Describing a place as ‘awesome’ sounds trite these days, but we have to say, Quebec’s outdoor wonder lives up to the word’s most authentic definition. Those who venture here are sure to find it awe-inspiring.
The beating heart of Quebec’s wilderness is a collection of 27 provincial parks (called national parks) and four Canadian national parks, spanning 20 regions across an area that is vast and rugged. Concealed among these parks are fjords, crater lakes, snaking rivers, volcanic monoliths, waterfalls, Arctic tundra, marine parks and thriving Aboriginal culture.
Here are 6 parks we’re ready to plan our vacation days around:
1. Parc National du Fjord du Saguenay
What makes it awesome: Lake, river, fjord and sea; this central region is brimming with waterways to paddle.
About: In the east lies cottage-dotted Lac Saint-Jean, from which the Saguenay River flows westward until it meets the Saint Lawrence River. Parc National du Fjord de Saguenay hugs both banks of the river, stretching some 100 kilometres from the Lac Goth area and to the east.
Rugged adventure: This park is for the paddlers. Set off on a 3-day/2-night sea kayaking excursion through the fjord. The most spectacular part? Spotting seals, whales and beluga that ply the park’s waters.
(c) TQ, Benoit Cecile
Comfortable adventure: Paddle during daylight hours and come back to the creature comforts of a Huttopia tent, or hike part of the 21-km trail that runs from Baie-Sainte-Marguerite to Ferme 5 Étoiles. If you’re up for some structured play, check out the ziplines, tree canopy walk and via ferrata at Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux.
Read more about Parc National du Fjord du Saguenay: quebecoutdoors.ca/parc-national-du-fjord-du-saguenay
2. Parc National Tursujuq
What makes it awesome: Getting off the grid to a place that could literally be described as where the wild things are.
About: Care for a remote, uber-Canadian adventure? Tursujuq is Canada’s largest provincial park, complete with epic natural features (like a double-meteor crater lake), unscripted beauty, and fascinating wildlife: beluga, musk-ox, caribou and polar bears. What’s more, this raw land has been inhabited for some 3,000 years. Learn about Cree history, and explore Inuit communities, culture and discover their modern-traditional way of life.
Rugged adventure: Paddling in Richmond Gulf, an inland bay with intriguing geography, should not be missed. Asymmetrical slopes, cuestas, escarpment, basalt rock, islands, channels, tidal currents and a 5 kilometre glacier-polished cataclinal valley offer kayakers plenty to explore. Richmond Gulf is fed by five major freshwater rivers making it a brackish body of water which supports a variety of sea life and flora. If you need yet another compelling reason to go, then you should know female beluga often care for their calves in the Gulf’s warmer waters.
Comfortable adventure: Base yourself in the Inuit community of Umiujaq and make a day trip to Clearwater Lake, or do some sea kayaking excursions or coastal hiking. After dark, take in some of Canada’s best Aurora Borealis.
Read more about Parc National Tursujuq: quebecoutdoors.ca/parc-national-tursujuq
3. Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve
What makes it awesome: 30+ islands with limestone monoliths and a special visitor…
About: Step into the otherworldly landscape that permeates this marine zone. Circle monolith spires anchored by bedrock and carved by wind and water.
During breeding season, the park swells with more than 10 species of birds. Notably, each year Mingan welcomes a population of Atlantic puffins, critters often described as ‘parrots of the sea’. Stop by the award-winning Havre-Saint-Pierre Reception and Interpretation Centre before you set out to familiarize yourself with what you can expect to see.
huxflux - Fotolia
Rugged adventure: 100 kilometres of navigable waterways dotted with islets and reefs, and a tidal zone teeming with marine flora and sea life are the stuff of epic paddling adventures. The islands of the archipelago invite exploration and plenty of opportunity to spy whales, dolphins, seals, bird colonies and waterfowl.
The archipelago is big enough to support a multi-night adventure. Hiking is possible on nine of the islands and wilderness campsites are available free of cost.
Comfortable adventure: Stay in a fully kitted oTENTik, set in the boreal forest of Île Quarry.
Read more about Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve: quebecoutdoors.ca/mingan-archipelago-national-park-reserve
4. Parc National Kuururjuaq
What makes it awesome: A spectacular alpine setting peppered with mysticism.
About: There’s something about reaching land’s end that is nothing short of mystical. Looking out past the Torngat Mountains and know that the horizon only ends at Greenland. The local Inuit refer to this area as Torngait, or ‘a place inhabited by spirits’, and the spiritual nature of this place is felt throughout. From hiking ancestral Inuit trails to summiting Mount D’Iberville to rafting the Koroc River, Kuururjuaq is permeated with awe-inspiring natural beauty.
