One of our favourite things to do, whether we are camping or not, is to hike. We discovered this on our honeymoon in Gros Morse National Park 34 years ago. We were 22, grossly out of shape, unprepared and kind of stupid. We decided to hike the 20 kilometer Green Gardens trail. It was astonishing we emerged from that particular hike at all. When we recovered three days later, we had to admit we liked the experience of walking through vast expanses of nature, observing and/or dodging wildlife and challenging ourselves to push a little farther than we thought we go. We were hooked. We have been hiking pretty much weekly ever since.
Every journey to a camping site is a commitment on our part to hike as many trails as we can. We prefer hikes that are a minimum of 6 kilometers to a maximum of 15. We have done longer ones but it is difficult to take the dogs as Pax has a bum leg. Given those parameters, Forillon was somewhat of a disappointment to us. Despite being called a “hiker’s paradise” it did not have many trails that fit within this range. You mostly needed to be a super-ninja hiker, that is 20-35 km hiking) or a slow leisurely walker kind of hiker (.6 to 3 km). Nonetheless, we did the few that fit us best and they did not disappoint.
First, it should be noted that Forillon is famous for being the mainland tail-end, or the beginning depending on your perspective, of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT). As you travel through Forillon Park various trails and roads are marked with the IAT symbol accompanied by some information about trail section length and difficulty rating. John Brinda from Washington State hiked the entire trail from Key West in Florida to Forillon in 1997. There is a nice plaque and information kiosk about this at near the lighthouse on the L’Anse-Aux-Amérindiens trail. As you travel throughout the Appalachians in the Gaspé you can often see these IAT signs.
The Petit-Gaspé Beach trail, a 7.2 km loop, was busy with friendly, hiking campers. Many groups included children and dogs. All were affable and seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a well-groomed trail which culminates in an impressive observation tower at an elevation of 283 metres. The view is gorgeous as can be seen in the image below. There were several interpretive panels which were helpful as were the sporadically placed benches and the famous “red chairs.” These scarlet adirondack chairs are placed by Canada’s National Parks in the locations with the best views. They are ideal places to take a breath and let the beauty flow into you.
The most memorable event occurred on the L’Anse-aux-Amerindiens trail which we took from L’Anse-aux-Améridiens to Cap Gaspé. That hike gives you the option of walking on a dirt road or the IAT trail that runs alongside. As it was towards the end of the day and I simply did not feel like mountain-goating up hillsides we took the nicely banked dirt road. At this point I should confess our failings as dog-owners. Despite attendance at many obedience classes, we cannot get Pax to heel when hiking. Or ever, actually. She is 11 pounds of muscular feistiness. She is less unruly when she is able to trot ahead of our other dog Russell. She was not lead dog a number of times on this hike. When she is behind him, she is heart-broken and irate which means she emits sounds akin to that of a dying animal. When we arrived at the lighthouse, the apex of the hike, I was looking at the ocean, while Russel growled and barked next to Carl. This is unusual for Russell. Carl said, very quietly, “Linda, turn around.” There was a HUGE cat that was intently observing us about 50 feet away. It had come out of some tall grass, then crossed the lawn as it coolly surveyed the dogs. It disappeared into more tall grass. We think it is possible that it was following us because of Pax’s incessant wounded-animal cry. We had a little family meeting. We decided that if we are attacked by a bear or a Canadian lynx, Pax may have to make an honorable sacrifice to the carnivore gods if we cannot scare or beat the bear/lynx away with our hiking poles. Russell could not speak, but we feel strongly that he would be on our side in this matter.
We also saw seals and many different kinds of seabirds. Whales come by there, but we did not observe any.
We did several iterations of the Les Graves beach walks. These were always lovely. It amazed me though how humans need to constantly re-arrange the environment. Rather than leave driftwood as is, there were constant piles and structures being made by visitors. One evening, however, I do think God looked back at me from one of these, as yet unorganized, pieces of driftwood.
Prélude-a-Forillon: .6 km loop – easy – universal access trail (boardwalk)
La Taîga: 3 km return – easy – observation blind, view of marsh, boreal forest, fragile environment
Les Parages: 3km loop – easy – Grand-Grave heritage site
La Chute: 1km loop – moderate – 17 m. waterfall, boardwalk and stairs
La Graves: various possibilities from 6.4 km to 15.2 km, all return – moderate – coves, pebble beaches, Cap-Gaspé, marine mammals.
Mont-Saint-Alban: two possible loops from Petit-Gaspé beach and Cap-Bon-Ami – moderate – sea and cliff scenery, observation tower at 283m, 360-degree panoramic view
La Vallée: 9.2 km return – moderate – L’Anse-au-Griffon river system
Le Portage: 20 km return – moderate – connects the north and south sides of the peninsula
Les Créte: 35.4km return – difficult – wooded, mountainous, backcountry campsites
Les Lacs: 36.6km return – difficult – park highlands and wilderness lakes, back country campsites