Parc National de la Gaspesie: Chic-Choc Circuit (4 days / 53 km)

Beauty of nature in chic choc circuit

This was a four day/three night backpacking trip totalling 53km, with plenty of up and down exercise. It had great views from several mountain peaks, and combined forest hiking with exposed rock and barren tundra, and even involved crossing a snowpack (yes, in July!). This route is part of the International Appalachian Trail and can be combined into longer hikes, both inside the park or just as part of the much longer Appalachian Trail. 

Trip Completed: July 2022


Trip Summary

Starting Point: Le Huard (end of Route 11), Gaspesie National Park

Ending Point: Mont Albert Discovery and Visitor’s Center, Gaspesie National Park

Total Distance: 53 km

Elevation Gain: Absolute elevation loss is 325m. Total elevation change is approximately 3.6km, with about 1.6km of that being elevation gain over the course of the trail.

Duration: 4 day/3 night

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location

Gaspesie National Park (Parc National de la Gaspesie), Quebec.

Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of the Mi’kma’ki (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: All information was available from the park website. For example, a description of the trails and lengths is available here.

Map: The map of trails is available from the park website.

Campsite Reservations: You need to book all campsites in advance. Reservations for the camping platforms are only by phone; call 1 800 665-6527.

Know Before You Go

Season: Summer. These trails are only accessible from July 1 to October 19 (2022 season).

Cell Reception: At the peaks of some mountains I got weak cell service. There was no service otherwise, including at the visitor’s center which has wifi only.

Water: There is water available at all camping sites (but must be filtered or otherwise purified). During each day’s hike, access to water was sporadic, as streams were seldom encountered especially during the first day’s hike. I would recommend loading up with water each morning especially on hot days.

Wildlife: There are moose, black bears, and other wildlife present on this trail. I encountered 4 moose during my hike and heard a couple more moving through the trees. The trees themselves are rather small at the camping platforms and are not suitable for hanging food. However, there are pegs in the outhouse at both camping platform sites where you can leave your food bag, and hope that it’s rodent proof as well (I had no problems).

Waste: There was an outhouse at both camping platforms (no garbage disposal), and Lac Cascapedia (second night) was a campground so there was comfort station and garbage cans. I saw no washroom, water, or garbage cans at the trailhead. The end point (visitor’s center) does have a washroom, water, and garbage cans. 

Outfitters & Shuttles

Outfitter: There is no outfitter for trips of this sort in the park. 

Shuttle: The park offers a shuttle service to the west starting point (so you hike back to your car parked at the visitor’s center). You must call 1 800 665-6527 to reserve the shuttle. Reservations are required at least 72 hours in advance. The shuttle trip is approximately one hour, and costs about $50.

Trip Report

Day 1: Le Huard to Le Saule (11.5 km)

After the shuttle drops you off, you initially start on a gravel road at about 525m elevation. Lac Thibault is visible on your left as you start up the road. After 1.1km, you join the actual trail (the International Appalachian Trail (IAT), also called La Grande Traversée or SIA). There is a sign indicating that you turn right (east) here and are now on the trail proper. The trail includes both signposts with direction and distances at main points throughout, and also more frequently posts with SIA/IAT on them to indicate you are also on the Appalachian Trail.

Initially you will be ascending through the forest, up and up, with a gorgeous lookout after about an hour of hiking. A little further on is a second view of the valley below. As you continue you will be treated to another view at Mont Arthur-Allen (elevation 980m); from here you still have 5.2km to go.

Between here and the next mountain, you descend in elevation by 80m and will come across a nice little lake which is a great place to stop. A final nice view of the day is at Mont du Blizzard which is a hike up by about 80m (elevation 976m). There is a detour you can take to see the view from Pic de l’Aube (0.7km each way) but I chose not to take it. Shortly after, make sure you take the trail east (turn left) at the sign, otherwise you’ll be heading back towards the road. The hike from here to the camping platform 0.7km away is downhill and easy footing. The park estimates 5 hours hiking for this section; including breaks, it took me 5.5 hours. 

Campsite: Camped at the Le Saule camping platform, elevation 820m. You must put your tent on one of the platforms. You are not allowed campfires at these sites. There is a small brook a very short walk away where you can collect water. This is a nicely forested site, and though there were a few bugs, they weren’t too bad.

Day 2: Le Saule to Lac Cascapedia (14 km)

I awoke to thunder, and tried to pack up camp before the rain came. I was entirely unsuccessful and ended up packing in the rain. However, a female moose and her calf ran right past my tent platform while I was packing up, so that was a nice bonus.

This section had some of my favourite views, with the best after about 3 hours of hiking at an elevation of 790m at Pic de Brûlé. Note that this area uses rock cairn in a couple places to mark the trail, as there is exposed rock and so no visible trail for short sections. Just before here, you could choose to take the shorter trail (3.5km vs 5.5km) that has fewer elevation changes but I stayed on the longer SIA trail. There is still 8km to hike after this point, including sections in lovely lichen-covered trees.

I saw several spruce grouse along the trails. I can’t comment on the view from Mont Ernest-Ménard (elevation 850m) as fog had rolled in by that point (this is relevant to all the views – fog can roll in and out quite fast, obscuring or revealing views). There were a number of wet areas where boardwalks were present to help reduce the boot-mud-suckingness of the boggy trail. From here on it was downhill to Lac Cascapedia (final elevation about 490m), with the number of mosquitoes increasing as I descended.

The park estimates 6 hours for this section; it took me 6.5 hours, including several short breaks. If you start hiking early from the last site, you could get here before the previous campers have left your site – something to be aware of when planning your departure.   

Campsite: The trail leads directly into the campgrounds. When I phoned to book the trail, they choose the campsite here as well; I’m not sure if you could request a specific site if you had a preference. It was nice to have a picnic table at camp. The camp is right at Lac Cascapedia, so you could have a dip here if you chose.

Day 3: Lac Cascapedia to La Fougere (12 km)

Had a later start this morning, waiting for the rain to pass. It worked out, though of course the vegetation was soaking wet and it was far too hot/humid to wear rain gear so I was wet anyway. It’s uphill for the first 2 hours, with about half a kilometer elevation gain.

After about 1.5 hours you pass a lake (Lac Alain-Potvin) where you could get water if needed. Again some of my views of the day were obscured by heavy mist, but the trees in the mist are quite pretty as well. Mont Ells (1000m elevation) was misty and windy, so only brief views of the valley. Mont du Milieu (950m elevation, after a total of 5.4km hiking) had some clearer views, and was a nice view of the surrounding peaks.

As you descend about 270m, at one point you encounter a field of ferns, and their light green colour makes a nice contrast with the darker green of the trees. The trail joins a gravel road after about 4 hours of hiking and for 0.8km you get this easy hike until you pass Refuge de la Paruline. This hut can be rented by groups, but hikers can use the picnic table outside and there’s an outhouse as well, plus access to the lake for water. There’s only 3.6km left of day’s hike at this point, during which I passed a bull moose in the forest. The park estimates 4.25 to 5.25 hours for this section; I took 5.5 hours, including a half hour rest at the hut.

Campsite: This site is at 750m elevation, and is very close to Lac Manni (only a short steep path away, and is your source of water). The lake did not look appealing to swim in, as there’s lots of algae and the bottom is very rocky. However, it is very pretty to sit on shore and watch the birds (I saw sandpipers and ducks, among others) or just enjoy the view. At dusk I heard a moose pass by my tent. Again no campfires are allowed.

Day 4: La Fougere to Visitor’s Center (16 km)

This section of the trail is rated as the most difficult. It starts off still in the forest, but soon transitions to open barren and rocky terrain. After about 1.5 hours hiking slowly uphill, the transition first requires descending a long, rocky, wet, and steep path, taking you to a stream (Ruisseau de la Grande Fosse, elevation 890m) that you have to cross (easily rock-hopped). Very buggy here but a nice place to fill your water bottle.

After about another half an hour you leave the forest and enter the rocky plateau connecting Sommet Albert Nord and Sud. Elevation is about 1000m here, so there is another elevation gain of 100m or so to get here. That is the last time you hike uphill – the rest is down, down, down. It’s pretty cool hiking along the trail and all you see are hillsides dropping away in front of you to a deep valley, but you can’t see the bottom of the valley until you crest the edge. You will notice the snowpacks – yes, even in July – and the most confusing part of the trail was here.

I had no problem knowing exactly where to go at any other time. However, here the large rocks have markings painted on them, and the white trail marker sticks are visible, right up to the edge of the snowpack. Then they disappear. Eventually I saw a white trail marker on the other side of the snowpack so I knew which direction to go (it’s kinda obvious too – don’t go sideways along the edge of the valley, go down). There were also some orange markers staked to the ground I eventually saw, which lead me along the side of the snow pack until I was forced to cross it. No hidden crevices, thank goodness.

The majority of the rest of the trail is boulders, literally, so it makes going downhill very slow – and would probably be more tricky if it were raining. Definite ankle-twisting risk. You do have the option of taking the north trail at one point, though that would require you to hike back up Sommet Albert Nord – I decided not to do this, even though distance-wise it is shorter.

If you continue down the east trail, you will eventually cross the river that you’re walking beside, and you may start seeing other people at this point as this area is accessible by day hikes originating from the main part of the park. The whole section is quite pretty, and you can rest at Abri de la Serpentine, which is a building for shelter and has an outhouse. You’ll pass Lac du Diable on your right after another kilometer or so, which is a nice lake view. 2.3km before the end of the trail, there is a small tower from which you can see the Chute du Diable, a distant waterfall cascading down the mountain. The last part of the trail is very flat, which your feet will likely be grateful for at the end of the day. The park estimates 9-10 hours for this section; I did it in 8.5 hours, including breaks.

Reflections

Like always, good footwear is important to keep your feet dry and blister-free. Remember it can get cold at night as you’re sleeping at high elevations, though this trip for me happened to be in hot humid weather. Since you can’t have fires at the camping platforms (night 1 and 3), there’s no way to dry out if you get wet. I packed too much food but I’d rather have too much than too little. Otherwise, take the time to enjoy the views; they are well worth the hike!


Author Bio

I’m a biologist, nature lover, and filmmaker/videographer who loves the outdoors and all critters great and small. 

Instagram: @naturetidbits

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/NatureTidbits/videos

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