Anticosti is one of the best kept secrets of North America for travelers who appreciate nature and want to get away from stress, noise, rush, traffic,and poluted air. This island, at the mouth of the great St. Lawrence River where it forms the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the Atlantic Ocean, is the perfect discovery for anyone seeking crisp, cool, pristine nature, quietude, clean fresh air, glorious clear skies or mystical fog, hundreds of kilometers of driving on excellent gravel roads with no other vehicles for hours. You’ll experience breathing deeply the Christmas scent of evergreen forests, listening to whitecaps lapping the sandy coast, finding intact shells that are impossible to find on crowded beaches, fishing in glass-clear pure rivers, diving beneath waterfalls, hiking deep canyons, photographing huge limestone cliffs and brilliant sunrises. There are no snakes and no plants poisonous to touch.
Anticosti offers spectacular discoveries where mankind has not yet spoiled but enhanced and arduously protected each of the diverse natural environs. Temperatures are between 15C (about 62F) to 20C (about72F) in summer with always a breeze and mostly sunny days. Winter tourism can be arranged, although after hunting season tourists tend to stay away until summer. But for someone from a hot climate, a true winter experience of snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, and snow mobiling in this Christmas card setting, crowned with nights of millions of stars and the radiant, mysterious aurora borealis frequently overhead…what could be more special!
Anticosti is 8,000 square km, one-third larger than the well-known Prince Edward Island, and is also about the size of Rhode Island, but only 265 people live there year-round. You can get flights to Anticosti from any of four towns: Sept Iles, Havre-St.Pierre, Ste-Anne-des-Monts, or Mont Joli. In warmer months you can take a ferry to Anticosti on two different days a week from Sept Iles or Havre St. Pierre, or Natashquan, but we chose to fly by Honco Groupe charter plane from Harvre St Pierre.
Drug traffic and crime are unknown in this beautiful place, so no police force is needed. Residents know, love and care for each other. A resident told us, “Everyone here, including tourists, follow the golden rule, so it works.” The island has long been a favorite place for hunting deer and fishing, especially for salmon. Now adventure and outdoor travelers can enjoy exploring the island any time of year. Travel agents offer value-priced packages, which include your transportation from Quebec mainland and, when you arrive in Anticosti, a four-wheel drive vehicle with your personal driver/guide, very clean accommodations or outfitted camping facilities, and fabulous meals.
In 1534 Jacques Cartier, the first explorer, thought he had discovered the Northwest Passage when he navigated the largest of the many rivers on Anticosti. Later this was named Jupiter River. Cartier thought that peat bogs were rich farmlands and encouraged settlers to come, but they quickly discovered that peat bogs will not grow any crops. Settlements became ghost towns: Fox Bay, Aux Fraises, Baie Ste. Claire. Today the village of Port Menier is the one village which has lasted. Supplies come to the island by boat twice a week.
After we landed at Menier Airport our experienced national/provincial park guide, Fracois Lanctot, whom we highly recommend as the most knowledgeable and fun guide we have ever had anywhere, met us at the airport and drove us to Mcdonald Lodge, named for Peter Angus McDonald, who came in the late 1800’s from Nova Scotia with his family and servant and created his family’s living quarters. A few years later Henri Menier, a wealthy chocolate baron from France, tried to buy his property and McDonald refused. Instead, Menier bought the rest of the island and the men became good friends. Later McDonald’s family returned to Nova Scotia and Peter at 89 was found frozen to death in his cabin with a note saying whoever found his body would own his property. The men who found him took the note to Menier, and he became owner of the entire island, at a total cost of $125,000.
Menier buried his friend Peter here on the property that later became the site of McDonald Lodge on the North side of the island. Legend has it that his ghost is there to protect his guests. Mcdonald Lodge has very comfortable lodge-style accommodations: clean rooms with twin beds, hard surface floors, and large shared bathrooms, which are always spotless.
The meals at McDonald Lodge are incredible haute cuisine. The restaurant specializes in venison and fresh seafood, lobster, crab, and steaks, presented beautifully. Breakfast is also a feast with many selections and hardy enough to keep you going all day. The lodge hosts will also pack a box lunch for your day’s excursions around the island.
Among the delights of Anticosti you’ll discover are bio-luminescence in the Gulf on dark nights…shake your hand in the water or skip a rock and watch the stars be born on the ripples…an unforgettable nocturnal experience! Then look up at the bowl of stars heaped for your delight as you have never seen them. The ground on which you walk in daytime contains thousands of oceanic fossils because the island was pushed up during millinea from the ancient Silurian seabed. You’ll also find deer and the occasional moose antler in acidic peat bogs, where there is no decomposition, so everything is perfectly preserved. But you must hike only with guides because there are some deep crevaces, fault openings, in the ground in places that hikers must avoid.
When you are driving along Anticosti Highway stop at Marker 160 where several foxes, both red and black varieties, live with their adorable kits. Our experienced guide promised photos, and, as if it were a Disneyland prop, a red fox stepped out of the forest for our viewing pleasure. The curious foxes perch in the road watching you, like a dog in a city neighborhood, but remember they are wild and not safely approachable.
In 1896 Henri Menier, who loved to hunt, introduced beaver, moose, reindeer, elk, buffalo, rabbits, and 220 white-tailed Virginia deer to his private island. He also brought North frogs and Leopard frogs into the island in an effort to control mosquitoes. This was successful, and as the frogs reproduced they reduced the population of mosquitoes by half. However, the white tail, with no natural predators, have multiplied through the decades to become the largest deer population per square kilometer of any place in Canda. Today the Island is managed by SEPAQ and Quebec Crown Corporation. Hunters who know Anticosti recognize it as the best place to get prize deer who live within the beauty of white and black spruce, red maple, birch, and balsam fir forests.
