Discover why the National Park of Bonaventure Island and Perce Rock on the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec is one of the most incredible places in Canada.
The province of Quebec is famous for its unique language and culture in Canada. It’s well known as well as for the spectacular cities of Montreal and Quebec City. These famous Quebec cities are a wonderful visit in their own right. But to experience the true beauty of rural Quebec you must venture further east. This is where some of eastern Canada’s most dramatic landscape lie waiting to be explored. Following along the St. Lawrence River to where the borders of Quebec and Nova Scotia meet is the Gaspé Peninsula. Here you can explore the beauty of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock.
How to Get to the Gaspe Peninsula
Getting to Gaspe by Road Trip
The small town of Percé, Quebec, located at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula is about 1,500 km North-East of Toronto. Perce is about 1,000 km from Montreal or about 750 from Quebec City. If you are like me, the trip already starts off with some excitement along the Toronto to Quebec City drive. But, no matter where you start from, a trip to Perce, Quebec makes for an epic road trip. We drove from Toronto on a road trip where we stopped every few hours to explore. The route along the St. Lawrence River is full of fascinating small towns. There’s no surprise why the route from Quebec to Perce along the St. Lawrence River made our list of the top road trips in Canada.
Getting to Gaspe by Air
If a road trip of that length isn’t your speed, and prefer to head straight to the Gaspe Peninsula, then you may want to opt for a flight into nearby Gaspé city. In Gaspe, Quebec you can join a tour or pick up a rental at the airport.
Our first five days on the road that saw a fender bender, a transmission failure (that took three days to repair) and a speeding ticket (while trying to make up for lost time). We had finally made it to the apex of our trip on the Gaspe Peninsula, in the town of Perce. We missed some of our Quebec aboriginal experiences along the way. But we made up for it when we returned a few years later. Our goal was to visit the incredible sights of Parc National de L’ile-Bonaventure et du Rocher Percé (Bonaventure Island National Park and Percé Rock).
What to See on the Gaspe Peninsula and Perce, Quebec
National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock
The National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock is relatively new, only being formed in 1985. The two islands make up the dramatic views from the shore of the Peninsula Gaspesie. The history of the park goes much further back than this though, with the homesteads on Bonaventure Island dating back well over a hundred years.
When Canadians talk about “The Rock” they are usually referring to the beautiful island province of Newfoundland located across from the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Gaspé Peninsula. In Quebec though, when locals mention “The Rock” or “Le Rocher” you are regaled with stories of the spectacular monolith that sits off the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.
Poking out of the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is Percé Rock. Percé Rock measures a staggering 438 meters long (1545 feet) by 88 meters high (288 feet) making it one of the largest natural arches in the world. The Rock looms off the coast of Percé at just such an angle as to offer a natural light show at sunset.
How to Experience Perce Rock
A number of companies offer boat tours of Perce Rock. Many of these also include a visit to nearby Bonaventure Island. The Perce boat tours take you all the way around the dramatic landscape, although they aren’t able to pass through the incredible Perce Rock arch. During low tide, a sandbar connecting the mainland to the rock is exposed allowing visitors the opportunity to walk from the coastline out to the rock. If you choose to hike to Percé Rock, it’s not recommended that you get too close as there is a lot of loose stone that can fall from the rock.
During high tide, you can join guided kayaking tours. These tours last around 2 hours and allow you to get very close to the rock. This would have been our first choice, but since we were traveling with our two-year-old, we opted for the family-friendly boat cruise. If you prefer your feet to stay on firm ground, fear not, Percé rock stands proudly above the water as you approach the town and can be admired from much of the coast.
Bonaventure Island is situated not far from Perce Rock. In fact, it is still easily visible from the shores of the town of Perce. The island offers beautiful hiking trails. There are 15 km of trails stretched across four unique hikes through the island. None of them take you too far from the water though. The hiking trails on Bonaventure Island go through meadows, fields and evergreen forests. But the most exciting part of Bonaventure island is that it is a birding paradise!
What to See on Bonaventure Island
In the summer months, Bonaventure Island is home to the largest colony of Northern Gannets in the world. This incredible experiences makes it one of the coolest wildlife experiences in Canada. Over 60,000 gannet couples flock to the island to breed along with 11 other species of seabirds. After disembarking from the boat, (you could also choose to stay on the boat while people disembark if you are only interested in the ride and water views) we walked along a boardwalk to reach the Visitor’s center. The Visitor Center on Bonaventure Island contains a small cafe. This is the only source of food or drinks on the island.
Visitors to Bonaventure Island can stay on until the last boat departure, which for us was 5 pm. All hiking trails on Bonaventure Island start at the Visitor’s center and end at the bird cliffs on the far side of the island. As this would be C’s first hike, we chose to hike the Des Colonies trail as it was the shortest. The path was well marked, mostly flat, but uneven in parts. It was less than 3 km. C decided that he would take this opportunity to begin his love for hiking, so it took us almost an hour. Our little guy hiked the entire trail in both directions, not bad for a two-year-old!
