A Gaspé road trip has long been on my travel bucket list. When I first saw an image of Percé Rock jetting out into the Atlantic, I decided then and there that I would visit. I was probably ten years old or so at the time but I was determined to visit this unique part of Canada. Well, it took a pandemic, but I finally got there this past fall.
Despite taking decades to tick this Gaspé road trip off my list, I can happily say it was well worth the wait. From awe-inspiring natural beauty to friendly locals, this Gaspé road trip was exactly what I needed to snap my pandemic cabin fever. Here’s my compressed five-day itinerary along with suggestions on things to see, do, eat and drink along the way.
Note, I took my Gaspé road trip just prior to the second wave of Covid-19 shutting down the province. Please adhere to local travel and health guidelines and restrictions when planning your Gaspé road trip.
What is the Gaspé Peninsula?
The Gaspé Peninsula, also called Gaspésie, is a 31,000 km² chunk of Quebec in the south-eastern part of the province. It has a natural border of the St. Lawrence River to the north, the gulf of the Saint Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Chaleur Bay and the province of New Brunswick to the south.
Gaspésie contains some of Québec’s prettiest parts with rugged coastlines, towering mountain ranges, sleepy fishing villages, and ancient bedrock.
It’s also home to four (4!) national parks, two UNESCO world heritage sites, miles of hiking trails, and at the very tip, the captivating Percé Rock.
How Long Does it Take to Drive Around the Gaspé Peninsula?
Route 132 completes a full circle around Gaspé Peninsula with the majority of the road following the shoreline. This makes a Gaspé road trip incredibly easy to navigate and is one of the most scenic drives in Canada if not North America.
That said, Route 132 begins some 350 kilometres from Quebec City so you have a ways to go from a major hub before your Gaspé road trip technically even starts. Departing from Quebec City, the complete loop is just over 1,500 km. Although it is doable in a couple of days, this certainly is not recommended.
Initially, I set out to complete this Gaspé road trip in just three days. I quickly found that this was not enough time to see and do everything on my list.
Since it took me so long to finally get out to Gaspé, I decided to stretch my itinerary to five days. In retrospect, this was still a hurried pace. If /when I do this trip again, I will take a full week to enjoy all there is to see and do.
That said, here is my five day itinerary.
Day 1 – Québec City to Matane
As mentioned above, to really experience the best Québec has to offer, a Gaspé road trip should begin in Québec City. I spent three amazing days exploring the walled city and was eager to hit the road and drive deeper into eastern Québec.
My first stop was just 170 km east of Quebec city in Kamouraska, a charming town full of colourful buildings, galleries, and unique shops. It’s a great spot for a mid-morning stop to stretch your legs and grab a coffee.
Park at the church and explore the town on foot. Grab a coffee and maybe some handcrafted chocolates from La Fée Gourmande before making your way towards the wharf. Along the way, you will find many colourful houses and your first sweeping views of the now widening St. Lawrence River.
Continuing east for 30 minutes you will arrive in the picturesque city of Rivière-du-Loup. Although there is plenty to see and do here, I left most of my exploring for my last night on the return trip. Still, if the weather is good, capitalize on it and visit Parc des Chutes (Falls Park). This small set of trails is structured around a historic hydroelectric power station that has recently been restored. It is highlighted by a 33-metre (108-foot) waterfall which you can walk above via the trail over the damn.
I found this stop particularly fascinating as I was doing my Gaspé road trip in an electric vehicle.
EV or not, the park is both scenic and interesting. It highlights the history of the area leveraging the river to produce power for the city and beyond.
Similar to Rivière-du-Loup, I saved my time touring the town for the return trip.
Outbound I did stop in at the Pointe-au-Père Maritime Historic Site. Although the museum was closed on my visit, I really enjoyed walking around the lighthouse grounds. It’s great for stretching those legs and getting some photos at dusk.
The Pointe-au-Père lighthouse was built in 1909 and is the second tallest in Canada. Be sure to budget some time for a guided tour which includes a trip to the very tippy-top of the tower!
Next door to the Pointe-au-Père lighthouse and historic site you will find the Empress Museum and the HMCS Onondaga, a retired Canadian Navy submarine. Guests can climb aboard and take a self-guided audio tour of the ship. A great stop for kids of all ages, including this submarine nerd.
At just over 400 km from Québec City, Matane makes for a great resting spot on the first night of your Gaspé road trip.
Where to Eat and Drink in Matane?
