The American Southwest is loaded with picturesque riding spots, but if you happen to live in the Northeast you could be looking at a 3,000-mile ride just to get there. If you’re searching for a unique and thrilling destination, consider Québec maritime – it’s closer than you think.
When you think of Québec, big cities like Montréal and Québec City may come to mind first, but when you head a little further east, the Québec experience changes dramatically. Say goodbye to bright lights and crowded streets and hello to wide-open roads, beautiful scenery and eclectic towns dotting the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Québec maritime seems to have been made for motorcycle enthusiasts and touring this striking land will offer a lifetime of memories, but where do you start? To help narrow down the possibilities into a manageable list, we’ll focus on three particularly scenic and varied routes: the Gaspésie Tour, the Whale Route and the incomparable Îles de la Madeleine.
The Gaspésie Tour
We’ll start with the Gaspésie Tour as it is the most famous of the scenic rides in Québec maritime. If you’re the type that really likes to explore, this is the ride for you as it loops around the enormous and scenic Gaspé Peninsula.
You can start the tour anywhere along Route 132, but we suggest the region of Bas-Saint-Laurent, just west of Gaspésie on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. This area is crisscrossed by several roads that take you inland where you’ll ride alongside rural farmland, lakes and forests. Be sure to spend a night in one of Bas-Saint-Laurent’s quaint inns and enjoy some regional cuisine. From here you can travel northeast alongside the St. Lawrence River as it meanders further along the peninsula.
This tour stretches for about 600 miles, depending on your starting and finishing points. You could certainly do it in a day, but we think you’d be missing far too much. To get the most out of this tour, you’ll want to stop here and there to take in some unique local culture, tour through one of four national parks, explore one of six wildlife reserves or climb one of Québec’s highest peaks. Here are a few suggestions of things to do while you enjoy the Gaspésie Tour:
Camping in Bic National Park: Spend a night in a yurt in this beautiful coastal park or just admire some of the most breathtaking coastal views you’ll find anywhere.
Sightseeing in Percé: Majestic Percé Rock can be seen here. Percé is also known for its comfortable lodging and fine dining and is home to Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock National Park where you can visit the largest northern gannet colony in the world.
Visit Forillon National Park: This park is home to Canada’s tallest lighthouse and abundant wildlife.
The Whale Route
Route 138 stretches along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, linking Tadoussac to Natashquan. If you have the time, you’ll want to take on the entire 500-mile highway, but even short trips along the Whale Route will give you plenty to see.
Beyond the 13 species of whales that inhabit this area, perhaps the most pleasing sight to motorcyclists will be the seemingly limitless miles of open road. This part of Québec is not highly populated, which means you can ride for many miles while hardly seeing any cars coming up in your mirrors.
The Whale Route actually continues for another 275 miles beyond Natashquan all the way to Blanc-Sablon, but to get there you’ll have to abandon your bike and travel by boat or plane.
Here are some suggestions of things to do along the Whale Route:
Whale watching at Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre in Les Bergeronnes: From here you can observe whales right from shore!
Explore Baie-Comeau and northern Québec: A visit to the Jardin des Glaciers (Garden of the Glaciers) in Baie-Comeau is a must for any visitor to the area. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, head north on Route 389, an 800-mile highway that takes you way off the beaten track – all the way to the Labrador Sea. Along the route you’ll pass the imposing Manic-5, the largest multiple-arch-and-buttress dam in the world. As you get further north you can admire the high peaks of the Groulx Mountains.
Visit the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada: Hike or sea kayak in this park and explore the many mysterious monoliths – strange rock formations sculpted by the wind and sea.
Îles de la Madeleine
With only 40 miles of roads, the Îles de la Madeleine may seem like an odd spot for a motorcycle destination. However, this archipelago of seven inhabited islands in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is not to be missed.
To get there by motorcycle, you can hop on a ferry cruise in Montréal or Chandler (in Gaspésie) or drive to Prince Edward Island and take a ferry, the M/V Madeleine, from Souris to the Islands. Once you’ve arrived, start up your bike and take a ride along Route 199, which links six of the islands. As you may expect of an island road, Route 199 offers some pretty spectacular views as it winds though sand dunes, green hills and red cliffs. Despite its small size, you’ll find no shortage of lodging, restaurants and cafés as you explore small fishing harbors and other tourist sites.
Here are a few things you may want to do while you’re visiting the Îles de la Madeleine:
Head to the beach: Endless fine sand beaches await your arrival, as does surprisingly warm and inviting water in the summer months.
Explore by sea kayak: The Islands are surrounded by stunning red cliffs. Rent a kayak and go investigate all the mysterious nooks and crannies.
Check out the local artisans: This region seems to attract artists and you can admire (and purchase) their creations in the Islands’ many art studios, galleries and boutiques.