Like the sea slowly alters Percé Rock, a Gaspé road trip may change you.
If you live where the majority of Canadians do between Windsor and Quebec City, a road trip to the Gaspé Peninsula is your most direct route to the ocean. This region is also home to some of Canada’s most scenic seaside roads. You’ll also find unparalleled shore whale watching, a lighthouse route, and a whole lot more. Somehow, this seems to be a relatively well-kept secret.
On a Gaspé road trip you can slow down, take a deep breath, and allow yourself to be shaped by the sea. Without question, an epic road trip to the Gaspé Peninsula is worth the drive.
2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid
For our most recent Gaspé road trip, we journeyed in a 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid.
This compact SUV was an ideal choice for us. We were traveling as a couple, and this allowed us plenty of room to stretch out and stow our gear. A third person could have easily fit as well. With four people and a week’s worth of gear, it would have been snug in the 1,003 litres of cargo space.
We also saved some money on fuel thanks to the hybrid powertrain. It includes a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a front-mounted electric motor, a six-speed automatic transmission, and standard all-wheel-drive in Canada. Though it’s officially rated at 6.1 L/100 km in city driving, 6.3 on the highway, and 6.2 combined, our average was higher at 7.2 L/100 km. We enjoyed the 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque on the winding seaside roads, so we were delighted with this result. Apart from a few minor disagreements with the technology, we couldn’t have chosen a better road trip companion.
Approaching the Gaspé road trip loop
On the Gaspé Peninsula, Highway 132 forms a loop that connects in Mont-Joli, roughly 90 minutes east of Rivière-du-Loup. It takes roughly 11 hours of driving time to complete the loop around the Gaspé Peninsula. With so much to do, though, you’ll rarely be in the car for more than a couple of hours. To get the most out of your visit, plan to spend five days completing the Gaspésie loop.
On your way to Mont-Joli, consider stopping at the Parc national du Bic. It’s one of Quebec’s 46 parks operated by SEPAQ, the provincial parks agency. (Provincial parks are known as Parcs national or national parks in Quebec. Canadian national parks are identified as National Parks of Canada.) This park offers multiple coastal views that can be reached with very short hikes. It makes a great spot for a leg stretch, a picnic, or an overnight camping adventure.
Just east of Rimouski, you’ll find Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse National Historic Site. Here, there are three exhibits to take in. There’s the lighthouse itself, the HMCS Onandaga submarine, and a museum dedicated to the RMS Empress of Ireland. This ocean liner became known as Canada’s Titanic when it shipwrecked not far from this site in 1914. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours climbing the lighthouse and touring the military submarine and museum.
Once you reach Mont-Joli, you can choose to drive clockwise or counter-clockwise to complete this tour. If you go counter-clockwise and head south to start, you’ll drive through the inland portion first and save the best seaside roads for the end of your journey. If you’d prefer to start with lighthouses and whale watching, start by heading east from Mont-Joli and go clockwise. Our itinerary highlights the counter-clockwise route.
The Matapédia Valley
Heading southbound on Highway 132 takes you through the Matapédia Valley. Here, the road traces the Matapédia River until it meets the Baie des Chaleurs on the south end of the Gaspé. The entire route is dotted with picturesque villages and covered bridges. You’ll want to have your camera ready to capture these unique rural landscapes.
Once you reach the village of Matapédia roughly three hours south of Mont-Joli, Route 132 takes a sharp turn to the east. It skirts the border with New Brunswick and follows the Restigouche River until it meets the Baie des Chaleurs.
Baie des Chaleurs
You’ll know you’ve reached the point where the river meets the bay when you find Battle of the Restigouche National Historic Site. The site looks simple enough when you walk up to it. A building overlooks the bay and an expansive lawn with 18 white squares arranged around it.
Only after touring the site does the historic importance of this place come into focus. This exact location is where the French forces fell in the Seven Years’ War. The outcome of this battle permanently altered the colonial direction of North America. And those squares? They give visual context of the size of the Machault. The French deliberately sank this frigate during the battle to keep it from falling into Britain’s hands.
The highway traces the shore of the bay as you continue to the east. Along the way, don’t miss Ferme Bourdages Tradition in Saint-Siméon-Ouest. This family farm has been operating from this location since 1821. It produces jams, pies, and strawberry and rhubarb wines that are renowned throughout Quebec.
