You'll find Forillon National Park of Canada (Parc national du Canada Forillon) at the final Land's End of Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula, where the mighty Chic-Choc Mountains collide head-on with the sea. Its unique landscape — an intoxicating juxtaposition of forests, mountains, and shore — means Forillon is a varied place that wears many hats. For hikers and nature lovers, there are nearly 72 kilometres (45 miles) of trails that pass through no fewer than ten distinct ecosystems, each with a cornucopia of diverse plant and animal life. If getting out on the water is your game, there are whale watching cruises, sea kayaking and paddleboarding excursions — or perhaps you'd rather just bask in the warm, shallow waters of Penouille Beach. Even history buffs have a place at Forillon's table, with a beautifully preserved 19th-century fishing village that pays homage to the hardworking families of old that made their living off the rich bounty of the sea.
Located at the far northeastern extremity of the Gaspé Peninsula, Forillon National Park is a roughly triangular expanse of 242 square kilometres (94 square miles) sandwiched between Gaspé Bay and the St. Lawrence Estuary. The park is contained entirely within the municipality of Gaspé, and the main entrance is only 15 minutes by car from the town centre.
For several millennia before the arrival of Europeans, what is now Forillon National Park was known to the local Mi'kmaq people (and, earlier, the rival Mohawks as well) as a fertile hunting and fishing ground. As well, La Penouille — a long, rocky sand spit extending off the south shore of the park into Gaspé Bay — was a source of stone used to produce arrowheads and other tools, with archaeological excavations unearthing chipped rock, fire pits, and pottery dating back as far as 600 BC.
Although the cod that once teemed in the adjacent Gulf of St. Lawrence attracted a motley mixture of Basque, Spanish, Portuguese, and French fishermen to the region beginning shortly after Columbus' voyage, the first European to extensively explore the region around Forillon was Jacques Cartier, who, in 1534, sailed past Cap Gaspé and briefly anchored in Gaspé Bay to wait out a passing storm, before coming ashore in what's now the city of Gaspé to claim the entire region for the French crown: the birth of the colony of New France.
Despite European colonial ambitions and the enduring popularity of the surrounding waters with fishermen, it wasn't until two hundred years after Cartier's voyage — by which time Great Britain had conquered all of France's colonial holdings in what is now Canada — that the first permanent European settlements on the Gaspé Peninsula itself were established. The largest village located within what is now Forillon was Grande-Grave, which thrived in the 19th Century as a fish processing centre and site of the main offices of William Hyman and Sons. Grande-Grave was named for its large pebble beach (grave in archaic French) which locals found to be an ideal site to dry and salt their catch in preparation for export to Europe. As well, there was a small farming and logging community at L'Anse-au-Griffon, on what is today the north shore of the park. The Gaspesian fishing economy thrived into the beginning of the 20th Century, but declining catches coupled with the impacts of the Great Depression and World War II brought the fishing industry into a sharp decline that it was never really able to extract itself from.
The Canadian government's establishment of Forillon National Park in 1970 was extremely controversial: the private firm contracted to evict the 100 or so families who were living within the boundaries of the proposed park was said to have used bullying tactics to scare them into selling their land to the government at less than market value. The former residents of Forillon finally received an official apology from Ottawa in 2011. That same year, Parks Canada introduced a program through which all entrance fees to Forillon were waived for those whose land was expropriated for the creation of the park, as well as their children and grandchildren (and spouses thereof), and which allows free access to cemeteries, former home sites, and other places of personal importance. Special commemorative events and reunions for former residents are also held occasionally.
Forillon may be small in size, but there's a mind-boggling diversity of landscapes packed into it. Like the Gaspé Peninsula as a whole, the majority of the park's infrastructure (and visitors) hug the shoreline. Near the water you'll find the park's best-known feature: Cap Gaspé, the rocky headland at the tip of the peninsula that gives the region its name (from gespeg, a Mi'kmaq term meaning "land's end"). But that's just the beginning of the story: on Forillon's shores there are also fossil-rich seaside cliffs, dazzling rock formations (it's thought that the word forillon refers to an offshore sea stack that has since crumbled into the ocean), quiet pebble beaches where century-old fishing shacks still stand, salt marshes, and sand dunes. The park's boundaries also extend offshore for a short distance, protecting the rich eelgrass beds (most abundant in the shallows off La Penouille) and the abundant marine and bird life that live, feed and breed among them.
Away from the water lies a different world entirely: the intrepid backcountry campers and hikers that penetrate the interior hinterlands (often via the International Appalachian Trail, the mainland portion of which ends at Cap Gaspé) can lope over craggy mountains blanketed in thick forests, and fish in cool mountain lakes and fast-flowing, crystal-clear streams.
Flora and fauna
To match its wide range of landscapes, the park boasts an equally wide range of animal and plant life that are found in the various habitats. The diversity of Forillon's fauna is perhaps best displayed by its bird life, with over 225 species making their home here for all or part of the year. Seabirds are especially numerous: the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence are a copiously abundant food source for razorbill, black guillemot, double-crested cormorant, and, especially in the vicinity of Cap Bon-Ami, black-legged kittiwake. Other birds stay close to shore: on the wave-lapped pebble beaches you're liable to find specimens of sandpiper, common tern, osprey, and the great blue herons that flock to the salt marshes at La Penouille to feed. The shoreline is also home to four species of seal and porpoise, and whales — fin, humpback, minke, pilot, and even the elusive blue whale — are a common sight in nearby waters.
In Forillon's forested interior you'll find still more birds: an assortment of species common to eastern Canada such as thrushes, warblers, woodpeckers, and sparrows abound, and there are also rough-legged hawks, American kestrels, and other birds of prey. The forests are also home to beaver, red fox, coyote, red squirrel, ermine, porcupine, eastern chipmunk, moose, and black bear (see the Stay safe section for more on the latter two).
