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MAKE A LOOP THROUGH GASPE PENINSULA

The Gaspe Peninsula sticks into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence like a hitchhiker's thumb. Highway 132 circles the 490-mile perimeter and several roads dissect the peninsula making a loop itinerary easy to customize. We headed north across the peninsula from New Richmond on Highway 299 and picked up the International Appalachian Trail in Gaspe National Park in the heart of the Chic-Choc Mountains. Alternatively, we could had taken Highway 132 north through the Metapedia Valley toward Matane and intersected the trail at a number of locations.

From Mont Saint Pierre, a small seaside village about mid-peninsula, the trail parallels Highway 132 along the St. Lawrence River all the way to Land's End in Forillon National Park. Highway 132 continues to Perce with its famous offshore rock with a picturesque arch and then along the southern shore to complete the loop.

Whether you're hiking segments or straight through, or driving, the route is filled with historic sites, lighthouses, fishing villages with cozy B&Bs, and delicious seafood.

For side excursions, you can kayak, whale watch, fish, ride horses, mountain bike, and even hang glide. The historic park and museum at Pointe-a-la Renommee preserves the lighthouse where Marconi set up the first maritime radio station in North America in 1904. Both Gaspe and Forillon national parks offer an extensive network of trails with grand vistas, waterfalls, and wildlife.

If you're not camping, lodging varies from the chalet-style Gite du Mont Albert in Gaspe National Park with its renowned gourmet cuisine to seaside B&Bs and motels. La Maison Lebreux in Petite-Valle has beach cottages and a theater with 60 music and theatrical performances a year.

The cities of Gaspe and Perce, the southern gateways to Forillon National Park, offer a full range of tourist facilities. The Gaspe Museum presents the story of Jacques Cartier, the explorer who claimed Canada for France in 1534. The Micmac Cultural Site, a living history museum, recreates life in a Micmac village in the 17th century. Operators in Perce offer sightseeing boat trips, whale and seabird watching, and hiking tours.

Mapping it out

Getting there: Fly to Quebec City and rent a car. Follow Quebec Route 132 north along the St. Lawrence River for 120 miles to the first connection to the IAT at Matane. The trail parallels the highway for the next 160 miles to Gaspe with loop trail options and networks of trails in Gaspe Provincial Park and Forillon National Park.

When to go: The trail can be hiked June 20 to Labor Day.

Planning your hike: The IAT office will help you plan your day-to-day itinerary. In Quebec, the IAT follows the Matapedia Valley to the Chic-Choc Mountains, then traverses ridgelines and peaks to the St. Lawrence River. The trail parallels the coast with excursions into the coastal mountains. Choose segments according to your abilities by consulting a map that shows both distance and elevation changes.

Weather: Varies from sea level to mountaintop with highs 85 degrees, lows 40 degrees with freezing wind chill. Snow is possible in the mountains through July.

Hiking tips: For a list of guides, shuttle-service operators and maps, contact the IAT office, (418) 562-1240, www.cgmatane.qc.ca/siaiat.

Order topographical maps from the IAT Store at www.cgmatane.qc.ca/siaiat/anglais/cartes/form.php. Maps cost $1.50 to $7.50; Bilingual Hiking Glossary $8; Hiker's Companion $12 (all in Canadian currency).

Camping: All shelters and campsites on the IAT must be reserved.

For Quebec, call (800) 665-6527, inforeservation@sepaq.com, www.sepaq.com. Shelters cost $18 Canadian per person, campsites cost $10 per tent. In Gaspe Provincial Park ((866) 727-2427), shelters cost $20 Canadian per person, campsites $25 per tent. For Mount Logan shelter, call (888) 783-2663. Use commercial campgrounds for sections on the upper Gaspe peninsula that pass through towns; see www.campingquebec.com.

Canadian parks require reservations for camping or lodging. Contact Gaspe Provincial Park, (877) 727-2427 or (800) 665-6527,inforeservation@sepaq.com, www.sepaq.com/En/index.cfm. For Parks Canada information, see parkscanada.gc.ca or call (888) 773-8888. Contact Forillon National Park at (418) 368-5505, parcscanada-que@pc.gc.ca.

Lodging: If you're not camping, lodging varies from the chalet-style Gite du Mont Albert in Gaspe Provincial Park with its renowned gourmet cuisine to seaside bed-and-breakfasts and motels. La Maison Lebreux in Petite-Vallee has beach cottages and a theater with 60 music and theatrical performances a year.

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