If you’re in the Gaspésie region of Quebec, a day trip to Percé is a must. It is a cute little place that is most definitely able to accommodate the tourist horde – lots of restaurants, cafes, shops, and companies associated with outdoor activities such as kayaking and whale watching. However, I personally recommend Percé for other things – hiking and access to the Bonaventure Island bird colony. Read on to find out more!
What to do in Percé
When you arrive in the small town, why not start your day with a quick hike? Petit Mont Sainte Anne is enough of a challenge to stretch your legs and shake off the remaining cobwebs of sleep – but at the same time, it isn’t a difficult hike by any means. It took just under an hour to reach the summit, starting from the Percé UNESCO Global Geopark. And less than half the time to come back down as we were running (literally at some points) late to catch the boat to Bonaventure Island.
I also recommend capping your visit to Percé with a drive up Les Feuilles road at the end of the day – it connects back to highway 132 so it won’t be out of your way to check it out. The drive is pretty and at the top of the road sits the ruins of a hotel (motel?). I like ruined buildings, so I enjoyed taking a brief walk around it. What made it extra cool was the phenomenal views onto the surrounding valley!
Boat trip to Bonaventure Island
There are a couple companies that make the trip out to Bonaventure Island – not all journeys stop at the island so make sure you pay attention to the details when choosing your company and time of departure. On my trip, we boated around Percé Rock before heading to the island. Getting up close to the Rock was cool – even more so since walking to it at low tide is now forbidden (as of September 2021). Being so close to it really gives you a better appreciation for its size!
Tip: Sit on the left side of the boat if you want views of Percé Rock without the other side of the boat (and people) in front of you.
After checking out Percé Rock, the boat trip continues onto Bonaventure Island. The boat will pretty much encircle the island, allowing you to appreciate the landscape of it as well as to check out seals, both sunbathing and swimming ones. But the main highlight will be to see the gannet colony from the water, allowing you to gain an appreciation for just how big this bird colony is.
Tip: Sit on the right side of the boat if you want the best view of the landscape and bird colony when encircling the island. Bring your zoom lens!
Visiting Bonaventure Island
Upon arrival, everyone has to sit through a five-minute spiel from a SEPAQ park employee – they will quickly go over the various trail options as well as double check that you are the proud owner of a SEPAQ pass. Note that you need to get this pass yourself (you can get it online before arrival) – it is NOT sold in conjunction with your boat ticket. Once you’ve been cleared, off you go! After a quick lunch that we’d packed (there are picnic benches available as well as a café if you didn’t bring food), we chose to do the Les Colonies trail. It is a lovely easy trail to the gannet bird colony – you walk through sun dappled forests along a wide groomed path. Eventually, the forest opens to the coast. You’ll note dead short trees, gnarled by the wind, ocean as far as the eye can see, and loud LOUD birds.
Tip: From the boat to the bird colony along the Les Colonies trail, it is just under an hour. There are picnic benches by the colony if you prefer to eat your lunch there instead. Though if you had your lunch first before starting your hike, it gives the bulk of the visitors a chance to spread out along the trail giving you a more peaceful walk.
The bird colony at Bonaventure Island is the most accessible northern gannet colony in the world. And it is quite the sight to behold. I spent about a half hour just admire the birds and photographing them. It’s pretty neat just to watch them interact with each other, glide through the air, and even just having a nap despite the cacophony. There are essentially two points from which you can see the colony along the coast before the trail (it turns into the Chemin du Roy trail) heads inland again.
Chemin du Roy trail back to the boat is lovely. It dips inland and along the coast, giving you a variety of landscape. Keep your eye out for birds of prey in the air and seals in the water! Don’t forget to check out the various buildings, remnants of the colonial settlement that once was on the island. We reached the boat area around 3:20pm – the whole loop took us about 3 hours without really rushing. It was enough time to reach back for the boat that leaves promptly at 4pm. Note that the café and island closes at 4pm – all the employees are on the 4pm boat, too!