Perce Quebec is home to the magnificent Percé Rock, which ranks among the most recognizable landmarks of Eastern Canada. Sitting just offshore on the eastern end of Quebec’s Gaspé peninsula, the monolith is close to a half kilometre long and 85 metres high. Its signature piercing spans 30 metres, one of the largest natural stone arches over water in the world.
Visitors have been coming for years to gaze over this seaside vista. However, the recent formation of the Percé UNESCO Global Geopark has brought a greater appreciation for this special place and the realization that it is so much more than a postcard view.
What are Geoparks?
UNESCO Geoparks are places with a unique geological heritage of international significance. Their purpose is to promote earth sciences research, enhance our understanding of geology, provide environmental protection, and encourage sustainable tourism.
Percé Geopark was designated in 2018, with much of its infrastructure still being fairly new. While Percé Rock is the most obvious geological feature, its importance goes beyond to include landscapes such as cliffs, islands, beaches, and bays. In addition to geology, Percé boasts a significant natural heritage with varied ecosystems, marine mammals including whales, dolphins, and seals, plus North America’s largest gannet colony. Historic buildings from the heyday of the cod fishery comprise part of its cultural heritage.
Percé is known as the birthplace of geology in Canada. It was here that Sir William Logan, the first director of the Geological Survey of Canada, started the geological mapping of Canada in 1843. He was so good at his job that Canada’s highest mountain was later named after him.
Tour the Geopark Visitor Centre
The bright red visitor centre in town is the place to start for an orientation to the geopark and its programs. Don’t miss Tektonik, a multimedia presentation with 500 million years of geological history of the area which is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Kids will especially like the indoor playground made to resemble the seabed.
Enjoy a View Beyond Compare
Mont Ste-Anne rises above the visitor centre and town. 200 metres up the mountain a glass-bottom platform is suspended from the cliff face, providing breathtaking views over the town, Percé Rock, and the surrounding coastline and islands. You can either hike up or take a shuttle bus to the platform. If looking straight down below your feet isn’t thrilling enough, you can also swoop along the 250-metre-long zip line that starts nearby.
Take a Hike or a Guided Walk
The 18 kilometres of walking trails not only stretch from the town to the viewing platform but throughout the rugged mountainsides. You can explore the well-marked trails on your own or take a guided hike. A highlight is the Magical Forest which seems straight out of a fairy tale, where several trees sport curved trunks, some making a perfect arch that we can walk through.
The benefit of a guided walk is that you not only get great views and see sights such as large caves, crevices, and the “bottomless hole”, but also learn the story behind the formation of the landscapes and hear the legends.
Another guided walk is through the town. This is quite an eye-opener because there seems to be a fascinating story behind each historic building. Many date to the glory days of the cod fishery and larger-than-life sea captains. We see Logan Park, dedicated to William Logan, and St-Michel church built of red sandstone that gives it a distinctive colour. Even the landforms such as the many cliffs have names and stories behind them.
Get Up Close and Personal with Percé Rock
As impressive as these sites are, the star attractions are Percé Rock and nearby Bonaventure Island, home to North America’s largest — and the world’s most accessible — northern gannet colony. Fortunately, we can get a close-up look at both on the same trip.
Les Bateliers de Percé operates a boat excursion to the island. While it is only around four kilometres away, the trip takes an hour because first we slowly pass both sides of Percé Rock. If you think that it looks impressive from shore, you’ll be blown away by seeing the massive monolith up close. The hole in the rock looks even more enormous, plus we can see sizable seabird colonies scattered along the cliffs.
Experience a Wildlife Spectacle at Bonaventure Island
After Percé Rock, the tour boat circles Bonaventure Island before landing, accompanied by a commentary in French and English. As it passes the main nesting cliffs you might imagine being magically transported into a David Attenborough documentary as thousands upon thousands of birds fill the air while countless others occupy almost every possible roosting spot on cliff ledges and rocks. Most are gannets but we also see common murres, razorbills, and black guillemots, among others.
A wonderful part of the trip is that after the boat lands, and an introductory briefing from park staff, you can stay on the island as long as you want. Trips run throughout the day, the only restriction is that you must be at the dock to catch the last boat of the day. The entire island is a bird sanctuary and part of Parc national de l’Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé. No one lives there and visitors are not allowed to spend the night.
If you’re an avid photographer or a bird nerd, we suggest taking the first boat of the day to the island and taking the last boat back to Percé. It’s such a wonderful place that you won’t want to leave. Bring lots of water and a picnic lunch to eat at the picnic site near the Gannet colony. There is a restaurant on the island, but it’s near the dock and not close to the birds. It’s also a 3-kilometre walk from the dock to the main gannet nesting colony so just getting there and back will use up some of your time.
The nesting grounds sprawl across the cliff tops, from a distance looking like tightly packed white dots. Park staff told us that gannets alone numbered around 125,000. Most birds were on nests when we arrived, though many filled the air as well as they flew back and forth to the sea to feed or to gather seaweed or grass to add to their nests.
Watching gannets land in the crowded colony is quite a show; they just pick a free spot among the closely packed birds and then drop into place. Mating pairs exhibit elaborate greetings called “fencing” where they rattle their bills together. Normally you need a long telephoto lens to photograph birds. But here you can get so close that you can come away with great shots with almost any camera. The nesting colony is roped off, but the birds are still as close as 10 metres from the viewing areas.
Tours run from about mid-May to mid-October. Prices at the time of publication were $45 adults, and $22 children 6-15. There is also a park entrance fee of $9.25 for adults.
Getting to Percé and Where to Stay
Percé is located on the eastern tip of the Gaspé peninsula, far from most major centres. Quebec City is about 750 kilometres away, and Rimouski, the Gaspé’s largest centre, is 450 kilometres. Most visitors come to Percé as part of a road trip along Highway 132 that follows the Gaspé coastline, offering almost non-stop coastline scenery. About 100 kilometres to the north is Forillon National Park with even more spectacular cliffs and awesome hiking trails. To the south, the highway enters the Bay of Chaleur between Gaspé and New Brunswick, often making the list of the world’s most scenic bays.
Percé offers a wide array of places to stay from hotels to inns, bed & breakfasts, and campgrounds. The geopark even has its own campground near the visitor centre, including a few ready-to-camp frame tents that accommodate four. We stayed at the Hotel-Motel Fleur de Lys on the beach with an awesome view over Percé Rock. A bonus is that one morning, from right in front of our hotel, we watched gannets fishing by plunging into the water like dive-bombers. If that wasn’t enough, a couple of Minke whales also swam by.
You can learn more by visiting the Tourism Perce website.
Looking For More Things to Do?
While Gaspe Quebec is truly an amazing destination, there’s so much more to Quebec and nearby destinations. For more ideas on what to do, check out these guides below: