Top 10 national parks in Quebec
Cherished for its joie de vivre, the French-speaking province of Quebec does natural splendour on an epic scale. We fully explore this eastern wilderness that plays host to some of the country’s most extraordinary national parks - all of which present many opportunities to get up-close with nature and enjoy the freedom of the great outdoors.
Fjord-du-Saguenay National Park
The scene: There’s no denying the appeal of this triple-sector conservation area (Baie-Éternité, Tadoussac, and Baie-Sainte-Marguerite) that was set up as a national park in 1983. Located along the eastern end of the Saguenay River, it packs plenty into its 319.3 square kilometres; mostly superb wildlife (wolf, black bear, moose), a series of bays, coves and dazzling cliffs, and waters that are home to four species of whale: blue, fin, minke and beluga. And then, of course, there’s the mysterious-looking Saguenay Fjord - the result of a geological collapse of glaciers thousands of years ago. Ranked as the world’s longest low-altitude fjord, it extends to 105 kilometres and rather unusually releases its waters to an estuary and not an ocean.
See and do: Explore the glacier-shaped cliffs on a zodiac boat, spend the night in one of the park’s rustic cabins, huts or campsites, and hit the dedicated hiking trails (the 1.6-kilometre Des Méandres-à-Falaises in the Baie-Éternité Area only takes an hour and is by far the easiest). Sailing, sea kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and aerial adventures are available.
Gaspésie National Park
The scene: Created in 1937 to protect the caribou of the Gaspé Peninsula, the salmon of the Sainte-Anne River, and the natural beauty of two of Québec's most beautiful mountain ranges (Chic Choc and McGerrigle), this 802-kilometre-squared national park is located in the heart of the Gaspé Peninsula, just eight hours from Montreal. Complete with 25 mountains that are over 3,300-feet-high, incredible arctic-alpine flora, and remarkable wildlife (white-tailed deer, moose, and the only caribou herd south of the St. Lawrence River), there’s a rugged beauty here unlike anywhere else. You’ll also find 87 miles of hiking trails - the best of which is the Mont Jacques-Cartier trail that takes around five hours and rewards with serene views of the alpine tundra.
See and do: Enjoy cross-country and backcountry skiing on groomed trails, spend time canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or fishing on Lake Cascapédia, and walk parts of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) that crosses the park from east to west. Keen photographers should aim to capture the park’s unique sea of mountains at sunrise or sunset.
Grands-Jardins National Park
The scene: Named for its curious carpets of ground lichen, ancient boreal forest, and Arctic vegetation (somewhat of a rarity at this northern latitude), this 310-kilometres-squared wonderland (translating as Grand Gardens) is a huge draw for hikers, campers, wildlife-lovers, and anglers. Located in the UNESCO-listed Charlevoix region, you’ll find amazing skiing slopes (most fabulously at Mont-du-Lac-des-Cygnes or La Chouenne), interesting wildlife (Spruce Grouse, black bear, grey wolf, woodland caribou, red fox), and a 33-mile-wide impact crater formed by a massive meteorite 360 million years ago. The park also has excellent camping facilities, including 17 ready-to-camp Huttopia tents at the Pied-des-Monts site.
See and do: Navigate the rock face at your own pace on Mont du Lac des Cygnes’ guided climbing route (known as via ferrata), fish on Rivière des Enfers, and jump in a canoe to paddle your way from Lake Arthabaska to the Wabano Dam. There’s 30 kilometres of trails to satisfy all levels of hikers and walkers who want to discover a multitude of incredible landscapes.
Bic National Park
The scene: It’s all about nature at this fabled 33-kilometres-squared coastal marine park on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River Estuary, only five hours from Montreal and three hours from Quebec City. Given that approximately half of the surface is water, the landscape here is simply stunning - especially during the winter when the headlands, bays, coves, islands, mountains, wooded areas, and meadows are covered in snow. A huge hit with botanists, geologists, painters, photographers, and adventurers, the park has 40 kilometres of trails (25 for hiking, 15 for mountain biking), numerous lookouts, large populations of harbour and grey seals, thousands of marine birds, and sunsets that rank as some of the loveliest in the world.
See and do: Head to the Pointe-aux-Épinettes observation area at high tide to watch the seals, kayak on the St. Lawrence River Estuary to pass marine and bird life, and pitch up at one of the campsites (there’s 196 in total). During the winter, the park’s Red Cheeks program features fun activities such as photography, forest survival, orientation, and full-moon hikes.
Forillon National Park
The scene: Once you’ve worked your way into this 244-kilometres-squared paradise on the Gaspé Peninsula’s northeastern-most tip (there’s confusingly two entrances with visitor centres; one at L'Anse au Griffon and another at Penouille), you’re rewarded with majestic mountains, lush forests, meadows dotted with wildflowers, sand dunes, pebble beaches, and dramatic cliffs overshadowing the sea. There’s also a remarkable amount of wildlife inshore (moose, bears, foxes, and lynx), as well as some 700 plant species (many of which are typically found only in arctic or alpine environments). Forillon National Park is also one of the very few places on the planet that offer the unique experience of snorkelling with seals.
