The road through Québec Maritimes starts at the border of Kamouraska, just where Saint Lawrence River begins to widen North of Québec City. This great adventure through Quebec Maritimes will take you along the Bas-Saint-Laurent coast and offers a preview of what is arguably one of the most unique Canadian road trips. Incorporating sprawling fields and rugged cliffs, scenic coastal views, and pebbled beaches this route presents an unforgettable perspective on Canada. A stark contrast to the big city pace many of us exist in.
The region is best suited for slow travel. This journey should be taken at a leisurely pace with enough time to indulge in fresh seafood and soak in the tear-inducing sunsets. The route you choose to take can be thematic:
- Go door-to-door exploring lighthouses (there are over 40)
- Focus on food and local breweries and distilleries (over 25 combined)
- Pursue the land-to-sea route that takes you across the blue waters face-to-face with the likes of Moby Dick. 13 species of whales can be seen here.
But I wanted it all [insert a greedy laugh]! Realistically speaking, seeing it all would take many trips and many weeks. Nonetheless, we got a healthy preview of what this vast region has to offer even on our week-long adventure.
This road trip itinerary will loop around Gaspésie with a wholesome stop in Percé where you can lose all sense of time looking out at the turquoise waters. It will take you to the Land’s End and an island populated only by birds and memories. On this road trip, we will pull over for a cold pint at a microbrewery on the beach and taste small-batch gin inside a 147-year-old church. So buckle in, the adventure starts now!
This blog post uses affiliate links denoted by ( * ). Read the disclaimer about affiliate links & PR gifting here.
The trip was planned with the assistance of the Québec Maritimes Tourism board which did not review or approve this article.
Key travel points:
When to visit : Québec Maritimes has something to offer full year-round. The main season for tourism is summer which offers a bounty of activities and a much larger dining selection.
Plan your trip : Many additional trip itineraries can be found on the official website at quebecmaritime.ca
Plan ahead : This is a small community that much like everyone else suffered from the pandemic. It is important to plan and book in advance.
Getting here : The closest airport is Québec from where you can either catch a connection to Mont-Joli Airport or drive. Alternatively, there is also an option to take the Montréal-Gaspé train to Bas-Saint-Laurent. We drove all the way from Toronto.
Gaspé Peninsula is the native land of the Mi’kmaq First Nation (spelling variants are Micmac and Mi gmaq).
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Part One: Welcome to Gaspésie!
We check in at Hotel & Cie*, it has been a long drive. This 42-room hotel offers comfortable contemporary decor and complimentary breakfast served to your room. The property is located in the heart of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, a quiet town but in a great location for a good night’s sleep before a full day of adventures. On the premises is a lovely resto-pub called La Broue dans l’Toupet Pub Gastronomique ($$) serving up casual favourites with a maritime twist. Alternatively, there is a nearby Le Malbord Microbrewery ($$) where you will find bistro-style plates and other meat-forward bread and bun-type dishes.
Hotel & Cie ****
hoteletcie.com, rooms starting at $124 CAD per double
90, boulevard Sainte-Anne Ouest, Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, G4V 1R3
The first full day is a long scenic drive from Sainte-Anne-des-Monts to the town of Gaspé. Route 132 will take you all the way there with plenty of scenic stops and points of interest. Looking out of the window is the overwhelmingly vast Saint Lawrence River, weaving around the rocky mountainous edge of the road. An occasional waterfall runs down the side. This part of the road is peppered with motels, a clear indicator that it is a desirable and popular tourism destination. In mid-September, however, the towns seemed quiet and resolved.
The smooth coastal drive is a host to a range of lighthouse stops. The big red La Martre Lighthouse (map location) is the first one, followed by Cap-de-la-Madeleine Lighthouse (map location) an hour or so later. A short turn off the highway Cap-de-la-Madeleine has a lovely panoramic view and an on-site museum. Here you could take an interpretive tour filled with tales and legends told by a local guide.
