The Mingan Archipelago National Park is one of the coolest and most beautiful places to visit in Quebec. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most isolated and far reaching places in the province which can sometimes make it quite inaccessible for tourists, especially those who speak another language than French.
As a native Quebecer and travel photographer, I decided to make this guide for your trip to the Mingan Archipelago so you can have as great a time as I did.
I favored places that are great for photography but at this park you will find much more than that from fishing to camping and more.
Keep in mind that when you visit the archipelago, you will be required to travel to the islands using a boat. This can be through excursions or by booking a taxi boat. There will be many boat companies in both Havre St. Pierre and in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan. I used a boat company called “Services Maritimes Boréale” in Havre St. Pierre for all my travel needs. Both villages have Parks Canada offices where you can get information and book camping before taking your tour.
These are my recommendations for the most beautiful places in the Mingan Archipelago National Park:
Whale Watching Tours
In the archipelago, there are whales that cross the waters which can be observed from many of the zodiac tours offered by boat operators in the park. Although whales are not a common site in the park, the humpback whale can sometimes be seen in the waters of the park itself. Some companies will offer excursions further out of the park closer to Anticosti where you can spot some fin whales and minke whales. I was able to spot a fin whale near the Île à Calculot during my trip to see the puffins. If you are lucky, you may even spot a blue whale which are extremely rare sights in the park (most people have never seen one).
Along with the whales there are also three different types of seals that can be seen in the park, the grey seal, the harbour seal, and the Greenland harbour seal.
To see the whales, it is recommended that you book an excursion on a zodiac boat. Both the excursion companies I mentioned will offer boat tours to see whales.
Where to Find Puffins
One of the most attractive and enjoyable experiences of the Mingan Archipelago is getting to see some cute little puffins! This was one of the main reasons I decided to visit the park and I was not disappointed.
Île aux Perroquets
The best place hands down to observe and photograph the puffin is called Île aux Perroquets. This is an island in the archipelago where puffins frequently visit as a nesting area. There is an abundance of food in the waters near the island which makes it a perfect place for them to stay.
As an observer, this would be the only island in the park where you can see them on foot. For photography, this gives you the time to get the perfect, crisp shot. There is also an old lighthouse on the island that you can tour during the day and even stay in during the night! It’s a very picturesque island to visit.
Île à Calculot
Another great spot to see puffins is in the Eastern Sector of the archipelago at a place called l’Île à Calculot. It is in a region of the park called the Betchouane sanctuary. This is where you will find many, many seabirds including the puffin. However, you won’t be able to go on the island here as it is a protected area. To be able to visit this part of the park, you need to book a boat cruise aboard a zodiac where you will be able to get very close to the birds in the area.
I personally went on a zodiac tour to the bird sanctuary very early in the morning. There was a nice sea breeze and the surroundings were full of mist which made it quite a personal and incredible looking landscape. We saw hundreds and hundreds of puffins fishing and flying together over our boat. We even got to see a whale come close to our boat. It was truly unlike anything I’ve ever done. Although as a photographer, I would choose the first island I mentioned as a better spot if you want to take very good pictures of the puffins.
Other than puffins there are 12 different types of seabirds in the Mingan park that can be observed such as the common murres, ducks, great black-backed gull, plentiful ring-billed gulls, black-legged kittiwake, common terns, common eiders, and much more. You should be able to see them all along your journey in the park.
Best Islands for Photography
One of the best things about the park is its unique landscape. It has the largest concentration of erosion monoliths in Canada and there are close to a thousand islands all over the park. As a traveler in the Mingan Archipelago, you won’t be able to visit one thousand islands, so choosing some of the “better looking” ones, if you can say that, is essential to maximizing your enjoyment in the park and getting the best pictures you can.
I personally loved Île Quarry, it was my favorite island and one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my entire life. We decided to spend a night camping here in one of the park's O-Tentik tents and it was a truly remarkable experience. The island is quite large, with a bay on one side and a huge collection of monoliths on the other side. There are also two possible hiking trails that will let you walk around the island along the coast admiring both the cool looking landscape and the abundance of wild birds.
If you visit this island, you’ll want to head to the other side where the monoliths are. If you can, come here during a sunset or sunrise as the breathtaking colors of the northern hemisphere will light up the sky and give you a show unlike any other. Some of the monoliths are 10 metres tall which is surely going to take your breath away.
