Travel

Hiking on the Gaspé Peninsula

A five-night, four-day adventure through Québec’s Gaspé Peninsula, full of mountain peaks, sweeping landscapes and close moose encounters 

  • Published Dec 11, 2023
  • Updated Dec 13
  • 1,902 words
  • 8 minutes
Mont Jacques-Cartier plateau
Crossing the windswept Mont Jacques-Cartier plateau. (Photo: Brad Asselstine)
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The Gaspé Peninsula is a maritime paradise bursting with coastal scenery, winding seaside roads and fresh seafood, right? Wrong. Well, it is all that, definitely. But it is also so much more. The peninsula is also a hiker’s paradise, and the best place to discover this is rugged, land-locked Parc national de la Gaspésie. Located 20 kilometres inland from the picturesque town of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, straddling a 100-kilometre-long east-west swath of the Chic-Chocs and McGerrigle mountain ranges, Quebec’s Gaspésie Park is a world apart from maritime Gaspé — and worth every challenging step.

Our group took five nights and four days to bag the park’s five crown jewels — the Jacques-Cartier, Albert, Xalibu and Richardson peaks and… the Bistro-bar at the Gîte du Mont-Albert. There are other mountains to climb, river-side trails to stroll, and abundant wildlife to see, so additional time could be spent sampling all the park has to offer.

Descending Mont Richardson, an 11.6 kilometre out-and-back trail. (Photo: Brad Asselstine)
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Day 1

We departed early from our cabin at the Lac Cascapédia campground to drive the 40 kilometres of mostly gravel road to Mont Jacques-Cartier. My city-slicker car’s brakes felt a little mushy after a cold night at altitude, so I was relieved when my buddy in the back seat suddenly yelled, “Stop! Mooooose!” Actually, truly relieved, because I was able to stop the car on a dime from highway speed as a bull moose launched itself over the crash barrier to our right, then proceeded to strut nonchalantly across the road right in front of us. When it reached the road’s left-hand gravel edge, it sped up, blowing out great frosty breaths, all the while occasionally glancing over its shoulder at us as we followed it tentatively down the highway. Exhilarating — and freaking scary!

I was still twitchy from the moose encounter when we begin our trek up Mont Jacques-Cartier at 10 a.m. My inner soundtrack as we climb is “Carry on Wayward Son” (there’ll be peace when you are done). I enjoy hiking, I really do. I was just beginning to relax when a brilliantly plumed male spruce grouse took a flying runner right at the head of my friend. Kamikaze wildlife everywhere! Now I was worried again because next up were the caribou. Mont Jacques-Cartier is home to a herd of just 50 woodland caribou clinging to existence in this, their most southerly range in Canada. Spoiler alert, we didn’t see one (that was good, I suppose, given our animal attraction that day). It was late September and the onset of cool, clear weather had spurred the herd to disperse from its summer grounds on the mountain plateau, down into the forests and valleys. There were no caribou to be found, but the summit was well worth the hike. It’s rocky, barren and windswept, fitting for Quebec’s second highest mountain. It was cold up there, too, so we hung around just long enough to eat a quick lunch and, well, visit Quebec’s highest outhouse. At 1,270 metres, this is the province’s king of thrones! 

Our hike completed, we drove back to the twin hubs of the Visitor Centre/Gîte du Mont-Albert, with a focus on sitting down at the Bistro-bar du Gîte. Fresh air and exercise left us highly anticipating the famed food and bar menu and we whiled away the afternoon eating gourmet pub fare and quaffing local craft beers. In fact, it was such a perfect ending to the day, that we repeated the ritual for the next three days, eating a swath through Lac Brome duck wings, local smoked salmon, pulled-pork poutine, beer-battered fries, crab cakes, beef and chickpea burgers. Not to mention craft pilsner, kolsch and IPAs from microbrasserie À l’abri de la Tempête in the Magdalen Islands and Gaspé stalwarts microbreweries Pit Caribou and Le Malbord, the latter from nearby Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. So good was the after-hike eating that week, that one buddy gained two kilos despite hiking six hours a day!

A fox ignores hikers as it hunts by the side of the gravel path.
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Darkness was rapidly approaching as we pulled the car off to the side of the gravel road halfway up the mountain to our cabin. There is no cell phone reception at the lake, so that was where we stopped morning and evening to connect with friends and family and, alas, work. By Day 4, we are waving to the park staff as they passed by us heading in the opposite direction on their way to work.