I landed at La Fabrique microbrewery for a pint or two. Aside from being a great craft brewery, it’s located in a former bank and has a great pub menu including several poutine options.
*For my non-Canadian readers, poutine is a quintessential Québec dish of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. It’s amazing.
Where to stay in Matane?
I stayed at the oceanside Riôtel Matane (check here for the lowest rates) and can recommend it for its cosy rooms, ocean views, and outdoor fire pits. There is a great restaurant/pub on site (I enjoyed breakfast with amazing views) and there is a pool for those not willing to brave the frigid waters out front!
Day 2 – Matane to Gaspé
Day two of this Gaspé road trip is where the seaside scenery really kicks into high gear. Ocean hugging roads, historic lighthouses, and sleepy fishing villages are all on tap.
Lighthouses and Coffee
After a hearty breakfast at the Riôtel Matane, I made my way east. I stopped for coffee at Boulangerie Marie 4 Poches in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts then continued on through the windiest and most scenic stretch of road on the trip.
From there it was on to historic lighthouses in La Martre, Pointe-à-la-Renommée, and Cap Madeleine.
Pointe-à-la-Renommée is of particular interest given it was home to the first maritime radio station in North America. On-site you will find exhibits and a plaque commemorating the event.
For lunch, I stopped in at Atkins & Frères for some delicious smoked fish. They are known for their salmon prosciutto (Saumoscuitto) and, after sampling, it’s easy to see why. I walked out with a Saumoscuitto bagel sandwich and extra fish to go. It’s that good.
Take your lunch to go and enjoy it at one of the seaside picnic tables just down the road in Mont-Louis.
Forillon National Park
One of the highlights of my Gaspé road trip was exploring Forillon National Park. I spent an afternoon here but truthfully you could spend three days camping and exploring the park. If you are able to extend your Gaspé road trip to seven days I suggest spending the extra time here!
There are tons of camping and “glamping“ options as well as wildlife and activities to enjoy. In my short visit, I stopped in at Cap Bon-Ami for the views before heading to a La Chute, a fairytale-esque waterfall.
The trail to La Chute is just over 1 km long and takes you down a raised boardwalk through cedar and maple groves. I lucked out and had the site largely to myself which made for a very peaceful experience.
Before rolling into town, make a stop at the Gaspé Museum. This impressive museum will give you a great overview of the history and heritage of the area. This includes exhibits on the Mi’gmaq and Gaspésiennes, the many ships that have sailed the Saint Lawrence, and a monument to Jacques Cartier.
Gaspé is known as the birthplace of Canada as French explorer Jacques Cartier first set foot here in 1534. He planted a cross and claimed the land in the name of France. Many years later, a monolithic cross was constructed in 1934, the 400th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s arrival. Today, this cross is on display in the Birthplace of Canada village on the waterfront.
Guests can take audio tours of the area and explore the many buildings and artefacts depicting the important history of this port town. It truly takes you back to feeling like you are on the edge of Canada, a vast and unexplored unknown.
Where to Eat, Drink, and Sleep in Gaspé?
Just above the historic village, you’ll find Auberge sous les Arbres, my resting spot for the night. This cosy BNB was once home to the upper-class Gaspé residents. Today it is an expensive and unique 14 room hotel. Be sure to enjoy the expansive outdoor expensive patio if the weather permit and a great breakfast in your room before departing.
Also within walking distance of the Auberge sous les Arbres is the main strip of the old town. There you will find a few dining options including Brise Bise, a laidback eatery with live music. Try the Lobster Club Sandwich!
Day 3 – Gaspé To Percé
Percé is pretty much the turnaround point of this Gaspé road trip. Conveniently, it’s also the apex of the trip.
I suggest two days/one night minimum in Percé. With my experience, the weather can shift drastically. When I arrived, the town was socked in. The next day I woke up to blue skies and was the nicest day of my Gaspé road trip. Plan your activities in Percé accordingly.
The massive slab of red sandstone just of the shores of Percé has been attracting visitors since the 1930s. As mentioned, images captivated me to visit and, upon first glance driving into town, it did not disappoint.
Despite the soggy weather, I spent much of my first day in town taking in views of Percé Rock. Parking in the old village, you can walk to the cross near the edge of where the shoreline drops off. Note, there is a man collecting a small fee for trail upkeep so have some change with you.
You can also follow the trail in the opposite direction down the the beach below. If you time the tides right you can cross over to the base of the rock.
Note: Be sure to consult local tide tables to avoid a wet crossing!