In the village of Paspébiac, the Site historique national de Paspébiac explains how cod, not cash, was this area’s currency in the 1800s. Interpretive programs held within the buildings explain how business operated at this one-time fishery hub. Boat-building, blacksmithing, and the store where fishermen and workers traded are open for you to explore.
Village of Percé
As you follow the peninsula, you’ll soon crest a hill and be presented with one of Canada’s most iconic views. Percé Rock juts like a monolith out of the sea, with Bonaventure Island standing sentinel in the background.
What you may not realize is Percé looks slightly different each time you lay eyes on it. The limestone is crumbling into the ocean at a rate that has made it unsafe for visitors to approach. Geologists estimate that within 200 years the rock will disappear into the sea altogether.
We can still view its wonder from a distance, though. The best way to do that is by making a day of it on a boat tour. Departures from the village of Percé circle the rock and then Bonaventure Island, offering the option to disembark and visit the Parc national de l’Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé.
Don’t miss this chance if you’re able to hike across the island, which takes 45 minutes each way. Bonaventure’s colony of Northern Gannets is the most accessible on the planet. These birds overwhelm the senses, but through their odiferous cacophony they are fascinating to watch. Elsewhere on the island, additional paths lead you through a former settlement and offer a scavenger hunt for kids. When they complete it, they’ll receive a small prize to remember the adventure.
In the village, there’s even more to explore. The Percé UNESCO Global Geopark has exhibits that explain the area’s geography, and trails allow you to hike up Mont-Sainte-Anne. La Maison du Pêcheur transforms the area’s abundant fresh seafood into spectacular meals. And there are few places with an energy quite like Percé’s Pub Pit Caribou. Stop in for a microbrew and some live music to cap off a fabulous day.
Forillon National Park of Canada
In Forillon National Park of Canada, you’ll find the end of the world. Well, not really. But you will find the end of the Gaspé Peninsula, a point that’s known as the Bout du Monde. (This means “the end of the world” in French.)
To reach it, undertake one of Canada’s best hikes along the Les Graves trail. This trail allows you to choose your own adventure in a sense. The main multi-use trail is well-cleared and offers intermediate hiking and fat biking. There are numerous off-shoot paths along the way provide the option to make your hike much more challenging.
You’ll likely catch a glimpse of whales in Gaspé Bay, and you may also encounter some wildlife. We spotted a bear cub enjoying a snack a few metres from the trail. At the end of the point, you’ll see the Cap-Gaspé Lighthouse. Descend from there another half-kilometre to view the end of the peninsula from the Bout du Monde lookout. The views are worth the extra effort! This is a comfortable half-day hike. It takes two to four hours in total to complete on foot, depending on your pace.
There are more sites not to miss within the park. La Chute is a stunning waterfall that’s reachable via a brief hike off the main road. (This only takes about 10 minutes, but the trail is very slippery if it’s been raining, so take caution.) The Hyman & Sons General Store, Quebec’s only fully preserved World War II shore battery at Fort-Péninsule, and Penouille Beach are also worth visiting.
The Gaspé North Shore
As you depart Forillon to the north, Route 132 becomes one of the best driving routes you’ll find in Quebec. We’d also rank it among the best in Canada.
This is the section of the route that offers a lighthouse tour. It begins just outside the park at the Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse. This is itself a National Historic Site as the tallest lighthouse in the country at a height of 34.1 metres.
Work your way westward through the villages and scenic lookouts as you visit lighthouses along the way. Pointe-à-la-Renommée Lighthouse can be reached by driving a couple of kilometres down a dirt road just off the highway. Cap-de-la-Madeleine Lighthouse is immediately off Route 132, and La Martre Lighthouse ensures you won’t miss it with its bright red façade.
As a straight shot, it’s possible to complete this drive in just over four hours. But to make the most of it—whether that’s to undertake the lighthouse tour or simply to allow time for whale watching and exploring the villages along the route—it’s best to dedicate a full day.
Extend your Gaspé road trip
If you’d prefer to see different sights on the return journey, consider taking a ferry crossing to drive back along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. By crossing at Matane or Trois-Pistoles, you can return via Quebec Route 138 and visit Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, the village of Tadoussac, and the region of Charlevoix as you make your way home.