Canada’s eastern region is dominated by the province of Quebec. Bordered by the Maritime Provinces to the east, in Quebec you’ll discover a pleasant balance between urban adventures in cities like Montreal and Quebec City, and outdoor beauty of Cote Nord and the Gaspe Peninsula.
Less than 40 miles east of Montreal is a great place to start your tour. Here you’ll find The Laurentians, a pleasant introduction into the Canadian countryside with these rolling hills and mountains. Actually, with its highest peak topping out at just over 3,100 feet (Mont Tremblant), these hardly qualify as mountains, rather foothills similar to the Catskills in New York State. Although not as intimidating as the rocky formations in the western region of the continent, the Laurentians were formed more than a billion years ago, making them some of the oldest mountains in the entire world. The Laurentians offer many outdoor retreats and leisurely country drives, a perfect compliment to a colorful fall season.
Northwest of the Laurentians is the Trois-Rivieres region. As the Saint-Maurice River meets the St. Lawrence, the two rivers split into three branches that flow through the region. Once a booming logging area, the Trois-Rivieres is much like the Laurentians with its rolling hills and lush forest filled with Canadian wildlife. Here you’ll also find the 210-square-mile national park, Parc National de la Maurice. Established in 1970, the park safeguards this portion of the Canadian Shield, including the park’s wide variety of wildlife, several types of forest and more than 100 lakes.
The Lac Saint-Jean region is almost due north of Quebec City along the St. Lawrence River. Why stop here? How about the 520 square miles of popular summer resort areas for residents of Quebec City and the surrounding area. And with that comes a hotbed of leisure outdoor activities during the Canadian summer. The eastern part of the region, hugging the shores of the St. Lawrence River, offers a unique activity for this part of the continent: whale-watching. Although seemingly too far inland for whales to migrate, the chilly and deep St. Lawrence River welcomes several types of small whales to its water year-round. With a little effort, and a whale-watching excursion or two, one can sight the gorgeous white beluga or humpback whale. Blue whales, the largest creatures on earth, have also been known to slip into this section of the St. Lawrence River.
One of Canada’s most popular whale-watching spots is located near the picturesque Saguenay Fjord. Here the Saguenay River dumps into the salty water of the St. Lawrence, and whales of all types converge on the area to feast. Through whale-watching boat tours or one of the area’s many observation points, you may be able to catch glimpses of beluga, fin, minke or any of the other whale species that frequent the area.
Traveling up the northern shore of the St. Lawrence, the land becomes increasingly more remote as the environment becomes less forgiving. For the intrepid explorer these conditions only mean untouched natural wonders are waiting for them. A perfect example of a more remote natural wonder can be found in Côte Nord, a region once dominated by lumber towns, it would be considered rather isolated by most standards. Today, Côte Nord is a wonderful resource for hydroelectricity as several large and powerful rivers divide the land. But the real draw to the region is the Mingan Archipelago National Park. RVers will need to leave their rigs behind, but it’s well worth it. This series of 40 small islands offers some of the most unique and dramatic scenery in all of Canada. Dedicated as a national park reserve in 1984, Mingan Archipelago is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, including puffins and seals. However, the area’s true attraction is the dramatic limestone structures that rise from the rocky shores. These natural monoliths seem like they stretch forever along the St. Lawrence shoreline.
In the middle of the widest part of the St. Lawrence River lies the series of connected islands known as Isles de la Madeleine. Another archepelago, several of these islands are connected by sandbars; some of which have remarkable cliff formations. The northern stretch of the islands marries bucolic farmland with sandy beaches, lush forests and miles of secluded hiking trails.
On the St. Lawrence’s southern shores, directly across from the Iles de la Madeleine, is the Gaspe Peninsula jutting out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Getting to the peninsula is a treat in itself. The drive along Highway 132, along the coastline of the St. Lawrence, is one of Canada’s most celebrated scenic routes. We’re talking A+ views here. Craggy cliffs drop off to sandy beaches to the north, while the southern scenery is green, rolling hills interspersed with quiet fishing villages. For a uniquely Canadian outdoor experience, visit the central part of the peninsula (the area’s highest elevation) where you’ll find the Parc de la Gaspe. Inhabitants such as moose, elk and caribou, don’t seem to mind the area’s harsh conditions. Along the peninsula’s northern shores is the Parc National Forillon. A national park since the 1970s, this 90-square-mile sanctuary reveals some of the peninsula’s best vistas as well as an abundance of native wildlife. It’s an ideal mountains-meet-the-sea environment, as pine covered hills become the rocky coastline.