Hiking, stargazing, flora and wildlife observation, camping, and biking: forests are the backdrop for nearly every potential outdoor excursion in Québec.
Text — Juliette Leblanc and the BESIDE team
Almost half the territory of Québec is covered by forest. In fact, the woodland is so abundant that it is equal to the surface area of Sweden and Norway combined. This means that no matter where you are in the province, the forest is never far, and the possibility of walking through it, hearing the birds and finding a thousand shades of green, is a richness that’s always within reach. Here’s to mixed-wood forests, deciduous forests, boreal forests, and the taiga.
The vast forests at the end of Highway 117
Moose watching, fishing, camping, and wide open spaces
From the beginning, the road to Abitibi offers a change of scene and the perfect scenery for spontaneous stops. The forest makes up 66 per cent of the region’s surface area — so no matter where you are, you’ll hear the rustle of wind in the leaves and the singing of birds.
First stop: the Réserve faunique La Vérendrye, at the entrance to Abitibi-Témiscamingue. This is a true paradise for fishing, forest foraging, and wildlife observation. You’ll be able to spot migratory birds, white-tailed deer, and even moose. Make it a camping trip — the reserve has over a thousand sites to pitch your tent.
When leaving the reserve, if you follow Highway 117 toward Val-d’Or a (long) ways, you’ll pass through ZEC Capitachouane; the roadside scenery here is simply magical.
Next, head toward the Parc national d’Aiguebelle for some moose, beaver, mink, heron, or osprey watching, to name just a few. Take it slow while exploring the multitude of geological formations in this landscape sculpted by time. The 50 km of trails in the park offer plenty of possibilities for hikes of various lengths. You can also spend the night in the boreal forest. The section with the Abijévis hills, in the southern part of the park, is accessible by trails that lead to lakes on the faults, rocky escarpments, and natural lookout points.
The vast territory of Abitibi-Témiscamingue is stunning for its wilderness and vibrant colours. Head for the northern entrance for a real taste of time suspended.
Guillaume’s tip: Our collaborator recommends adding the discography of Abitibi-born musician Richard Desjardins to your holiday playlist to get in the regional mood.
Starry expedition to the Eastern Townships
Astronomy, hiking, and camping
This summer, there’s no lockdown in the skies over Québec. Astronomers strongly encourage you to look up in mid-August and watch the Perseids — a phenomenon visible to the naked eye during which a veritable rain shower of falling stars shoots through the air. Plan a camping trip or a hike in the Parc national du Mont-Mégantic to take full advantage.
The summer constellations (visible only in this season) are ideal for familiarizing oneself with stargazing. The Summer Triangle is easy to spot, even from the city! It’s also possible to see Corona Borealis.
In this season, even the planets Jupiter and Saturn can be seen. In a clear sky, they are visible (although tiny!) to the naked eye; as for Saturn’s rings and the cloud bands on Jupiter’s surface, you’ll need a telescope to make these out.
Of course, the ideal spot for contemplating outer space will always be an observatory, such as the Astrolab at Mont-Mégantic — it’s the most powerful astronomical observatory in the eastern part of North America. The observatory is in the middle of the first International Dark Sky Reserve. You can rent a cottage here, or go camping, for an out-of-the-ordinary experience beneath the Milky Way.
On one of Mont-Mégantic’s three summits, you’ll find a little chapel and a breathtaking view: this is the Sanctuaire du Mont-Saint-Joseph, ranked among the most remarkable panoramic sites in Québec. The sanctuary can be reached via the Observatoire sector’s entrance to the national park.
Not far from the park is the Samuel-Brisson Ecological Reserve. This reserve ensures the protection of the typical ecosystems in Québec’s ecoregions.
Juliette’s tip: In this area, our editor’s favourite hike is on the Montagne de Marbre, at the border between Québec and Maine, U.S.A.
Bicycle camping on the chemin du Roy in Mauricie
Ancestral homes, heritage sites, and biking
Le chemin du Roy is a scenic route through three distinct areas: Québec City, Mauricie, and Lanaudière. It passes ancestral homes, some of which date from the 18th century. Here’s a glance at the section that passes through Mauricie, by bike:
In 1737 when it was built, le chemin du Roy (which was 23 feet wide at the time and over 280 km long) was the largest road north of the Rio Grande. That’s really saying something! Today, Highway 138 follows the old route. Some of the most beautiful villages in Québec can be found along the way.