Those looking to get even closer, I suggest renting kayaks or taking a guided tour by boat. This was on my to-do however the weather did not cooperate on my first day and my second day was booked with a trip to Bonaventure Island.
Percé UNESCO Global Geopark
With the wet weather, I decided to check out the UNESCO Global Geopark. Inside and out of the elements you will find plenty of background on how Percé Rock came to be.
There is an interactive exhibit that makes learning about 500 million years of history interesting and fun. Be sure to return in the evening for a multimedia presentation on the side of the building covering The legend of Gluskap, a Micmac story on how “The Great Spirit” gave life on Earth.
The UNESCO Global Geopark also features several hiking trails including one up to a suspended glass platform some 200 meters above! This platform offers some of the best views of the town and Percé Rock…when the suns out. Thankfully the sun came out on my departure day so I was able to squeeze a trip up to the platform before continuing on.
Note: there is a shuttle service available from the Global Geopark centre. A return trip costs a couple of dollars and departs as when there are enough people to ride.
Those looking for a rush while taking in the views should check out the zip line running near the platform! This was closed during my visit due to the pandemic. Just another reason to return!
Located a short boat ride away, Bonaventure Island is a National Park with plenty to offer. On top of unique views of Percé Rock, visitors can explore the island through its many trails – all of which lead to the most accessible colony of Northern Gannets in the world!
On the advice of a local, I avoided the Sentier des Colonies trail on the way out. Described to me as “The Highway,” this is the easiest and shortest path to the colony so it is well travelled. Instead, I took the Sentier des Mousses and quickly escaped the crowds.
I was surprised by just how much time I spent observing the Gannets at the colony. It truly is one of the best wildlife experiences in Canada and can recommend it, birder or not.
Getting to Bonaventure Island
There are a couple of companies in town offering boat rides to Bonaventure Island and can be found in booths along the main drag. I went with Croisières Julien Cloutier who depart every hour from nearby Anse-à-Beaufils wharf.
Bonaventure Island – Cost
Crossing on Croisières Julien Cloutier is $42 per adult and $20 for children aged 6 to 15. Children under 6 are free. Depending on the time of year, there is a whale-watching excursion option and costs $80 for adults, $40 for children 6 to 15.
Once on the island, park fees are $8.90 per adult and free for children under 18.
Where to Eat in Percé?
For such a touristy spot, there actually isn’t a lot of options for food in Percé. La Maison du Pêcheur is highly recommended and, as I found out, reservations are a must. Here you can sample local seafood dishes including lobster when in season.
For the bulk of my meals, I hit the well-stocked Co-Op grocery store (Coop Marché d’alimentation). I found plenty of local pre-made meals and local snacks (hello cheese curds and cold smoked salmon) to take with me on my hikes.
Where to Drink in Percé?
I also took these snacks next door to the Pub Pit Caribou, a unique bar with craft beer brewed in nearby L’Anse-à-Beaufils. The building has a ton of character and is a must-visit while in town! Again, my visit fell during the pandemic which was sobering times. I can only imagine how wild the place can get under normal circumstances.
Where to Sleep in Percé?
I spent the night at a Hôtel-Motel Fleur de Lys. It’s very much low frills however with views like this, does that matter?
If you are looking for the best views of Percé Rock from your room check out the Riotel Perce.
There’s a ton of camping and RV options in and around Percé. If/when I return I would look at spending more time in the area and camp at Camping Cote Surprise for its sweeping views of Percé Rock.
Day 4 – Percé to Carlton-Sur-Mer
With half a buffer day in hand, enjoy a morning in Percé to tick off what you may have missed the day prior. For me, this was visiting Bonaventure Island and the glass observation deck overlooking Percé.
After soaking up the last of Percé Rock, make your way south out of town. On your way to Carlton Sur Mer stop in at the historic Cap d’Espoir Lighthouse and then the fascinating Banc de Pêche de Paspébiac National Historic Site of Canada. This historic fish processing plant has plenty of exhibits sharing what life was like on the abundant fishing banks off of Quebec’s shores.
Continue west, stop in at the charming Café Acadian in Bonaventure for lunch and a coffee to go.
Where to Eat and Drink in Carlton-Sur-Mer?
Head to the Le Naufrageur microbrewery for dinner and drinks. On top of an elevated pub menu featuring tapas, poutine, and local mussels, there are several house-brewed beers to sample.
Where to Sleep in Carlton-Sur-Mer?
