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Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 6:54 pm

Hello everyone,
I had a conference in Montreal in August, so I took the opportunity to visit Canada which I've never done before. First I wanted to fly to the rockies or something, basically visit the wild West of Canada, but domestic flights are insanely expensive there, because there's only one company. So I went with plan B, visiting Québec and the atlantic provinces of Canada (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia).

My first stop was Parc National de la Mauricie. It's a favorite for families as it's only 1h30/2h from Montréal. It's basically numerous lakes for kayaking and hills for hikers. It's not that wild, and in summer is full of mosquitoes. The ranger told me mosquito season was pretty much over, but it didn't preven them from having a feast on my shoulders and arms apparently. There are a couple "OK" lookouts accessible from the roads, but it's not wider open views unfortunately. And the 5h hike I did, called the 2 streams, confirmed that. Out of the 5 or 6 lookouts sprinkled over the hike, only 2 had nice open views, the others were entirely or partially blocked by trees and vegetation. So in the end it wasn't the best park I've visited there. It must be much more interesting if you're into kayaking or canoeing. I camped at the park with my 2 person MacPac Nautilus I brought back from Australia with me. The campground is nice, with hot showers and electricity.

On the road I checked some waterfalls called Montmorency but they were ruined by tourism, just like Niagara. 12 $ just to see them, a big concrete jetty at the bottom of the falls, a zipline over them, a giant bridge, and the surroundings are industrial instead of preserved. Don't stop there it's a tourist trap.

Next up was a giant fjord, Saguenay, that empties into the St Laurent river. It's famed for having whales nursing here, especially belugas (white whales). The campground wasn't good though. There's a weird thing with Québec. There are national parks managed by the federal government (Parks Canada) and some managed by Québec (SEPAQ) and should be called state or provincial parks. There, the state of the shower blocks can vary greatly (at Baie Eternité in Saguenay they were terrible) and another annoying thing is that you have to pay for showers (4 quarters for 4 min). You have to pay seperately for those 2 types of parks of course, so I had to buy 2 annual passes. It also rains a lot in the region, there's like a microclimate affecting the fjord.
Montmorency falls
Saguenay fjord
Sainte Rose du Mont
Last edited by Hallu on Thu 22 Sep, 2016 10:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 7:02 pm

The main reason people come to Saguenay though is the whales. In the St Laurent river, you can observe Minke whales, blue whales, humpback whales, belugas, porpoises... Most people start at Tadoussac for the tour, which usually occurs on a zodiac boat. You can really get close to the whales, and several times a humpback whale was like 5 to 10 metres from our boat. We saw everything there was to see, although the blue whale was fast and only comes once every 2 min so it's hard to track it down. There is a controversy with those whale watching tours, as they get closer to the whales than scientists recommend, and it may disturb their feeding. There's 4 or 5 zodiacs at a time on the water, and they communicate to find the whales faster. So although it was a magical moment, I was a bit torn. However, you can observe the whales from the ground, but then you have to wait for hours before spotting something. The whales are usually a couple of kms from the shore.
Minke Whale
Humpback Whale
Last edited by Hallu on Thu 22 Sep, 2016 10:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 7:12 pm

From there, I took a ferry to Trois Pistoles, it takes 1h30 to cross the Saint Laurent there, showing you how wide it is (about 20 km at that point), you can barely see the other side on a clear day. From there I visited the small Parc National du Bic. It's a series of hills and small islands on the shore of the St Laurent, and it's magical. All the coves and rocks and small hills make it very apealing. Not to mention the seals having a nap at Caribou bay, and an island accessible at low tide. The hikes are easy, which is usually the case in Québec or Atlantic Canada. They rate hikes as strenuous as soon as it climbs more than 100 m, and any scrambling or big rocks in the path make it "very difficult". I haven't encountered a single hike that would be rated even as "medium" in the Alps. They have the annoying habit though of carving trails without thinking, some have constant uphills and downhills sections while a more direct path would have been easier and less frustrating. In any case, the Bic is a magical place that shouldn't be missed. There's also great food in that part of Canada. The seafood is fresh and inexpensive. This felt so much more inviting than the other side of the St Laurent, which was a bit too touristy. You won't see a single big town in that area. And although Canadian towns look a lot like American towns (New England towns in that case) they are much less dirty, everything seem so clean and perfect around here. It's also very safe. Not many bogans or rednecks in the area...
Last edited by Hallu on Thu 22 Sep, 2016 11:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 7:24 pm

From Bic, my plan was to follow the coast along what's called the Gaspésie peninsula. The road follows the coast for hundreds of kms, this is a beautiful part of the world. I think I even prefered it to the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, which I'm gonna describe later. Inland though, there is a nice national park, simply called Gaspésie. It protects the last caribous (reindeers) South of the St Laurent. It's also quite a shock to see that in Québec, as soon as you reach 800/1000 m elevation, there are no more trees, just like in Scandinavia. I did three nice hikes there : the first one was easy, towards a nice lake and mountainous amphitheatre. The second one gave me nice 360° view towards the forested hills. It's supposed to be a nice hike to observe the orignal (the Québec moose) but it wasn't late enough in the afternoon to see them. Instead I saw a black bear with the help of a ranger at the top of the hike though, but it was quite far and couldn't get a nice photo. No grizzly bears in Québec, so it's not very dangerous. The most dangerous thing around is poison ivy, that annoying plant that makes you itch for weeks and that's a bit everywhere here.

