Lakes and Rivers
Rustic canoe-camping on an island, northern lights, abundant flora, and paddleboarding — the options are endless on the lakes and rivers of Québec.
Text — Juliette Leblanc & the BESIDE team
The streams and rivers of Québec number in the thousands. The lakes too. Many are found in national and regional parks, which allows us to take full advantage of these waterways in the summer months. If you’re looking for adventure and discovery, if you’re longing to watch the mist evaporate over a river, or if you’re yearning to see the sun set behind the horizon of a big lake, here’s a dive into 50 shades of blue..
Abitibi: a playground of 22,000 lakes
On this trip: canoeing, northern lights, and wildlife observation
Témiscamingue and its thousands of waterways will take your breath away. The area contains nearly 22,000 lakes and rivers — so many good reasons to stop the car for a picnic or siesta at the water’s edge. Still not convinced? Here are some more numbers! With 2.2 inhabitants per km2. Abitibi-Témiscamingue officially qualifies as a wilderness.
Parc national d’Opémican, which opened officially in 2019, covers three distinct sectors of the region (Rivière-Kipawa, Pointe-Opémican, and Lac-Marsac); it boasts thousands of kilometres of shoreline and hundreds of islands. The Kipawa sector provides opportunities for stellar expeditions suited to paddlers of all levels. You’ve been dreaming of trying canoe-camping — solo or as a family — for a long time? This is your chance. For those who want to gather in small groups in the woods, Exode offers packages that vary from a single day to a week-long trip.
Little-known fact: the mythic Topping campsite, located at the mouth of the Kipawa River on Lake Témiscamingue, was featured in five films between 1923 and 1930! The grand waterfalls of the Kipawa River remain just as stunning to this day.
And since you’ve already come all this way, why not explore the area even further? Drive to the Parc national d’Aiguebelle, a little past Rouyn-Noranda. You never know, you might see a moose, beaver, mink, heron, or an osprey. The twin lakes of La Haie and Sault are definitely not to be missed. Le Patineur campground offers an exceptional view of Lac Patrice — a quiet, peaceful place where you might even catch sight of the northern lights. A colony of great herons is also hidden on one of the islands in Lac Loïs.
Guillaume’s tip: Our collaborator Guillaume Rivest from Abitibi, founder of Exode, recommends going paddling on the Rivière Dumoine, one of the most beautiful rivers in Québec.
Blueberry bike route
On this trip: wild blueberries, microbreweries, and camping
Whether you’re taking the road to Lac Saint-Jean for the first or the hundredth time, you won’t be able to help being enchanted. The sunsets (and sunrises) on the lake are never the same. And we don’t know if it’s just us, but the sight of the horizon allows us to breathe more deeply — the effect is instantaneous.
What could be better than exploring the shores by bike? The Véloroute des Bleuets offers a number of routes based on your level of experience:
- Performance Cyclist (with more changes in altitude in the more challenging hilly sections)
- Family – Recreational Cyclist (little-to-no elevation gain and cycling pathways)
- Touring Cyclist (moderate elevation gain and wide paved shoulders)
- Mountain Bike and Fatbike (180 km of trails)
The 256-km bike route circles Lac Saint-Jean and passes through 15 municipalities, including the mountainous community of Mashteuiatsh. It includes itineraries of three, four, or five days. The various routes will take you past wild blueberries and cheese makers, along the Parc national de la Pointe-Taillon and the Péribonka River, and to beaches and museums. On the Banc des Sables route, stop in Saint-Gédéon for a sunset with a view of the islands (Grosse île Verte, Petite île Verte, and îles des Béliers).
Lovers of hop-related products can bulk up their calf muscles even more by adding in a few visits to the area’s microbreweries. Zone Boréale offers a microtour of the breweries in Lac Saint-Jean: seven of them happen to be on the circuit of the Véloroute des Bleuets.
If you’re travelling by car (or by bike, and you want to add more kilometres to your counter), take the time to head to Kénogami Lake near Chicoutimi. Admire the Cap à l’Aigle cliff before getting back on the road.
Another option: You can access the bike route via train for a seven-day adventure that will allow you to get from the Véloroute des Bleuets to the Véloroute du Fjord-du-Saguenay.