The journey begins at the Magasin général Le Brun in Maskinongé and ends at the Vieux-Presbytère in Batiscan, passing the Moulin seigneurial in Pointe-du-Lac and Le Brun en ville in Trois-Rivières. There are five route options: l’Urbain (15.2 km), easy enough for the whole family; Lac Saint-Pierre (34 km); De la campagne à la ville (49 km); le Fleuve (30 km) ; and the Seigneurial (45 km). And of course routes can be combined for a longer excursion. If you go to the municipality of Portneuf, head to the end of the quay to take in the peace and panoramic view.
There are several places to camp along this route. The Marina Village Batiscan and the Parc de la Péninsule campground in Sainte-Geneviève-de-Batiscan or the Parc de la rivière Batiscan are excellent options.
Tip: Meat-eaters should make a stop in Mlles Cossette’s store in Saint-Prosper-de-Champlain (not far from Batiscan) to pick up delicious homemade sausages.
Laurentides + Outaouais
The Explorers’ Route
Agrotourism, history, and fresh air
The Explorers’ Route crosses the western part of Québec and is divided into three themed trips: 1) the gourmet route, 2) the forests, lakes, and rivers route, and 3) in the footsteps of the men of the woods.
Build your route based on your interests and how much time you have. Your trip can last anywhere from three to nine days, depending on stops.
If you feel like it, here’s a sneak peek at the places that are worth the detour:
Parc national du Mont-Tremblant, Réserve faunique de Papineau-Labelle, via ferrata at the Parc des chutes Coulonges, rafting on the Outaouais River with Rafting Momentum, the villages of Bryson and Mansfield-et-Pontefract, Parc Oméga, Château Montebello (the largest log cabin in the world), Gatineau Park, and the Brasseurs du Temps. The list is VERY long and the variations are nearly endless.
Jean-Daniel’s tip: The Explorers’ Route also covers Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and the president of BESIDE recommends extending your journey to make this a multi-region road trip!
Four day trips near Québec City
Culinary culture, via ferrata, ziplines, and hikes
Fifteen minutes from Québec City is the Huron-Wendat Nation of Wendake. The Hôtel-Musée des Premières Nations is a hotspot for accommodation, culture, and fine dining that brings together tradition and a contemporary flavour. But not many people know that the hotel, which doubles as the tourist bureau, is also the beginning of a gorgeous trail. Leading first to the Parc de la falaise et de la chute Kabir Kouba with lookout points over the vast forest, the trail then stretches 32 km along the length of the Parc linéaire de la rivière Saint-Charles, winding through forest and along the shore before reaching Québec City. When you pass through Wendake, take the time to discover the Panier Wendat, which brings together the community’s local merchants.
Half an hour from Québec is the Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier, the provincial capital’s famous playground. Whether you’re in search of a family getaway, a romantic trip, or a solo adventure, there’s something here for everyone. The glacial valley of the Jacques-Cartier is spectacular, and the river snakes through it, bordered by dense forest. Hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and biking — there are plenty of options. And moose and beavers are frequently spotted in the park.
In the city of Stoneham, you’ll find the Mont Wright old-growth forest. Take the sentier de la Forêt Ancienne and then the sentier du Sommet to reach the lookout. Another option is the sentier du Vaillant, which is steep and rocky. Finish your hike with some refreshments at La Souche microbrewery and restaurant.
Fifteen minutes from Old Québec, near the Saint Lawrence River, is the historic site of the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. The park dominates the skyline from its height of 272 feet and offers three via ferrata routes in the Boischatel fault. The 984-foot zipline gives a unique view of the waterfall (you’ll even feel the mist as you zip by!).
Juliette’s tip: On your way to the national park, our colleague Juliette suggests stopping for a coffee at the Brûlerie Jacques-Cartier to fuel up for the day.