Speaking of the forest: thick stands of birch, maple, and balsam fir cover 95% of the surface area of the park, making up by one measure the bulk of its plant life. But Forillon's flora is, once again, diverse — much more so than at first blush. Higher up in the mountains as well as on the faces of the seaside cliffs, exposed to the full force of the winds that whip over the Gulf of St. Lawrence, you'll find plant life that's more typical of the Arctic tundra: Forillon's populations of purple mountain saxifrage, white dryad, and tufted saxifrage are relics from thousands of years ago, when the glaciers of the last Ice Age had only just begun to recede and the climate of the region was far colder than today.
Closer to shore, the brackish waters around La Penouille and in other marshlands along the coast play host to salt meadow grass, Carolina sea lavender, and other plants that provide an important food source for shore birds, shallow-water fish, and insects. The eelgrass beds that lie just offshore are a similarly important component of Forillon's marine ecosystem.
Given its northerly latitude, Forillon's climate is surprisingly mild: the moderating influence of the Gulf of St. Lawrence tempers extremes of both summer heat and winter cold, and also assures ample precipitation all year round.
If you're arriving from further-south Quebec, you'll notice it's quite a bit chillier than whence you came, with daytime highs seldom climbing much higher than 25°C (77°F) even in the height of summer, and overnight lows around 10°C (50°F). An interesting summertime phenomenon well-known to local sailors are the easterly thermal breezes that occur on Forillon's south shore in the morning and afternoon, caused by the confluence of the warm waters of Gaspé Bay with the cooler air of the open sea. These breezes generally reach their maximum strength — about 25-30 km/h (15-20 mph) — between noon and 2PM, and die down by 6PM.
Conversely, if you're planning to be one of the few wintertime visitors to this part of the world, you'll be happy to know that temperatures in Forillon are generally comparable to Montreal and actually a bit warmer than Quebec City: a typical January day sees a high of -7°C (20°F) and a low around -18°C (0°F). However, as in the rest of Gaspé, winters are extremely snowy, with almost 4 metres (over 12 feet) of the white stuff falling on the park in the average year, generally between November and April. All park services shut down between mid-October and the beginning of June (see the Fees/Permits section below) and mobile phone service is spotty, so if you get stuck in a blizzard you'll likely have to fend for yourself.
Maps, brochures, and other park information are available in season at Forillon's two visitor centres:
- L'Anse-au-Griffon Visitor Centre (Centre d'accueil et de renseignements L'Anse-au-Griffon).
- La Penouille Visitor Centre (Centre d'accueil et de renseignements La Penouille).
As elsewhere in the Gaspé Peninsula, the main road to and from Forillon is Provincial Route 132, a lasso-shaped route that circumnavigates the entire peninsula. If, like most visitors, you're arriving from the direction of Montreal or Quebec City, take Autoroute 20 (A-20) eastbound to the end of the road at L'Isle-Verte, where you'll pick up Route 132 heading toward the Gaspé. Forillon is 915 kilometres (570 miles) from Montreal and 700 kilometres (430 miles) from Quebec City — a 9½-hour and 7-hour drive respectively, assuming ideal traffic conditions — and stunning scenery abounds, especially the closer you get to the park.
If you're arriving from the Maritimes or certain parts of eastern New England, the route through New Brunswick may be a more direct alternative. Take New Brunswick Provincial Route 17 to Campbellton, then cross the bridge into Quebec where you'll pick up Route 132 headed east through the Chaleur Bay region and Gaspé. Forillon is a little over four hours past the bridge, a distance of about 325 kilometres (200 miles).
Forillon's main entrance is located in the southern sector of the park at La Penouille, about 19 kilometres (12 miles) from downtown Gaspé via Route 132 ouest (west). From there, it's another 14 kilometres (9 miles) via Route 132 and Boulevard de Grande-Grave to the tollbooth at Petit-Gaspé, where you pay the park entrance fee. There's also a secondary entrance and tollbooth in the northern sector at Cap-des-Rosiers, which may be more useful to those travelling along the south shore of the St. Lawrence Estuary without stopping in Gaspé first.
In most cases, taking a flight to Forillon means landing at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (Aéroport international Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau) (IATA: YUL) in Montreal or Jean Lesage International Airport (Aéroport international Jean-Lesage) (IATA: YQB) in Quebec City, then continuing by car via A-20 and Route 132.
Another option is to hop a connecting flight on Air Canada Express from either of those two airports to Michel Pouliot Airport (Aéroport Michel-Pouliot) (IATA: YGP) in Gaspé; round-trip ticket prices start at about $800 from Montreal-Trudeau and about $750 from Quebec City. (If you happen to be coming from the Îles de la Madeleine, there are direct flights from there as well.) There is a National car rental office on the airport property itself as well as Budget, Sauvageau, and Thrifty facilities elsewhere in Gaspé, from which you can rent a car for the 20-minute drive from the airport to Forillon's main entrance at La Penouille.
The tentacles of the Route Verte, Quebec's interconnected, provincewide network of dedicated bike paths and lanes that's the largest on the American continent, extend to Forillon as well. Route Verte 1 enters the park from the north as a dedicated bike lane on the paved shoulder of Route 132. At L'Anse-au-Griffon the route veers sharply to the southwest and cuts perpendicularly across the interior of the park: along the shoulder of Chemin du Portage for the first 1.2 kilometres (three-quarters of a mile), then roughly parallel to the L'Anse-au-Griffon River via the Le Portage hiking trail. Cyclists should beware of steep inclines along the interior portion of the trail, especially heading southward from the crest of the mountains toward Gaspé Bay. Route Verte 1 emerges on the other side of Forillon just east of La Penouille, then turning westward and heading out of the park toward Gaspé, again as a lane on the shoulder of Route 132.
Long-distance hikers can access Forillon National Park via the International Appalachian Trail (IAT; in French Sentier international des Appalaches or SIA), a northeastern extension of the U.S. Appalachian Trail that continues past Mount Katahdin in Maine through Canada, Greenland, various countries of Western Europe, and Morocco. The Katahdin-to-Forillon sector of the IAT was the first to open to hikers, in 1995.
