, and from everything I’ve been reading, following it promises to be a very scenic drive, maybe even with a few covered bridges. There’s a pretty waterfall along the route, too, the Philoméne waterfall, that is the tallest in the area.
‘Waterfalling’ is a legitimate pastime, and Henk and I have scouted and photographed several waterfalls on our travels, so this sounds like a great excuse to explore some of this countryside. Plus, there’s another GLASS-FLOORED PLATFORM here! Need I say more?
Route of Overlooks
For something a little more off-the-beaten path, Henk and I are hoping to follow a “route of overlooks” in the interior of the Gaspé Peninsula. There are at least 3 places I’ve discovered that offer specially-constructed overlooks providing great views of the surrounding landscape. We will definitely want to check those out – not only for the great vistas they offer, but also because a couple of these structures are architecturally interesting in their own right. It’s the perfect thing to do on a road trip and I’ll bet this is something most visitors to the Gaspé Peninsula wouldn’t normally do – which is another reason why Henk and I would love to do it.
TIP: If you have particular interests that you like to do while travelling, search for those specific activities and you’ll often find articles that lead you to lesser-known places or adventures. I found this ‘route of the overlooks’ because I was searching specifically for photogenic lookouts, but you could do the same for ‘arts and crafts’, and discover something you wouldn’t otherwise have found, like this art and studio route in the Gaspé!
9. Off-Road Safari in the Chic-Choc Mountains
The Chic-Choc mountains just sound like a fun place to go, don’t they? This mountain range (an extension of the Appalachians) runs through the centre of the Gaspé, and is home to wildlife reserves that are home to all kinds of wildlife, including more than 4,000 moose! There’s also apparently some pretty beautiful back-country scenery.
I’m sure hiking here is great, but I also discovered one company that offers ‘Extreme Chic-Choc tours’ in 4X4’s! These off-road excursions look like a great alternative if we don’t have a lot of time to spend hiking here, since we might get to see places that otherwise would take hours to reach on foot. Plus we might even get to see a moose – if they don’t mind a certain laughing, squealing passenger disturbing their pristine wilderness!
10. Chaleur Bay
Driving a loop around the Gaspé Peninsula means Henk and I will be skirting Chaleur Bay on the coast before heading inland for our return trip. Which sounds like a great idea because this area offers some pretty cool accommodations (more to come on this later!), great views from Mont Saint-Joseph (another overlook), and maybe, just maybe, the opportunity to swim in the ocean in one of the region’s most beautiful bays….no promises though: the temperature will need to be just right for that – both in and out of the water!
“Jigsaw Puzzle” Planning a Bucket List Trip
I like to think that planning a bucket list vacation is a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle: the first step is to lay out all the pieces, and then you try to fit them all together to create a beautiful picture. This is what we are doing for our adventure to the Gaspésie, starting with identifying some of the first corner ‘pieces’ – our must-see things to do in the Gaspé Peninsula. From here, there’s still more to research and lay out, and we may decide that some pieces just don’t fit at all given our timing or our route. Which means that right now, we may not know exactly what our puzzle will look like but at least we’ve got a few corners in place to start with! We’ll fill the rest in later.
TIP: When researching any destination, a great place to start is the tourism website for that region. We’ve been scouring two in particular, Tourism-Gaspésie,and Québec Maritime, as well as Bonjour Quebec, all of which have provided plenty of inspiration and ideas.
This post is part of a paid partnership with Le Québec Maritime, who will be hosting Henk and I in the Gaspé Peninsula in 2021. We are doing this research in advance to determine what we want to see and do when we are there. Hopefully this information helps you, too, if you are considering a trip to this beautiful region. Stay tuned for more to come!