Clément’s tip: Either when you’re arriving or when you’re leaving, musician Clément Jacques recommends visiting the beautiful beach at the Village Vacances campsite and going for a swim among the plankton. You can also stay overnight in a cottage or campground.
Deep dives/dog days: strike a balance in the Eastern Townships
Lakes, orchards, and drive-in cinemas
We tend to associate the Eastern Townships with country roads and verdant valleys covered in grapevines. And for good reason! But it’s also a choice spot to dip your toes. Try the following decidedly relaxed route:
Lake Memphrémagog is 42 km long and intersected by the U.S. border. This is a great option at a reasonable distance from Sherbrooke or Montréal. Look for the Georgeville quay or the Vale Perkins beach.
Why not make your swim escape into a two-day adventure, and add Lake Massawippi to your trip? This favoured spot for sport fishing is also a resting place for several species of migratory birds, such as Canada geese, snow geese, great herons, and ducks. Beach access is free, and you can pitch a tent or park a camper van in their campground!
Finish off your day in the sun (hopefully) with a movie at the Orford Drive-In. Now THAT’S a taste of slow summer in Québec.
Catherine’s tip: Our editor-in-chief Catherine recommends a visit to the Saint-Benoît-du-Lac Abbey. This community of 30 monks sells its products on site in the outdoor shop. Visits to the abbey are postponed to a later date for the moment, but the gorgeous orchard alone is worth the stop.
On the road to Baskatong
Birdwatching, fruit picking, and canoeing/kayaking
The region is a veritable treasure trove of outdoor destinations. The Baskatong Reservoir is a prime example. Created after the construction of the Mercier dam, it encompasses five lakes (Piscatosine, Cokanagog, Caméra, Chêne, and Georges), Philomene Bay, and a vast array of outfitters. It’s a paradise for fishers, of course, but also for lovers of canoe-camping and kayak-camping, who can find shelter on one of the reservoir’s 160 islands. Cooking over the fire, watching the fireflies, and listening to night birds: here’s your perfect chance to forget your phone in the car. Diurnal birdwatching is also possible in the large, protected park.
Eliane’s tip: La Cantine de la Pointe à David makes fish and chips with walleye freshly caught the same morning. Our creative director Eliane eats them on the quay while watching seaplanes land and sailboats pass by.
Canoe-camping in Mauricie
Canoe-camping, microbreweries, and cooking over the fire
Put your boat in the water and get out your binoculars! La Mauricie National Park is a perfect place for canoe-camping with its 150 (no less!) navigable lakes. Lake Wapizagonke is the most well-known and most popular one of course, but try Lake Alphonse, Lake Écarté, or Lake Soumire for a more peaceful experience. Lovers of s’mores should spend the night, too. Even several nights. Cook over the fire, watch the stars, and sip a cup of hot tea (or a hot toddy).
The park is teeming with hidden waterways and one-of-a-kind swimming spots. Here are a few options: Parker Falls, accessible via the entrance in the Saint-Gérard-des-Laurentides sector, are less crowded than the ones near Saint-Mathieu-du-Parc and just as beautiful, with terraced, calm pools. Those feeling more adventurous should head instead to Waber Falls — 8 km of canoeing and 6 km of hiking to reach the famous hidden spot. Plan for about four to six hours round trip.
Bonus: fishing is allowed throughout the park!
When you’re picking up beverages for your canoe-camping trip, think local. Consult the lists of microbreweries and vineyards in the area. Ditto for the victuals you’ll cook over the campfire: take a tour of the local public markets before heading to the park.
Conseil de Juliette: Notre rédactrice Juliette vous conseille particulièrement la randonnée du sentier Mékinac, qui mène à une superbe vue du parc et de ses environs.
A family trip to the Bas-du-Fleuve
SUP, swimming, biking, and picnics
For a perfect spot for family holidays, head for the Bas-du-Fleuve, and more specifically Témiscouata.
From Trois-Pistoles, follow Highway 232 along the shores of beautiful Lac Témiscouata, part of the national park of the same name. La route des Monts Notre-Dame (a portion of the 232 that was officially renamed in 2016) passes through several villages.
