(I didn’t even need Google to translate that title.)
When I opened my eyes, something seemed a bit off. It wasn’t until I looked at the time that I was able to figure it out: 5:42 am and I’m awake? What kind of sorcery is this??? Well since I was up, I decided to take the dogs to the beach.
I must say that it nice walking on an empty beach as the dogs can run without having to worry about bothering anyone. We still didn’t see any of those elusive seals to pet but we did see some birds.
I had tried to think of a fun way to document all the parks we stayed at and so I had lugged a white board with me and had the bright idea to write down the park name. Well during the course of our walk, that idea morphed into the places we stayed so I took photos on the beach with the board. Unfortunately I had forgotten just how bad my printing is until I looked at it through the camera. Yuck.
After the impromptu photo shoot, I packed up camp and we continued along the St. Lawrence River. We drove until Riviere-du-Loup where we stopped at Au Pain Gamin. I went in, determined to stick to french. When I was greeted, I held up both hands and said “My french is really bad but bear with me, I’m going to try it.” Well the young woman switched right into english. Damn her niceness. I’m proud to say that I still muddled through my order in some kind of Frenglish although I checked to see if I’d be able to enjoy my breakfast on the patio with the dogs in english. And they were.
I collected them from the car and sat out front while I waited for my cafe au lait (latte) and herbed poached egg on their homemade toast with a side salad. Even though the bakery is on a main street it’s so quiet, well except for the odd D-bag with the horrible music blasting and obscenely loud engine that screams “Look at me! I’m inadequate as a man so I need to compensate with my car!! Vroom vroom.” On a positive note, as we were sitting right outside the main window of the bakery, the people inside got a kick out of watching the dogs through the glass. I kind of felt like I was in the zoo but in a nice way.
While we waited, I made use of the wifi to look into a nagging question: what was with these extra national parks? I had seen signs for new national parks the previous day and after checking my handy National Geographic “Guide to the National Parks of Canada” book, well they weren’t in there either. It turns out that there are a whopping 24 national parks in Quebec and the majority are under the jurisdiction of the Societe des establissements de plein air du Quebec (Sepaq). Forillon, La Mauricie, and the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve are managed by Parks Canada and the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park are managed by both groups. 24 parks?!?! Wow. I briefly toyed with the idea of stopping at any parks that we passed but decided against it for two reasons: I had limited time to get the to parks I already knew about and if these weren’t managed by Parks Canada, my park pass would not likely get me in for free. So we were going to stay with parks managed by Parks Canada.
My cafe au lait arrived adorned with a cocoa heart. I don’t know why that made me so happy but it just did. And then when I went to take a sip, I realized that it was in a bowl. I felt so sophisticated, sitting at my little table sipping from a bowl. And then my food came and it was just so pretty and light tasting. I must say that I can totally get used to the french cuisine. The dogs passed out on the ground next to me until it was time to share a bite of toast and be on our way.
We weren’t too far down the road when I saw that we were going to be driving right by Vieux Moulin. I’m not sure why I decided to stop there. Perhaps it was the “Hydromel” on the sign or maybe it was the giant wine bottle. Or maybe it was that hydromel is like mead. So honey+wine=AWESOME. This is a family-run business that not only makes their own artisanal products, from honey to candies to wine but they also sell jams, soaps, and even run a museum. I left with some bags of candy including a honey pine candy and some wine and off we went.
As delicious as breakfast was, I needed some lunch and so I kept my eyes open for somewhere to stop. I had wanted seafood since we were heading towards the coast but I didn’t see anything. I did however see plenty of places with signs that read “Cantine” so I finally stopped at one. I turned off the highway and parked at the end of a long line of cars on one side of the parking lot. There were cars on the opposite side facing the opposite direction so I just assumed that was what we did. There was plenty of space between the two lines of cars so I didn’t think anything of it. I walked to the Cantine and saw that it was basically a stationary food truck: there was a selection of hamburgers, fries, hot dogs, pogos, and of course poutine. I ordered a burger and fries, all in french (yay me), and polished it off before taking the dogs for a little walk in the grass. It was a good meal but nothing extraordinary .
Then I went back to the car and realized that while everything had been fine when I parked the car, a large truck parked across the lot from me which seriously impacted the flow of traffic. Oh and all the other cars that I had been parked behind had left which made me look like a jerk that blocked the end of the lot. I can only imagine the curses being directed at the car with Ontario plates. Whoops.
We continued eastward, stopping once to take a photo of a metal and driftwood sculpture on the side of the road. It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized the cross it was holding was actually a harpoon aimed at a small seal at it’s feet. I found it simultaneously creepy and intriguing. A boat moored off the shore was so mundane in comparison but it sure was pretty.
Then we arrived at the north gate to Forillon National Park. As soon as the young woman heard my accent she switched right to english. She gave me directions to the visitor centre where I would be able to book a campsite and told me that the dogs would have to be kept on leash at all times because they have had a lot of porcupine activity and the nearest vet is over 40 minutes away. Well then leashes it is.
I went to the visitor centre and stood hopping from foot to foot as the man in front of me seemed to be asking every single question he could think to ask. I think the staff member helping him was getting frustrated because with every question, she would take the stack of information pamphlets he held, open it to a page and point before she gave it back and then he would ask another question and then she took the pamphlets back to point some more. Bless her patience because I would have LOST it.
