During our 2020 Quebec roadtrip, we stayed a few nights in Gaspé’s Forillon National Park, but we only scratched the surface of what the park had to offer. We also really enjoyed the drive out to Gaspé along Route 132. So in 2022 we decided to do another Gaspésie roadtrip, this time spending 5 days in Forillon National Park. This gave us plenty of time to really explore the park’s hiking trails, lookout points and pebble beaches. In this article, we share our favourite things to do in Forillon National Park.
Understanding the park
Forillon National Park is situated at the easternmost tip of the Gaspé peninsula. The park can be divided into 4 different areas to help guide your planning, each with different natural and geological features: On the eastern tip side there’s the north and south areas; there’s a separate area on the south-west shore called La Penouille; finally there’s a vast forested area that occupies the west area of the park.
If you can only visit one section of the park, go to the north shore area because Cap-Bon-Ami and the sun-kissed cliffs are not to be missed. The north area entrance is also where you’ll find the park’s visitor information and discovery centre (which is worth a quick stop to learn about the geology of the park, and for the well-stocked gift shop).
The north side of the peninsula is marked by sheer rock cliffs. The area around the visitors’ centre and Cap-Bon-Ami have accessible beaches, offering amazing views of the cliffs along the peninsula. The Prélude-à-Forillon trail at the visitors’ centre acts as a sampler for what the park offers, in a flat (wheelchair-friendly) 600 metre trail.
The Cap-des-Rosiers lighthouse is Canada’s tallest lighthouse, at 34.1 meters (112 feet) tall. Built in 1858, it sits atop a steep cliff such that the light stands 41.5 metres (136 feet) above sea level.
The lighthouse is just outside the boundaries of Forillon. Separate admission is required to visit the lighthouse, but you can admire it for free from the nearby Forillon parking lot for the Du Banc trail head.
Cap-Bon-Ami is a small rocky point beside a rocky pebble beach cove that offers stunning views of the surrounding cliffs and the easternmost tip of the peninsula. It’s especially beautiful in the morning when the warm sun lights up the rocky cliffs.
Tip: If you’re camping in the park, it’s worth getting to Cap-Bon-Ami for the amazing sunrise.
The pebble beach is a popular spot in the afternoon to enjoy the sea views. When the sea is calm, it’s a perfect place for a swim in the water. The water is very clear because there’s no sand or dirt to reduce visibility. In the water, the large pebbles make way for smooth bedrock, making it almost feel like a swimming pool.
There’s a small parking lot right at Cap-Bon-Ami. If you arrive early, you’ll get a parking spot; otherwise there is plenty of overflow parking just a short walk up the road. Near the parking lot, you’ll also find washrooms, drinking water and picnic tables.
From the Cap-Bon-Ami parking lot, you can also access the Mont-Saint-Alban hiking trail that leads to the most impressive lookout in the entire park: an observation tower at an elevation of 285 metres with a 360º panoramic view.
Tip: Try to get to the lookout tower in the morning when the sun hits the rocky cliffs and highlights the topography of the peninsula.
The La Chute trail is a short hiking trail that leads to a rather impressive waterfall. Worthwhile if you have the time and it isn’t to busy (gauge it by the number of cars in the parking lot), but it’s also OK to skip.
Land’s End (Bout du monde)
It’s hard to pass up a hike to the very tip of Gaspé, dubbed Land’s End (in French, Bout du monde). A the tip, you’ll find the Cap-Gaspé lighthouse and a lookout platform. The lighthouse itself is rather short because it takes advantage of the height of the cliff it’s built on; it can still be seen for kilometres at sea. To get here, you have a few options depending on how challenging a hike you’d like. It’s accessed from the south area of the park (unless you’re doing a multi-day hike).
The easiest option in driving to the end of the paved road and parking at L’Anse-aux-Amérindiens. From here, you have 2 path options: the groomed multipurpose trail or the hiking trail. The multipurpose trail (shared with cyclists) is a 6.4km roundtrip hike with minimal elevation gain. It’s not the most interesting hike, but it gets you to the tip quickly and easily. The hiking trail is 8km roundtrip, taking you through coves and pebble beaches, then curves inwards along a ridge to the tip.
