Despite being primarily known for its French roots and impressive cuisine, there is much more to the Canadian province of Quebec than meets the eye. Quebec is also famously known for its historic cities of Montreal and Quebec city, however, there are many other charming towns that have a unique blend of French culture and eastern Canada vibes. Additionally, Quebec has an abundance of incredible natural beauty, demonstrated through its scenic national parks. This blog will delve into the best of Quebec’s hidden gems, including towns and parks that are lesser known outside the province. These are essential additions for any eastern Canada vacation.
Quebec is home to some of Canada’s most scenic national parks. With such a large geographic region, the landscape has an impressive variance in natural beauty. Within Quebec’s wide array of national parks, you will find incredible scenes such as dramatic mountains, expansive forests, towering fjords and pristine coastline. Among the best of these parks are Saguenay, Jacques Cartier, and Tursujuq.
Saguenay National Park
This national park is like a Norwegian vacation in the middle of Quebec. Saguenay National Park is centered around the 105 kilometer long Saguenay Fjord. Here, you will see the impressive force of nature, with a vast, calm river etched into the land, flanked by rugged cliffs towering each side. In fact, this expansive park demonstrates the finest of Quebec’s nature across three picturesque areas: Baie-Éternité, Baie-de-Tadoussac and Baie-Sainte-Marguerite. Each area has quaint villages and campsites that allow for easy access to the main experience: the beautiful fjord. Despite the innate beauty of the dramatic fjords, this park is still relatively undiscovered as a tourist destination. Thus, this provides an ideal, peaceful escape in the heart of the rugged Quebec landscape.
Places to See
With such impressive scenery over a large region, there are endless things to experience in Saguenay National Park. With each area of this park having its own unique activities and views, it is important to experience them all. Below are the top activities in each of the three areas of Saguenay National Park.
This sector has some of the most impressive views of the fjords from higher vantage points. These lookouts can primarily be accessed from the many hiking trails. These trails take hikers through dense forested areas and along the staggering cliffs for a birds-eye view of the fjords below. One of the highest rated hikes in this sector is the Cap Trinité trail. This trail takes visitors alongside the fjord’s waters at the wharf towards a gradual incline up the cliffside. The trail culminates with panoramic views of the breathtaking fjord, beside the iconic statue of Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay.
The sector of Baie-Sainte-Marguerite is the ideal location for seeing marine life. This area is well-known for its beluga whales, which frequent the waters at the mouth of the river. These impressive, white whales can often be spotted swimming in herds in the clear waters. To best see the belugas, there is a lookout at La Halte du Béluga, complete with binoculars and a shaded gazebo.
This sector offers a little bit of everything that Saguenay National Park has to offer. Not only does it have its own array of marine life and scenic waterside trails, but it also marks a significant waterway intersection. At this point, the Saguenay Fjord and the monumental St. Lawrence River meet in a picturesque estuary. Additionally, you will find the quaint town of Tadoussac (explored in detail below) and a stretching beach along the St. Lawrence.
Jacques Cartier National Park
Jacques Cartier National Park is a true sight to behold. Upon entrance to this sprawling protected area of over 670 square kilometers, visitors are immediately struck by its impressive natural beauty. The most immediate view is of the rushing Jacques Cartier River, with swiftly moving rapids, which falls alongside the main road into the park. The further you move within the park, the more you are treated to the views that are iconic within this region. The towering mountains with lush green forests surround both sides of the glacial valley. Nestled within the valley, the river now stills for a more tranquil sight. Additionally, across this immense park, there are several campsites that should be taken advantage of for the optimal experience. Many are located at the water’s edge, with excellent views of the surrounding mountainous landscape.
Things to do
As mentioned previously, there is a plethora of activities and sights to take in across this expansive park. One of the main activities for outdoor lovers are the numerous scenic hikes. The park has over 100 kilometers of incredible trails with breathtaking lookouts and lush forested scenery. Also, this region is home to a large variety of Canadian wildlife, including moose, and the trails are an ideal way to watch for such magnificent animals. The most popular trail, Les Loups, is a four hour uphill hike that offers some spectacular views. At the summit of the hike, the viewpoint is stunning, with panoramic views of the glacial valley below and surrounding mountains. This is arguably the best vantage point across the entire park.
Additionally, the Jacques Cartier River is an ideal location for water sports and river exploration. Its 26 kilometers stretch across a large portion of the park, allowing for visitors to easily traverse the park via the waterway. There are kayak, canoe and paddle board rentals at the park for peaceful exploration. Alternatively, for a more fast-paced, intense river experience, white water rafting is also available. This will take visitors through the rushing rapids at the beginning of the park. Either option is an incredible way to further experience the natural beauty inherent across this park. With Jacques Cartier’s breathtaking scenery, incredible camping and endless outdoor activities, it is a wonder why it is not more renowned as one of Canada’s premier National Parks.
Tursujuq National Park
Tursujuq National Park is the perfect destination for any nature and culture enthusiast. Nestled along the shoreline of the northwestern side of Hudson Bay, this is one of Quebec’s most unique and remote parks. Spanning over 25,000 kilometers, this predominantly untouched land is Quebec’s largest national park. Over this impressive, vast land, there are endless natural wonders to explore. Due to its northern latitude, it has a more stark and dramatic landscape that is inherent in the arctic. This includes impressive scenes such as crater-formed lakes, cuestas outcrops and the strongly flowing Goulet. In addition, Tursujuq is located near Inuit and Cree communities, and their culture is deeply ingrained in the surrounding area. Visitors can learn about their unique cultures and experience the way of life that is customary in northern Canadian communities.