Rugged adventure: This is trekking territory. Look to the Kauvvik and Palmer Valleys, Mount Haywood area, or make the challenging ascent to the Mount Iberville’s 1,554 metre summit. After you’ve earned your blisters, let the Koroc River’s turquoise waters jog your adrenaline. Raft through the rust-coloured river valley, stopping to admire the grandeur of Korluktok Falls, a 30-metre cascade tumbling over glacially sculpted terrain.
Comfortable adventure: No comfort here! Prepare to face chilly temperatures, prevailing wind, bugs and an unapologetic tundra. (Challenge accepted!)
Read more about Parc National Kuururjuaq: quebecoutdoors.ca/parc-national-kuururjuaq
5. Parc National de la Jacques Cartier
Region: Quebec City and Area
What makes it awesome: A plateau sliced by a dramatic river valley laced with trails, all just a stone’s throw from Quebec City.
About: Not all natural wonders are found far off the grid. We dream of bucket list worthy trips in places like Nunavik, but often times it’s the parks within driving distance that end up being immediate pursuits.
Jacques Cartier River cuts a 550-metre channel into the plateau, creating dramatic slopes that trace the eye from peak to riverbank. Time and glaciers have since softened the landscape but the waterway remains multi-faceted, exciting enough to raft rapids in its quick moving portions, yet calm enough to SUP in others.
The park is teeming with wildlife and if you’re there long enough, a moose sighting is near-guaranteed. Keep your eyes peeled for white tail deer, beaver and porcupines.
Rugged adventure: Parc National de la Jacques Cartier is a great place to set up camp for a multi-night, multi-sport outdoor adventure. Spend a day riding the river in a canoe or raft. Spend another few days hiking some 100 kilometres of park trails, absorbing the views and serene forests. (Don’t miss Scotora Trail.) If you’ve brought a bike, set out along 30 kilometres of maintained biking trails. There are 113 campsite ranging from wilderness to serviced.
Comfortable adventure: Hunker down in a Huttopia tent, yurt, or EXP Cabin. All are equipped with heating, electricity, cots, basic cooking supplies and appliances.
Read more about Parc National de la Jacques Cartier: quebecoutdoors.ca/parc-national-de-la-jacques-cartier
6. Parc National du Mont-Tremblant
What makes it awesome: It’s a park for all seasons, inviting canoe expeditions in summer and offering snowy trails and warm huts in winter.
About: Mont-Tremblant is Quebec’s oldest provincial park and second largest (only recently eclipsed by Tursujuq). Its beauty has been recognized and protected for 121 years. The park is a gentle sanctuary; the landscape is painted with rounded peaks, shallow lakes, curvy waterways and a blend of boreal and hardwoods trees.
With six major rivers snaking through three sub-watersheds, and hundreds of lakes and streams that pepper the park, the obvious way to adventure here is by canoe. With forty species of mammals -including the emblematic eastern wolf - and 206 species of birds, a canoe trip through the backcountry serves as a sort of Canadian safari.
(c) Sépaq - Parc national du Mont-Tremblant
Alternatively, landlubbers can set out on foot, choosing from the 82 total kilometres of trail that lace the park’s 1,510 square kilometres. There are a handful of single-day and single-night hikes for the recreational hiker. Backpackers seeking a multi-night backcountry circuit have three major options: La Diable Loop at 47.6 km (3 days, 2 nights), The Park Crossing at 37.4 km (3 days, 2 nights), and The Big Hike at 81.8 km (5 days, 4 nights). All are rated intermediate in difficulty.
Fill a few extra days peddling any of the eight biking circuits totaling 124-km of trail, or test your nerves traversing the Vache Noire rock face. Skirt beams, bridges and foot paths 200 metres above the Diable River on the Via Ferrata Du Diable.
For unfussy accommodations, pitch in a wilderness campsite in the backcountry, tent at Lac-Provost campground or Lac-Monroe campground, or hike off the grid and bunk in shared huts.
Comfortable adventure: EXP cabins, Huttopia tents (45), yurts (2), chalet style nature cabins (10), compact cabins (5), and vacation cabins (11) are located in the park.
Alternatively, those looking for added creature comforts or rugged luxury can stay with one of several outfitters offering forest lodging and adventure: Pourvoirie Cécaurel, Pourvoirie du Lac Berval and Pourvoirie Mekoos. Hosts offer adventurers a hearty welcome, sharing the uniqueness and charm of their lodges. Blessed with thousands of lakes and located in the heart of the forest or the tundra, the lodges brim with Canadian nostalgia while fit with modern amenities.
Read more about Parc National du Mont-Tremblant: quebecoutdoors.ca/parc-national-du-mont-tremblant
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