Unwind in the Laurentian heights
Hiking, beekeeping, and Nordic spas
The Upper Laurentians are a well-kept secret. Wild, agricultural, and mountainous, the territory is vast and the people are friendly. Possibilities abound here in summer and autumn, and it’s well worth the drive.
The Parc régional Montagne du Diable is the ideal base camp for outdoor enthusiasts. The Paroi de l’aube hiking trail passes through an old-growth forest before ending at a height of 2,428 feet, with a magnificent view over Ferme-Neuve and Mont-Tremblant (in clear weather). Plan for a half day to complete it. You can add fun to your trip with fatbiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, or kayaking on the lac de la Montagne. For a good night’s sleep in nature, pitch your tent or rent a little cottage.
The surrounding area is perfect for exploring on two wheels. The Franc Nord bike path forms a 119-km loop that starts at Mont-Laurier, the region’s capital, and passes the prettiest lakes and villages in the Upper Laurentians.
Highway 309, by bike or car, will take you to Miels d’Anicet in Ferme-Neuve. The farm belongs to beekeepers Anicet Desrochers and Anne-Virginie Schmidt, who raise queens in a beautiful setting and make honey and derivative products while also running Pollens et Nectars, a small gourmet open-air canteen. This is a perfect plan for the afternoon or the evening (reservations can be made online). Don’t forget to stop by the shop, which features items from artisans and producers throughout Québec.
Foodies will also love the multiple options for getting your hands (and nose) into the area’s u-picks in summer and autumn. Pumpkins in Kiamika, strawberries in Lac-des-Écorces, blueberries at Lac-du-Cerf, raspberries in Nominingue, and haskap berries in Rivière-Rouge — the list goes on.
Drive the loop on the 311 and stop at the Sentiers nature de Chute-Saint-Philippe in Lac-Saint-Paul, which passes through a spruce forest and leads to a small pristine lake as well as a hemlock stand.
For adventurous spirits, push on westward all the way to Kiamika Regional Park and visit its dozen lakes and 40-odd islands for a truly authentic fishing or canoe-camping experience.
If you’re heading even further west, all the way to Rivière-Rouge, don’t miss wild mushroom picking in the boreal forest in the company of the region’s guide emeritus, Lucien Brien of Déli-Champi. Reservations can be made starting in August: 819 275-3514.
Catherine’s tip: Our editor-in-chief suggests going to meet Yolande, neighbour of the Chute-Saint-Philippe trails. Two dolphins will greet you at the entrance to her small private Nordic spa, Les Bains du lac Marie-Louise, which includes a hammam, sauna, waterfall, hot tub and, most importantly, access to a large, peaceful lake. She only takes one reservation at a time (up to 10 people): a lucky find in times of physical distancing. Don’t forget your natural mosquito repellent.
Via ferrata, hiking, and rivers
Via Ferrata, randonnée et rivière
The Parc de la Rivière Batiscan is found in the Mauricie region, well known by locals but less famous with visitors, which makes this an ideal spot for a family camping trip far from the crowds.
Although the trails (and the cabins) are accessible year-round, the park is only officially in operation during the summer season. The site is divided into three sectors, where you have the choice between rustic camping, camping with facilities, turnkey camping, yurts, or cabins.
There are multiple possibilities for the whole family: hiking, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, road biking, picnics, kayaking, canoeing, and birdwatching. Not to mention the via ferrata route, for little ones as well as adults! In the Saint-Narcisse sector, you can find one of Québec’s first hydroelectric dams.
On the way to the park, make a foodie stop at Simon de l’Atlantique artisanal smokehouse in the municipality of Champlain.
If you enter the park via Saint-Stanislas, consider dropping in — on the way in or out — at the magnificent Presbytère microbrewery, for a hoppy beverage, yes, but also for the food: their menu is full of foraged and regional ingredients.
The tourbière (peat bog) of Saint-Narcisse, located near one of the entrances to the Parc de la Batiscan, is also worth the visit for the short walking trail that weaves through this relatively rare ecosystem — peat bogs only cover 10 per cent of Québec’s entire territory.
Disclaimer: The content in the Away with BESIDE section has been thoroughly verified by our team. Still, in this rapidly changing moment, we recommend that you check the accessibility of activities first before hitting the road!