The Québec maritime Blog
A wild island at the heart of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Anticosti captivates visitors with spectacular scenery and fascinating history. It’s impossible to resist the natural charm of this jewel of Côte-Nord! This unofficial sanctuary for white-tailed deer is also a paradise for nature lovers, who can explore a cave with a fun name, admire stunning canyons and swim in crystal-clear waters.
I visited Anticosti two years ago, at the end of the summer, and still today, when I talk about my trip with friends, my face lights up with joy. Anticosti is Québec’s largest island: covering an area of almost 8000 km2 (3000 sq. mi.), it’s nearly 220 km (135 mi.) long and about 50 km (30 mi.) wide. The island’s reputation has long since spread beyond the borders of Québec. As soon as you set foot here, you’ll be struck by the wild beauty of this territory and will feel like you’ve entered another world…
A ghost castle in Port-Menier and white-tailed deer
Your adventure begins in Port-Menier, the only village on the island and the only place where the roads are paved. This small municipality of about 200 residents has a few stories to tell, particularly in the ecomuseum where old photos bring to life Anticosti’s once-famous landmark: Château Menier, a luxurious villa dating back to when French chocolate baron Henri Menier owned the island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All that’s left of this magnificent residence, which was destroyed in a fire in 1953, is a reconstructed tower overlooking the remains of the castle’s foundations, which gives you a glimpse of the building’s former glory. By the way, the island’s large white-tailed deer population is due to Henri Menier, who introduced this species to what was then his private hunting ground. Because the deer have no natural predators, they now threaten certain forest species, including fir and birch, which they love to eat. This has led to the establishment of exclosures, a term used to designate protected plots of land that allow the native vegetation to flourish without grazing pressure from the deer, which also depend on this protein-rich flora for survival.
Lighthouses, birds and shipwrecks
The western sector of Anticosti also provides an opportunity to discover the vestiges of the village of Baie-Sainte-Claire, where you’ll find two cemeteries (one Catholic and the other Protestant) as well as the ruins of a lighthouse that was once considered one of the most beautiful and powerful on the St. Lawrence (1858-1960). Six lighthouses remain on the island, the oldest of which was managed by the Pope family in the Pointe-Sud-Ouest sector. Anticosti is also a popular birding destination; one of the birds that nest in great numbers here is the majestic bald eagle, whose slow and powerful flight is a feast for the eyes, as I saw for myself one day while walking on the beach not far from Auberge McDonald. It should be noted that this small paradise has been a real hell for ships. Over 400 have foundered on the reefs surrounding the island, earning it the nickname of “Graveyard of the Gulf.” One of these ships, the Calou, a wooden trawler that sank at Pointe-Ouest in 1982, is still visible, as is the Wilcox, a minesweeper lying not far from a campground at Kilometre 118, which has been battered by the elements for years.
In Anticosti, you need to keep your eyes open, and not just to see white-tailed deer, which are actually easy to spot given their numbers (115,000 are estimated to live on the island). This gem of the St. Lawrence is home to many treasures worth seeing! For starters, there’s the Vauréal Falls, which are 76 metres (250 feet) high—you can admire this waterfall from a lookout or via a breathtaking canyon worthy of a movie set, where strange shapes sculpted into the canyon’s towering walls recall the monoliths of the Mingan Archipelago. This is a real open-air geological library, with millions of years etched into the rock! In good weather, the hike across rocky terrain leading to the falls (which takes about three hours round trip) is an unforgettable experience. Another option is to follow the Falaises trail, which starts near Kilometre 135—this hike through a wooded area offers several lovely viewpoints to admire the surrounding scenery.
Baie de la Tour is also an enchanting site! You’re bound to fall under the spell of the cliffs that flank the bay, which look like two glittering candlesticks set at each end of a long table of sand. The ever-present limestone will remind you of the White Cliffs of Dover, especially seen from above, and the reflections off the bay’s turquoise waters will transport you to the Caribbean. For a panoramic view of this site, follow the Télégraphes trail (a 5-km or 3-mi. loop); the whole walk takes about two hours, but it’s totally worth it!
Longest cave and enchanting rivers
Want more? Then visit the Grotte à la Patate (literally “Potato Cave”), one of two accessible caves on the island (the other is the Grotte des Trois Plaines), located near Lake Geneviève. The longest cave in Québec, Grotte à la Patate is 625 metres (2050 feet) deep, of which 580 metres (1900 feet) have been explored. You’ll start your exploration standing up and end up crawling into the Dernier-Repos room (literally “Last Rest”). You’ll want to sit this one out if you’re claustrophobic!
Want to admire emerald green waters? You’ll love the Jupiter River, one of the most famous salmon rivers in the world. This is a perfect place for contemplation, as is the Chicotte River, in the Chicotte-la-Mer sector, where you can also enjoy a swim in crystal-clear temperate waters. You won’t want to leave this green and white paradise…
Various packages give visitors the opportunity to explore Anticosti at their own pace in the summer, as they soak up the island’s beauty, observe local vegetation and wildlife, and discover the island’s history and remarkable geological sites. Find out more from Sépaq and Pourvoirie Lac Geneviève, both of which offer packages including accommodations, the rental of an all-terrain vehicle and admission to Parc national d’Anticosti. Some packages also include the flight to the island.
Are you inspired to discover this surprising island? Summer is a great time to take the plunge—Anticosti will not disappoint you!