Sledding In The Gaspé Peninsula
By all accounts, the 2017-2018 snowmobiling season was less than stellar in eastern Ontario. In the area where I do my local sledding – Mississippi Mills, Lanark, and Ottawa west – the local trails were open and ‘green’ status for maybe 15 days total.
Not great, by anyone’s measure.
There were a number of factors involved, as there always are. An early heavy snow fell before there was any frost, preventing the ground from freezing up and leaving creeks, streams and swamps open until late January; several periods of good, cold deep-freeze weather were immediately followed by warm temperatures and rain; one of the local groomers remained in the shop, awaiting parts for a couple of weeks; and we just never got any good, back-to-back snowstorms.
Sure, over 70 centimetres of snow fell during the month of December, but it was 5 degrees on December 2 and 11 degrees on December 5. It went down to minus 22 on the 15th, only to bounce back up to plus 4 with rain on the 19th.
Old Man Winter and Mother Nature were having a hard time deciding what to do with our weather.
And the area snowmobilers felt it.
As noted in a previous post, that meant one thing, and one thing only for those of us who wanted to get some serious seat-time in this winter: we had to follow the snow.
My friend and riding-partner John O’Brien and I travelled up to Northern Ontario for our first big adventure of the year and had an incredibly good time. Anyone who has loaded their sleds onto the trailer and made the 8-hour drive from the Ottawa or Toronto areas will tell you that it is well worth the gas money.
But then we returned home to the land of closed local trails and were left with only one choice: begin planning our next adventure.
John and I had both purchased Quebec trail passes back in November because we had something big planned for the 2017-2018 snowmobile season.
We were going to go sledding in the Gaspé Peninsula, more commonly known as the Gaspesie.
This is an area of Canada that is renowned for its remote wilderness and incredible beauty during all 4 seasons, and it is especially well known amongst snowmobile riders from eastern Canada and the northeastern USA for its incredibly deep snow and long-lasting riding season.
The average annual snowfall for Gaspé is 370 centimetres. That’s a little over 12 feet for my readers south of the border.
So, with a little bit of planning that basically involved checking the status of the snow conditions and the network of trails on the peninsula, we picked a date. John made a couple of motel reservations and we loaded up the trailer, tossed our gear in the ½ ton and hit the road on Saturday morning, March 3.
The drive from Ottawa to Rivière-du-Loup, the area we had chosen as our staging-spot for the next 10 days, is about 7 ½ hours, roughly the same as the drive from Ottawa to the Cochrane/Smooth Rock Falls area of northern Ontario.
I was watching the snow banks (or lack thereof) along the highway, anxiously awaiting that moment when we would begin to know that all was going to be well, for most of the drive.
All the way out past Drummondville the conditions remained lacklustre. There was more grass than snow.
But by the time that we skirted Quebec City, things began to change, and the further east that we travelled on highway 20, the better the conditions began to appear.
It was just before 5:00 pm when we pulled into the parking lot of the Comfort Inn where we would leave the truck and trailer for the next 9 or 10 days, and John and I were both smiling broadly as we stepped out of the truck.
Less than 30 minutes later we had our sleds off the trailer.
20 minutes later we had both gotten our sleds stuck!
This snow was DEEP!
John and I learned very quickly that out here you stay on the marked trails, or you do some heavy cardio. Digging a 250kg machine out of snow that rises past your knees is never easy.
John and I only spent about an hour or so on the trails that first evening. Just enough to convince us both that we were in for something special.
The next morning, we began our adventure in earnest, covering the first of what would end up being a total of 2,507 kilometres travelled over the course of 10 days.
And because I don’t think that my writing of each day’s ride will really convey what it was like, I am going to type less, and show more for this next portion of the story.
You can see why I am not going to try to describe the scene with words. As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand.
Our first day was rather short – we only rode to Rimouski, a distance of about 175 kilometres on trails that were honestly quite rough, bumpy and not overly enjoyable.
After a 400 kilometre ride on day 2, we arrived in Carleton-sur-Mer where we stayed at the Hostellerie Baie Bleue. During the last 25 kilometres of riding, which was well after dark, we saw at least 15 deer on, and alongside the trail. You definitely do not want to be riding too fast out here at night!
The natural beauty of the Gaspé Peninsula is almost surreal.
The Gaspé peninsula is truly a winter wonderland.
By day-4 we had discovered the truth in everyone else’s description about sledding in the Gaspé Peninsula. This was the day where it all became real and better than I ever could have hoped for. We had headed back north from Carleton-sur-Mer on trail 595, stopping for lunch at Relais Cache – which I wholeheartedly recommend – and then we took a smaller, local trail from the 595 to Murdochville. This trail is known as the Sentiers Chic Chocs, or Chic Chocs Trail, and man, oh man what a ride. The Chic-Chocs mountains contain some of the highest peaks in Quebec, and the views from on high are breathtaking. I did not take too many pictures that day as it was snowing off and on, and really, I was just having too much fun riding!