See and do: Climb the seaside cliffs and highlands for knockout views of coves, beaches and fishing villages, hit the easy hiking trails (Prélude-à-Forillon takes just 30 minutes), and keep your eyes peeled for minke whales and Atlantic white-sided dolphins. You can also rock up at any of the park’s idyllic picnic spots (some even have running water, loos, and cooking stoves).
Jacques-Cartier National Park
The scene: The plateaus, deep glacial valleys, and green rolling hills take centre stage at this 600-kilometres-squared wilderness park just 30 minutes from Quebec City. Most worthy of your attention is the wildlife (moose, bears, white-tailed deer, foxes, wolves), the different types of bird (around 160), and the picture-perfect walking and hiking trails - most fabulously the 11-kilometre round-trip hike known as the Sentier Des Loups (it takes 3.5-hours and gets you to an altitude of 727 metres). There’s also plenty of fun to be had at the water’s edge; including canoeing, whitewater kayaking, rafting down the majestic Jacques-Cartier River, pedal boating or sailing on Lac Beauport, and brook trout fishing at Réserve Faunique des Laurentides.
See and do: Skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, stating, ice fishing, and dogsledding are all available during the winter months. When the temperature warms up, bed down for the night in one of 113 campsites (the ones with Huttopia tents, yurts, or EXP Cabins with heating, electricity, basic cooking supplies and appliances are perfect if you don’t want to rough it).
La Mauricie National Park
The scene: Covering some 536 kilometres, this stunning park north of Trois-Rivières in the spectacular Laurentian Mountains is halfway between Montréal and Québec City (it’s a two-hour drive from both cities). Seductive in spring and summer for its canoeing, hiking, swimming, recreational fishing, and trail bicycling, and during autumn and winter for its brilliant fall colours and snowshoe excursions, this sprawling playground really is untamed nature at its best. Factor in 150 lakes and ponds, plenty of wildlife (including beavers and rare Canadian wood turtles), and some brilliantly-serviced camping facilities, and it’s easy to see why this heavily forested area proves so popular with city folk looking for a bit of rural respite.
See and do: Hit the Les Cascades hiking trail for its sandy beach and beautiful waterfall, take a full-day excursion to Waber Falls to appreciate La Mauricie’s backcountry, and spend an afternoon at Édouard Lake, Wapizagonke Lake, or Soitaire Lake. Further highlights include Le Passage and Île-aux-Pins Lookouts - both of which offer awe-inspiring views.
Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park
The scene: Established as a national park by the Canadian government in 2000 (although it was on UNESCO’s radar years before as one of the core Biosphere Reserve of Charlevoix zones), this hinterland jewel takes its name from the network of deeply-carved gorges set against a mountainous backdrop. Covering 224 kilometres squared, it offers seven dedicated hiking trails - one of which gets you to the top of the Montagne des Érables (Maple Mountain) at 1,048-metres above sea level - and as many fjord like views, lush green foliage, and arctic fauna as you can muster. There’s also riverboat cruises, canoeing, kayaking, and trout fishing to be enjoyed on the Malbaie River - the famous waterway used to transport logs downstream until 1985.
See and do: Enter the park at La Malbaie for rollercoaster-like roads and incredible views, marvel at Montagne des Érables that holds the titles for the highest rock face as well as the highest cliffs in Eastern Canada, and visit the picturesque village of Saint-Aimé-des-Lacs. For campers, there’s 87 developed unserviced sites and 19 ready-to-camp Huttopia sites.
Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé National Park
The scene: Accessed only by ferry, this near-surreal (and hard-to-pronounce) conservation area located at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula encompasses both Bonaventure Island the iconic Rocher Percé (Pierced Rock). Home to the largest migratory bird refuge in North America (there’s around 250,000 birds, including 116,000 Northern Gannets), you’ll find four superb hiking trails, a historic heritage trail, and a slew of interpretive activities such as guided bird walks, fossil hunts, and geology expeditions. There’s also an interesting Discovery and Visitors Centre on the mainland in Percé, housed in a restored building known locally as Le Chafaud.
See and do: Learn about the history of Quebec’s iconic 88-metre-high Percé Rockat at the Mont-Joli Lookout, enjoy sea kayaking excursions around the Pointe-Saint-Pierre coast, and scuba dive around Bonaventure Island. You’ll also need your camera to film the famous Northern Gannets along with the thousands of penguins, gulls, guillemots, and puffins.
Mont-Tremblant National Park
The scene: Just a couple of hours from Montreal, this 1,510- kilometre-squared playground is celebrated for its six rivers, 400 streams and lakes, sprawling Laurentians peaks, sandy beaches, canoe routes, and 40 species of mammals. There’s also 18 different hiking trails that span over 82 kilometres, a series of fantastic river routes for canoeists (the Méandres de la Diable route from Lac Chat to Mont de la Vache Noire is great if you have a half-day to spare), and hundreds of camping spots. The park has two supervised and serviced beaches: Crémaillère beach in the La Diable sector, and Lac-Provost beach in La Pimbina sector.
See and do: The rock climbing-like Via Ferrata du Diable on the wall of the Vache Noire at the park’s entrance is a one-of-a-kind trail to allow newbies and advanced climbers to safely scale the mountain. You’ll be clipped into a steel cable running the length of the cliff as you tackle the built-in steps, beams, footbaths, walkways, and bridges overlooking the Diable River below.