Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

Eastern Canada’s Gaspé Peninsula

By Charlie Travels

You'll find numerous campgrounds along the highway between towns. Some have hookups, some don't. Most have excellent views of the St. Lawrence River. The evolution of many of the campgrounds is interesting. Years ago, the property owners bought large tracts of river–front property because it was affordable. They surrounded their houses with so much green grass that all of them spend entire weekends on their sit–down mowers, cutting the grass–or as the French say, "Mow de lawn." (My apologies ... but I've waited for years to write that.) As tourism increased, some of the property owners converted parts of their lawns to camping places. At the campgrounds where I stayed, I stopped at the offices, paid the fees and drove to my sites. Completely surrounded by grass, and with lovely views of the river, these were simple but excellent places to camp.

Technically, the St. Lawrence River begins in Minnesota–where it's called North River. It flows 1900 miles, draining water from all the Great Lakes to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. The gulf is the biggest river estuary in the world. Although Basque fishermen may have visited the estuary before Columbus "discovered" America, the first European to record his explorations up the St. Lawrence was Frenchman Jacques Cartier, on his second trip to Canada in 1535. Iroquois Native Americans helped Cartier with his exploring.

During the 16th Century the St. Lawrence River provided easy access to the interior regions of North America, and was used by many explorers.

Beginning in 1825 canals and locks were built next to the mighty river, and in 1959 the system was completed. Called the St. Lawrence Seaway, it permitted ocean–going ships to travel to all of the Great Lakes. This had profound effects on the economies of both Canada and the U.S.

Continuing in a northeasterly direction, Highway 132 tracks the edge of the Gaspé Peninsula all the way to its tip. The backbone of the peninsula is actually the northern part of the Appalachian Mountain Range. Every traveler has his or her own ways of viewing things, admittedly. My general reaction to this region of eastern Canada was to drive at a speed that was fast enough so I didn't interfere with other traffic–yet slow enough that I could enjoy the scenery while driving. My main reason was because I found few specific places where I wanted to stop and go exploring. Until I got to Forillon National Park.

Perched on the end of the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec's first national park offers dramatic sea cliffs surrounded by inland forests and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Woodland animals such as moose and black bears call it home, while offshore, whales, seals and oceanic bird colonies thrive.

The main highway in the northern part of Gaspé Peninsula has some really steep grades. I'm talking 17–percent grades here! If you're towing a trailer or 5th wheeler, make darn sure the brakes are adjusted properly. There will be times when you'll be in your lowest gear, so take it easy. And forget about traffic behind you–they can take care of themselves.

Coming down a long grade brings you to the town of Percé. I found it to be a delightful village, so I searched the water's edge until I came upon a small campground overlooking the ocean, where I settled in for three days. The owner was a friendly man who had retired from a long career as a fisherman. He spoke longingly about the days when cod was king. Commercial over–fishing had forced him to switch to lobstering. When he retired, he sold his boat and traps and bought the small RV park. He had some amusing stories about those earlier days when cod was so popular that lobster was considered food for people's pets, and nothing more. Mindful of how things change, he told me that nowadays he couldn't even afford to buy lobster at the market.

My campsite was right on the edge of a sloping ten–foot cliff, with a narrow, sandy beach leading to the water. The 180 degree view of the ocean included Percé Rock, which was a part of the mainland that had been separated because of coastal erosion. At low tide it's possible to walk out to the rock, but in recent years public access has been curtailed. Percé attracts great numbers of visitors during summer, many of whom were walking to the rock at low tide. Careless attempts at rock climbing, or people becoming stranded by the incoming tide, combined with the possibilities of graffiti, caused the National Park Service to take action.

Disconnecting my trailer, it didn't take long to explore the surrounding area and the small boat harbor. While dockside, I inquired about a boat sightseeing trip that went to Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island, which is a famous location for seabird colonies. A warm sunset and a cold Labatt's Blue provided a perfect ending to the day.

The boat trip to Perce Rock is highly recommend to all travelers seeing the Gaspé. It's only a few hours, but it takes you to Percé Rock for a close look. The limestone rock is 1400 feet long, 300 feet wide and 300 feet high. It has a 50–foot tall arch that was created mostly by wave action. With a nearly flat top, the rock is quite a dramatic sight, especially at sunset.

Further out, the sightseeing boat takes you close to the seabird colonies on Bonaventure Island. Altogether, 290 bird species have been spotted on the island. During summer nesting a quarter–million murres, black–legged kittiwakes and gannets are found along the steep cliff face. Northern gannets are the most numerous, with some 120,000 of them taking advantage of the remoteness of the island. Left coasters like myself may not know much about gannets (I've never seen any on the West Coast). They're big birds – roughly the size of large seagulls – and they are beautifully marked. They are true fishermen. When they spot small fish, they plunge straight down into the water from 50 or 60 feet. Headfirst. Before striking the surface they stretch their necks, extend their long wings toward their tails, and slam into the water beak first. At that moment they are the most streamlined flying objects I've ever seen, and watching a couple hundred of them diving into a fishball makes for some exciting birdwatching.

After slowly cruising by the bird colonies, our boat circled the island and pulled up to a dock. A short hike takes you to the top of the cliff where you can look down at the nesting birds.

All–in–all, it's a terrific little boat trip.

Leaving the town of Percé, Highway 132 continues along the edge of the peninsula for 150 miles to the province of New Brunswick. It's a delightful ending to your trip to the Gaspé.