From the west, the IAT enters Forillon at Rivière-Morris, proceeding for about 37 kilometres (22 miles) along the Les Lacs and Les Crêtes trails (see below) through the rugged, mountainous terrain of the park's interior, before emerging on the shore of Gaspé Bay at L'Anse-Blanchette. From there, the IAT runs concurrent with the Les Graves trail for another 8 kilometres (5 miles) through somewhat easier terrain. The North American mainland portion of the IAT ends at Cap Gaspé, and the trail picks up again on the other side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence at Port aux Basques, Newfoundland (there are currently no scheduled connections by boat).
The network of RéGÎM, the rural transit organization that serves the region, includes a bus that passes through Forillon: Route 21, which traverses Highway 132 from L'Anse-au-Griffon to Place Jacques-Cartier in downtown Gaspé. There is one departure in each direction every weekday, with stops at La Penouille Visitor Centre as well as Fort Peninsula. Gaspé-bound buses leave L'Anse-au-Griffon bright and early at 6:27AM, reaching La Penouille at 7:05 and arriving in Gaspé at 7:35. Return trips to L'Anse-au-Griffon depart Gaspé at 4:47PM, stopping at La Penouille at 5:10 and arriving in L'Anse-au-Griffon at 5:40. Tickets cost $2.50 apiece, and are available in books of ten from participating retailers or from the drivers themselves.
Long-distance bus service in the Gaspé Peninsula is handled by Orléans Express, which plies the same route through Forillon as the RéGÎM buses. There are no official stops within the park boundary, but passengers without checked luggage can be dropped off at the roadside anywhere along the route, subject to the driver's discretion. Coming from the direction of Gaspé, you'll want to purchase a ticket for Rivière-au-Renard, the first stop. Buses depart from Motel-Restaurant Adams in downtown Gaspé every morning at 7:15AM; fare is $14.95 per person including tax.
For those visiting Forillon by boat, there's limited docking space at Grande-Grave Wharf (Quai de Grande-Grave). Rates depend on the size of your boat: 90¢ per foot per day.
For the 2015 season, entry fees to Forillon were:
- $7.80 high season/$5.65 shoulder season for adults
- $6.80 high season/$4.90 shoulder season for seniors (age 65+)
- $3.90 high season/$2.90 shoulder season for youth (age 6-16)
- $19.60 high season/$13.70 shoulder season for families (defined as up to seven people arriving together in the same vehicle)
- $2.90 per person high season/$1.90 per person shoulder season for school groups (students of elementary and secondary schools)
- $6.80 per person, in both high and shoulder seasons, for all other organized groups.
It bears emphasizing that in Quebec the term "national park" is used to describe two different categories of park, the distinction between which is important when it comes to annual passes. The term can refer either to parks run by Quebec's provincial park service, Sépaq, or those run by the Canadian national government through Parks Canada (for the latter category, road signs and travel brochures in Quebec will generally use the term "National Park of Canada" so as to avoid confusion). Forillon is run by Parks Canada, which means that while your Parks Canada Discovery Pass is good for admission to the park, the Annual Parks Quebec Network Card won't do you any good. Aside from that, annual passes to Forillon are available at a price of $39.20 for adults, $34.30 for seniors age 65+, $19.60 for children age 6-16, and $98.10 for families, with substantial "early bird" discounts available if you buy your pass before the end of June.
Forillon National Park is open every year from May 30 to October 12. If you're planning to visit during shoulder season (defined as the periods before June 25 and after Labour Day), keep in mind that the park operates with reduced services during those times — visitor centres, the gift shop, the snack bar, and many of the campgrounds and historic sites are closed — with entry fees discounted by around 25% to compensate. From October to May, Forillon is nominally closed; though it's possible (and free) to enter, all services are shut down and the park is completely unstaffed, so you're on your own.
Being a relatively small park, getting from place to place within Forillon is a fairly straightforward proposition.
With the exception of long-distance hikers and cyclists (q.v. the On foot and By bike sections above, respectively), the vast majority of visitors to Forillon arrive at and travel through the park by car. Route 132 is the main artery though the park for cars: it enters the park at its northwest corner and runs parallel to the St. Lawrence Estuary as far as Cap-des-Rosiers, then cuts across the interior of the park in a hilly zigzag along the Montée Laurencelle before finally reaching the shore of Gaspé Bay at D'Aiguillon, whereupon it makes a sharp turn back toward Gaspé. If you're driving Route 132 in this direction, signs will say est (east), though only on the part along the St. Lawrence Estuary will you actually be heading eastward.
As well, Provincial Route 197 runs from Rivière-au-Renard south to Saint-Majorique, marking the western boundary of the national park, and Boulevard de Grande-Grave branches off Route 132 at D'Aiguillon, passing through Grande-Grave and ending in a cul-de-sac at L'Anse-aux-Amérindiens, at the head of the Les Graves trail to Cap Gaspé.
Parking lots can be found next to the intrepretation centres at La Penouille and Cap-des-Rosiers, as well as at Grande-Grave Wharf, Fort Peninsula, L'Anse-aux-Amérindiens, and L'Anse-au-Griffon near the north park entrance.
Grande-Grave Heritage Site (Site patrimonial de Grande-Grave)
Parks Canada has restored many of the homes and other buildings that once made up the fishing village of Grande-Grave. Today, they serve as museums whose exhibits cover the economic importance of the Gulf of St. Lawrence cod fishery and the daily life of area residents of old.
- Blanchette House ( Maison Blanchette), Boulevard de Grande-Grave, L'Anse-Blanchette. Daily 10AM-5PM, Jun 20-Sep 7; daily 10AM-4PM, Sep 8-13. Built in 1901 and now listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places, this brightly-colored cottage was once the home of the Blanchette family, a typical Gaspesian household of the day whose patriarch, Xavier, made his living catching, drying and selling the cod he caught in the waters of Gaspé Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Blanchette House has been painstakingly restored inside and out with rooms furnished in authentic early-20th Century style, and it's staffed daily in season by tour guides in period costume who'll lead you through the house, fish shed, and woodshed. Tours conclude in the barn, where the short interpretive video, "We Always Looked to the Sea" (On regardait toujours vers la mer), is screened continuously.
