Camper’s Paradise, Quebec: Under the Stars of Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier
Less than a half-hour’s drive from the grand monuments and bustling streets of Quebec City, you can enfold yourself in the rich forests, soaring views, and whitewater of the Laurentian Mountains, on full display in Jacques-Cartier National Park (Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier).
This 670-square-kilometer preserve doesn’t just offer basic wilderness breathing-room for urban Quebecers. There’s a remarkable diversity of attractions here to appeal to every visitor, whether you’re an outdoor adventurer, an amateur naturalist, or a history buff.
A Laurentian Wonderland
In Jacques-Cartier, the ancient crystalline rock of the Laurentian massif forms a high, rolling plateau cleft by glacier-sculpted gorges. The most impressive of these defiles is the Jacques-Cartier Valley (Vallee de le Jacques-Cartier), which plunges better than 550 meters to the majestic flow of its namesake river.
Ecologically, this corner of the Laurentians is a fascinating and bio-diverse meeting ground, an interwoven blend of boreal and southern hardwood ecosystems. You can drop from the dark spruce-fir woods of the highlands into the sunnier maple-birch forests of the valley bottoms–an elevational journey akin to trekking a few hundred kilometers north to south. Here white-tailed deer mingle with moose and caribou, while black bears, gray wolves, and Canada lynx prowl the backwoods.
Paddle the Jacques-Cartier and you might hear the slap of a beaver’s tail, see the fin-swirl of an Atlantic salmon or speckled trout, flush a great blue heron from the shoreline shallows, or hear the shrill call of a high-flying osprey.
And everywhere you go in the park you’re tracing human stories. The rugged Laurentians were the homeland of the Montagnais and Huron peoples; the Hurons guided the Jesuits along age-old trails over the highlands between Quebec City and Lac Saint-Jean. And the forests here sustained a long-running logging industry that kicked off in the mid-1800s and continued into the early 1980s, with the Jacques-Cartier River rafting the logs to the St. Lawrence.
While people were recreationally fishing, hiking, and camping in the area by the early 20th century, park status for Jacques-Cartier didn’t come until 1981. Today it’s one of southern Quebec’s most beloved outdoor playgrounds, not least because of how remarkably accessible it is from the St. Lawrence Valley.
Though that easy accessibility makes day-tripping in Jacques-Cartier National Park perfectly reasonable, you’ll appreciate the place all the more by spending a few nights under those Laurentian stars. You’ve got a wide variety of accommodations here, including cabins, yurts, rustic shelters, and “ready-to-camp” Huttopia tents. A pair of campgrounds, Alluvions and Betulaie, are reachable by cars and have full services–the perfect destination for a Jeep or 4×4–while a slew of more primitive campsites service backpackers, canoers, and cyclists.
And there’s a ridiculous wealth of outdoor fun to be had during the day. You’ve got more than 100 kilometers of trails to hoof it along, from easy, all-ages strolls such as La Tourbiere–which, over a mere 2.9-kilometer circuit, shows off several different vegetation communities, from peat bog to yellow-birch forest–to long, difficult treks like Le Scotora, which rewards with a grand mountaintop view. You can also hit the current of the Jacques-Cartier River, which includes some whitewater stretches, via canoe, kayak, raft, or inner tube; the park rents out the vessels. Mountain biking, snowshoeing, and telemark skiing are other popular activities depending on the season.
Don’t miss out on Jacques-Cartier National Park. Whether you want to wander in the footsteps of First Nations hunter-gatherers, scout for moose along a remote lakeshore, or cool off with summertime tubing down a magnificent river gorge, an unforgettable Laurentian odyssey awaits!
Ryan McNeal earns his living in camping supplies and equipment and spends his spare time in the great outdoors. He enjoys the chance to share his insights with an online audience through blogging.