Route 389 (R-389) is a challenging road to drive. The road alternates between sections of asphalt and gravel. In places it is narrow and twisty. There are few services. You often have to share the road with lumber trucks that can go really fast when they are heading north empty.
The longest secondary road in Quebec, it passes the Manicouagan reservoir and large hydro-electric dams along its way to some very remote mining communities.
It begins at Route 138 in Baie-Comeau, which is connected to the rest of the Canadian highway network through Quebec City. It travels 567 km north to Fermont, and then another 28 km to the border between Quebec and Labrador, where it becomes the Trans-Labrador Highway (#500). The Trans-Labrador continues through Labrador City, Goose Bay and Forteau, returning to Québec 1125 km later at Blanc-Sablon, the easternmost point in the province.
It is a very challenging and demanding drive, even for an experienced driver, even when weather is good and roads are dry. Close attention is constantly required, and in places the scenery is distractingly beautiful. Including stops for fuel, a brief stop at MANIC-5, and supper at La Pourvoirie Relais Gabriel, it will take 9 hours in good conditions.
The road is unpaved in parts, and there are few gas stations en route. Make sure that your vehicle is in good working order, and that you have a spare tire and the necessary tools. Gravel highway can be hard on vehicles and tires. There's no mobile telephone signal on most of the route (a satellite telephone may work) and roadside assistance is expensive in such a remote location if it can be had at all.
Bring food and water: the water you will find along the way may not be potable. Be sure to keep your gas tank filled. Motorists continuing to the Trans-Labrador (where there's a 410-km gap between stations at one point) often carry a spare can of fuel.
Prepare yourself with music or other media to keep you focussed for the long hours of isolation along this route.
If you're travelling in winter, check the road condition updates provided by the Quebec Ministry of Transportation. Make sure that you have winter tires on your vehicle (not so-called all-season tires: it is illegal to drive a Quebec-plated car in Quebec in the winter if it does not have winter tires), and have a winter emergency kit with you.
There are flights to Baie-Comeau Airport from Montreal and Quebec City. Hire car firms may refuse to allow their vehicles on gravel highways.
Section 1: Baie-Comeau to Manic 5 (213 km)
- This road serves a string of massive hydroelectric generating stations (Manic 2, Manic 3, Manic 5) operated by Hydro-Québec. "Manic" is an abbreviation of "Manicouagan", not a reference to the level of activity. Hydro-Québec is owned by the provincial government. From June 24-Aug 31, Manic 2 and 5 offer a few free scheduled public tours daily (en français, tours in English may be requested in advance for groups of 10 or more). Allow 1½ to 2 hours. Reservations required.
- There are a lot of logging trucks along this stretch. Travelling north empty, they can and do go really fast. For your safety, you should pull over where you can to let them pass.
- As of Sep 2020, the road is in good shape, it is twisty and with a lot of climbs and descents. Long sections are easily driveable at 110 km/h. There are many corners posted at 65 - 70 km/h, but those warnings seem to be randomly distributed. They are usually OK at warning speed + 10 km/h.
- If the warning is 25 km/h, usually accompanied by red directional arrows, brake and obey. Those corners are tight.
Public or emergency phones: at km 23, 52, 95, 165 and 203
km 21 - Manic-2
- 1 Jean-Lesage Dam and Manic 2 Generating Station, toll-free: . June 24–August 31: Daily tours in French: 09:00, 11:00, 13:30 and 15:30. Reservations required. 1½-hour tour of the hydro-electric plant. Jean Lesage was premier of Quebec from 1960-1966.
- Le repos du passant, Route 389 km 23, ☏ . Motel. Restaurant open M-F 09:00-21:00, Sa 09:00-17:00.
- Camping Manic-2, Route 389 km 23, ☏ , fax: . Seasonal camping, June-Sep. $26-40/night.
km 94 - Manic-3
2 Manic-3: There is a gas station, motel, restaurant (open 05:00-20:00), convenience store, and camping at Relais Manic-Outardes.
- [dead link] Relais Manic-Outardes, ☏ . Restaurant, convenience store, beer, fuel station, rooms, trailers and caravan park with RV hookups.
km 211 - Manic-5
3 Manic-5: There is a gas station, motel, restaurant (open 04:30-20:00), and convenience store at Motel de l'Énergie. The fuel station is the last for 104 km.
- Daniel-Johnson Dam and Manic 5 Generating Station, toll-free: . June 24–August 31: Daily tours in French: 09:00, 11:00, 13:30 and 15:30. Reservations required. Two-hour tour of the hydro-electric plant. Daniel Johnson Sr. was premier of Quebec from 1966-68.
