Photograph by Yves Marcoux, Getty Images
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Cap Bon Ami in Forillon National Park extends into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Photograph by Yves Marcoux, Getty Images

Forillon National Park

Location: Quebec
Date Established: 1970
Size: 59,305 acres

Depending on your perspective, Forillon marks either the beginning or the end of the Canadian portion of the International Appalachian Trail. Much of the park is pure mountain wilderness, with remarkable hiking trails that skirt seaside cliff edges. It also boasts a cluster of traditional Gaspé fishing villages, pebble beaches in quiet coves, and rugged cliffs looming along a coastline that wraps around two of the triangular park’s three sides. At its northeastern tip, the park pokes into the Gulf of St. Lawrence via a peninsula topped by a lighthouse.

Park Facts

Peculiar Petals Forillon National Park protects a range of varied little ecosystems: natural prairies and farm fields, seaside cliffs, rivers, lakes, marshes, the seashore itself, and forest. Virtually all the park is covered with forests that shelter a peculiar combination of some 700 kinds of local flora along with plants normally found in Arctic or alpine environments, such as purple mountain saxifrage, tufted saxifrage, and white dryad.

Early Industry Historically, this resource-rich area of Quebec was also exploited for its supply of wood. People living off the coast in the village of L’Anse-au-Griffon, on the park’s northwest side, were involved in the early lumber industry here. Sawmills turned out planks, beams, cedar shingles, barrel staves, and even timbers to build wharves and bridges.

For the Birds Wildlife spotters on the prowl in the park can look for moose, black bears, lynx, red foxes, beavers, porcupines, coyotes, snowshoe hares, mink, and ermine. Bird watchers are drawn by 225 known species. Along the cliffs, perfect for breeding, seabirds such as black-legged kittiwakes, double-crested cormorants, black guillemots, and razorbills are plentiful. Great blue herons, terns, gulls, and sandpipers inhabit shorelines, and more than two dozen inland raptor species include northern harriers, American kestrel, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and great horned owls.

How to Get There

Fly into Quebec City from any major North American city, then make the ten-hour drive on Trans-Canada 20 from Quebec City to the park. The magnificent route follows the south side of the vast mouth of the St. Lawrence River, skirting the northern edges of the Gaspé Peninsula and passing through its small towns and villages. Stop in the city of Rimouski about halfway to the park, or shorten the drive by flying from Quebec City into Rimouski and renting a car there.

A quicker alternative is to fly from Quebec City or Montreal to the town of Gaspé. From there, the park lies just 18.6 miles away on Hwy. 132, an extremely pretty coastal drive. You can also reach the park by train. The Montreal–Gaspé Chaleur route operated by VIA Rail runs along the Bay of Chaleur on the south side of the Gaspé Peninsula.

When to Go

Summer’s the season that really shines in Forillon. The coastal scenery is at its finest, wildflowers bloom almost frantically, beaches are easily accessible, and trails are at their peak of natural beauty. But there is plenty to do in winter too. There are a half dozen cross-country ski trails (trailheads start at the Le Portage parking area near Penouille, La Vallée parking area at L’Anse-au-Griffon, and Le Castor parking area near Cap-des-Rosiers), three off-trail ski areas, and a half dozen snow-shoeing trails with equipment for rent at the Penouille Visitor Centre.

How to Visit

As the Québécois would say, the de rigueur exploration of this varied landscape involves rambling the coast by car, exploring a few beaches on foot, and doing a little sea kayaking or whale-watching on the first day. On the second day, check out the Hyman & Sons General Store, populated by character actors, and the restored homestead and farm of Anse-Blanchette, which are virtually all that remain of the old fishing village of Grande-Grave. Take the late afternoon and evening to spend time in nearby Gaspé, where more than three dozen small hotels and B&Bs can provide cozy, lacy Québécois-style beds. Explore the restaurants in town, which also has a few interesting local museums.

If there’s time for a third day, fill up the backpack with the day’s necessities and squeeze in some wilderness hiking. Or do like the locals do and go for a picnic along the rugged cliffs. Spend some time ranging along the round-pebble beaches, or climb the Cap Gaspé lighthouse for the towering sea view. The lighthouse is just 43 feet high, but it squats on the edge of an impressive 312-foot cliff.

—Text adapted from the 2011 National Geographic book Guide to the National Parks of Canada