Tursujuq is packed with natural wonders, including both landscape and rare, arctic wildlife. One of the primary natural attractions in this park is Wiyâshâkimî Lake. This lake, made up of two conjoined basins formed by a meteor crater, is noted as the second largest lake in Quebec. It is a stunning natural occurrence, with crystal clear waters within the rocky Canadian Shield. Additionally, this park is also known for the sprawling system of cuestas that line the coast. This truly unique natural wonder is seen as towering rides made of sedimentary strata. From the top of these rides, the endless waters of Hudson Bay are clearly visible. Furthermore, this park is home to some incredible, arctic-native wildlife. In fact, some of the interesting wildlife commonly seen in this region include polar bears, caribou, musk-ox and the beluga whale.
This region has historic, Indigenous roots, and is a true cultural treasure to explore. The first ancestors of the Cree and Inuit peoples began living in the region around 2,800 years ago. There are two main villages in Tursujuq: Umiujaq and Kuujjuaraapik-Whapmagoostui. Umiujaq is an incredible, small community of the Inuit peoples, where the local population lives primarily off the land. Interestingly, the Kuujjuaraapik-Whapmagoostui community is made up of two communities of Inuit and Cree peoples. The river that flows along this community is central to all local activities, and is predominantly how both communities derived the name for the land. While at Tursujuq, visitors should take the time to learn about these interesting cultures.
Charming Quebec towns
The province of Quebec is brimming with small, charming towns that reflect its unique character. Some towns have more of a European style with small cobblestone streets, cute storefronts and a rich history. Others are more akin to Quebec’s neighbouring Maritime provinces, with exceptionally welcoming locals and seaside restaurants. Also, some are a unique blend of both styles. Below are some of the greatest representatives of Quebec’s charming and historic towns.
Tadoussac, located at the eastern end of Saguenay National Park, is one of Quebec’s most picturesque beach towns. This small community is nestled into the hillside overlooking the vast St. Lawrence River and Saguenay Fjord. On one side of town, there is a sprawling beach at the edge of the St. Lawrence. Here, the small, charming marina and tucked away bay are often brimming with pleasure crafts and fishing boats. Adjacent to the beach, you will find the scenic mouth of the Saguenay Fjords, with forested hills and large rock outcrops surrounding both sides. For the best view, take the free ferry that joins both sides of the water. From here, a multitude of whales and other aquatic animals can be seen breaching the water’s surface regularly.
In the quaint Maritime town itself, there is much to do. Many opt to take a relaxing stroll around the quiet streets, all with excellent water views. These streets have many delectable eateries, most of which have spectacular, freshly caught local seafood. Additionally, for a cold beverage, try the Tadoussac Microbrewery for the best craft beer in the region. If this town wasn’t already perfect enough, it even has nearby sand dunes overlooking the St. Lawrence. To access these, there is an easy trail that connects the town to the breathtaking dunes.
Gaspé is another reflection of the rugged outdoor beauty, unique blend of cultures and historical significance of Quebec. This small city is located at the far eastern point of Quebec in the Gaspé Peninsula. It is surrounded with indescribable natural beauty, with the expansive Gulf of the St. Lawrence, vast protected park land and Appalachians all surrounding the area. While here, visitors must take the day trip into yet another one of Quebec’s finest national parks. Forillon National Park marks the eastern point of the Gaspé Peninsula where the land meets the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Here, staggering sea cliffs and pebble lined beaches meet with the powerful gulf. Additionally, this site is the beginning of the great Appalachian Trail. There are many hikes along this trail that will take you along the scenic cliffs, by towering mountains and across notable historic sites.
In the town itself, visitors will witness the interesting history and culture of this significant site. Gaspé is a very old and historic city. In 1534, Jacques Cartier arrived at this land and claimed it for France by erecting a granite cross. You can visit this site where and marvel at the massive granite cross, or visit the Gaspe Museum to learn more about the regions rich history. Now, the city represents a mixture of many cultures, which is reflected in its lively downtown streets and festivals.
With a rich culture reflecting its Jerseyan, Micmac, Irish, Acadian and French roots, Gaspé offers visitors activities that are as varied as they are entertaining.Bonjour Quebec
Quebec: The best national parks and charming towns
The sprawling, historic province of Quebec is an incredible destination for any nature and culture lover. With a plethora of spectacular national parks, visitors can see the stunning natural wonders of the province including the towering mountains, dense forests and dramatic cliffside. These scenes, highlighted in Saguenay, Jacques Cartier and Tursujuq National Park, are a great introduction to the vast, rugged landscape of Quebec. Additionally, throughout its many small towns, Quebec proudly displays its own unique culture; a mosaic of a multitude of distinct cultures. In particular, the Maritime towns of Tadoussac and Gaspé demonstrate this unique merge of French language and culture with typical Canadian and European traditions. Evidently, these incredible parks and towns need to be included in any Quebec adventure.