Stomachs growling we turned in to grab a bite at the infamous Cantine du Pêcheur ($$) but to our disappointment, it was closed for the season. A brief search turned up a nearby seafood place La Cantine du Quai ($), a food truck parked on the fishing dock near a marine club. A lineup of people and a full parking lot of cars was a clear indicator this is the place to be for lunch and my first of many delicious tiny shrimp meals [image below].
Further along the road, on the outskirts of the Forillon National Park is Canada’s tallest lighthouse and historic center, Cap des Rosiers (map location). The best view of this white giant, however, is from a nearby beach on the Northern Section of Forillon (map location) [cover image]. Stretching around the bend this side of the park can be explored slowly in a loop down a wooden boardwalk, through the tall grass, and back across a pebbled beach.
With three lighthouses behind us, it is time to mix things up. A quick drive cutting across the park is La Chute – a short hiking trail that leads to a wide, 17m waterfall with a red Muskoka chair looking up at the crystal water crushing at its foot. The trail goes from ground to boardwalk and involves some stairs, but this minimal effort leads to a lovely and very photogenic reward.
Note: There are a few mixed instructions on how to get to the falls so here is a map location. For the best route, if you have an iPhone, key in “La Chute Trail Red Chair” in Apple Maps.
Part Two: From Gaspé to Percé
Here for an overnight, we walk up to a charming white house with a blue roof and intricate wooden finishes. A medium-sized B&B called Auberge Sous Les Arbres* greats us at the top. This is an ancestral property with a shared lounge and dining area, stunning classic decor, and a garden terrace outback. Upon arrival, we were invited to taste locally produced gin (later available next to the coffee alongside other regional liquors) and took a moment to fill out our breakfast preferences. Having arrived early enough in the day to not have to rush for dinner the two of us, equipped with some French wine picked up in the Québec SAQ, relaxed in the courtyard reflecting on the drive so far and planning for the day ahead.
For dinner, Le Brise Bise ($$) located across the street, is a popular and recommended spot. Being one of very few in town open off-season the restaurant fills up quickly so reservations are strongly recommended. The menu features an expected fanfare of comfort food and fruits of the sea, like hearty club sandwiches and seafood coquille, a baked dish of mashed potato stuffed with seafood. A first for me and one I might need to learn how to make at home.
Auberge Sous Les Arbres ***
aubergesouslesarbres.com, rooms starting at $140 CAD per double
146 Rue de la Reine, Gaspé, QC G4X 2R2, parking is at the back of the property around the corner
If time permits, you could stay here for a few days, exploring the nearby sites, heading out for long hikes, and enjoying the seafood. Our itinerary was a bit tight so a sleep and a breakfast later we were back on the road heading towards Percé.
The drive to Percé only takes about an hour so we spend some time exploring Pointe-Saint-Pierre (map location). A short walk from the parking lot of Route de la Pointe-Saint-Pierre ends at the sharp edge of a 10-meter-high coastal cliff. You can stroll along the edge from end to end, absorbing the view of the littoral landscape from the meadows, and taking in the endless view of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. A rocky pathway can take you down to the beach, completely blanketed with black mussel shells.
Up next is a boat tour with Les Bateliers de Percé which loops around the historic Percé rock and docks at the l’Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé national park. Percé Rock is probably the most famous tourist attraction in the QC Maritimes. Towering 88m above water and 471m long with an open arch (one of the world’s largest natural arches) the rock is home to a wide variety of birds. The shape and size of this natural structure are truly fascinating and naturally photogenic. Our boat is full of people looking up in amazement, gasping at the view and laughing at the guide’s occasionally comedic remarks and dry jokes. Having now seen the rock from all sides the boat turned toward Île Bonaventure.
The island, no longer occupied by humans, is home to the largest migratory northern gannets bird refuge in North America and one that is accessible on foot. As we get closer and closer the patches of birds are seen more clearly. The entire edge of the island is covered with white gannets, nesting, perching on rocks, cruising in groups over the edge, chirping at the seals floating on the water. This view is truly spectacular; this island belongs to birds.
Bonaventure used to be a lived island but over time as people moved away to the mainland the land was purchased by national parks who now work hard on preserving its natural biodiversity and historical significance. There are many trails through the park, looking out at the Percé Rock, passing through what used to be people’s homes, and almost all of the paths leading to the bird colony.
