Canada's national parks are among the world's most celebrated. But the provinces' protected spaces are pretty amazing, too. Take, for example, Quebec's 27 provincial parks, many within easy driving distance of urban Montreal and Quebec City.
Located above Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, Quebec is home to mile after mile of wilderness including green valleys, hushed woods, some 1,000 granite islets, idyllic rivers, sandy lakes, and the sea life-filled Gulf of St. Lawrence beckoning vacationers for a canoe, swim, or fishing expedition. The hiking, of course, is superb.
As a note, Quebec refers to these as "national parks," not to be confused with Quebec's three parks in the Parks Canada nationwide network: Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, La Mauricie National Park, and Forillon National Park.
For your next outdoorsy vacation, here are Quebec's top provincial parks.
Marvel at a meteor crater at Pingualuit National Park
Geology is the main draw at Pingualuit National Park, famed for its giant meteor crater, considered young at 1.4 million years old. On Nunavik Inuit land -- an otherworldly, treeless tundra landscape on the Ungava Peninsula -- the two-mile-wide, perfectly circular crater is filled with ultra-pure, transparent blue water and is one of North America's deepest lakes. Hike, cross-country ski, and get to know the Inuit community of Kangiqsujuaq. In winter, a Northern Lights show is likely.
Chase waterfalls on a wild island at Anticosti National Park
With its offshore shipwrecks, lighthouses, steep canyons, and the massive Vaur?al Waterfall blasting 249 feet over a white cliff gorge, Anticosti National Park makes an impression. It's also an island -- and a secluded one at that, set in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Hike through the canyons, fish for salmon, and explore grottos and caves. You're likely to see seals and deer, though not many other humans. Go sea kayaking or choose from one of 78 miles of hiking trails over 221 square miles.
Spot wildlife near the city at Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier
You won't believe you're only 30 minutes north of Quebec City when you step in to the striking river valley of Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier. A plateau with glacier-carved, craggy green canyons 1,800 feet deep and glassy lakes, this is a haven for 100 bird species, moose, fox, deer, bears, salmon, and even wolves. Kayak, canoe, raft, backcountry camp, fish, hike, and snowshoe 62 miles of trails.
Birdwatch and paddle at Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé National Park
Imagine the site and sound of 250,000 nesting seabirds -- or just go to ?le-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Perc? National Park and experience it for yourself. This is North America's biggest migratory bird refuge and the colony includes 120,000 northern gannets. See the rock formation that's a Quebec icon, Perc? Rock, then go scuba diving, kayaking, or take a boat excursion. At the tip of the Gasp? Peninsula, this place is gorgeous, with a windswept rocky shore overlooking the sapphire sea. Be sure to look for whales.
Explore on a backcountry safari at Mont-Tremblant National Park
If you like your nature rugged, you'll want to visit Mont-Tremblant National Park in the Laurentian Mountains. It's Quebec's oldest and largest park and is quite versatile and vast with six substantial rivers and 400 lakes. Backcountry ski, heli-ski, snowshoe, and Nordic ski through the forest in winter, stopping in at warming huts to recharge. Canoe the waterways and splash in the lakes in summer. Plus, backpack the 51 miles of trails and wilderness camp. There are eight biking circuits, too, plus the Via Ferrata Du Diable, a rockface network of beams and bridges.
Visit whale central at Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park
This is one of the world's best places to whale watch. The only of its kind in Quebec and one of three in all of Canada's parks, Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park's sole focus is protecting marine life. And it's absolutely teeming here where the two rivers meet. You'll likely see the resident belugas, blue whales, plus seals, and birds. Go for the rich marine ecology, but take advantage of the great boating and kayaking in the cliff-lined fjord, hiking and camping, too.
Climb and fish at Grands-Jardins National Park
Grands-Jardins National Park has been an angler's favorite for a century and is set in Quebec's scenic Charlevoix region, about 90 minutes driving from Quebec City. You'll want to set up camp in a cabin, then canoe, kayak, and fish amid the green lichen that carpets this special microclimate area giving it its name, "Big Gardens" in French. In winter, ice fish, in addition to skiing and snowshoeing. Into climbing in the warmer months? Climbers who scale the Mont du Lac des Cygnes are rewarded with impressive 360-degree panoramas.
Discover herons and chapels at Oka National Park
Just a one-hour drive from Montreal, Oka National Park on the shore of Lac des Deux Montagnes in the Laurentians combines nature with history. First, there's the Oka Calvary Trail, a series of seven 1740s chapels and shrines representing the Catholic Stations of the Cross. Perched atop the hills and some with painted religious reliefs, these add an interesting cultural dimension to hiking. Then, there's the herons: Oka's wetlands are home to a huge great blue heron breeding grounds. In winter, snow shoe, fatbike, and sled; in summer, canoe, kayak, swim, hike, bike, and play on the lake.
Find more adventures at the Quebec Original website.