I love the White Mountains, the Daks, and Baxter State Park—like every other Northeasterner. That’s why I drove straight past all of them to find something lonelier and more exotic for BACKPACKER readers: a place where the caribou south of the St. Lawrence River roam freely on Québec’s second highest peak, Mt. Jacques-Cartier; a place where moose, eagle, and owl sightings are fast and frequent; and a place where trails wind through lush forests and up craggy peaks dotted with comfortable huts warmed by woodstoves. Parc National de la Gaspésie is a trekker’s dream. And it’s only a day’s drive from Boston.
Make a weekend of it on a 12.5-mile point-to-point trek on the International Appalachian Trail (a 1,900-mile extension from Katahdin to Labrador), from the bus-serviced Mt. Jacques-Cartier trailhead through the rugged McGerrigle Mountains. Start with an ascent that gains 1,500 feet over three miles to the 4,160-foot summit named after the explorer who claimed Canada for France. On my trip with a friend in September, we climbed through the boreal landscape in dense fog with strong wind blowing cutting bits of hail. As we reached the summit’s observation tower, a bull caribou ambled across the path, then disappeared into the fog.
From the summit, descend into the spruce to hike atop the long, swooping saddle to reach 3,740-foot Mt. Xalibu. We didn’t see a single hiker. Descend 3.1 miles, passing cliff-lined Lac aux Américains to arrive at Le Roselin, a hut with bunks, bathrooms, and group kitchen. Next day, the trail mazes 7.2 miles through a mossy and moose-y forest before reaching the visitor center, with a neck-craning view of blocky Mt. Albert. I’ve never had such nonstop scenery—for so long—to myself.
MapInternational Appalachian Trail Topographic Map ($30, sia-iat.com)
Contact Huts are $23.50 CAN per night per person; reserve three weeks in advance. Keep $16 CAN cash on hand for the shuttle to Mt. Jacques-Cartier; it leaves once per day at 9 a.m. from the visitor center. sepaq.com/pq/gas