The third hike is a classic made complicated by SEPAQ. The Jacques Cartier mountain is only accessible from 10 am to 4 pm, and they force you to take a 4 km shuttle ride to the start of the hike (the shuttle is an old school bus, and they charge you 7$ for the privilege). All this allegedly to protect the caribou. The hike is very rocky and a bit steep, but after 45 min you reach the taiga and have 360° views (well, almost, since the weather was terrible). Once at the top, I was lucky enough to see the caribous (from afar) before the fog hid them from sight. In good weather it must be a great hike.
Lac aux américains (lake of the Americans, no idea why it's called like that)
Find the black bear
Last edited by Hallu on Wed 21 Sep, 2016 10:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 7:33 pm

Next in my trip was the jewel of Gaspésie. A little park at the end of the peninsula called Forillon. A true national park instead of a provincial one, its scenery is a amazing. Tall cliffs, shore birds by the hundreds, the first porcupine I saw there, the first bald eagles too, great viewpoints, seals... The list is endless. Even the hikes are great there. I first checked out Cap Bon Ami (cape good friend) with its towering cliffs, colony of cormorans, and funny ducks riding the crashing waves.

Then the next day I binge-hiked basically. Hikes are short in Canada, it's rare to find one that's more than 3 hours long, most are 1h. There were days where I did like 7 or 8 short hikes. Here I checked out the tip of the peninsula. You can take a bike trail, or the hiking trail. Both are interesting. For the first half, the hiking trail is best, closer to the coast, but for the 2nd half the bike trail is best as the hiking track goes up in the forest with no views for some reason. At the tip of the peninsula, there is a nice lighthouse, and a gorgeous lookout downstairs with many seals playing in the surf. Coming back, I saw even more seals, just floating with their head above the water, it was hilarious to see. Of course the views were grand, but not as grand as another hike which led me to a watchtower, giving you 360° views of the whole region, amazing. There are also other nice lookouts along the track, which is where I saw 2 bald eagles gliding above the cliffs. If you're ever in the area, Forillon is definitely not to miss. It looks small on the map, but once you're in there it feels gigantic.
Grey seals
Bald eagle
Last edited by Hallu on Thu 22 Sep, 2016 11:04 pm, edited 4 times in total.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 7:47 pm

The Southern part of the Gaspésie peninsula doesn't have national parks, only an island park that I couldn't do. But there are a few nice villages to see like Percé or Carleton sur Mer. Next I visited Kouchibougac National Park and entered New Brunswick. In Québec, everything is in French ONLY, which can be tricky for English speaking tourists. In New Brunswick everything is signed in both languages. Kouchibougac is a collection of lakes, salt marshes, beaches and even a bog, like in Scandinavia. There are no hills, so no viewpoints. It's entirely flat, heavily forested apart from the bogs, so it's not exactly a hiker paradise. The main issue is that the walks are very short, so you hike 30 min/1 h, drive to the next hike and so on. This is a beautiful park though, especially in the morning with the nice light giving the marshes and lakes a milky blue hue. It's of course full of birds, including sandpipers, plovers, herons, geese, and raptors. I saw a skunk too, but couldn't snap a shot in time. I loved the bog too, totally out of place in such a park, with its carnivorous plants and desolated look. But this park also shows a weird aspect of Canadian parks. They seem to treat them sometimes like city public parks. Nice mowed lawns, sometimes even a golf course (like in Fundy national park), wide biking trails, coffee stands... Kouchibougac is nice but not wild.
red squirrel
pitcher plant (carnivorous)
blue heron
Last edited by Hallu on Thu 22 Sep, 2016 11:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 7:51 pm

Keep it coming hallu. Love the wildlife.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 7:54 pm

After a long 6 hour drive, I reached Cape Breton Island, part of Nova Scotia. It's famed for the Cabot Trail, the Canadian equivalent of the Great Ocean Road. I first did a hike called Middle Head, a narrow peninsula that gives you great ocean views, then visited Lake Warren. On my way up North, you see many great ocean lookouts, but I wanted to see a little gem out of the main road, called White Point. Not part of the cabot trail, it's an isolated fishing village. The small peninsula gives you a great feeling of freedom. There's a tiny cemetery with the grave of an "unknown sailor". Then you hike a now abandoned walking track that used to connect to Cape North. It's still very much usable, although the cliffs get eroded and the track is sometimes dangerously close to it. But the views, the seals, and the cliffs make it worth it. It's probably my favorite walk from those 2 weeks.
view from middle head
Warren lake
White Point cemetery
White Point