Booking: Book directly with lesbateliersdeperce.com
Tickets: Island + Percé rock is $42/adult, directly to the island $38/adult + $9/adult fee for park access (park pricing here).
Timing: Tour departure times are on the hour 9:00 am to 4:00 pm but they can change end of season.
Duration: If you plan to explore the island make sure you have at least 3 hours. Bring lunch, there are options on the island but they are limited
Having witnessed one of the most spectacular bird sanctuaries in the world it was time to check in for our next overnight stop: Riôtel Percé*. Nestled on the edge of the water, near the town center, the hotel windows have a panoramic view of the coast. I wasn’t expecting much walking in but the spacious room with a wide-open view of the sea made me gasp upon entry. Our King suite was outfitted with a large desk, two sitting areas, and wall to wall balcony, looking directly at the water and the town’s main attraction.
With more time in hand, I would’ve spent many mornings sipping coffee on this balcony, listening to the sea. The property stretches along a pebbled beach which you can take all the way into the town center. There is a green playground, picnic tables, and a few fire pits, fully prepped for evening relaxation, just throw in a match. Breakfast is served in the main building at a lovely, newly renovated restaurant, which also looks out at the beach.
Riôtel Percé ***
riotel.com/fr/hotels/perce, rooms starting at $150 CAD for two queens
261 Rte 132, Percé, Quebec G0C 2L0
Open May 20 to October 9 inclusively
There are a few restaurants in town but given their popularity reservations are definitely helpful. We opted in for dinner at La Maison du Pêcheur ($$$) and pre-drinks at the Pit Caribou brewpub. While the restaurant was a classy fair the pub had a feeling of a local favourite. The pub is a place where industry people come to hang out after work. Just the vibe we were looking for. Wrap up the day with a nightcap by the fire pit back at the hotel.
Part Three: From Percé to Carleton-Sur-Mer
After breakfast, we walk over to Percé UNESCO Global Geopark. There is a lot to do and see here, including a multimedia presentation on the 500 million years of Percé geological history. If you have time there is a lot to explore at the park but the must-do activity is the suspended glass platform. Situated 200m above ground but a quick, rocky shuttle bus will take you up there in no time. The platform, on which you have to step out barefoot, opens up on the vast view of the sea and the Percé Rock. When done, you can hike down, zipline, or go for a short hike through the magical forest. It is an actual trail and it is a little magical, in that child storybook kind of way.
Tickets: Depends on your activity selection, the glass platform is $11/adult plus a $6 shuttle.
Timing: Open year-round from 9 am to 6 pm.
On the way out of Percé, we visit a distillery called La Societe Secrete. It is an artisanal distillery, located in a 147-year-old Anglican church, focusing on 3 products only and using all local, and hand-harvested botanicals. They even have their own colony of bees. Nearby is also the Pit Caribou Microbrewery at the edge of a L’Anse-à-Beaufils fishing village. Order a fresh pint of beer from the brewery window and enjoy the beach views from their back patio.
One more culturally and historically important stop is Site Historique National de Paspébiac. In its prime time, this site was the main source of income for people in the area and one of the biggest salted cod distributors in the world. This is two centuries of fishing history with well preserved 11 buildings. In these buildings fishing vessels were built, the fish was processed, stored, and traded. A guided tour is strongly recommended because the stories they have are epic and entertaining.
Tickets: $14/adult, pre-book on sitepaspebiac.ca
Timing: Early June to early October 9 am to 5 pm daily; with reservations for groups until mid-October.
Next in our destination guide is an overnight in Carleton-Sur-Mer at Hostellerie Baie Bleue*. A classic motel with 5 buildings and 7 cottages a road away from the sea. The rooms are clean, with modest modern decor and comfortable bedding. There is an on-site pub called St-Joseph, where you get your morning meal. Across the road is a long boardwalk that stretches across town past charming vacation homes and public amenities. The boardwalk will take you directly to Marin D’Eau Douce ($$), a small seafood restaurant with a serene candlelit mood. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Hostellerie Baie Bleue ***
baiebleue.com rooms starting at $104 CAD per double
482, boulevard Perron, Carleton-sur-Mer (Quebec) G0C 1J0
Côte-Nord region is the native land of the Innu (formally knowns as Naskapi-Montagnais).