- Dolbel-Roberts House ( Maison Dolbel-Roberts), Boulevard de Grande-Grave, Grande-Grave. Daily 1PM-5PM, Jun 20-Sep 7. Home to successive generations of the Dolbel and Roberts families from 1915 until 1970, this restored building is now a museum whose permanent exhibit, "Gaspesians from Land's End" (Ces Gaspésiens du bout du monde), covers the rich tapestry of communities who have made their home over the years at the east end of the Gaspé Peninsula: from the Mi'kmaq Indians who have lived here from time immemorial, to the intrepid Québécois and Acadian settlers of New France, to the British, Irish and Channel Islander fishing families who moved in after the conquest of Quebec in 1760, to newer arrivals such as Italians and Jews. As well, with the cooperation of a number of former residents, the museum also tells the unfortunate and still-controversial story of the families whose homes were expropriated by the Canadian government in 1970 to create the national park.
- Hyman & Sons General Store ( Magasin Hyman & Sons), Boulevard de Grande-Grave, Grande-Grave. Daily 10AM-5PM, Jun 20-Sep 7; daily 10AM-4PM, May 30-Jun 19 & Sep 8-Oct 12. Built by William Hyman, a Russian Jewish merchant who settled in Grande-Grave in 1864, this duo of handsome buildings on the shore of Gaspé Bay were a centre of the town's community life in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Out of these premises Hyman operated a business that was eventually the main employer in Grande-Grave: an enterprise comprised of the town's main general store, selling imported household goods of all kinds, as well as a fishing business that was the chief rival in the region to the Paspébiac-based Charles Robin Company which controlled a great majority of the Gulf of St. Lawrence cod fishery at the time. Today, the interior of the store has been restored to its late-19th Century appearance, with antique goods on the shelves ranging from clothing to porcelain table service to patent medicines to farm implements. As well, museum exhibits are contained in the former Hyman family living quarters on the second floor of the main building as well as the fish warehouse a few steps down the hill, which detail the various ways of life practiced by Grande-Grave residents of the day, extracting their needs from the land and sea on a seasonal basis through fishing, logging, and small-scale farming. There's also a short film, "Time and Tide Remembered" (Mémoire de sel), screened in a small room just off the floor of the general store.
Other points of interest
- Cap-Gaspé Lighthouse ( Phare du Cap-Gaspé), at east end of Les Graves trail. Standing atop seaside bluffs that loom 95 metres (310 feet) over the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Cap-Gaspé Lighthouse marks the final "land's end" of the Gaspé Peninsula. Built to ward incoming ships away from Flowerpot Rock, a reef located just off the south shore of the cape, the current Cap-Gaspé Lighthouse is the third to stand on the site: built in 1950 to replace a shorter wood-frame structure that collapsed four years earlier, which in turn was a replacement for the original 1873 lighthouse that was lost to fire. Today, the lighthouse is fully automated and run on solar power, and accessible on foot or by bike.
- Fort Peninsula ( Fort Péninsule), 1.2 kilometers (0.7 miles) east of La Penouille via Route 132. Quebec's only fully preserved World War II-era shoreline battery, Fort Peninsula was one of the three fixed defences that comprised HMCS Fort Ramsay, a naval base established in 1942 by the Canadian military to defend against Nazi U-Boat attacks, to ensure the safety of merchant vessels passing through the region, and to serve as a refuge for the British Royal Navy in the event that Hitler's forces were to successfully conquer the UK. Naturally sheltered by the rocky spits and shallows of La Penouille and Sandy Beach, nineteen warships were based here, serving a key role in waging the Battle of the St. Lawrence which saw 23 Allied vessels sunk by German subs off Canada's east coast. Today, visitors can walk through the underground corridors of the fortification and observe the vintage gun mortars and other artillery still pointed seaward, and read descriptive panels along the way that explain the strategic military importance of the Gaspé Peninsula during the Second World War. Outside, there's a pleasant seaside picnic area.
- Mont-Saint-Alban Observation Tower ( Tour d'observation du Mont-Saint-Alban), accessible via Mont-Saint-Alban trail. At the end of the moderate-difficulty hiking trail up Mont-Saint-Alban lies an observation tower 10 metres (33 feet) in height, affording hikers 360-degree panoramic views over Forillon and the surrounding area — including Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse, Cap Bon-Ami, Cap Gaspé, and, of course, the open waters of the St. Lawrence Estuary, Gaspé Bay, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On a clear day, you can even see Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock in the far distance.
The diverse landscapes of Forillon are crisscrossed by hiking trails of all levels of difficulty, from the easy-peasy ten-minute loop around the boardwalk of Prélude à Forillon to the multi-day backcountry adventure along the ridge of the Chic-Choc mountains that is the Les Lacs, Les Crêtes, and Les Graves combination trail, which together make up Forillon's stretch of the International Appalachian trail (q.v.)
Markers on the map indicate the location of the trailheads.
- La Chute Trail. Located in the park's mountainous interior between Cap-des-Rosiers and Cap-aux-Os, this one-kilometre (0.6-mile) loop descends the steep valley of a babbling brook, passing by a lovely waterfall tucked away in a grove of maple and cedar trees. This easy trail is marked with a wooden boardwalk for much of the way, but features some steep steps.
- Prélude à Forillon Trail. The name of this trail, which translates to "A Prelude to Forillon", is no misnomer: this 600-metre (0.3-mile) boardwalk behind the North Area Interpretation Centre (Centre d'interprétation du secteur nord) provides a bird's-eye view over all of the park's diverse landscapes, forest-carpeted mountains and cliff-lined seashores alike. Multisensory interpretation modules are on hand to further elucidate what you're seeing and help you get a sense of what Forillon is all about. Prélude à Forillon is the easiest trail in the park, and the only one that is fully wheelchair-accessible.