If you’re up for more adventure, you could start from a further parking lot and follow the Grande-Grave trail that goes hugs the southern shore of the peninsula, going through pebbles beaches and coves. It’s a 15km roundtrip hike from the Grande-Grave parking lot. Or split the difference by parking at L’Anse-Blanchette or L’Anse-Saint-Georges.
Pebble beaches (Petit-Gaspé and Grande-Grave)
The southern shore of the park is characterized by pebble beaches.
Petit-Gaspé beach is popular area because it has a nice pebble beach and is located at a few trailheads. There’s only a small parking lot that fills up quickly, but there’s additional parking along the road (just avoid the signed no-parking areas). On a past visit to Forillon, we also scuba dived off the shore of Petit-Gaspé beach, where you’ll find an underwater landscape of anemone, sea stars and countless lobsters.
Grande-Grave is a heritage site on a similar pebble beach. It features several historical buildings that narrate its history as a typical Gaspé fishing village.
La Taïga trail
La Penouille is a natural sandbar on the south side of the Gaspé peninsula in the Bay of Gaspé. The sandbar creates two unique ecosystems: the saltwater marsh and the taiga. The taiga at La Penouille is an ecosystem usually found in more northern climates, but has formed at La Penouille because of the inhospitable sandy soil.
The La Taïga trail at La Penouille is one of Forillon’s most unique trails. It starts with a walk along a wide boardwalk with the marsh on one side and a sand beach on the other. Then you veer off, hiking through the taiga to a nature observation blind within the salt marsh. Then the trail continues through the unique taiga ecosystem.
The southern side of the Penouille sand bar is a beautiful sand beach. It’s a very popular destination for families because the shore slopes so gradually that you can walk out quite a distance without the water going past your knees. On calm days, the water is incredibly still and clear.
Tip: Don’t enter the beach right at the entrance of the park; this section has the most seaweed and is the busiest area. Take the boardwalk out a bit to enjoy the quieter and cleaner area of the beach.
Just a few kilometres from La Penouille is Fort Peninsula, Quebec’s only WWII shore battery that has been completely preserved and open to the public. The ports of Atlantic Canada were important for shipping supplies to the UK and Allies during the war, making the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Gaspé targets. Fort Peninsula narrates the history of the Battle of the St. Lawrence where German U-boats sank 23 Allied ships.
The Fort Peninsula shore battery was equipped with four 60-inch searchlights, two QF 4.7-inch B Mark IV guns and several storage rooms. The guns are on display in their original positions; during the war they were capable of sinking a ship or submarine in the Bay of Gaspé within seconds of being discovered. Nestled in the Gaspé cliffs, they’re virtually invisible from the sea.
Le Portage and La Vallée trail loop
On the western side of Forillon National Park, we leave the seaside cliffs and find in-land valleys and forest. This area of the park features several major hiking trails designed for multi-day hiking with backcountry camping. Parts of these trails can also be used for day hiking.
We walked an 8.6km loop starting at L’Anse-au-Griffon. We started on the La Vallée trail which takes you through a forested area along the l’Anse-au-Griffon river valley. The end of this trail connected to the longer Le Portage trail that bisects the peninsula in a (somewhat) north-south direction. We took this trail back to our starting point in L’Anse-au-Griffon. This part of the trail is more open, offering views of the surrounding hills. Since these trails run along areas of standing fresh water, be prepared for mosquitos and deer flies.
To our surprise, we preferred the Le Portage section of the trail, because it was more open and offered a few views of the valley. The hike is along a multipurpose trail, so it’s great for getting some speed or a job, but feel free to skip it if you’re looking for something more adventurous or if you prefer the epic cliff and sea views.
I hope you enjoy your visit to Gaspé’s Forillon National Park as much as we did. Share your favourite tips in the comments!