Finally it was my turn and I stepped up to the counter. I quickly picked a site and got suggestions for places to hike, mentioning that I had dogs with me. After marking some places to see on the map, I was again told that the dogs would have to stay on leash because there was a momma bear and her cubs in the park. Hang on…was it porcupines or bears? I pondered this discrepancy as I went back to the car and drove to our site in the Des-Rosiers campground.
When I got to my site, the first thing I noticed was how large it was and how much space there was between our neighbours. And there was no one behind us. In fact, the view from the back of my site was of trees and cliffs. I quickly set up the tent as the dogs watched and then, at the suggestion from the visitor centre, we drove out to hike Les Graves trail.
Les Graves is an eight km out-and-back trail that runs along the south tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. Most of the trail is wide and crushed rock with a few parallel trails along the shore. The main trail is hilly but the footing is very level and would be able to accommodate a stroller and possibly a wheelchair. I was glad that it was so easy since I didn’t want to stress the dogs out so early in our trip. The side trails are more narrow but not difficult to walk as they are also crushed stone and flat. We stayed on the main trail on the way out since I wasn’t sure what we would be facing further on. As it was, they just puttered along sniffing and peeing and getting attention from everyone we met.
The trail leads to Cap-Gaspe, a cliff crowned by a lighthouse and the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. It’s tempting to think that this is the end of the trail but tucked behind a building near the lighthouse is a smaller trail to Land’s End. This section is much rougher than the rest of the trail and you end up picking over roots and around trees if anyone else is on the trail.
The trail ends at a platform over the water far below the lighthouse. We stayed there for a little while and were lucky enough to see seals in the water that were too far away to pet. We actually stayed a lot longer than I had planned because when we climbed back to the lighthouse, the sun was low in the sky. Not so low that I was worried about walking in the dark (thankful that I brought my headlamp just in case), but low enough that we couldn’t spend hours taking photos.
And then as we were walking, I noticed a dark shape down the trail. At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing and then as soon as I saw it emerge from behind some grass I realized that I was looking at a porcupine. Oh crap. Hoping to scare it off the trail far enough for us to pass, I started up a running commentary with the dogs. They’re used to me babbling at them so I knew they wouldn’t be alarmed. Sure enough, the porcupine went off into the long grass and everything was fine until we got close to where it had been. That’s when Piper caught on that something had been there. Suddenly her head was on a swivel as she tried to find the source of the scent. And then Jack was playing bloodhound trying to pull me closer to the grass. Leo was oblivious. But then again, Leo is not much of a tracker whereas Piper and Jack can track with the best of them. And they have both been quilled before so there may be a bit of vengeance being sought. Of course when they can pay for their own vet bills they are welcome to it. Until then, NO WAY.
Finally I was able to drag the dogs down the trail and we walked along the coast for a change of scenery. And there was another porcupine. Are you kidding me? This one was in the middle of the narrow trail just munching away on some grass. This time the dogs did see it and I think their barking got it moving off the trail without me having to bore it into the grass. So I guess the girl in the booth was right about porcupines. Once it had disappeared, I started to work past where it had been and looked down to see what looked like scat from something very large. Huh…I think that’s bear poop. They were both right about bears and porcupines. Well that’s just great.
We kept going down the trail and OH COME ON!! Pokey kitty number 3!!! In like 10 minutes we saw three porcupines. And this one, well this one had nerves because not only did it stay on the trail, it actually began sauntering towards us. I couldn’t believe I was being faced down by a porcupine wile I stood there with three dogs. I started trying to figure out how far we would have to backtrack to get to the main trail if it kept coming at us. I had plenty of time to think because, well they aren’t the swiftest of creatures. That’s when I employed my secret weapon: I talked to it. Apparently my negotiation skills are top notch because that walking pin cushion went off into some trees. Needless to say, we hustled after that.
We got back to the trailhead just as it was getting almost too dark to see. I loaded the dogs into the car, thankfully quill-free, and went back to camp. We were all so tired after our early start and long day that we piled into the tent and passed out.
122 Gaspe Boulevard, Gaspe, QC, G4X 0B1
HOW TO GET THERE
Highway 132 is the only road into the park and runs along the north side, south through the park, and then out the south side. Highway 132 is also a scenic road so just getting to the park is a lovely drive.
WHAT TO DO
There’s plenty of things to keep everyone occupied in the park’s almost 245 sq km. There are hiking trails all through the park, some of which can also be used by bicycles and horses. Several beaches from sandy to pebbly can be found around the park. And if the ocean isn’t your thing, there is a heated pool so you can still get your splash on. There are equipment rentals there in case you didn’t want to pack your bike or kayak.
Marine mammals often make appearances. We only saw a few seals but whales and porpoises can been seen and there are whale watching cruises that leave from Grande-Graves. There are also guided sea-kayak tours which are available mid-June to September.
For history buffs, there are heritage sites at Grande-Grave and L’Anse Blanchette. There’s even the remains of a fort, Fort-Peninsule, that was built during World War II in the event that Germany attempted an invasion.
There are three campgrounds with serviced and unserviced sites and oTENTiks (a cross between a tent and a cabin) are available to rent. There are also backcountry campsites.
WHERE TO EAT
There are restaurants and snack bars in the park and the town of Gaspe is a short drive from the south gate.