Jacques-Cartier National Park Just Outside Québec City: A Natural Wonderland, Waiting to Be Explored

It’s hard to believe that a park like this exists just a short drive from Québec City, but believe us, it very much does. With steep slopes, deep valleys, and both calm waters and rapids — this park has something for everyone and is a joy to explore and even stay the night.

Jacques Cartier National Park in winter
Views from the 1st Observation Deck on our hike. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

Quebec is filled with opportunities for outdoor exploration, but not enough people know that there’s an absolutely serene provincial park just 30 minutes outside Québec City. Not only that, but Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier plays host to one of the most gorgeous glacial valleys in the entire province, known as the Vallée de la Jacques-Cartier. 

Regardless of the season, there’s so much to do here. Snowshoeing, fat-biking, skiing, hiking and more during the winter, and canoeing, kayaking, fishing, stand-up paddle boarding etc. in the warmer months.

Much of this versatility comes from the presences of the Jacques Cartier River, which is calm and welcoming in some parts, and much more rapid and exciting in others.

You’ll find a picturesque coniferous forest up in the high plateaus, and a delightful array of deciduous trees in the deeper valleys.

A Brief History of the Timeless Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier

Jacques Cartier National Park in the summer
Canoe enthusiasts, rejoice. Photo Credit: Unsplash

Firstly, it’s important to note that the lands of Jacques-Cartier National Park were once home to the Montagnais and the Huron peoples. In the 17th century, the Hurons served as knowledgeable guides, accompanying Jesuits on their journeys between Quebec City and Lac Saint-Jean, with the ultimate goal of helping the Jesuits bypass the mighty St. Lawrence River.

By the mid-19th century, the region became well known for its abundant lumber production, which, of course, didn’t just shape the local economy, but also the landscape, sadly. However, the winds of change blew with the rise of the American conservationist movement, leading to the establishment of the Laurentian Wildlife Reserve in 1895.

Interested in more tidbits about Quebec? You can read our fascinating Quebec facts here.

As the world emerged from the shadows of World War II, and roads and transportation options became better, more and more visitors began flocking to Jacques-Cartier National Park. In 1972, a proposal to build a dam on the Jacques-Cartier river threatened the serenity of the valley that so many had come to love, but thanks to the united voice of concerned citizens, the project was shelved in 1975, ensuring the preservation of this precious ecosystem.

Since our visit, we’ve learned a lot about how this group of concerned citizens effectively made this dam a project that the government simply couldn’t move forward with. We applaud that group of individuals who banded together to ensure that we can enjoy the beauty of this park in the present day.

It ended up being a bit of a symbolic turning point, as 1975 also marked the end of the lumber industry in the region, paving the way for a new era of conservation and appreciation for the natural world.

It was in the year 1981 that Jacques-Cartier National Park was officially established, largely created form the southernmost lands of the Laurentian Wildlife Reserve.

Trees in Jacques Cartier National Park
Jacques-Cartier National Park is a photographer’s playground. Photo Credit: Unsplash

Jacques-Cartier National Park is located in the Laurentian Mountains. As we mentioned above, its perhaps best known for its glacial landforms, the most prominent being the U-shaped valley that was formed during the last glacial period.

If you’ve got your eyes open, you’ll see black spruces up high, and trees such as the birches and maples a little lower down. The wildlife that you’ll encounter are typical of the boreal forest — so foxes, wolves, bears, otters, beavers, moose, caribou, deer, and of course fish (salmon, trout, arctic char) and more than 100 species of birds.

What Can You Do in Jacques-Cartier National Park?


If you’re a lover of hiking, like we are, you’re in for a treat, and that’s for any season. We personally did Les Loups which allowed us to see some of the most striking features of the landscape, since it’s more or less a trail that will take you up and up until you’re at a 447-metre elevation.

We took the trail to the 1st Observation Deck and set eyes on the Jacques-Cartier and Sautarski valleys, respectively.

Here’s an overview to help with planning:

Hiking in Jacques Cartier National Park
An overview of the most popular trails in Jacques Cartier National Park. Photo Credit: Sepaq

For a full rundown of the trails you can see the Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier Visitor Guide.

Embrace Winter

There are many ways that you can embrace winter at Jacques-Cartier National Park. Please do note that many of these activities are only going to be available between December and April (and will depend on weather and snow conditions, of course).

Winter in Jacques Cartier National Park
Winter is a stunning time of year to visit. Photo Credit: Unsplash
  • Winter hiking is perhaps the most obvious choice. In winter, many people hike from the Visitors Centre to Pont Banc (about 8 kilometres in total). Personally, we rented crampons for the winter hike, and it was well worth having them.
  • Snowshoeing: Within the park, there’s a network of over 10 trails totalling almost 100 kilometres in total. Snowshoe rentals are available, by the way (and are free for kids).
  • Fat Biking: There’s about 10 kilometres set aside between the Visitors Centre and Pont Banc for folks to take their fat bikes out for a spin, but rentals are available if you don’t have your own. In this case, you’re wise to let them know a few days in advance that you’ll need a rental, so they can make sure it’s there for you. There also mountain bike trails (over 30kms) if that’s more your thing!
  • Backcountry Skiing: You’ve got several options here — Chemin de la Vallée (between km 12 and km 33) and the following trails: Draveur Sud, Rivière-Sautauriski, Confluent, Rivière-à-l’Épaule, Voie-du-Bûcheron and l’Incursion. Note that the trails aren’t groomed, packed or marked. In all, they’ve essentially built out a 55 kilometre backcountry skiing circuit.
  • Kicksledding: 7 sleds are available for families just like yours.
  • Tobogganing: There’s actually a popular natural toboggan hill in the heart of the valley around Pôle Belleau (km 10). Tubes are provided (and in fact they ask that you don’t bring your own tubes and equipment just for safety reasons).