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Part Four: Moving on to Tadoussac
Our day begins early with a drive to Trois-Pistoles–Les where we catch the ferry to Bergeronnes. This drive is nearly 4 hours, straight along the highway, followed by a 90-minute ferry ride. On a clear day make sure to keep your eyes on the water for whales and other sea creatures.
Tickets: Starting at $54 per vehicle plus $24.50/adult passenger
Ferry timing: May to mid-October
Note: it is strongly recommended you arrive an hour early to ensure your spot. Once the car is parked you can no longer access it so grab everything you need right away.
A quick 10 min drive from the ferry docking is Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre, a member of the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park. Upon entry first thing you will notice is the lighthouse. My favourite part of this stunning park is the natural observation platform. Waves of light-coloured, smooth rock formations stretch as far as the eye can see on the left, warm water nestled between them, leftover from high tide. Many people come to spend hours here in the hopes to see at least one of the 13 species of whales that can be spotted from the park. During our brief visit, we did not see a whale but did come across a wild bunny and a teen black bear nearby, just running across the highway.
Timing: June 19 to October 11, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Tickets: $7.90/adult, includes admission to the Marine Environment Discovery Centre on the same day
Côte-Nord region is best known for whale watching so even in mid-September it was a bustling place to be. We reached Tadoussac in under an hour for our overnight stay at the historic Hôtel Tadoussac*. The hotel is a classic wood building with antiquated elegance. On the grounds are a wealth of picnic tables, tennis courts, and many sitting areas. The entire property is facing the water, you could spot a whale directly from the shore. Sadly by the evening, the fall weather began to take ownership, unseasonably late.
Hôtel Tadoussac ***
hoteltadoussac.com rooms starting at $149 for queen
Open May 6 – October 31
165, rue Bord de l’Eau, Tadoussac, G0T 2A0
There are quite a few options for dining in town but even in low season, they book up fast. We’ve had the pleasure of having a meal at the Hôtel Tadoussac restaurant ($$) and on a separate night at the lovely Chez Mathilde ($$$). Chez Mathilde is a family-run fine-dining spot, just up the street from the hotel. The restaurant offers technique-driven set courses and a la carte. This classy joint had a live pianist (an excellent one to say the least) and an option to dine at the chef’s table. During our brief stay in town we also quickly became regulars at the Tadoussac Microbrasserie. It is a fairly intimate brewery where you can spend hours indulging in fresh brews and pub snacks. There is also a fun stack of table games available for all patrons. Other notable dining options are:
Whale watching is the main reason for our stop at Tadoussac. We got to see plenty of those in a much more comfortable way than I could’ve ever imagined with Croisières AML Cruises. More about this whale tour here. After our whale-watching excursion, we went directly back to the microbrewery where clearly many other people had a day similar to ours.
Whale Watching tour
Timing: Late April to late October
Tickets: Starting at $94.99 for Zodiac and $99.99, prices can change so check the website. There is an option to add a lunch box for all fairs for $17.99
If time permits, visit Marine Mammal Interpretation Center (CIMM) to learn more about the marine mammals you saw during the day. The center is located near the marina right in town and can be easily accessed on foot with a slow stroll along the shore.
Timing: June 7 – late September
With many activities checked off my bucket list, it was time to go home and the Baie-Sainte-Catherine ferry will get you to the mainland for free year-round.
Note: The ferry is quite small and fits just a few vehicles, if you find this line is too long there is an alternative route around the bay that can also take you back to the main Québec highways.
In the gear bag: Fujifilm X-T100 with an XF50mmF2 R WR lens* and Fuji XF 23MM F2 R WR lens*. Photos of the Île Bonaventure were taken with an iPhone. To see Paris on Instagram see the story highlight titled #XQCMaritimes and find more images from this road trip using the #XQCMaritimes hashtag.