The Best of Off-Season Travelling
From reddened trees to the last snow, Québec’s seasons are a long ride worth taking.
Text — Juliette Leblanc
Photos — Johany Sergerie
In partnership with
Life’s ebb and flow: fall and spring lead us from summer to winter and back again. During the off-seasons there are still many opportunities to hit the road and get active. Despite the possibilities that winter and summer provide, sometimes their extremes of hot and cold can be limiting.
Nature is never completely on hold in Québec, and exploring the territory can be done any time of the year. Spring and fall call for contemplation and a slower, more mindful pace. And, at BESIDE, we love to travel in dribs and drabs.
Whether you’re in a fall or spring mood, Nordic steam baths, saunas, and relaxation are just the thing. Here are a few suggestions:
- Lanaudière—La Source Bains Nordiques
The steam baths and spa are built right into the mountainside. The view is beautiful and amply rewards the 78 steps it takes to gaze upon it.
- Lower St. Lawrence—Auberge du Portage
You have access to year-round hiking trails near the health centre. The inn, located on the river’s edge, has a view that makes you feel like you’re at the edge of the world, especially in spring.
- Montréal—Strøm Spa Nordique
Strøm, on Nuns’ Island, located on the shores of Des Battures Lake, is a particularly calm place following the summer heat. The flamboyantly coloured vegetation and shades of light are hypnotizing.
- Eastern Townships— Spa Bolton
At the foot of the Missisquoi River and in the heart of a popular tourist region in the fall, this spa offers massages, thermal baths, and accommodations.
- Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean—L’Éternel Spa
In the mountains of the Parc national des Monts-Valin, this Scandinavian spa even lets you access the river, which is refreshing in spring and fall! Go visit at the first snowfall — this area is absolutely magical.
- Laurentians—Eco Spa Highland
The spa is located at the top of one of the last untouched valleys in the Laurentians, on the border of Outaouais. It has a panoramic view that you’ll want to take in and savour.
- Charlevoix—Repère Boréal
Located in Les Éboulements, Repère Boréal’s microhuts and cabins are nestled in the heart of a forest estate. The homes feature, among other things, large windows that make you feel like you’re sleeping outside.
- Lanaudière—Ma Yourte au Coeur des Collines
In the municipality of Saint-Calixte, these yurts and cabins give you access to forest trails and the beautiful Lake Bécaud.
- Upper Laurentians—Les Toits du monde
Cabins perched in the trees, yurts, mini-houses: the company’s off-the-grid accommodations are places to disconnect, perfect for watching the leaves fall or the buds sprout.
- Québec City Region—Centre de l’Hêtre
Spend a night in the open air in a dome or snuggle up in a yurt or a hut. Spoil yourself with treatments or activities such as massage therapy, yoga, or meditation. The centre is located in Lac-Beauport, is open year-round, and provides outdoor equipment such as paddleboards, snowshoes, and snowshoe skis.
- Centre-du-Québec — Rivière Gentilly Regional Park
Explore the area, which is beautiful in the fall and ideal for cyclists, after checking into one of the park’s rustic cabins or ready-to-camp facilities.
Fiery foliage and reddened cheeks
Fall is the season of choice for hiking: the low traffic (in some areas, at least) and the mild weather in September and October are an ideal combination for climbs or long walks. And, of course, the colourful spectacle of the changing leaves makes outdoor activities particularly breathtaking during this period. But November’s greyness also has its charm . . . that little something raw, even dramatic, about the days before the snow arrives. Continue your outings even once fall’s enchanting colours end. The cold air feels like a thorough cleaning for your lungs, and a Thermos of tea is a comforting balm for your efforts.
In spring, the season of renewal, outdoor activities invigorate us after the cold season. Rivers roar with spring currents, sap flows from the trees, and our legs feel like running.
Charlevoix’s Sentier des Caps has some of the best views of the area. Fall hiking precedes winter snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on the same trails.
Parc national des Grands-Jardins, a place of pilgrimage for hikers in the fall (noticing a theme?), should also be on your list of places to visit in spring, when the landscape is still stripped bare.
Parc national du Mont-Orford has over 80 km of trails. The ridge trail will take you to perfect lookouts where you can stop for a hot wine or coffee. Don’t forget your Thermos!
Québec City Region
Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier must be mentioned. In contrast to the high-traffic summers and winters, during the mid-season you can leisurely explore lesser-known areas of the park.
Birds can be observed more easily during the transitory off-season periods. Ornithologists in the making, grab your binoculars! Must-see places:
Every year, thousands of snow geese converge on the flood plains of Baie-du-Febvre.
Outaouais—Parc national de Plaisance
The park is located in the middle of a migration corridor — an ideal place to observe more than 250 species of bird in the early spring or fall.
Eastern Townships—Parc national de Frontenac
The great diversity of birds can be explained, in part, by the number of nesting sites in the park. The great blue heron is among the many species.
Lower St. Lawrence—Parc national du Bic
Starting at the end of March until the beginning of June, thousands of birds fly over the Raoul-Roy lookout, a high-up location that’s great for observing raptors. Odds are you’ll see a golden eagle, an osprey, a peregrine falcon, or a rough-legged hawk!
Gaspé Peninsula—Île Bonaventure
Home to more than 100,000 gannets, the place is simply spectacular during the migration period.
Whale (and marine life) watching
Whales live according to the rhythm of the warm season. The first ones arrive at the end of April and beginning of May, and the last ones leave at the end of October (except for the beluga, who is a permanent resident). Be there to welcome them or to see them leave the St. Lawrence. As the wind whips past, it will remind you that there is something mighty and mysterious about meeting a cetacean.