Beyond that, there are some opportunities for skishoeing, some off-trail sectors you can explore, and oh so much more. What we’re trying to communicate here is that this is a 4 season park. The adventure and fun never stops.

Get Out on the Water

If this park was near us in the summer (or warmer months in general, for that matter), I swear we’d be here every week. Let’s talk about what you can do here to make the most of your visit.

Jacques Cartier River
The river awaits. Photo Credit: Unplash
  • Canoeing: This, of course, is a big one. What’s neat about this park is that you can do both calm water canoeing and white water canoeing. Believe it or not, Rivière Jacques-Cartier features about 19 kilometres of river with rapids (R1 and R2). Do note that the the watercraft capacity is 2 people with luggage, and the minimum age for this activity is 12 years old. If you want to try something different, we’d recommend looking at canoe-camping. There are three different canoe-camping sites here for you to enjoy, which you can read more about here.
  • Kayaking: What we like about the kayak rental system here is that the kayaks for rent are the “sit-on-top” variety, which make them easy as pie to board and disembark. Both tandem (for two people) and solo (for one person) rentals are available. As with canoeing, there’s white water here as well to be enjoyed.
    • One idea we want to put forth – guided excursions. You can experience an adventure like no other every Saturday and Sunday, from July 1 to the end of August 2023, with a knowledgeable guide by your side. Learn the art of maneuvering through rapids while gaining insights into the park’s distinctive features and the river’s character. It’s also neat that you’ll enjoy exclusive access to a unique river section, accessible only on this trip, with private transportation accommodating a maximum of 12 participants per watercraft. Rates, as of the time of publication, are $115 per watercraft for two adults or $94 per watercraft for one adult and one child aged 5 to 17. If this interests you, you can give a call 1-800-665-6527.
  • Miniraft: This is one of the most popular ways to explore the park, especially amongst groups and families. It’s quite stable, generally speaking, and the park notes that it’s suitable for children five and older, as long as you’ve got a minimum of 3 people, and no more than 7.
  • Inner Tube: If you want something more relaxed the rental centre at 10km also offers inner tubes, so you can enjoy a relaxing summer day on the water.
  • Dinghy: Somewhere in between a canoe and a raft…is a dinghy. If you haven’t ridden one before, they’re a fun idea for a date in the park. They’re surprisingly resilient, actually, and can even tackle rapids if you decide to venture out of the calmer waters.
  • Stand Up Paddling: Of course, this was going to be on the list. These are designed for calmer waters, so it’s not the largest section that you’ll be able to tackle, but enough that you’ll get a great feel for both the activity and the park.

Break Out the Fishing Rod

Fishing at Jacques Cartier National Park
Just you, and the river. Photo Credit: Unsplash

A big highlight for many visiting Jacques-Cartier National Park is the opportunity to fish for speckled trout on Rivière Jacques-Cartier and on some lakes in the l’Épaule, Jumeau and Sautauriski sectors. Do note that salmon fishing is prohibited in the park. If you catch one, simply throw them back.

The fishing period is typically between May 20th and September 10th, but note that these dates can change if the annual catch quota is met. You’ll need to head here to get an entry pass and to get permission to break out the fishing rod, and you’ll need to declare your catches at day’s end by filling out the form near the scales located at kilometre 10.

You can look into a fishing stay as well, run through the park here. It’s relatively inexpensive actually to book a fishing package that includes accommodation, exemplified by this deal here. On that page, you’ll also see two other packages, one for the Miniraft Experience, and the other for the Sightseeing Run, so you may want to check those out as well if you’re more into adventure than just fishing.

Stay the Night

Camping at Jacques Cartier National Park
However you want to camp, you can do it here. Photo Credit: Unsplash

Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier offers a range of accommodation options to suit different preferences and styles of camping. The park features several campgrounds, including the Sept-Lacs campground, which is accessible by car and offers both serviced and unserviced sites.

The Rivière-à-l’Épaule campground is accessible by foot or bike and offers more secluded sites along the river. For those looking for a more comfortable stay, there are also ready-to-camp units available, which come equipped with beds, a stove, and other amenities. Additionally, the park offers rustic cabins and yurts for those seeking a unique camping experience.

You’ll want to head to their accommodations section to see what’s available on your visit.

One thing to note that caught our eye as lovers of cycling is that Sépaq has partnered with Vélo Québec to establish a Welcome Cyclists campsite network. There are four campsites set aside exclusively for touring cyclists, and they’re accessible and available without advanced booking.

Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier Awaits!

Jacques Cartier National Park
At Jacques Cartier National Park, there are dramatic landscapes wherever you look. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

What we hope is clear is that there’s no right or wrong way to approach a visit here. There are a myriad of ways to enjoy this park on your terms, but do please respect the land and take care of it to be in line with the park’s own conservation efforts.

It’s a protected area with a variety of adventure opportunities that truly tap into the spirit of the province and the nation at large.

We want to thank Québec City Tourism for hosting us as media. All opinions are completely our own.

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