- Motel de l'Énergie, ☏ , toll-free: . 80-seat restaurant (04:30-20:00) with four daily specials and wine list, or order à la carte. Wi-fi, satellite TV in motel. Refrigerators in 24 of the 48 motel rooms (at higher cost: $119/single, $129/double). Souvenir store with hats, sweaters, clothing, coffee mugs and placemats. Various packages add a full day of guided hiking or kayak for $70/person. Fuel is much more expensive than in Baie-Comeau. Motel rooms with private bath: $94 single, $106 double. Youth hostel with shared bath: $40 single, $60 double..
Section 2: Manic-5 to Relais Gabriel (104 km)
Gravel road in poor condition, narrow and twisted. Approximate driving time of 1 hr 30 min; speed limit: 70 km/h.
In Sep 2020, it was hard-packed, well-graded gravel in very good condition. Depending on your vehicle, you can push speed to 85-90 km/h with constant vigilance. The washboard surface will start pickup trucks dancing towards the ditch.
There is a restaurant, motel, convenience store (05:00-21:00) and gas station (24 hr) at La pourvoirie Relais Gabriel.
- La pourvoirie Relais Gabriel, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Fishing supplies and services, boat rentals available. Seven-room lodge (two beds per room, with a TV); shared bath. Chalets, unserviced campsite, mobile homes for workers. $65/person, no meals, $105/person with three meals.
- Great little restaurant, rough and bare-bones, but congenial and cheerful. Good food.
Public or emergency phones: at km 272
Section 3: Relais-Gabriel to Gagnon (77 km)
Paved road in good condition, easy to drive up to 110 km/h. Approximate driving time of 1 hr; speed limit: 90 km/h.
- There is no gas station until Fermont.
- At km 391, make a left turn and drive 2 km to the ghost town of 4 Gagnon. It was closed and largely dismantled in 1985 by the mining company that owned it. There are no services here.
Section 4: Gagnon to Fire Lake (101 km)
Paved road. Poor condition. Approximate driving time of 1 hr 15 min; speed limit: 90 km/h.
- The road is tricky: long smooth stretches will suddenly turn to washboard.
- There are some horrible swoops and bounces.
- The iron ore mine was closed in 1984, as was the hamlet of Fire Lake a year later. Everything has been dismantled except for two massive silos. ArcelorMittal continues to mine the seam further north at Mount Wright.
Section 5: Fire Lake to Mount Wright (52 km)
Gravel road, very poor condition, very narrow and twisted. Approximate driving time of 1 hr 00 min; speed limit: 70 km/h.
- There is no gas station until Fermont.
- The road crosses the railway nine times in this section. This is an active railway, and there are no crossing signals - you are responsible for ensuring that you can cross safely. Slow to crawl and carefully assess each crossing. They are all rough: pick best way for your vehicle.
- In Sep 2020, the condition could be described as appalling and abysmal. Speed will be 20-30 km/h. Trucks move very slowly and cautiously.
Section 6: Mount Wright to Fermont (17 km)
Paved road in good condition. Approximate driving time of 10 min; speed limit: 90 km/h.
- There is no fuel station until 2 Fermont (population 2874), a small community established near the Labrador border to house workers for the Mont Wright Mine.
- See the Fermont article for listings of accommodation, and restaurants. Fermont has a Métro grocery store.
Section 7: Fermont to Labrador City (18 km)
Paved road, in good condition. Approximate driving time of 20 min; speed limit: 90 km/h.
- There are no gas stations between Fermont and Labrador City.
km 575/km 5
- Duley Lake Family Park - inexpensive camping sites near Long Lake or along Walsh River with washrooms, showers, dumping station, but few other services. Its 79 sites can fill up with seasonal residents. ☏ .
km 585/km 15
The northbound route is used by logging trucks returning empty. They can and do travel very fast. For your safety, pull to the side where it is safe to do to let them pass. If you're travelling in winter, check the road condition updates provided by the Quebec Ministry of Transportation. Make sure that you have winter tires on your vehicle (not so-called all-season tires), and have a winter emergency kit with you.
Mobile telephones will only work close to Baie-Comeau and Fermont; elsewhere, there is no signal.
- Télécommunications de l’Est (TdE), Centre Manicouagan, 600 Laflèche Blvd., Baie-Comeau, ☏ , toll-free: . M-W 09:30-17:30; Th F 09:30-21:00; Sa 09:00-17:00; Su 12:00-17:00. Offers satellite services through Iridium (telephone and text messaging), and Globalstar (telephone, text, Internet access) and sells their handsets.