- La Taïga Trail. On the pancake-flat sand spit of La Penouille, this trail passes through one of the furthest-south stretches of boreal forest on the planet. The taiga that gives the trail its name is a fascinating ecosystem of lichen-crusted trees, rare and endangered plants such as the daisy-leaf moonwort, and marsh birds feeding in the brackish offshore shallows (bring your own binoculars to the viewing blind at the edge of the marsh to observe these guys unobtrusively). The trail begins on the side of the access road one kilometre (0.6 miles) past the visitor centre parking lot and proceeds for 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles) ending at a point further along the access road, making for a loop of 2.8 kilometres (1.7 miles) total. As the taiga is a fragile environment that's extremely sensitive to human intrusion, hikers need to stay on the marked trails.
- Une Tournée dans les Parages. This 3-kilometre (2-mile) loop through the Grande-Grave Heritage Site begins at the parking lot next to Grande-Grave Wharf. Starting with a rather steep uphill climb back toward the road and further inland, you'll pass through open fields dotted with handsome saltbox houses that once belonged to the fishing families that made their living for generations on the cod that teemed in the waters off Forillon. You can check out the museum exhibits in the restored Dolbel-Roberts House and Hyman & Sons Warehouse that trace the history of Grande-Grave as a fishing community, or just enjoy the ubiquitous panoramic views over Gaspé Bay.
- Les Graves Trail. Grave (more commonly spelt grève) is an archaic French word referring to a pebble or gravel beach, and hikers on this path can certainly see their share of those as they meander between the inland forest and the edge of the shoreline bluffs on their way to land's end at Cap-Gaspé, where the eponymous Cap-Gaspé Lighthouse awaits with sweeping views over the open waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Les Graves Trail begins at Grande-Grave Wharf and extends 7.6 kilometres (4.7 miles) one-way to land's end, but hikers who'd rather do an abbreviated version of the trail can begin at the alternate trailhead located at the end of the asphalt road at L'Anse-aux-Amérindiens (limited parking available), from which point Cap-Gaspé is a 4-kilometre (2.5-mile) hike one-way. Hikers should allow four-and-a-half and two-and-a-half hours round-trip, from Grande-Grave and L'Anse-aux-Amérindiens respectively. The trail is paved in gravel for much of the way, especially closer to Grande-Grave, but the steep ascents as you approach Cap-Gaspé may prove a challenge for novice hikers.
- Mont-Saint-Alban Trail. For a slog up a mountain 283 metres (934 feet) above sea level, the Mont-Saint-Alban Trail is surprisingly easy — especially once you've got the steep ascents near the shore under your belt. As you climb through the alpine forest that clings to the mountainsides, you'll be blown away by stunning overlooks at seemingly every turn — but the most magnificent of them are saved for the grand finale, at the top of the observation tower at the summit. Mont-Saint-Alban is accessible from two separate starting points at opposite sides of the park: head to the south trailhead at Petit-Gaspé Beach (Plage de Petit-Gaspé) for a more gradual and leisurely ascent, while the north trailhead at Cap Bon-Ami kicks off a short, steep climb. If you choose to continue past the observation tower, there's a loop trail that rings the base of the mountain; the total distance is 7.2 kilometres (4.5 miles) from Petit-Gaspé and 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) from Cap Bon-Ami. If you'd rather just do the observation tower and back, the round trip is 5.4 kilometres (3.4 miles) from Petit-Gaspé and 3.8 kilometres (2.4 miles) from Cap Bon-Ami.
- Le Portage Trail. This all-day hike (seven hours round-trip) through the dense mountain forest leads you over the ridge of the Chic-Chocs from one side of the park to the other via a steep valley carved by the Anse-au-Griffon River and other waterways, where bears, moose, and other woodland wildlife abound. Le Portage Trail is wide, paved with gravel, stretches 10 kilometres (6.25 miles) in length, and shares a northern terminus with its companion trail described below: the Le Portage/La Vallée north trailhead is located in L'Anse-au-Griffon, 1.4 kilometres (0.9 miles) off Route 132 at the end of Chemin du Portage. The Le Portage south trailhead is located at the Operational Centre (Centre opérationnel) east of Fort Peninsula.
- La Vallée Trail. A shorter and somewhat less wild alternative to Le Portage, the gravel-paved La Vallée Trail passes through a similarly forested milieu on the other side of the river but boasts a pair of picnic areas and a shelter. The La Vallée south trailhead is located at a junction with Le Portage trail about four kilometers (2.5 miles) from its northern terminus; like its counterpart, it ends at the parking lot at the end of Chemin du Portage in L'Anse-au-Griffon. You can hike it from one end to the other and back for a 9.2-kilometre (5.8-mile) round trip, or combine it with the northern part of Le Portage to form an 8.6-kilometre (5.3-mile) loop that crosses the river twice. Either way, plan for about two-and-a-half hours overall.
Together with Les Graves trail (listed above as a moderate-difficulty trail), the two trails below comprise Forillon's segment of the International Appalachian Trail, and both are generally through-hiked consecutively in one direction or the other. A round-trip hike from the Les Lacs trailhead in Rivière-Morris to Cap Gaspé and back could be done in two very long days, but three days is probably more reasonable. Lean-to shelters and backcountry campsites are available; see the Sleep section for details.
- Les Crêtes Trail. The middle sector of the three-in-one trail that extends across Forillon lengthwise takes you along the crests (crêtes in French) of the mountain ridge on the spine of the peninsula, through a wooded and mountainous milieu with panoramic highland vistas and distant glimpses of Gaspé Bay and the St. Lawrence Estuary popping their heads up frequently. It's a distance of 18.2 kilometres (11.3 miles) from the trailhead near the operational centre to Petit-Gaspé Beach where the Les Graves trail picks up: a hike of six-and-a-half hours one-way.