Mont Jacques-Cartier is an 8.2 kilometre out-and-back. It is rated difficult and takes 4-6 hours. During the hiking season, mandatory shuttle buses run from the parking lot at the Visitor Centre to the base of the mountain every 20 minutes from 9:40 a.m. to noon and depart the mountain every 20 minutes from 1:40 p.m. to 4 p.m. It’s highly recommended you pre-book the shuttle, at $9 per person, as space is limited.

Day 2

Today’s inner soundtrack was “The Grand Old Duke of York” (and when they were only half-way up, they were neither up nor down). One of my so-called friends planted the unwanted earworm and I couldn’t shake it for the Tour du Mont Albert, Gaspésie Park’s most challenging day hike. The temperature was just above zero and we were in the shade of the mountain, perfect for climbing. We went straight upward from the banks of the Rivière Saint-Anne to 1154 metres, reaching Albert’s summit by mid-morning. In doing so, we put behind us most of the day’s ascent.  The next five hours are all downhill — the most difficult part of the trail. If you do the Mont Albert trail counter-clockwise, as we did, you will spend approximately three-quarters of your time scrambling down, over and around what seems like endless broken ground, punctuated by the occasional boardwalk. There’s even a one-kilometre quiet zone so as to not trigger an avalanche. Luckily, the mountain wasn’t as crazed as the wildlife!

The Tour du Mont Albert is an rated expert and is a circuit hike of 17.8 kilometres. Budget 6-8 hours to complete it. It begins opposite the Visitor Centre.

Descending Mont Albert, a.k.a. Gaspésie Park’s most challenging day hike.
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Day 3

I woke up in a single bed on the screened-in porch of our cabin. It was frosty, my toque had come off in the night, and I was surrounded by smelly hiking boots. Oh, the life! The night before, my room-mate (the cabin had two bedrooms, each with two single beds), had come to me and said, “No offence, but I don’t know how you are still married with that snoring.” So, I was voluntold to move onto the porch, thus maintaining peace on the mountain.

Today’s inner soundtrack was “More, More, More” (how do you like it?). We tackled Mont Xalibu, a five-hour round trip to the summit at 1140 metres. It was a very civilized journey coming on the heels of the Mont Albert circuit, climbing gently past scenic Lac-aux-Americains, before testing us from the 90-minute mark onward. Not too long after that, though, we reached the sub-alpine treeline, and from then on we could see for kilometres in every direction, except when leaping from boulder to boulder on the stretch of trail approaching the plateau. I highly recommend keeping your eye on the trail along here — your ankles will thank you. While Xalibu is somewhat less travelled than the Jacques-Cartier and Albert hikes, its smaller plateau offers a superior 360-degree view of the heart of the park. A definite highlight was hunkering down for lunch in one of several semi-circle stone windbreaks, perfect for hungry hikers. I think I can safely say that our group voted Xalibu the best hike of the week, for its combination of reasonable climb, great picnic spots and unsurpassed views.

Mont Xalibu is a 10.6-kilometre out-and-back. It is rated difficult and takes four to six hours.

Day 4

The Lac Cascapédia campground vibe was so laid-back in the last week of the summer season, that we found ourselves on a first-name basis with the camp mister-do-everything, Gilles. So laid-back that we were caught by surprise when we returned on Day 3 to find the camp store and kiosk closed for the season and all of the canoes and kayaks packed up and taken away. It was Wednesday, and the campground was still open until Sunday. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted, Gilles.

Today’s inner soundtrack was “Shattered” (look at me, I’m in tatters. Does it matter?) Honey, if you read this, approximate lyrics don’t bother ME. We climbed Mont Richardson on our last day. Driving in we passed what I swear was the same moose we’d seen three days earlier, albeit with less of a death wish on this particular morning. Richardson is the fourth jewel in Gaspésie’s crown and we were the first hikers on the trail. In fact, we saw only a handful of people all day, making this feel like a proper day of discovery. The mountain presented a slightly different challenge than the others, requiring a climb to a lower summit adjacent to Mont Joseph-Fortin, followed by a saddle and then a steady climb to the summit at 1180 metres. Mont Richardson’s plateau is easily the most compact of the four mountains we climbed. The trade-off for reaching an almost pointed mountain top is the need to climb rise after rise to get to it, each offering a false hope that you have reached the top.

Mont Richardson is an 11.6 kilometre out-and-back. It is rated expert and takes four to six hours.

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