If you do decide to stay here, then make sure to head out of your tent at night and put your hand in the water as there is bioluminescent plankton that will light up the coast. I actually found this out by mistake, my hands were dirty from eating too much smores and I decided to rinse them in the water a few feet from my tent. When I did, the water lit up with millions of little sparkles, it was beyond amazing. That coupled with the milky way galaxy above on a clear night made it feel like I was in a dreamscape. I just can’t believe that beauty like this exists on our planet and that we can access it so easily.
Petite Île au Marteau
The Petite Île au Marteau is a very cool island. There are a lot of small erosion monoliths scattered across the island and a very old lighthouse built in 1955. It’s a very beautiful island with some very special birds who nest on one part of the island.
Getting to the lighthouse is very easy, and there you will find a very beautiful summer landscape with flowers blooming all around the lighthouse with some very old cabins scattered on this part of the island giving off a small island village vibe. If you are lucky enough to come here during special activities, you may be able to visit the foghorn shed and lightkeeper's house.
For photography, I recommend this island for it’s very unique cobbled path look created by the rocks as well as the picturesque old lighthouse.
The Île Niapiskau is a very small island in the park but it packs a punch. There is a spot on the island with a very cool concentration of rock formations. This place was perfect to capture unique landscape photos that were unlike anything I've tried before.
What I really like about the rock formations on the island is that they feel like a small city, the rocks being skyscrapers. You can get really close to the monoliths on the island making for some nice pictures as well as some very awe-inspiring moments.
If that isn't enough, there is also a nice observatory point on the island which is very easily accessible. This place will give you some very nice views over the island as well as the monoliths. Perfect place to grab a unique perspective shot of the island.
Île du Fantôme
I also recommend visiting Île du Fantôme if you have time. This island is very small in terms of walk-able trails but for the small amount of area, it has some of the most picturesque spots for photography.
As you can see in the picture above, there are a lot of smaller formations including a very cool rock that is named the "Archipel's Roché Percé", a nod to the bigger rock formation with a similar hole in Gaspésie.
Capturing the Milky Way Galaxy
Another recommended activity for photographers is capturing the milky way galaxy. In the park, there is zero light pollution because most of the islands are very far from the village of Havre St. Pierre and Mingan which barely emit any light pollution anyways. That means you will have a crystal-clear view of the milky way at night which will not only “wow” you, but guarantee you amazing pictures if you come prepared.
During my stay on the Île Quarry, as I mentioned above, I got to see the milky way galaxy in all its glory. I decided to whip out my camera and grab a shot which turned out to be one of the best milky way shots I’ve taken in my life.
Wherever you are in the park, keep in mind that once the sun has fully set, you should try to get some milky way shots as this is the perfect place to grab those crazy pictures you always see on Instagram. Just don’t forget your tripod!
How to Get to the National Park
To get to the National Park you need to take the 138 road up to Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan or Havre-Saint-Pierre. Both those villages have Parks Canada reception and interpretation centers ready to service guests both in French and English.
At the interpretation centers, you will be able to book your tour as well as your camping for the park. You can also ask questions and plan out your stay in the park with the assistance of a guide.
Once ready, all you must do is show up to your boat on time and enjoy your adventure in the park.
Where to Stay
In the park, there are three types of accommodations: cottages, pre-built tents, and camping grounds.
Cottages include the main lightkeeper’s cottage and the assistant lightkeeper’s cottage. These two spots do fill up fast so you should try booking in advance. I have personally never used them but if staying in a lightkeeper’s cottage on a small island in the middle of nowhere doesn’t sound like heaven, I don’t know what does. These cottages are located on Ile aux Perroquets (the one with puffins!). The package includes exclusive access to the lighthouse as well as meals featuring local ingredients. If you really want to immerse yourself in the park experience, then this would be on my list of highly recommended experiences.
Otherwise, you can book an O-tentik tent from Parks Canada which is what I did. It offered spacious, luxurious camping accommodations. I’m the type of guy who does like his luxuries so if I can choose between a regular tent and a pre-built one with dozens of amenities, I’ll always go for the most comfortable option.
Another choice would be a camping spot in one of the many available all over the park.
When to Visit
The best time to visit the park would be from June to early September. This is because the tour operators for the park only operate for the summer season, which is a very short one in the north. If you have your own boat or kayak, then you should be able to visit the park at your own discretion.
Hope you enjoyed the article. If you’ve been to the park and want to add some additional tips for others, please leave a comment below.
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