- Les Lacs Trail. This trail takes its name from the many pristine mountain lakes hikers pass as they climb, dip, and meander their way through the mighty Chic-Choc Mountains. Watch out for black bears and other wildlife as you make your way through the boreal forest, and take time out to admire the scenic mountaintop views (the ones in the Morris River valley near the trail's west end are a particular highlight). Les Lacs trail extends 17.6 kilometres (10.9 miles) from the park's western boundary at Rivière-Morris to its junction with the Le Portage trail, where the Les Crêtes trail picks up. Allow six hours one-way.
Aside from the Route Verte that's described above, cyclists have several other options in Forillon. There's a short, asphalt-paved loop trail at La Penouille for those with a relaxed and easygoing two-wheeled outing in mind, while seasoned mountain bikers looking for a challenge can share the hillier, gravel-paved Le Portage and La Vallée trails (q.v.), as well as the eastern half of the Les Graves Trail (beginning at L'Anse-aux-Amérindiens), with hikers.
In early September, the Forillon portion of the Route Verte and many of the trails mentioned above play host to Gran Fondo Forillon. Held yearly since 2012 by the Gaspé Vélocipeg Club (Club vélocipeg de Gaspé), Gran Fondo Forillon is reputed to be one of the toughest bicycle races in North America. Courses range from the Famili Fondo — a non-timed, 10-kilometre (6.2-mile) ride that's perfect for families with children and first-time event cyclists and followed by a beachfront picnic at Petit-Gaspé — to the grueling, 168-kilometre (104-mile) Alto Fondo, where the hardest-core of hardcore bike racers circumnavigate the entire park over hill and dale, then follow the Route Verte further west along the St. Lawrence Estuary to Grand-Étang. Registration ranges from $10 to $110 depending on the course you choose, and includes insurance and post-event snacks and refreshments.
The Petit-Gaspé Recreation Centre (Centre récréatif Petit-Gaspé) has tennis and volleyball courts, as well as a playground for children. It's open yearly between June 13 and September 13, 10AM-5PM.
In addition to hikers and mountain bikers, Le Portage, La Vallée, and the eastern portion of Les Graves Trails are open to horseback riders.
Since 2014, through a partnership between Parks Canada and Le Griffon Cultural Centre (Centre culturel Le Griffon), La Vallée and Le Portage Trails have been groomed in the winter for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and (on Le Portage only) dogsledding. In addition to the trails themselves, the parking areas at either end of Le Portage trail are plowed to furnish access for those arriving by car, as is a 4-kilometre (2.5-mile) stretch of Boulevard de Grande-Grève that leads to the South Sector Visitor Centre (Centre d'accueil du secteur Sud) in Grande-Grave, which is open as a rest and warm-up stop for skiers. The Répit Nord shelter near the midpoint of La Vallée trail also remains open, but it's important to note that there are no offseason maintenance staff to clean up after visitors, so leave-no-trace principles apply.
In the water
The Petit-Gaspé Recreation Centre contains a heated outdoor pool patrolled by lifeguards, as well as a wading pool for kids. These facilities are open yearly from June 20 through August 28 at a price of $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for children age 6 to 16, and free to children 5 and under.
For whose who'd prefer to swim in the ocean, opportunities are concentrated on the south shore of the park, in Gaspé Bay, shallower parts of which sometimes warm up enough to take a dip. Foremost among these is Penouille Beach (Plage de Penouille), on the eponymous sandspit that's surrounded by the shallow, protected waters of the bay. There's a park shuttle bus that will take you from the visitors' centre to the beach for $1.25. The beach has no lifeguards, but it's within easy walking distance of such Penouille-area amenities as the snack bar, the Parks Canada gift shop, and the ÉcoRécréo rental centre where beach accessories such as chairs, umbrellas, and toys are stocked. Swimmers are required to stay away from the floating dock and the ecologically sensitive salt marshes, and should watch out for kiteboarders and personal watercraft that come and go from the area.
- Croisières Baie-de-Gaspé, ☎ . See website for schedule. Operating out of Grande-Grave Wharf from June 1 through Thanksgiving weekend, Croisières Baie-de-Gaspé offers bilingual whale-watching cruises in a 48-passenger, handicap-accessible aluminum boat (the Narval III) that is specially designed to safely approach whales at closer proximity than other boats, giving passengers an up-close-and-personal look at these massive creatures from the comfort of a large, well-equipped vessel. The waters surrounding Forillon are home to seven species of whale, as well as playful dolphins and harbour seals that passengers often see sunning themselves on offshore rocks — and as the only whale-watching cruise authorized to operate within the national park, there's a refreshing lack of tour boat traffic and other cacophonous brouhaha to muck up your experience (just what the doctor ordered if you're arriving from touristy Percé). Standard cruises last two and a half hours and cover both the north and south shore of Forillon, furnishing good views not only of sea life but also of the Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse (Phare de Cap-des-Rosiers) and The Old Man (Le Vieux), a vaguely anthropomorphic sea stack that stands just off Cap Gaspé. Private charters are also available, which will take you to the seabird colony at Cap Bon-Ami or even as far as Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock. Cruises leave rain or shine, and binoculars and rain gear are available for rental. $70, seniors and students with ID $65, children age 4-15 $40, children 3 and under free; families $160 for two adults and one child and $15 for each additional child. National park entry fee not included.
Snorkelling and scuba diving
- Plongée Forillon, ☎ . Daily 8AM-6PM. If undersea diving is your cup of tea, Plongée Forillon is worth checking out: rain or shine from June 13 to September 13 (and offseason on prior arrangement), these folks run small Zodiac boats between Grande-Grave Wharf and one of the many harbour seal colonies on Forillon's shores, where snorkellers can swim with the seals and also encounter other marine life such as starfish and lobster. All ages and experience levels are welcome on these three-hour excursions (of which one hour is spent in the water), and wetsuits, masks, snorkels, and all other necessary gear is supplied free of charge. For PADI-certified scuba divers, diving outings are also offered. $75, children under 17 $65; national park entry fee not included.