Since 1896 the deer herd has grown now to 125,000 – 166,000. Fawns are born in June. Hunting season is Sept 1 – Dec.28 , beginning with the bow hunters and followed by those with rifles and shotguns. Hunters are allowed to shoot any deer, male, female, and fawns because of the extreme overpopulation. Since april 2001 no hunting or fishing or collecting anything is allowed in the specially marked Naitonal Park area which comprises 572 square kilometers of the island. The National Park of Anticosti has unusual natural features including canyons, soastal cliffs, caves, fossils, wide open spaces, clear lakes, rivers, and the sea. The three distince regions of the park are the Patate Cave area where you can explore for a distance of 2050 feet through the underground wonders.The second region of the park is the the canyon of Observation River. The third region consists of long maritime frontage and the beautiful Vaureal Canyon and Chicotte Canyon. But no one can enter the white areas on local maps, which are National Preserves for research. These are carefully maintained totally GREEN by Sepaq
In 1955 lightning caused a forest fire which burned for five months and completely destroyed all vegetation in the fire’s most intense heat. Because there were no roads to the area and no way to fight it, the fire eventually consumed one-tenth of the entire island. Seasonal rains and snow finally extinguished it. Now, over fifty years later, there are conifers only about six feet high in the recovered area. Scientists have created various experiments on the island to help the balsam fir forest reproduce, as it is the deer’s main food. Spruce, which grow plentifully, choke out the balsam because the deer eat the balsam’s early sprouts, preventing the trees from maturing. Experimental areas , such as Exclos, were surrounded in early 1980’s with a high fence to keep deer out and allow the forest to regenerate naturally. Within some of these areas smaller inner fences confine a specific number of deer so scientists can determine how many balsam per square kilometer are necessary to sustain a deer. Poplar trees have grown in the wettest areas after the burn, creating an environ that encourages insects and beavers.
At WIlcox (and other campgrounds) you’ll find lovely level tent sites, good picnic tables and grills, clean bathrooms with flush toilets, but you must boil drinking water. You can explore a shipwreck just down the hill. In years gone by there were some 300 shipwrecks caused by the hidden limeshone shelves along here. The famous ghost of Anticosti, Louis-Oliier Gamache 1787-1854, supposedly lived here in order to steal the cargo from the wrecked ships. Perhaps you’ll even see this pirate’s ghost in the mists. The St. Lawrence is one of hardest waterways to navigate, so today it is required for captains to pass the wheel of navigation to a local experienced captain, who knows how to avoid the hidden dangers when entering the inner passageway.
We traveled 74 km. on the Anticosti Highway to Jupiter 24 Bridge to watch the salmon swim upstream to spawn, their shiny pink color flashing in the clear waters. Then we took a secondary road to Chicotte, a beautiful property right on the south coast beach with ten guest rooms and chalets to rent. We enjoyed a delicious fresh halibut lunch in their restaurant and then met, Stephan, the resident wrangler.
He assigned us to his well-trained horses according to our riding abilities, and we set out for a grand horseback ride along the coast of the mighty St. Lawrence. From the most experienced rider to the novices, we spent a splendid afternoon riding and even making several successful stream crossings…what fun! The scenery was wild and beautiful.
When we left Chicotte we journeyed on by car to the end of the Anticosti Highway at marker 92. As we returned to the North we stopped near McDonald Lodge to see the lighthouse and visit the small and fascinating Ecomuseum, where we learned about the flora and fauna of the Island and found items to purchase in the little gift shop and Visitor Center. Evenings at McDonald Lodge are delightful when guests gather in the dining room and enjoy fabulous, fresh French cuisine and linger to share stories of the day’s explorations.
We got up at sunrise for a marvelous sea kayaking excursion. Then, after our delicious breakfast we left McDonald’s and drove along the north side of the island. We stopped to hike along a pretty woodland trail at Campground Baie de La Tour, which has excellent facilities and bathrooms, and to see the placid Lac La Tour. There is a marvelous cave to explore at Baie de La Tour also. Our next stop was at the overlook of Vaureal Falls at 154 marker. This was where our favorite time on the island began.
We hiked down to the river and spent several hours walking in the rocky riverbed and shore to reach the picturesque setting for our picnic at the pool at the base of the waterfall. Although on flat terrain, the hike is very difficult because of the six to ten-inch, uneven rocks on which we walked the entire way, about seven kilometers round trip. It is beautiful within the high canyon walls and requires sturdy hiking shoes that can get wet, as you must cross the shallow river several times. It requires four hours minimum, so you must take food and water, sunscreen, towel and sunglasses, and wear a hat. The obstacles and difficulties are well worth the effort to experience the BEAUTIFUL scenery. The picnic at Vaureal Falls provides a great rest, and if you wish to swim in the pool, it is very refreshing and about eight meters deep.
This river begins in the bogs with a tiny creek and at the limestone cliff it falls about 76 meters, which is approximately 20 meters higher than Niagara Falls. From there the river runs another twelve kilometers to the St. Lawrence Gulf within the Devonian and Salerian formations of the canyon. You can see many eons of geological history layered in the canyon walls where one meter equals 20,000 years… The walls are 90 meters high! Francois stopped us at various points to observe the interesting things along the way, such as the adorable frogs that were too pretty to be real.
Later that day Francois took us to see another magnificent set of waterfalls called Observation Falls, which stair-step down a limestone canyon about 50 meters deep. It was a lovely site to see, and we wished for more time and energy to explore it. All too soon our time at this wonderful island had to end, so we returned to visit the town of Menier before going to the airport.
We were fascinated with the one general store that supplies everything the local residents need year-round. The little gift shop next door had beautiful handmade items for sale, handcrafted by local artists. Reluctantly we bid au revoire and took our brief flight back to the mainland.