Welcome to our first and only family road trip.
I had known Lissette a little over a year. I knew she’d enjoy the beauty of the Gaspé. Benjamin I was not sure about. He had just turned 13 and could at times be moody. Just in case I brought books and his nintendo game. I also rented a bike rack and strapped the bicycles onto our rented car. Everyone was going to have fun. Whether they liked it or not.
Above: our itinerary
Parc Bic / Rimouski
Day 1 – After about 6 hours of driving, Parc Bic, near Rimouski, was our first stop. Cooler than Montreal, the St.Lawrence river at this point is a mix of salt and fresh water, the cool breezes carrying a whiff of the ocean. Parc Bic is a pretty provincial park known for it rocky hills, salt marshes, and islands. It also has good bike trails – I took the bikes off the roof and we cycled through the forest and along one of many bays, treated to beautiful views of the rocky coast. The Park’s camp site didn’t look great though and my decision not to camp here was a good one (camping was for later). Instead we continued on to Rimouski where we ate, played mini-golf, and had a good night’s sleep in a fancy hotel. Everyone was happy.
Day 2 – Back in the car. The St. Lawrence river becomes gradually wider as you go east, the air cooler and saltier. Officially in the Gaspé, we had a few stops to appreciate the geographic beauty.
Below: A bit of car fatigue and some long faces.
Which brings to mind my favorite Clark Griswald rant “We’re ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun. We’re all gonna have so much fucking fun we’ll need plastic surgery to remove our godamn smiles. You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ out of your assholes!”
You can listen to this song while reading the rest of the blog to get the full National Lampoon road trip experience:
Parc National de la Gaspesie
We finally arrived at the beautiful Parc National de la Gaspésie. This beautiful park, in the mountainous interior of the Gaspé, has some of the highest peaks in the province of Quebec (the Chic-Choc Mountain range). It is a hiker’s dream with a variety of short and long hikes of varying difficulty – I recommend the very scenic, 2 hour, Mont-Ernest-Laforce hike for those with kids.
Parc National de la Gaspésie also has the Gite du Mont-Albert, one of the nicest lodges to be found in any park, anywhere. I totally recommend this place for a romantic weekend. We didn’t have to worry about that though.
Luckily they also had tv so we left Benji in the room after he told me that he was sick of hikes and fed up with nature.
Below: Benjamin “I’m sick of f***ing nature”. Teenagers.
Day 3 – Back on the road. The north coast of the Gaspé is beautiful, full of rocky coves, hills, and lighthouses. For those that like lighthouses, they actually have a “Lighthouse Trail” along this coast where you can visit the various lighthouses. The one below is the La Martre lighthouse, a bit east of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts.
Above (below right): Benjamin jumped in the water. This far east, the water is frigid, even in mid-summer.
This gorgeous park, located at the very tip of the Gaspé peninsula, was the first National park created in Quebec (it is also the only national park in the Gaspé, all the other parks mentioned are provincial parks). It ended up being the highlight of our trip through the Gaspé.
Day 4 - After a night of camping (note that the facilities in Forillon are superb), Lissette and I woke up early and hiked up to the lookout on Cap Saint-Alban. This is an easy hike that takes about 45 minutes. The views over the peninsula are just fantastic (below).
Below: More photos of Forillon National Park
This town is the most famous spot in the Gaspé, named after the rock with the hole. Unfortunately it’s become touristy as all hell since the last time I came here; traffic jams going through town, loud fat tourists with their loud fat kids, one store selling shit after another, fast food joint after fast food joint…. I lost it here, I had a shit fit. I had been the good dad, hadn’t said a word despite people around me sulking. I got to Percé after a long day of driving, fighting through traffic, just thinking of having a beer and looking out over the rock. Finally arrived. It took forever to find the hotel and park the car. We walked around trying to find a decent restaurant, just seeing one shitty fast food joint after another, when I lost it. “Damn it. Damn it all to hell!”. Actually I think I used another four letter word. I blew a whole bunch of brain cells. We went to the grocery store, picked up a case of beer and went back to the room where we ordered a pizza and watched some baseball.
Day 5 – I felt a bit better after a good night’s sleep. The Percé rock and the island just off the shore (Bonaventure Island) make up Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé National Park*. The Percé rock is the highlight and many tourists like to walk up to (and under the rock) when the tide is low. NOTE: this can be very dangerous as parts of the rock are constantly breaking off and falling below. I’ve seen people being attended to by medical personel and have heard of people being killed. Be careful. Bonaventure Island is a sanctuary for birds, the most common being the Northern Gannet who come here in the summer to breed (although they look like seagulls they’re surprisingly not in the same family of birds). The island can be visited by boat from shore, which is what Lissette and I did. Benjamin, still sick of nature, chose to explore the town’s souvenir stores instead.
* I know it gets confusing when both Provincial and Federal parks use ‘National’ in their park name. Note that of the parks named in this post, only Forillon is a Federal park, all the others are Provincial.
Carleton & the South Coast
Day 6 – We continued our trip around the Gaspe, now around the southern coast. This side of the peninsula is a lot less impressive – low lying, flat, more populous. The most impressive geographical highlight is the lookout of Mont Saint-Joseph. Although only 555 meters, it seems a lot higher and has a dizzying view of the whole south coast of the Gaspe as well as northern New Brunswick (note that you can drive up to the top).
Unfortunately I remember Carlton for something else. We got to our motel where I parked outside reception. Went inside with Benjamin, checked in, the guy gave me our key and tells me to park the car outside our room. I come back out and I get in the car. Benjamin tells me he’ll walk to the room (which is about 50 feet away). I said ok. I start up the car, drive under the awning of the hotel. There is a sudden explosion of glass and metal. I stop the car and look around and I see that the back wheel of my bike has gone through the back window. The two other bikes are squished up under the awning. A side window is also busted. I had forgotten we had bikes up there. Fuck me.
Above: Look at that; I googled a photo of the Baie Bleue hotel and came up with this – they didn’t even bother repainting where we had our accident. Leftover markings from our 3 bikes.
The hotel was understanding about the accident and we had 3 workmen who helped me out. We used duct tape and wire to solidify the bike rack (which was broken), taped the half-broken bikes to the rack, and used plastic sheeting over the windows. I called Communauto (the car rental place I use) and they were cool. I was fully covered and they told me the car was on its last legs anyway.
Day 7 – Limping back to Montreal, air blowing through plastic windows, holding my breath the whole way, hoping the bikes wouldn’t fall off the roof. We made it.
In the end I guess we were lucky. It was a stroke of luck that Benjamin had decided to walk to the room, at least nobody got hurt. I had to pay a couple of hundred bucks for the damage to the bike rack, another couple of hundred bucks for the repair of our bikes. Communauto told me the car wasn’t worth repairing. I’ve noticed though that whenever I rent now they’re always giving me a crappy old car that usually has a tape deck.
I was never as happy to be back from a trip. No more family road trips.
Have you been to the Gaspé? Would love to hear your stories and Highlights!
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