Though it was the mainstay of the region's economy for centuries, today Grande-Grave Wharf is the only place in Forillon where fishing is allowed. The cod that teemed in Gaspé Bay are long-gone, victims of a population collapse in the early 1990s that hit Canada's east coast economy hard, but anglers still fish for several other saltwater species here — most notably mackerel, which in Forillon can be caught without a permit. Mackerel fishers are subject to a daily catch limit of ten fish — this includes those caught for consumption as well as catch-and-release — and can only use one line at a time, with a single or triple hook. If you don't have your own, poles can be rented from Cap Aventure (see below). Also keep in mind that Grande-Grave Wharf is an active harbour, so keep your fishing line away from the boats and other watercraft that come and go, as well as the divers you'll sometimes see.
If you intend to fish for other species that frequent the area, such as capelin and Atlantic salmon, restrictions may apply. Consult the websites of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (Ministère des forêts, de la faune et des parcs du Québec) for more specific federal and provincial regulations, respectively, about your species of choice.
- Cap Aventure, ☎ . "Meet the Seals" excursion departs daily 8AM; "Cap Gaspé" excursion departs 7AM on prior request, "Around Forillon" excursion departs 6:30AM on prior request. See website for schedule for "Seals at Sunset" excursion. Opportunities for the adventurous visitor to Forillon don't come much better than Cap Aventure's guided kayak tours. To call what they offer "seal-watching excursions" wouldn't do them justice: much more than just another touristy trifle, these tours are true educational experiences, where seasoned guides put their affiliation with the Marine Mammal Watchers' Network (Réseau d'observateurs des mammifères marins) to good use in providing a window into the delicate ecosystem of Gaspé Bay, conducted in a manner that is sustainable and respectful of the natural environment. It's not all dry academia, though — the learning experience is punctuated daily by unforgettable sights like a pod of seals dancing and playing around your boat, the plaintive bellow of whales breeching in the distance, and seabirds by the hundreds taking flight from the top of the sheer seaside cliffs. Cap Aventure offers a range of excursions tailored to customers' individual needs: the short Meet the Seals (Rencontre avec les phoques) excursion is open to participants five and older and sticks to the interior of Gaspé Bay, while longer tours round Cap Gaspé into the estuary or even pass southward down the Gaspesian coast as far as Bonaventure Island. The Seals at Sunset (Phoques au coucher du soleil) excursion is especially popular. All excursions depart from Grande-Grave Wharf, with the exception of the Around Forillon (Pourtour de Forillon) tour, which leaves from Cap-des-Rosiers. The season runs from June 13 through September 13, and wetsuits are provided during the spring and fall. Website in French only. See website for detailed price structure.
- ÉcoRécréo, ☎ . Daily 9AM-5PM, mid-June through Sept 7. ÉcoRécréo is a company that's near and dear to the hearts of Québécois adventurers, with equipment rental centres and organized outdoor activities set up in locations all over the province. Their Forillon branch, located at La Penouille Visitor Centre, is perhaps best known for offering stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) — a new-school watersport that's perhaps best compared to surfing with an oar. The experienced can rent boards for $12 per hour, $26 per half-day, or $45 per day; for the uninitiated, an introductory course in the sport is offered at nearby Penouille Beach. Beyond that, the rental kiosk also stocks a full range of other gear for outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes: everything from beach chairs and sunscreens to quadricycles and Segways, available at varying prices (the website has a full breakdown).
There's a small gift shop at the visitor centre at La Penouille, with a modest selection of souvenirs and other paraphernalia. It's open from June 20 through September 7.
There is also a convenience store at the Petit-Gaspé Recreation Centre open from June 13 through September 13, that stocks a range of gear tailored to the various recreational activities offered by the park.
Eat and drink
The La Penouille Visitor Centre and the Petit-Gaspé Recreation Centre each contain a snack bar serving a limited selection of simple fare off the grill.
While there are no hotels or motels within Forillon itself, there are several options in the adjacent city of Gaspé and many, many more located a short distance south in Percé. See the linked article sections for specific details.
Forillon has three campgrounds, containing both semi-serviced (with electricity, but not water or sewer) as well as primitive sites. As of 2015, rates are $29.40/night and $25.50/night, respectively, not including the park admission fee.
Parks Canada accommodates "glampers" at Forillon with about a dozen so-called oTENTik tents at the Des-Rosiers and Petit-Gaspé campgrounds: ready-made campsites perfect for those who want a taste of the outdoor experience without giving up all their creature comforts. Rates vary depending on the amount of amenities offered; see individual listings for details.
- Cap Bon-Ami Campground ( Camping Cap-Bon-Ami). Open June 19 through September 6. Perfect for those in search of a primitive camping experience, this is about the closest experience to the backcountry that Forillon offers without actually being in the backcountry. In a cliffside clearing next to the Mont-Saint-Alban trailhead lie 38 unserviced sites for tents.
- Des-Rosiers Campground ( Camping Des-Rosiers). Open May 30 through October 11. Des-Rosiers campground comprises 147 lots, both with and without electric hookups, in a wooded milieu in the north sector of the park. There's a playground for kids nearby, a dumping station located at the campground entrance, and water outlets also available. Des-Rosiers campground also includes eight oTENTik tents of the "Basic Service" variety — furnished indoors with three beds, a table, four chairs and a bench, and with a picnic bench, campfire pit, and parking for two vehicles outside — that are available at a rate of $70/night.
- Petit-Gaspé Campground ( Camping Petit-Gaspé). Open June 19 through September 6. If you want a secluded wilderness experience, look elsewhere — but if you want to be within an easy walk of a gaggle of fun activities, Petit-Gaspé may be the campground for you. Forillon's largest campground (with 167 sites) is located a short distance away from the Petit-Gaspé Recreation Centre, with a playground, swimming pool, snack bar, tennis and volleyball courts, and numerous other amenities. As at Des-Rosiers, sites come with or without electricity, and dumping stations and water outlets are provided. Petit-Gaspé's Loop F is made up of seven oTENTik tents, where, for a price of $100/night, those who've opted for the "Ready-to-Camp" package can avail themselves of all the amenities provided by the basic service plus indoor heating, electricity, a small fridge, dishes and utensils, and a hotplate (cooking allowed outdoors only).