The Visitor Center on Bonaventure Island contains a small cafe. This is the only source of food or drinks on the island. Visitors to Bonaventure Island can stay on until the last boat departure, which for us was 5 pm. All hiking trails on Bonaventure Island start at the Visitor’s center and end at the bird cliffs on the far side of the island.
As this would be C’s first hike, we chose to hike the Des Colonies trail as it was the shortest. The path was well marked, mostly flat, but uneven in parts. It was less than 3 km. C decided that he would take this opportunity to begin his love for hiking, so it took us almost an hour. Our little guy hiked the entire trail in both directions, not bad for a two-year-old!
Northern Gannet Colony on Bonaventure Island
To say that the Northern Gannet Colony on Bonaventure Island is impressive is an understatement. Coming out of the trees and seeing the colony is like stumbling upon an ocean of birds. Northern Gannets are not small, nor are they particularly co-ordinated on landing. So we spent a great deal of time mesmerized by the flow and drama within the colony. And the rest of the time laughing as the birds seemed to literally crash into a sea of other birds as they attempted to land.
Pro-Tip: The boat tickets allow you to stay on the island for as long as you want. Just be sure to catch the last boat back (5 pm) to the mainland as there are no accommodations or camping on the island.
After having our fill of watching the bird colony, we took the same trail back to the visitor’s center. We had some time before our ride back to the mainland and used that to wander through some of the abandoned houses on the island. Until 1971, there were 35 families residing on the island. However, the land was expropriated by the Quebec government who wanted to turn it into a national park. After exploring, we headed over to the restaurant, which was housed in one of the original farmhouses, to have a snack while waiting for the next boat to arrive to bring us back to mainland Percé.
How to Experience Bonaventure Island
There are several ways to explore Bonaventure Island and Percé rock. If you prefer to view both from the air, the entire Gaspesie region can be seen on a helicopter tour. These include views of Bonaventure Island and Percé rock as well as the rest of the Gaspé peninsula. The other option is to view the peninsula via boat cruise. The tours of Bonaventure island usually include Perce Rock as well.
Pro-Tip: Low and high tides times can be easily found by visiting the tourist center located in the city or checking the online schedule here.
here are two boat tour operators in the area that explore the National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock. With all the madness early in our road-trip, we didn’t book our boat tickets in advance. Instead, we headed to the tourist office to find out more about the companies. We decided to go with Les Bateliers de Perce as the tour times gave us the best opportunity to explore the island. They offered a combined tour of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock. The boat cruise takes off from the Percé wharf and heads straight for Perce Rock.
During the high tourist season, there are hourly departures. The cruise circles Perce Rock for about thirty minutes giving you plenty of opportunities to admire and photograph the rock from various angles. The boat then heads over to Bonaventure Island, a migratory bird sanctuary. Before heading to the island wharf, however, the boat stops briefly at the northeastern section of Bonaventure island which has an exposed 75 m cliff. If you are lucky, you will catch a glimpse of some of the many seabirds that migrate to the area on the ledges. The waters are also full of marine life. We spotted several grey seals!
Pro-Tip: It is also possible to sign up for a whale watching cruise in the St. Lawrence. Marine life that has been spotted in the area includes grey seals, fin whales, minke whales, humpback whales, blue whales, white-sided dolphins, and harbor porpoises. We opted not to do the whale watching cruise as we had just partaken in one earlier in the week.
Best Hotels near Perce Quebec
In peak season Perce is a booming tourist town. The restaurants and hotels in Perce can book up very quickly. But a visit here is worth it. The Perce itself is incredibly beautiful. Even without Bonaventure Island and Perce Rock, it is easy to see why so many people visit every year. And from luxury to camping, there is a wide selection of places to stay in Perce, Quebec.
We arrived in Percé late in the day, exhausted after the busy few days on the road. Driving through the town, we headed straight over to our accommodation for the night to get ready for our big adventure the following day. We opted to stay at the Nature Ocean Chalets located on a hill just past the town when coming from the north. Nature Ocean Chalets offered two types of accommodations
- A camping area where you could park a trailer or set up a tent
- Cabin or Chalet rentals. After our transmission blew early in our trip, I had had my fair share of camping. I had been forced to sleep on the ground (while 8 months pregnant) for three nights. So we opted for the latter as it afforded some comfort. The bonus was an absolutely spectacular view of the St. Lawrence River. And the coast of the Gaspé peninsula including the National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock. The chalet was equipped with a nice picnic table where we made sandwiches for dinner. This allowed us to fuel up for the next day where we would be exploring the National Park of Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock.
There a number of other excellent establishments in the area. You can check the prices and availability here.
Where to Eat in Perce Quebec
If you are booking dinner reservations at one of the many local restaurants with a view, make sure to check for the sunset hour, sit back, grab a glass of wine (or, due to my pregnancy, sparkling grape juice) and watch the light show. Catching the view of Percé Rock, which was formed on the bottom of the ocean bed 375 million years ago, will stay with you for a long time.
Restaurant La Maison-Pecheur
Located just outside of town on the shores of the St. Lawrence, La Maison-Pecheur offers a great selection of seafood and gourmet fare. The building lives up to its name, having all the charm and styling of an old fishers’ house. And the deserts lived up to everything that C was hoping for.
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