Cover image: Hiking in Quebec, Canada, is "magnifique." All images: Craig Romano
J’aime Quebec! And I especially love hiking in Quebec!
In all of North America, there’s nothing like Quebec. Canada’s majority French-speaking province is also the country’s largest province. And scattered across this sprawling land of boreal and northern hardwood forests, abundant lakes, glaciated mountain ranges, and broad river and coastal plains are some amazing parks and preserves traversed by miles of stunning trails.
Surprisingly, much of this wild country is virtually unknown to the English-speaking world.
I grew up in New Hampshire, a state with strong ties to Quebec. Nearly a third of the state’s residents trace their heritage to Quebec, and French is still commonly spoken in the state’s northern tier. Enamored by the Quebecois culture—their food, their music, and their joie de vivre, I began exploring my northern neighbors. Back then during the heyday of the Quebec separatist movement, it was impossible to find information in English.
But these days the province is quite welcoming to English-speaking visitors. The provincial parks department, the Societé des etablissments de plain air du Quebec (SEPAQ), publishes maps and brochures in English and has web versions in English as well.
Still, once you leave the hubbub of Montreal you best bring along a French-English dictionary (French Canadian even better-yes there are differences) in your pack. Of course knowing a few phrases won’t hurt either.
I now live in northwest Washington close to Vancouver, BC, but I still make frequent trips back east to Quebec. There’s nothing quite like a hike in the Eastern Townships—New Englandesque villages with a French twist—or a hike on the Gaspe Peninsula where windswept mountains carpeted in alpine tundra are swallowed up by a massive bay at the mouth of one of the continent’s largest rivers. And of course there’s nothing like replenishing calories afterward with a tourtières (Quebec meat pie) and cold biere (I’ll let you figure that one out!)
Here are four of my favorite destinations in Quebec to hit the sentier!
1. Parc National Du Mont-Megantic
Most North Americans are now familiar with Lac Megantic, as it was the site of a horrific oil-train explosion in 2013 that claimed 47 lives. Rising to the south of this devastated resort town is Mont Megantic, an elongated bulky Appalachian peak with five major summits, the highest exceeding 3,600 feet.
An excellent network of more than 30 miles of trails traverse the park leading to all of its summits, a series of ledges providing sweeping views, and some historic structures. On Mont St. Joseph, find a rustic cathedral built in the late 1880s and once part of an abbey.
The summit (also reached by road—the highest in the province) is home to an observatory. The entire area is part of an International Dark Sky Preserve, the first in eastern North America. One look outward confirms this designation—as all you can see in every direction is thickly forested ridges and mountains.
The view south of the New Hampshire-Quebec border is particularly interesting—the frontier follows the watershed divide between the Connecticut ad St Lawrence rivers.
2. Mont Gosford
At 3,870-feet Mont Gosford is the 4###sup/sup### highest summit in Quebec’s Appalachians. And this impressive mountain adorned with open scree slopes, is the centerpiece of a remote 15,000-acre ecological reserve sitting on the international border with Maine.
You can hike miles of trails in this reserve from easy wonderings to challenging ascents and ridgeline traverses. Visitation is light, assuring you good chances of seeing moose and bear. Endangered Bicknell’s thrushes nest on this mountain. The preserve allows backcountry camping and contains a series of refuges as well.
Be sure to summit Gosford on a bluebird day. From its summit observation platform the views are sweeping and include all the way to Maine’s Katahdin. The 120- mile Route Des Sommets passes through this park on its lofty journey along the green spine making up the international boundary.
3. Parc National de la Gaspesie
One of the most beautiful and rugged spots in Eastern North America, Parc National de la Gaspesie contains more than 200,000 acres where the Appalachian Mountains meet the Gulf of St Lawrence.
The park is home to Quebec’s second highest peak and highest Appalachian summit, 4166-foot Mount Cartier; and the southernmost herd of woodland caribou in North America. The International Appalachian Trail (Sentier international des Appalaches) weaves through the park traversing its two mountain ranges, the McGerrigles and Chic Chocs.
The Chic Chocs are over 600 million years old and consist of large cirques, and high plateaus carpeted in alpine tundra—resembling more closely the environment of Labrador. The 60-mile Chic Choc Traverse is a North America classic route across rich bear, moose and caribou habitat. You can go hut-to-hut along the way or break it up with a cushy night in the beautiful Gite du Mont Albert. The park also contains large rivers and lakes perfect for an after hike paddle.
4. Forillon National Park
Quebec’s first National Park (Parks Canada) Forillon is a stunning 60,000-acre park occupying the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula where the Appalachian Mountains meet the Gulf of St Lawrence. It is the ending point of the International Appalachian Trail, a 1900-mile AT extension from Maine’s Katahdin through New Brunswick and eastern Quebec.
Hike on miles of trail to summits and ledges providing breathtaking views of sea and summits. Hike to land’s end at Cap Gaspe, a towering coastal bluff more than 300 feet high. Then watch for gray seals, blue whales and colonies of sea birds. Admire too the massive abrupt coastal cliffs that look straight out of Ireland.
- Definitely pack a French-English dictionary as maps and trail signs are all in French.
- Learn the French words for cliff (falaise or escarpement) and danger (péril) before you head out.
- Distances and elevations are all in metric.
- You’ll need a passport to visit.
- Much of the terrain is like hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountain or New York’s Adirondacks. Expect lots of rocky terrain.
- My Oboz Firebrands have handled the terrain just fine on a couple of trips. And if you can visit in fall, the autumn foliage is absolutely stunning in this land of birches, beeches and maples.
Craig Romano is the author and co-author of fifteen Northwest hiking guidebooks including the brand new 100 Classic Hikes Washington (The Mountaineers Books), which includes detailed information on the very best trails within the Evergreen State. Visit him at CraigRomano.com and on Facebook.
 Note that SEPAQ refers to their parks as national parks (not provincial parks), but Parks Canada (Canadian National Park Service) also manages a couple of National Parks in the province as well.