Long-distance hikers along the Les Lacs/Les Crêtes combination trail can avail themselves of three backcountry campsites, which have basic amenities such as dry toilets and picnic tables. In addition, two of these campsites also include lean-to shelters that each sleep four, perfect for those who haven't brought along their own tents. Campsites must be reserved in advance — call +1 418 368-5505 to book, or make your reservation on the spot at any park entrance or visitor centre. Lean-to shelters cost $15/night, but camping is free if you use your own tent. Also keep in mind that open-air wood fires are prohibited in the backcountry, so if you're planning on cooking food, bring a portable cookstove.
- Backcountry campsite with lean-to shelter (Les Lacs trail)
- Backcountry campsite without lean-to shelter (Les Crêtes trail)
- Backcountry campsite with lean-to shelter (Les Crêtes trail)
- If you'll be hiking and camping in Forillon's backcountry, you should already know to get educated about the terrain you're planning to cross: topographic maps are often an essential item for long-distance hikers to pack. It also pays to bring along plenty of water and perhaps a first-aid kit — cell-phone service in Forillon is spotty and there isn't exactly an abundance of other backcountry hikers on those trails, so medical treatment may be hard to come by. Check out Wikivoyage's article on wilderness backpacking for more tips.
- One of the main attractions in Forillon is the wildlife that calls the park home, but some of these animals can pose dangers to visitors if not dealt with properly. Although they're not usually interested in much beyond rummaging through your trash, it pays to keep in mind that Forillon is black bear country. To keep this from happening, a good idea is to triple-bag (at least) your garbage — along with food, cooking utensils, and anything else that may smell appetizing to bears — and hang it up at least 5 metres (16 feet) off the ground and at least 100 metres (330 feet) downwind of your campsite. However, if you've got a mother bear who feels protective of her cubs, then it's a different story and you've got a potentially dangerous situation on your hands. Loud noises will generally scare a bear off in this situation — try clanging a pair of garbage can lids together — and if that doesn't work, back away from the animal slowly and without making any sudden movements. Bear repellent spray is another possible option — contrary to popular belief, it is legal in Canada so long as the package clearly states that it's intended for use against animals.
- Moose are another species native to Forillon that can pose a hazard. Not only can a mother moose defending her young be as aggressive as any bear, but moose crossing the road in front of speeding cars are also responsible for scores of injuries or deaths every year in the Gaspé Peninsula. Being much taller and heavier than deer and other types of roadkill you may be used to, moose that are struck by cars are likely to collapse right on top of you, enhancing the potential for damage to your vehicle (or you). Drivers in Forillon should keep to a reasonable speed, always wear their safety belt, and use high beams at night when it's safe to do so. If you're visiting late in the season, around September or October when moose are at their most active, this goes double.
- Speaking of driving: if you're here for the cross-country skiing offered in the winter (or if you've just decided to ignore the annual October 12 closing date), be extra careful on the roads. The cold and snow of Gaspesian winters are legendary even by Canadian standards, so in the cold months it pays to drive slowly, keep a safe distance from the car in front of you, and adapt your car travel plans to the changing weather conditions. In a pinch, an emergency kit can also be a godsend. See Winter driving for more tips.
- Unless you've arrived by boat, you're not going anywhere out of Forillon without first passing through Gaspé — this largest city, unofficial capital, and commercial centre of the Gaspé Peninsula borders the park on all landward sides. While Gaspé is a lot less "touristy" in the traditional sense than many of the region's other towns, there are a handful of attractions for visitors: you can learn about Gaspesian history and culture at the Gaspé Regional Museum (Musée de la Gaspésie); visit the Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse (Phare de Cap-des-Rosiers), Canada's tallest at 34 metres (112 feet) in height which stands not far from the boundary of Forillon (if you visited the Mont-Saint-Alban Observation Tower or hiked the Prélude à Forillon trail while visiting the park, you've likely already caught a glimpse of it in the distance); or relax on one of several pleasant beaches.
- Venture out further along Route 132 ouest, and about two hours after Gaspé you'll come to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. Besides being a convenient roadside stop with service stations, restaurants, and motels aplenty, here you have world-class salmon fishing on the Sainte-Anne River, kitesurfing at Cartier Beach, and an annual driftwood sculpture festival in August. However, Sainte-Anne-des-Monts is most notable to travellers as the gateway to...
- Gaspésie National Park, 80 square kilometres (31 square miles) of pristine wilderness nestled in the highest heights of the Chic-Choc Mountains, about half an hour south of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts via Provincial Route 299. Backcountry adventurers who tackled the mountains of Forillon on Les Lacs and Les Crêtes trails will find even more thrilling challenges awaiting them at Gaspésie, including the granddaddy of them all — the 100-kilometre (62-mile) Grande Traversée to Mont Jacques-Cartier, which passes through the territory of the last caribou herd south of the St. Lawrence on its way to the Chic-Chocs' highest peak. Fishing and kayaking on Cascapédia Lake, mountain biking, and — in winter — exciting Alpine skiing and snowboarding in five separate ski areas are on tap as well.
- Head in the other direction down Route 132 and the next place you'll come to is Percé, an unabashed tourist town whose bustle may be jarring for those who've grown used to the majestic solitude of Forillon (and most of the rest of the Gaspé Peninsula). But the crowds come for a good reason: Percé is home to the eponymous Percé Rock (Rocher Percé), a naturally arch-shaped offshore rock formation that's become the iconic emblem of the Gaspé Peninsula, which together with the seabird haven of Bonaventure Island (Île Bonaventure) make up yet another entry in the Gaspé's roster of national parks.
|Routes through Forillon National Park|
|Rimouski ← Petite-Vallée ←||W E||→ Gaspé → Rimouski|