5 Best National Parks Near Montreal
Top 5 National Parks in Quebec
First, a little note on “national” parks. Across Canada, there are many parks protected, preserved and maintained by Parks Canada. These are called “national parks”. There are also many parks that are protected, preserved and maintained by individual provinces. These are called “provincial parks”.
Except in Quebec.
Since Quebec is officially recognized as a distinct nation, the parks under the Quebec government’s purview are also called “national parks” and are cared for by an organization called Sépaq, which stands for Société des établissements de plein air du Québec.
Does Quebec have provincial parks? Yes and no. Again, since Quebec recognizes itself as a distinct nation, it uses the term “national park” for those parks that fall within its borders and purview. These are maintained and operated in much the same way a provincial park in say, Ontario or Nova Scotia would be, but you won’t find the term “provincial park”. They are always referred to as “national parks”.
How many national parks are there in Quebec?
There are currently 3 Parks Canada operated parks within Quebec and 24 maintained by Sépaq. How’s that for a prime nature destination?
Here are our top 5 picks for best national parks near Montreal:
There are two important things to take from this:
- If you are visiting Quebec, be aware that both Sépaq and Parks Canada operated parks are, in fact, national parks. You aren’t being duped!
- Just how amazingly privileged we are to have so many rich, beautiful and diverse nature preservations right in our own backyard.
This park wins on proximity alone as it is less than 20km outside the city of Montreal. In fact, the 5 small islands that make up Iles-de-Boucherville national park are nestled right in the Saint Lawrence river.
Take a trip out and you won’t believe how close to the city this stunning ecological and historical haven is. The park is open year-round for visits and activities, and during the summer months for camping.
Activities include canoeing, rabaska (12 person canoe), snowshoeing, kicksledding, fishing, cycling, hiking, rowing, kayaking and more. Most equipment can be rented on site for a very reasonable fee. There is also a golf course on one of the islands, guided tours and activities, a river taxi and incredible sites, tours and activities to learn about the early lives of the indigenous peoples of the area. If you’re lucky, you may spot one of the white tailed deer who live on the islands.
If you’re up for a bit of a drive, Forillon National Park is worth the trip. This incredible park is located in Gaspé along the Gulf of Saint Lawrence where the Saint Lawrence river flows into the Atlantic to become… ocean!
Yes, this is ocean coast with gorgeous beaches right in Quebec. You can stroll on the sandy beaches, take a scuba diving lesson or even go whale watching. The stunning forested areas offer some amazing hiking in the summer and snowshoeing in winter, as well as bird and animal watching.
There are plenty of land and water activities, historic sites including a general store from 1864, an underground fort and a lighthouse, as well as whale watching cruises, tours and programs, playgrounds, camping and, of course, truly stunning views of our gorgeous province.
La Mauricie, in the heart of the Laurentians, is home to stunning lakes, forests and wildlife. Less than two hours outside the city, this park is a dream location for hikers, cyclists, boating enthusiasts and more.
Take a swim in one of the gorgeous freshwater lakes at the foot of rushing waterfalls. Plan a picnic for the family, with your significant other or on your own to enjoy the unique serenity of being immersed in nature. Or rent some equipment to try one of the many sports and activities available.
Have you always wanted to camp, but were intimidated or had no idea how to go about it? In addition to its many year round activities and tours, Mauricie also has a “Learn to Camp” program to show you the ropes!
Many people know about the awesome skiing at Mont Tremblant. What few are aware of is that Tremblant is actually a massive national park with 6 large rivers and over 400 lakes and streams.
There are a few unique elements of the Tremblant experience to discover. One is that many of the lakes are quite shallow. This allows them to warm up in the summer, making them perfect for swimming. Additionally, there are nearly 200 km of backcountry trails where you can witness nature overtaking old, disused roads. It is a truly humbling experience to witness. Finally, there is the Via Ferrata Du Diable, a hiking excursion comprised of climbable rock faces, beams, bridges and footpaths, all overlooking Rivière du Diable.
Le Bic national park is another far drive, but also completely worth it. We rarely think of Quebec as a coastal province, but the Gaspé region is exactly that. At Le Bic, you can watch the seals bask in the sun, breathe in the salty maritime air and discover the many coves and unique plant life of a seaside ecosystem.
Parc Le Bic is all about education in a fun and truly eye opening way. You will certainly never look at Quebec the same way after your visit. Take part in one of the many activities under the theme of “A Landscape Inherited from the Sea”, download the Park Path Explorer app to personalize your visit and enhance your learning experience, or attend one of the presentations given by naturalists and researchers.
Of course, being a national park, Le Bic is also chock full of outdoor activities including hiking, cycling, canoeing and sea kayaking, fat-biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and their new Ski-Vel, a unique device that enables wheelchair bound visitors to explore the trails in winter!
One thing all of these parks have in common is that you simply cannot explore them fully in a day. One visit will always have you coming back for more!
If you want to make a weekend or even a full week out of it, but are somewhat camping illiterate, be aware that all of these parks offer fully equipped camping options, meaning you arrive to a tent already set up with floorboards, sleeping cots, camping stove, dishes and often even electricity. Le Bic even has yurts for rent to really experience something different!
There is so much beauty that our province has to discover.
Why not start planning a winter weekend of snowshoeing, book yourself a summer “glamping” trip, or take your kids to see the whales? Your spirit will thank you!
What is the largest national park in Canada?
We’d love to take that credit in Quebec, but we’ve got to hand the prize to Alberta and the Northwest Territories who both share land with Wood Buffalo National Park, weighing in at a whopping 44,807 km2! And that massive area makes it only the second largest national park in the world. The largest is Northeast Greenland National Park, which measures… 972,000 km2! Given that the total land area of Quebec is just over 1.6 million km2, we likely won’t be competing with Greenland in that category ;-)