Once you’re in the park, why not try some paddleboarding (SUP) on the main lake? Then there are the Touladi Lakes, perfect for a canoe-camping trip. You can even go out in a rabaska (a large wooden canoe)!
For a chance to discover the area’s biodiversity on a hike with the kids, opt for the Montagne-du-Fourneau route. It’s a 5.5-km loop that passes through a cedar grove and a white pine forest, where some of the trees are more than 170 years old.
Biking enthusiasts, take the Petit Témis and ride along the shores of Lac Témiscouata. There’s almost no change in elevation and an unbeatable view of the water. Ideal spot for a family excursion and picnic!
Insider tip: To stock up on provisions and snacks during your outdoor excursions, head to the organic grocery store Amarante. There’s also a little terrace just off the café.
Wilderness camping in Outaouais
Biking, canoe-camping, and virtual local art
Outaouais is brimming with waterways that are just as inviting as the more popular ones in other parts of Québec. And after all, this summer should be dedicated to new discoveries!
On Highway 105, you’ll pass through the municipality of Gracefield. Head toward the Mont Morissette Regional Park. Launch your exploration of this landscape with a hike that ends with a view of Blue Sea Lake. And for another angle, circumnavigate the lake by bike!
This summer, Presbytère de Blue Sea, a visual arts centre, is offering a rich programme — and one that’s entirely virtual.
The Parc régional du lac 31 milles is a must for a canoe-camping trip in the area. You can reserve one of the 136 islands for the night — does it get more peaceful than that? In this park, rustic camping is where it’s at. You can go out on a paddleboard (SUP) or explore the numerous bays by canoe. Drop a line in the water if you have a fishing permit — the lakes are teeming with lake trout, bass, and pike. Nothing better for a meal over the campfire. And if you’ve got your certificate, you can even go diving to explore the underwater caves.
Tease the fish in the Baie des Chaleurs
Fishing, rivers, and indigenous harvests
The vastness of Gaspésie remains a mystery for many of us. This summer, dare to go the distance. Roll down the car windows and follow the 132 all the way to its end (or almost!). The area is incontestably one of Canada’s biggest playgrounds for outdoor enthusiasts. This is a place everyone should visit at least once in their life. Parc national de la Gaspésie (which hosts the famous Mont Albert), Forillon National Park, the Réserve faunique des Chic-Chocs . . . the list goes on! It’s easy to get carried away in the list of treasures this remote region (depending on where we’re coming from, of course) has to offer. If you have some time and a yen for exploring, embark on a tour of the peninsula. What better than a trip around the Bonaventure River with fishing stops to give you a taste?
On the way to the ZEC de la rivière Bonaventure, take the 132 and be sure to stop in the municipality of Gesgapegiag. You’ll find the Mi’gmaq Maliseet Aboriginal Fisheries Management Association, which is behind the project Salaweg (“it’s salty” in Mi’gmaq). Salaweg aims to diversify and improve the management of natural resources, such as the seaweed called sugar kelp found in Gaspésie. Salaweg transforms kelp into ready-to-use products — sea relish, fish spices and tartar mix — and reinvests profits to support the local Indigenous fisheries to sustainably manage their marine resources.
Once you’re in the region of the Bonaventure River, you have a multitude of options. Fishing, of course, miraculous and abundant — an activity that invites you to slow down. Or a trip down the river by canoe, in particular the rapide du Malin. You’ll pass a beautiful pebble beach, perfect for swimming and catching an afternoon siesta. For those who do not nap, you can get on the water with Cime Aventures, which offers several options for river trips: paddleboard (SUP), kayak, raft, or canoe.
The Cascapédia River, located in the same area, is also famed for its fishing.
Marie Charles’ tip: Our colleague Marie Charles shared a secret spot for explorers. Start by finding the fishing store Sexton & Sexton, famous in the area. Then take the bridge road toward St-Jules-de-la-Cascapedia, and then the Route du Nord-Ouest to the head of a trail. Follow the trail and you’ll find a section of la Grande Cascapédia where you can swim in crystal-clear turquoise waters.
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!