Gaspe Peninsula
Credit: Dale Wilson
There’s no denying that Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail—probably Canada’s best-known bike tour—is a classic East Coast ride. But the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec is, well, even more classic. The two routes share many attributes: stunning seaside scenery, a distinct culture, quaint villages and a national park. But the Gaspé has one thing the Cabot Trail lacks—Percé Rock, a true natural wonder. And it also lacks one thing that the Cabot Trail has—packs of other cyclists.

The lowdown


A ride around the entire Gaspé Peninsula is a long haul—900 kilometres—but shorter loops or one-way trips are easy to arrange. Most full-loop cyclists will start in Mont Joli and follow Highway 132 clockwise the entire way, so the prevailing winds are at their backs. At first the riding is easy along the north shore past pretty French Canadian villages. But slowly the Chic-Choc mountains—the northern end of the Appalachians—begin to crowd the road and by L’Anse-Pleureuse you’ll feel like you’re in the Rockies. Happily, the arduous climbs are made a little more manageable by the inspiring views. At the tip of the peninsula, stop in Forillon National Park and walk to land’s end at Cap-Gaspé. The riding gets easier along the Chaleur Bay coast where Basque, Norman and Jersey immigrants colonized what’s considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Complete the loop by heading back across the peninsula. For cyclists looking to avoid the mountains, you can still hit many of the highlights by riding just the southern part of the loop—from Mont Joli as far as Forillon—which is officially part of Quebec’s Route Verte cycling network.

When to go


To ensure that most campgrounds and attractions are open, go between June and September. Of course, the roads and campgrounds are busier during the summer holidays.

Time needed


The full 900-kilometre loop takes about 14 days, allowing for side trips, lazing on the beach or a hike. The Route Verte portion—from Mont Joli south and then east and then north to Forillon—is about 500 kilometres. By using the train or travelling one way you can further customize the length of the trip.

Fitness required


This may be Eastern Canada, but the hills along this route will feel like big mountains. Some of the climbs around the end of the peninsula will leave legs burning the way they do in the Rockies. There are a few long 100-kilometre days between campgrounds and hotels, especially on the north shore.

What to take


You’ll want to ride a touring or road bike with a granny gear for grinding up climbs and hybrid-style tires for gravel shoulders and side roads. Bring a full range of cycling attire, from warm weather jerseys to waterproof rain gear. Even in summer you can expect cool winds off the water. A mirror is always a good safety feature on the highway. And passable French is definitely an asset as many people in this part of Quebec do not speak English.

Resources


The free accommodation and activity booklet put out by Tourism Gaspésie will help you plan your days on and off the bike.

Guides


Velo Quebec Voyages guides an eight-day trip covering the 500-kilometre Route Verte portion of the Gaspé with a van shuttle back across the toughest section of the north shore.

Getting there


There are multiple ways to stage this bike tour depending on how long and hard you want to ride. The full loop is best started at Mont Joli. Fly direct from Montreal on Air Canada or drive from Quebec City (3.5 hours). Air Canada also flies to the town of Gaspé. The train is a good option for one-way trips, but its arrival times at some Gaspé stations are in the middle of the night. Via Rail operates regular service from Montreal and Halifax with stops in Mont Joli, Matapédia and Gaspé along the route.

Accommodation


The Gaspé Peninsula has some of the most scenic tent sites in Canada, perched over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Campgrounds are spread out along the route in day-ride-sized distances. Mixing hotel and B&B accommodation is also an option.

Bests


Best descent: After a nine-kilometre climb on Highway 132 in Forillon National Park, there’s a heavenly coast back down to the water with Percé Rock in the distance.
Best lighthouse: The light 
at Sainte-Madeleine-de-la- Rivière-Madeleine sits on a high hill overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Best campsite: The Cap-des-Rosiers campground, perched mid-hill above the ocean in Forillon National Park, has incredible sunrises.
Best side trip: While at Percé, take a boat to l’île-Bonaventure and hike to the world’s largest northern gannet bird colony.
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