In-Depth: Highway 389
A Driving Guide to Quebec Provincial Highway 389
Quebec Provincial Highway 389 is a major access road to the northern wilderness of eastern Quebec. It is, in fact, the only highway that heads north east of the Saguenay River. In my investigation into my own trip up this highway (as part of my "Overland to the Rock
" road trip), I discovered that there are a lot of questions about this highway, but only a few web sites that describe it. This page is my own detailed description of the highway, from a purely logistical point of view. Note that when I describe kilometre elapsed distances, it is with reference to the beginning (southern end) of the highway.
Highway 389 is not paved for its entire length. As of 2011, approximately half of it is paved, and the other half is gravel road of various states of quality. There are only a few service spots with food and gas along its length, and it is wise to pay attention to where you are and what your fuel level is, so that you do not end up getting stranded.
Highway 389 starts at the community of Baie-Comeau, along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River. (Baie-Comeau itself is reached from points west by highway 138, or by ferry from the southern shore of the Saint Lawrence River)
Starting at the southern point of 389 near Baie-Comeau (kilometer marker 0), highway 389 heads north through hilly country. The road is quite twisty -- fun for someone who likes such things. The road surface is paved, and in reasonably good shape.
At the 22 kilometre mark, you cross a bridge near the Manic 2 dam -- one of several dams along the Manicouagan River system. Just after this bridge is the Manic 2 campground, where you can choose to stay in reasonable comfort.
Coursing through the Boreal
Highway 389 - Gateway to the north
Continuing north, you reach a sign marking the 50th parallel of latitude at about the 125 kilometre mark. The highway remains hilly and twisty, although perhaps a bit less so than at the beginning. Pavement quality is good. You will notice that you are never far from big power transmission lines (because of all the hydro dams in the vicinity).
At the 214km mark, you arrive at the Motel de L'Energie, where there are rooms, a small convenience store, and gas. This is the first gas station reached along the highway.
Immediately north of the Motel de L'Energie, you arrive at the huge Manic 5 dam - the largest multiple arch and buttress dam in the world. Highway 389 approaches the dam, then turns right and winds up a couple of switchbacks to a point near the top of the dam. The highway turns to gravel at this point (at about km 215). Overall, the quality of the gravel road is good: it is reasonably packed down and there are no large potholes. It is very dusty when dry, though.
389 is gravel now
At kilometer 254, the highway turns back to pavement. It is somewhat rough, but it is still pavement. This stretch of pavement does not last long - less than 9km. By kilometre 263, you are back on gravel road. You also reach the "51 degrees north latitude" sign.
Highway 389 runs through a lot of hilly terrain in this region. You are in the foothills of the Monts Groulx, a decently high (for this area) range of flat-topped mountains and plateaus. The highway charts a path between the mountains (which are to your right when heading north) and the Manicouagan Reservoir (to your left). You will get views of both the mountains and the reservoir from points along this section of road. Although the road is hilly, it is not overly twisty.
Reservoir in the distance
At the 312-km mark, you will come down a hill and see a cluster of orange buildings on the right. This is the Relais Gabriel, a service area containing a gas station, restaurant, and some motel rooms. There is also a Manicouagan Reservoir access point just a few metres beyond the Relais on the left.
Approaching Relais Gabriel
From the Relais Gabriel, highway 389 continues north. If you are into hiking, at the 332km mark you will come upon the southern access trail into the Monts Groulx and for Camp Nomade -- a popular summer-camp type spot. Look for a wide pullout on the right-hand side of the road and a couple of trail signs. If you are interested in a detailed hiking report regarding a hike up into these mountains, click here
Highway 389 continues north, still gravel, between the Monts Groulx and the Manicouagan Reservoir. It is still hilly in this area, and the highway goes up and down frequently (but is also quite scenic).
At kilometer 361, you will encounter another trailhead and pullout area. This one is for the northern access trail into the Monts Groulx.
Northeastern Manicouagan Arm
Northern Groulx Trailhead
After the 360km mark, the highway enters much more gentle terrain. You have left the foothills of the Monts Groulx behind. Soon (at kilometer 371) you cross a fairly major (and scenic) river: the Hart Jaune. Continuing north and slightly west, you come to the abandoned and dismantled town of Gagnon at kilometer 390, where the road becomes paved again. There are remnants of sidewalks and curbs here, but no buildings.
South to the Monts Groulx