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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 15.6-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.
Map International 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
-Text and mapping by Igor Kharitonenkov
- Distance: 25.0
Location: 49.008425, -65.922674
Hike south from the Mont Jacques-Cartier trailhead. The route gains 1,500 feet of elevation over 3.3 miles to 4,160-foot Mt. Jacques-Cartier, named after the explorer who claimed Canada for France.
Location: 49.005815, -65.931426
Scene of Ridge Going Up Mt. Jacques-Cartier
Location: 49.004955, -65.944388
Beautiful Panorama of the park
Location: 49.000841, -65.945095
Turn right at the 3-way junction to Lac à René (restrooms available at the lake).
Location: 49.000215, -65.947145
Lac à René
Location: 48.990183, -65.946361
Continue straight at the junction with Caribou Trail Loop.
Location: 48.98729, -65.948728
Mt. Jacques-Cartier (4,160 ft.): Watch for bull caribou ambling across the path. From the summit, descend into the spruce to hike atop a long, swooping saddle.
Location: 48.982843, -65.953288
Stop at this point just south of Jacques-Cartier for a scenic panorama.
Location: 48.974921, -65.97127
Hike across an alpine meadow.
Location: 48.972734, -65.992755
The route turns south just past the junction with La Camarine Campground.
Location: 48.96967, -65.992351
La Tetras Hut
Location: 48.963145, -66.012549
Turn right at this 3-way junction for a quick out-and-back to Mt. Xalibu’s summit.
Location: 48.964008, -66.011546
Mont Xalibu (3,740 ft.)
Location: 48.967184, -66.016731
You’ll catch more scenic views from this ridgeline below Mont Xalibu.
Location: 48.963041, -66.023792
Stop for views of a picturesque waterfall above the valley.
Location: 48.957473, -66.026774
Lake Lac Aux Americains
Location: 48.957238, -66.033553
Le Roselin Hut
Location: 48.954714, -66.042903
Location: 48.955639, -66.072134
Continue hiking southwest at the junction.
Location: 48.944663, -66.099898
Hike over a small waterfall.
Location: 48.946555, -66.11079
Hike west at this junction that showcases views of Mont Albert.
Location: 48.946153, -66.117334
Location: 48.947273, -66.12241
Discovery and Visitors Center
Location: 48.946477, -66.124575
Camping de La Riviere
Mt. Jacques-Cartier Trailhead
Location: 49.008424, -65.922604
Lac à René
Location: 49.000239, -65.947001
Caribou Trail Overlook
Location: 48.990183, -65.946245
Bull Caribou on Jacques-Cartier
Location: 48.989423, -65.944421
Caribou on Jacques-Cartier
Location: 48.989073, -65.944169
Observation Tower on Jacques-Cartier
Location: 48.989613, -65.946878
Views of the observation tower on Jacques-Cartier.
Location: 48.988455, -65.948052
A bull caribou appears through the fog.
Summit of Jacques-Cartier
Location: 48.987286, -65.948224
A Pair of Caribou
Location: 48.984442, -65.951443
Scenic Overlook near Jacques-Cartier
Location: 48.982865, -65.952859
Descending Mont Jacques-Cartier
Location: 48.983364, -65.954168
Le Tetras Hut
Location: 48.96971, -65.991912
Fog at Mont Xalibu Junction
Location: 48.963145, -66.012082
Waterfall near Mont Xalibu
Location: 48.963061, -66.023498
Lac Aux Americains
Location: 48.957137, -66.026319
Lac Aux Americians
Location: 48.957073, -66.026319
Le Roselin Hut
Location: 48.956918, -66.033411
Trail through the woods to the Visitor Center
Location: 48.953718, -66.081798
Mont Albert Vista
Location: 48.946575, -66.110272
Discovery and Visitors Center
Location: 48.947273, -66.122289