The province of Quebec is famous for its unique language and culture within Canada as well as for the spectacular cities of Montreal and Quebec City. These famous Quebec cities are a wonderful visit in their own right, but to experience something that doesn’t often make it outside of local circles, you must venture further east where some of eastern Canada’s most dramatic landscape lie waiting to be explored in an area known as the Gaspé Peninsula. The small town of Percé, Quebec, located at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula is around 1,500 km from the Toronto, making for an epic road trip that had us stopping every few hours to explore the many fascinating cities of the province of Quebec along the incredible St. Lawrence river. If you aren’t interested in throwing those kinds of miles on your car and prefer to head straight to the peninsula, then you may want to opt for a flight into nearby Gaspé city where you can join a tour or pick up a rental at the airport. After 5 days on the road that saw a fender bender, a transmission failure (that took three days to repair) and a speeding ticket (while trying to make up for lost time) we had finally made it to the apex of our trip where our goal was to visit the incredible sights of Parc National de L’ile-Bonaventure et du Rocher Percé (National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock).
Nature Ocean Chalets
We arrived in Percé late in the day, exhausted after the busy few days on the road. Driving through the town, we headed straight over to our accommodation for the night to get ready for our big adventure the following day. We opted to stay at the Nature Ocean Chalets located on a hill just past the main part of town when coming from the north. Nature Chalets offered two areas to stay: 1) the camping area where you could park a trailer or set up a tent or 2) you could rent a cabin. I had had my share of camping after our car broke down earlier on in the trip and I was forced to sleep on the ground (while 8 months pregnant) for three nights, so we opted for the later as it afforded some comfort and a spectacular view of the St. Lawrence and the coast of the Gaspé peninsula including the National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock . It was equipped with a nice picnic table where we made sandwiches for dinner to fuel up for the next day where we would be exploring the National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock.
When Canadians talk about “The Rock” they are usually referring to the beautiful island province of Newfoundland located across from Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Gaspé Peninsula. In Quebec though, when you talk about “The Rock” you are regaled with stories of the spectacular monolith that sits off the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is called Percé Rock. Percé Rock measures a staggering 438 metres long (1545 feet) by 88 metres high (288 feet) making it one of the largest natural arches in the world. The rock looms off the coast of Percé at just such an angle as to be spectacularly lit up during sundown. If you are booking dinner reservations at one of the many local restaurants with a view, make sure to check for the sunset hour, sit back, grab a glass of wine (or, due to my pregnancy, sparkling grape juice) and watch the marvelous show. Catching the view of Percé rock, which was was formed on the bottom of the ocean bed 375 million years ago, will stay with you for a long time.
National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock
The National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock was formed in 1985. There are several avenues for exploring Bonaventure Island and Percé rock. If you prefer to view both from the air, the entire Gaspesie region can be toured via helicopter tour which includes views of Bonaventure island and Percé rock as well as the rest of the Gaspé peninsula. The other option is to view the peninsula via boat cruise. If you prefer your feet to stay on firm ground, fear not, Percé rock stands proudly above the water as you approach the town and can be admired from much of the coast. During low tide, a sandbar connecting the mainland to the rock is exposed allowing visitors the opportunity to walk from the coastline out to the rock. If you choose to hike to Percé Rock, it’s not recommended that you get too close as there is a lot of loose stone that fall from the rock. During high tide, you can join guided kayaking tours. These tours last around 2 hours and allow you to get very close to the rock. This would have been our first choice, but since we were traveling with our two-year-old, we opted for the family-friendly boat cruise.
Tip: Low and high tides times can be easily found by visiting the tourist centre located in the city or checking the online schedule here.
There are two boat tour operators in the area that explore the National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock. With all the madness early in our road-trip, we didn’t book our boat tickets in advance. Instead, we headed our to the tourist office to find out more about the companies. We decided to go with Les Bateliers de Perce as the tour times gave us the best opportunity to explore the island. They offered a combined tour of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock. The boat cruise takes off from the Percé wharf and heads straight for the rock. During high tourist season, there are hourly departures. The cruise circles the rock for about thirty minutes giving you plenty of opportunities to admire and photograph the rock from various angles. The boat then heads over to Bonaventure Island, a migratory bird sanctuary. Before heading to the island wharf, however, the boat stops briefly at the northeastern section of Bonaventure island which has an exposed 75 m cliff. If you are lucky, you will catch a glimpse of some of the many seabirds that migrate to the area on the ledges. The waters are also full of marine life. We spotted several grey seals!
Tip: It is also possible to sign up for a whale watching cruise in the St. Lawrence. Marine life that has been spotted in the area includes: grey seals, fin whales, minke whales, humpback whales, blue whales, white-sided dolphins, and harbour porpoises. We opted not to do the whale watching cruise as we had just partaken in one earlier in the week.
Bonaventure Island is a birding paradise. In the summer months, it is home to the largest colony of Northern Gannets in the world. Over 60,000 gannet couples flock to the island to breed along with 11 other species of seabirds. After disembarking from the boat, (you could also choose to stay on the boat while people disembark if you are only interested in the ride and water views) you walk along a boardwalk to reach the Visitor’s centre which contains a small cafe which is the only source of food or drink on the island. You can stay on the island until the last departure time which for us was 5pm. To reach the birding colony, you must hike on one of four well-marked trails on the island. All trails start at the Visitor’s centre and take various paths, totaling over 15 km combined, to the bird cliffs. We chose to hike the Des colonies trail as it was the shortest. The path was well marked, mostly flat, but uneven in parts. It was less than 3 km. C decided that he would take this opportunity to begin his love for hiking, so it took us almost an hour. Our little guy hiked the entire trail in both directions, not bad for a two-year-old!
After having our fill of watching the bird colony, we took the same trail back to the visitor’s centre. We had some time before our ride back to the mainland and used our time to explore some of the abandoned houses on the island. Until 1971, there were 35 families residing on the island. However, they were expropriated by the Quebec government, who wanted to turn it into a national park. After exploring, we headed over to the restaurant which was housed in one of the abandoned houses, to have a snack while waiting for the next boat to arrive to bring us back to mainland Percé.
Tip: The boat tickets allow you to stay on the island for as long as you want. Just be sure to catch the last boat back (5pm) to the mainland as there are no accommodations or camping on the island.
Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.
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