I crashed at the expansive Hostellerie Baie Bleue and can recommend for its cosy and recently renovated rooms. Although the building has a converted high-school vibe, there is a large pub in the centre of it all making it a good option for those looking for a nightcap before bed. Parking is included in your stay and EV charging is available.
Day 5 – Carlton Sur Mar to River du Loup
Sadly, this is where you say goodbye to the coastal drive and head inland. On the positive, the drive north along the Matapedia River is very scenic and offers a welcome change of scenery on the final day of your Gaspé road trip.
Before heading out of town, if the weather is nice, enjoy the oceanside views one last time in Carlton-Sur-Mer.
If you get in early enough the night prior, stroll the one-kilometre beachside boardwalk before the sun goes down. Otherwise, grab a coffee in the morning at Brulerie du Quai and take a quick stroll.
Overlooking Carlton-Sur-Mer is Mount Saint-Joseph. At 555-metres, the panoramic viewers from its summit are stunning. Detour before heading out of town and check out the Oratoire Notre-Dame, a chapel dating back to 1935. Aside from the views, this Brittany chapel is known for its stained glass windows and colourful mosaics.
Routhierville Covered Bridge
Just over an hour outside of Carleton-Sur-Mer you will find the historic Routhierville Covered Bridge. This is a great place to stretch your legs and stroll through this 1931 built bridge. At 78 meters, it’s the longest covered bridge in Bas-Saint-Laurent and was designated a historical monument in 2009.
30-minutes down the highway and you are in the town of Amqui. Known as “the place to have fun” in Mi’gmaq, Amqui is a great stop for outdoor activities. From salmon fishing to hiking and ATV trails, Amqui is a great stop for those travelling with family.
Sadly, my time in town was limited to lunch at the Microbrasserie La Captive, a former town hall and police station turned craft brewery. I enjoyed a sampler flight and smoked meat sandwich before hitting the road.
Once home to 16th-century Basques Whalers, today Trois-Pistoles welcomes scuba divers and students. Since 1932, Trois-Pistoles has been the site of Western University’s French immersion program.
With its five steeples dominating the skyline, the Église Notre-Dame-des-Neiges is hard to miss. This 100-year old-plus catholic church is worth taking a closer look.
Le Caveau des Trois-Pistoles
Steps from the church and down a small pathway you will find Le Caveau craft brewery. This is one of my favourite breweries on my Gaspé road trip which is saying a lot as there have been a few along the way!
Grab a pint or sampler and enjoy the outdoor space with live music before moving on.
Here is where Gaspé road trip comes full circle! Those that powered though Rivière-du-Loup and the way out (like me!) now have some time to check out the town. I suggest parking downtown on rue Lafontaine and strolling the streets many shops and restaurants.
Where to Eat in Rivière-du-Loup?
Speaking of restaurants, given this is the last night on this 5 days Gaspé road trip, I suggest treating yourself for your “last meal.” La Porte Arrière in downtown Rivière-du-Loup servers up classic French dishes with local ingredients. Its open kitchen gives it a cosy atmosphere and pairs well with their excellent wine selection.
Where to Drink in Rivière-du-Loup?
Just down the road is Aux Fous Brassant, a craft brewery with a clever nod to the city and area. Apparently, its beer names are derived from old dialects and local expressions. My minimal French was not able to confirm this with the staff but I can say that the beer on tap is very good!
Where to Stay in Rivière-du-Loup?
On my last night on this Gaspé road trip, I stayed at the Hôtel Universel – Rivière-du-Loup (check here for lowest rates). This massive hotel is a mix of old-school character and modern touches thanks to its 301 rooms all receiving recent renovations.
Onsite amenities include a massive indoor pool, health centre, and an outdoor Nordic spa. This makes Hôtel Universel the perfect place to cap of one helluva drive!
5 Days Around the Gaspé Peninsula
If I did it again, and I intend to, I would push this Gaspé road trip to seven days and spend more time in Forillon National Park. That said, for my first Gaspé road trip, I saw a ton and loved every minute of it. From the rugged coastline to the small towns and the friendly people, Gaspésie is a true Canadian road trip gem. It’s everything I love about the Maritime provinces except in French. This makes it all that much more unique and special, don’t you think?
Although I came to fulfil a childhood promise, I discovered so much more about Québec, Gaspésie, and Canada really. This just proves once again that life really is about the journey and not the destination. To that, I say merci Gaspésie!
What say you?
Thoughts on this 5 day Gaspé Road Trip?
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