The peaceful parts of the Gaspé Peninsula
Saying Gaspé immediately brings to mind pebble beaches and Percé Rock. But it’s worthwhile to visit other parts of this amazing place. Among the best off-season destinations:
The park has seven hiking trail loops. In addition to sculpting your calves, the elevation offers a magnificent view of Lake Matapédia and the surrounding valley.
This network covers more than 650 km of trails. The route begins in Matapédia and crosses the valley until Amqui before arriving at the Réserve faunique de Matane. Be sure to consult the maps if you’d like to hike a section of this beautiful and quiet trail in the off-season.
It’s a pleasure to hike beneath the fall colours in this provincial park — a true gem of the Gaspé Peninsula — where caribou herds, salmon-filled rivers, and endless forests meet. The campgrounds are closed in the fall, but the very cozy Gîte du Mont-Albert stays open.
This network of lookouts, which is currently under construction, includes its own breathtaking landscapes of mountains and rivers. We’re taken with the Deux-Rivières lookout, which is the starting point of the International Appalachian Trail. The steep 360 m ascent leads to a magnificent twisted wooden structure. At once a circuit of viewpoints and an architectural project, the Route des Belvédères is at the top of the list of attractions in the Matapédia Valley.
To enhance your Percé visit, stop at the peaceful St-Pierre Pointe before visiting the new ecotourism centre Le Nordet, which brings together a Nordic spa, an eco-friendly hotel that looks onto the sea, kayaking activities (in season), and a lovely café.
Québec’s quiet roads
Québec has many great roads for driving with the windows down to enjoy the first and last warm rays of spring or fall. We have too many favourites, so here are some simple suggestions.
- Mauricie — Route 155 between Grandes-Piles and Trois-Rives is especially splendid in fall. Winding along the Saint-Maurice River, you drive next to La Mauricie National Park. For ambitious types, the road goes all the way to La Tuque, which is also beautiful in October colours.
- There’s the archipelago of Lac Saint-Pierre in the Sorel-Tracy area. The hundred-or-so islands interspersed with marshes, bays, and channels can’t be travelled by car. But exploring this labyrinth by canoe, kayak, or on foot in the fall and spring is sweet as can be. The park is home to thousands of birds during the off-seasons.
- Near Québec City, the mythical Île D’Orléans slips in among the most beautiful routes to travel, from the minute the ice starts to melt in the spring to the first snowfall in November. The view of the river alone is worth crossing the bridge, by car or bike.
- You can see the river up close and from high up along Route 138, between Beaupré and Baie-Sainte-Catherine. The section between Beaupré and Saint-Tite-des-Caps, very aptly named the Miche coast, is perched at 700 m altitude. Villages, mountains, and cliffs bordering the river appear one after the other.
- Route 381, between Baie-Saint-Paul and La Baie, is a source of wonder in both directions. The first option takes you to the mouth of the Saguenay River, and the second, straight to the river. In spring, when the current is strong and a fresh wind blows, we love these two viewpoints to see winter on its way out.
Eating through the seasons
There’s a kind of magic to the first and last patio outings. Our picks for bundling up under a warm blanket and stubbornly eating or drinking outside:
- Saguenay—Bistro la Chasse-Pinte
Admire magnificent sunsets from this bistro’s patio on the banks of the fjord.
- Lower St. Lawrence—Microbrasserie Tête d’Allumette
In the summer, this patio has a well-established reputation. But in the spring, visit for the salty air and the pleasure of drinking a beer brewed on site, even with your toque pulled low.
- Centre-du-Québec—La Grange Pardue
This farm brewery sits atop a valley and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The outside patio is open year-round for those brave enough to drink a cold hoppy beverage in winter, next to one of the outdoor fireplaces.
- Montréal — Labo culinaire FoodLab
The restaurant, located on the top floor of the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT), overlooks the chaos of Saint Laurent Boulevard. It offers a 100 per cent organic wine list that accompanies its menu developed directly with local producers. It also has a rooftop garden!
- Cistercian Abbey of Rougement — In addition to its extensive orchards, the location features a 50-hectare nature reserve. Visit in fall to harvest apples and pears.
- Verger Ferland, in Compton, produces apples, pears, and plums for U-picking.
- Ferme François Bélanger, in Côte-de-Beaupré, offers grape U-picking in fall.
- The Courgerie, in Lanaudière, is a popular place to pick your own squash, with more than 300 varieties.
- Ferme Genest, in Chaudière-Appalaches, is the biggest squash and pumpkin producer in Québec. There are more than 100,000 squash to pick in the fall fields.
The first snowfall . . .
Get active outdoors to avoid an extra-long winter. Our snowy land is breathtaking!
- Domaine de la Forêt Perdue, in Mauricie, has 15 km of icy trails that give you a taste of skating between rows of snow-covered pine trees. Dogs are even allowed on this site!
- Bois de Belle-Rivière, in the Laurentians, features an ice trail and an area for free skating.
- Centre-du-Québec—Grandes-Coulées Regional Park
It’s easy to access this park if you want to walk its trails lined with large snowy spruce trees. Stop long enough to warm your toes at the refuge, where a wood stove roars. If you’d rather build a fire in the open air, use the wood that’s been made available to visitors.
- Eastern Townships—Mont Ham
Certain trails require special equipment (crampons, for example), but on mild days, more-or-less experienced hikers can reach the summit and enjoy a breathtaking view of the area.
- Outaouais—Lac-Simon Tourist Centre
A winter haven for white-tailed deer, the park has 17 km of trails.
Journalist Guillaume Rivest has broken down winter camping in this little guide. He makes you want to freeze your nose off for a night — or several. As he points out, “there’s no doubt that the cold complicates the activity, so it’s best to start slow.” For readers looking for a personal challenge, a night spent in cold weather under clear, starry skies is undeniably an adventure.