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 8:02 pm

Even further North, at the tip of Cape Breton Island, there's a secluded place called Meat Cove that's supposed to be even more remote than white point. Unfortunately, the campground there takes up all the nice spots and it's hard to have a nice view without some picnic tables in the shot... I should have added an extra day there to hike further. Instead, I did the Western part of the Cabot Trail. I visited some small falls, a spot explaining the Scottish heritage of the place, and then from Pleasant Bay you get to the part of the Cabot Trail where you see lookout after lookout. This is also where you'll find the famous Skyline Trail. Being so touristy, it's not good... The views are OK but better from some road-accessible lookouts. The "track" is basically a gravel road, hard on your feet. But I'm glad I did it because it's apparently a hotspot for moose watching. I saw 3 huges ones (2 metres high at the shoulders those beasts are), and you don't wanna mess with them. They're a problem though, same one we have in France with deer: they eat young tree shoots, and transform the place into a savannah basically... No more wolves to hunt them, so they multiply. But in France we have the guts to cull them. In Canada they don't, at least not in national parks. So whether it's in Québec or Nova Scotia, there are too many mooses that prevent the forest from growing back.

I finished the day with a nice sunset and a rubbish campground, mainly because of some New Yorkers (plenty of them around here) who wouldn't turn off their noisy air con during the night.
Last edited by Hallu on Thu 22 Sep, 2016 11:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 9:57 pm

The following day was another long drive. In the morning I stopped at Chéticamp island, just because it looked nice on the map and is accessible by road. Lucky for me, it's actually a bald eagle hotspot. They're everywhere: perched on the trees, soaring above, or chilling below the cliffs. It's a very nice spot. Then I just followed the coast to the South of the island.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 10:08 pm

Making my way back to Montréal, I stopped for a couple of days at the Bay of Fundy, home to the biggest tides in the world. They can reach 21 metres. The time it takes for the water to leave from the end to the beginning of the bay is the time of a tide cycle (about 12 hours), meaning those two phenomenon resonate, amplifying the tides. It's then home to Hopewell Rocks, eroded tiny islands that are called flowerpots. It's basically a rocky cylinder with a couple of pine trees growing on it, hence the name. It is highly touristy, and has become a selfie spot, as you can walk amongst the pots at low tide. Instead, my favorite view is the one towards the mudflats (called the Daniel's flats). The minerals give a pink color to the rock and sand here, so the whole area is pink. At low tide, the flats are huge, giving an idea of the amplitude of the tides.

But I went there to see Fundy National Park, a forested area, quite humid, full of waterfalls and lakes. Unfortunately, it has a very wet microclimate, and the coast was always foggy for the 2.5 days I was there. So I explored inland instead. The moss, ferns and trees give a nice atmosphere, and some of the falls were very nice, like third vault falls. However the hikes are a bit boring as you just walk in the forest. Mammals are mainly nocturnal so chances are you won't see anything during the day but insects and frogs, since the birds are shy too, unlike in Australia. Also, it's insane to have put such a big golfcourse in a park that is mainly wild forests and lake... It is famed for multi day hikes, some of them difficult, so why oh why install this shameful golf course...
Daniel's flats
Last edited by Hallu on Wed 21 Sep, 2016 10:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Québec and Atlantic Canada: 2 weeks

Wed 21 Sep, 2016 10:19 pm

For the last leg of my journey, I passed through Grand Sault, a large waterfall and gorge system inside a city. It's nice, but surrounded by manmade structures, so a bit disappointing. But at last, it's free to look at, a rare thing in Canada... I had time to stop at Parc national du Lac-Témiscouata too, but in the end the best view of this very large lake is from the highway, I tried hiking to a viewpoint inside the park that was partially blocked.

And finally I explored the area around Kamouraska, a lovely area following the East side of the St Laurent river. Around here, you can walk up some rocky hills to have amazing views of the St Laurent and the islands that dot its shores. With the morning light, this is quite something, do not miss it. It's such a shame though you have to pay for parking at the local campground. There are also lovely historical villages in the area, such as Kamouraska itself.

I was afraid at first that Atlantic Canada was gonna look like the Maine coast which I did last november (which is lovely, but I want to see new things, be surprised at every new trip), but that wasn't the case. It's a great area to explore, maybe more for families and occasional walkers though than serious backpackers. The parks managed by parks Canada are very similar to American National Parks, so they're very nicely organised, with scenic roads, but lack long day walks. The parks managed by Québec are hit and miss. Saguenay could be a lot better, Gaspésie is nice but has too many rough roads and a complicated schedule for its most famous hike. The only one that's pretty much flawless is the Bic. The people are very nice, the only issues I had were with Americans thinking they can do whatever they want in campgrounds. If you're a motorist, it's a must do. If you're a bushwalker, focus on areas such as Gaspésie, or the Northern half of Cape Breton Island. You could easily spend 7 to 10 days in each of these two areas.
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