That picture below of me on my sled on top of a huge snow drift was taken that day on the Chic Chocs Trail, just to give you an idea of the kind of snow we are talking about.
All of the motels/hotels that we stayed at were more than comfortable, and each had its own plus’s. The Copper Hotel in Murdochville was no exception, having dozens of antique sleds on display in the Vintage Snowmobile Museum located in the hotels’ basement!
From here on the conditions only improved for us. The Gaspé area was hit with 3 heavy snowfalls over the course of 5-days, and at one point John and I actually had to make the decision to stop riding and look for a place to stay – the snow was just too deep to continue riding safely. The groomers had not been out in several days, and over 30 centimetres (12″) of fresh powder was covering the trails. Up in the mountains this meant snow drifts as high as 4 or 5 meters, and neither of us rides a mountain sled. My 129″ skid is no match for deep powder, and if it weren’t for good fortune and some riders from the Kemptville area I might still be stuck on the mountain, hahaha.
In the photos below you can see a groomer that got stuck in deep powder. It was so deep in many areas that the red trail marking poles were buried.
Those poles are like 4 to 5 feet tall.
And finally, the photo below depicts what was, for me, the highlight of the trip. I knew before we ever left Ottawa that I had to see Percé Rock while I was sledding in the Gaspé Peninsula – and at one point that looked like it was not going to be possible due to all of the snow that had fallen. But the universe offered up an opportunity to rearrange our plans, and John and I made it out to Percé on day 7.
Some of the trails had been groomed the night before; some were still covered in fresh, deep powder; the air was crisp, the sun was shining brightly, and I have to tell you that I now have a reference for sledding nirvana.
There is some really good information on Perce Rock here if you are interested.
This is the look of 2 happy adventure snowmobilers!
I could go on and on, writing in detail about the entire adventure, but I think I am happier giving you a taste, and then some.
If this post encourages even one reader to head out to the Gaspe Peninsula next season then I will consider it a job well done.
And if you are that reader, and you do decide to go, let me know. I am already planning my return . . .
Before I sign off though, here are a couple of lists and links that you may find useful:
Where we stayed, and where we ate
Rivière-du-Loup: Comfort Inn Rivière-du-Loup; St. Hubert Chicken and Subway; very comfortable room, excellent value, continental breakfast included, located 100 meters from the trail and gas. I will stay again.
Rimouski: Hotel Rimouski; hotel restaurant (very good food); very comfortable room, we chose the snowmobile package (decent value including buffet breakfast); a little too much road-riding to get to the hotel, however, the trail does go right by a Shell station for fuel. I will likely try another option next year, or skip Rimouski entirely.
Carleton-sur-Mer: Hostellerie Baie Bleue; hotel restaurant (very good food); comfortable room; good value; located right on the trail with gas very nearby; I will stay again.
Relais De La Cache: located on the Quebec 595 snowmobile trail about dead-centre of the Gaspé Peninsula, this is a must-stop for food and fuel and they also now have rooms available for overnight stays as well. This was one of my favourite stops during the entire adventure. The menu is limited but the food is great, the service is exemplary and there is fuel on site, which you will likely need anyway. This is a great rest-stop before hitting the famous Chic Chocs Trail heading to Murdochville. We did not stay overnight this time, but I will next year for sure.
Murdochville: Hotel Copper; hotel restaurant (good food but I would not take the sledder’s package as you only have 2 or 3 items from the menu to choose from); decent 1980’s style rooms that are due for an update; a little bit of road-riding to get to the hotel, but not too bad; gas is close by; great vintage snowmobile museum in the basement; I will stay again.
Rivière-au-Renard: Auberge Le Caribou; hotel restaurant (very good food); comfortable room; good value; almost right on the trail and gas is close by; I would stay again.
Gaspé: Motel Adams; very comfortable rooms; motel restaurant (very good food); *onsite laundry*; excellent value; a little bit of road-running to get to the motel from the trail, but not bad; gas is close by; I will stay again.
Chandler: Motel Fraser; very comfortable rooms; motel restaurant (good food); great value; right on the trail; gas is close by; the small trail from Trans-Quebec 5 to the motel can be rough/deep depending on conditions. I would stay again.
Sainte-Anne-des-Monts; Motel “À La Brunante”; decent rooms; motel restaurant (average); way too much road-riding, but little choice; gas across the street. Due to the length of asphalt riding necessary, I will probably make other arrangements next year.
Must-ride’s and Must See’s
Finally, here is a link to a really informative website listing 7 must-ride loops in the Gaspé Peninsula region of eastern Quebec, also known as ‘Sledder’s Paradise!’
If you’d like to know the exact location where any of the photos in this post were taken, a geo-tagged version can be viewed in my Smugmug gallery.
To view the geo-tagging, first click on the photo, and then the Information icon in the lower right corner of the page. When the Photo Info pop-up opens, click on the “Map” tab.
View the Smugmug Gallery