From the mighty St. Lawrence River to ocean exploration, summer and fall in Québec are all about enjoying nature on and around the water
In the warm months of summer, vibrant meadows of wildflowers and green hills spring to life, and with them Québec’s summer adventures, which stretch into late September or early October, beckon. The lifeblood of it all is the province’s waterways, especially the mighty St. Lawrence River, which becomes a hub for a wide variety of summertime activities. The St. Lawrence River may be one of the longest rivers in the world, but it’s also an estuary and a gulf, and its changing marine environment is as spectacular as the wildlife it attracts. It’s also the source of Québec’s history, culture, and identity, with life moving to its rhythms and tides. But perhaps the most powerful thing this waterway creates isn’t something you can touch and see—it’s something you feel. It’s a sense of adventure that takes over and drives you to wonder what’s around the next bend.
No matter what kind of outdoor experience you’re looking for this summer, Québec is the place where mountains, rivers, and ocean converge—and where the sun is as warm as the people’s welcome. Here’s what to do and see this summer. (And the next; you’ll be back.)
If you like your vacation with a strong surge of adrenaline, Québec offers plenty of thrills. Adrenaline-fueled two-wheel adventures abound, with some of the best mountain biking in the East. Charlevoix is known for its access to miles of singletrack, most of which offer amazing views of the St. Lawrence River.
On the water, sea kayaking or boat cruises are two of the most popular ways to get up close and personal with the environment and all its wildlife. Paddle or take a zodiac ride into the Saguenay Fjord, a 65-mile-long inlet of water created by ancient glaciation, and greet curious beluga and minke whales and seals as they play near the water’s surface. For an even more intense water experience, try kiteboarding or windsurfing or even surfing—Guy’s Wave is an eternal river wave near the Parc des Rapides in Montréal.
For another exciting day adventure, check out Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, a spectacular historic site punctuated by a 275-foot waterfall just 15 minutes from Québec City. With a via ferrata, zipline, suspension bridge and cable car that skirt the falls, there’s no shortage of activities here that will get your blood pumping. And if you want to fill the itinerary with more high-octane activities, you’ll find opportunities for hang-gliding, parachuting, paragliding, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and canyoneering throughout the province.
On the quieter side, there are plenty of options for relaxing rejuvenation in Québec. For a huge dose of restorative nature, head to the diverse array of national parks that flank the St. Lawrence River. With half of Québec wild and wooded and more than 300 lakes peppering the landscape, there are more than 50 national parks and wildlife reserves throughout the province. Beautiful beaches, peaks, rivers, lakes, and trails (even monoliths in Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve) make these parks the perfect place to unplug and unwind. Whether you prefer roughing it in a tent or renting a cottage, you’ll find an experience that will feed your soul.
One of the most enchanting ways to experience the majesty that unfolds from the St. Lawrence River’s shores is from the railing of a cruise ship. More than 150 international cruise ships stop in the province each summer, and there are scores more local operations that offer everything from a dinner cruise to a zodiac tour to a guided fishing excursion. All of them offer a front-row seat to the most exciting show on Earth: the 13 species of marine mammals, including whales, that make the Gulf of St. Lawrence their summer home. If whales are your thing but cruises are not, you can also watch them breach, play, and even say hello with their huge tails right from shore. Pack a picnic and head to the shores of Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, the largest marine conservation area in Canada. Or drive the scenic Whale Route, a 550-mile stretch on the edge of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, stopping to soak in the maritime history at the interpretation centers and museums that dot the coastline. You’ll also spot thousands of other animals—gannets, puffins, seals, and more—along the way.
Everywhere you go in Québec, you’ll be drawn to explore the natural world. Even Montréal and Québec City coexist in harmony with nature, as do the countless waterfront villages that dot the shores of the mighty St. Lawrence River. Get the best of both worlds by starting your trip in one of the cities and then venturing out to other areas where you can truly enjoy the province’s access to the river, ocean, and lakes.
Of the many ways to discover the wonders that lie in wait, one of the best might be by bicycle. Try an easy 15-mile path around L’Isle-aux-Coudres, or set your sights on the longer routes, such as Route Verte—nearly 3,200 miles of designated bicycling paths, lanes, and roads that traverse Québec—or Véloroute des Bleuets, which circles Lac Saint-Jean. Whether you’re on two wheels or four, the Lighthouse Trail is a must. These beacons that helped ships navigate safely through the St. Lawrence Seaway are now treasured icons of the region’s rich maritime history. Visitors can tour many of the lighthouses along the Lighthouse Trail, and some of these historic structures even welcome overnight guests. The route travels to roughly 40 lighthouses dotting the sea cliffs on the Gaspé Peninsula, passing the renowned tourist attraction of Percé Rock, a massive rock formation that looks like a ship at sea, and circumnavigating the rugged Chic-Choc Mountains that rise majestically in its interior.