Quebec and Labrador itinerary
The province of Quebec shines everywhere. From the moment you set foot in it you can notice how different it is. The air that cities and people transmit will transport you to Europe. Probably to France, listening to that particular and beautiful French...
Some of the most beautiful cities in the country are located here, highlighting Montreal and Quebec City. But it also houses very nice villages. And, obviously, as in the rest of Canada, we can find beautiful natural places in the form of forests, mountains and beaches (along the St Lawrence River). The north is super wild, full of forests and swamps. There is a lot of water in Quebec, which government makes good use of it producing energy. Really nice landscapes full of water... But beware of the fearsome "black flies" in summer. The province is huge and almost all unpopulated and remote (most places can only be reached by plane). Here we will only focus on the south.
On the other hand, we have Labrador. Quebec is overpopulated compared to this province! With the exception of a couple of cities, the rest are forests and meadows full of water. Here passes one of the most emblematic routes in the country: the Trans-Labrador Highway. While long and monotonous believe me you won´t forget this unique adventure.
Some places to visit on this route:
Parc National du Mont Tremblant
Route des Baleines (Whale Route)
Tadoussac and surroundings (Saguenay Fjords National Park)
Manicouagan Crater & Les Monts Groulx
Note. Bad news for doggy travelers. The province of Quebec does not allow dogs in National Parks, unlike the rest of the provinces in Canada.
Embedded in a river island is this beautiful city (one of the most beautiful ones in North America) plenty of squares, parks and old buildings. The city is large and has many districts ("boroughs"), being the most touristic one the Ville Marie borough, which includes the city center, the historic district of Vieux Montreal, Chinatown, the Gay Quarter and the Latin Quarter. The best thing is to wander aimlessly through these areas, marveling at the people, churches and buildings that you find on your way. Just in case here are some of the things you can visit:
Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal). Old Montreal is a historic area southeast of downtown that contains many attractions such as the Old Port of Montreal, the Place Jacques-Cartier, the City Hall of Montreal, the Bonsecours Market, the Place d'Armes, the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, the Basilica of Notre-Dame... China town is close too.
Mont Royal. One of the most extensive and beautiful green areas of the city. There are ponds, forests and trails for everyone to enjoy. But the best thing is that you can "climb" to the highest point of the city and get an incredible view of Montreal from a very cool viewpoint. It is great to visit both day and night, with buildings full of lights.
Downtown or Financial Area. An area of skyscrapers that impresses anyone (unless you are coming from New York). Apart from being the financial center of Montreal, there are a few bars and pubs to go out at night.
Le Plateau Mont-Royal. This central area is particularly beautiful and includes wide streets and many businesses. You can also take a walk in the Parc La Fountaine. A little further down is the Gay Village.
PARC NATIONAL DU MONT TREMBLANT
Photo taken from tremblant.ca
Located north of the city of Mont-Tremblant, and the village of Saint-Donat and Saint-Côme is one of the largest (and oldest) Parks in Quebec. In this mountainous and forested environment (boreal forest) you can carry out several summer and winter activities: hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, camping, cross-country skiing, snowshoe excursions, etc. The crystal clear waters of Lake Lauzon and other lakes in the Park will even encourage you to swim and take a dip. The Park is home to many species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and, above all, birds (around 200 species of birds!). Open your eyes wide to find moose, wolves, foxes, black bears, beavers, otters… Autumns leave forests of spectacular colors: maples, birches, firs, beech trees, poplars… These are the hikes you can do in this Park: https://www.sepaq.com/pq/mot/annexes/randonnee_pedestre.dot
This ancient city (1608) is one of the places with more history in Canada, with epic battles between British and French. And only walled city north of Mexico. Perhaps that combination of preserved beauty and history is what makes it so touristy. The best is in the "Old Quebec". In addition to the streets, squares, churches, historical buildings, doors and pieces of the wall, some points stand out:
Basilica of Notre Dame & Basilica of Notre Dame des Victories. These two religious spaces are very close to each other and are worth visiting, whether you are Catholic or not. Great architecture.
St Lawrence River Waterfront. A very pleasant path parallel to the river. It starts next to the Chateau Frontenac, a building of the era that remains intact and leaves no one indifferent. Either you love it or it seems ugly to you. I don´t like it that much!
Plains of Abraham. Giant park that is at the end of the walk along the waterfront. Right next to the citadel.
Citadelle of Quebec. A fortress with a lot of history. It is beautiful from outside and inside (dogs can not enter).
Old Port. The port area is cool, with a ghostly air on cloudy days.
Museums. There are a handful of museums, two of which are perhaps the most important. The Musée National des Beaux Arts, at the northern end of the Plains of Abraham, is one of the best permanent art exhibitions in Canada. The Museum of Civilization, near the port, exposes the history of Quebec (and also has a pavilion dedicated to the First Nations or native peoples).
Around Quebec City there are many places to visit. The Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier stands out.
ROUTE DES BALEINES (WHALE ROUTE)
The north area of the St Lawrence River enjoys perfect conditions for marine life, including different species of whales, belugas and seals. The mixture of salt and fresh water, as well as the cold currents, cause a lot of phytoplankton. One of those places to make a stop is Tadoussac, the next destination we will see in these itineraries, but there are many more.
TADOUSSAC AND SURROUNDINGS (SAGUENAY FJORDS NATIONAL PARK)
This town that rests at the confluence of the St Lawrence and the Saguenay rivers enjoys magical surroundings. Forests, golden sand dunes... And many beaches. Whales, belugas and seals come looking for food to these brackish waters (more than a river, the St Lawrence is a sea channel). So the show is served. You can take a wild watching boat tour, but if you do have a small budget do not worry. You can actually spot some of these magnificent beings from the same beach. I recommend walking a few km, past the campsite, and enjoy the show in a secluded spot. A place from which they are usually seen is the Pointe Rouge, a set of pink rocks at the foot of the sea. Tadoussac is, without doubt, one of those places where nature lovers should stay a few days (camping on its beaches if possible!).
Another great plan to do in the area is to visit the Parc National du Fjord du Saguenay. There is a 40 km hike to the north through the fjord of the Saguenay River. You can do the whole thing or just walk through the Park a few hours, then return to Tadoussac. Dogs are not welcome in this Park...
From Tadoussac you have several options. You can keep following the St Lawrence River on the Jacques-Cartier Route (up to Kegashka), stopping at different towns and beaches. You can take a ferry to cross to the Gaspésie, or Gaspé peninsula. Or you can go north, towards Labrador, in one of the most epic adventures in Canada. This is what we did.
The Route 389 links Baie Comeau (coast) with Fermont (on the border with Labrador). It is a 570 km road (part paved road, part dirt road), that goes up to the unexplored north of Quebec, entering more and more into the wild. In this area there is a lot of water and several dams and hydroelectric power stations were built (which you can visit if you are a geek of the dams). But the reality is that, a little by chance, they have given us an amazing road. One of my favorite actually, not only in Canada but in the world. If you are lucky enough to travel around here in late September or early October you will get to see some formidable yellow and red forests. As always, you can stop wherever you want, but there are some recommended stops. The crater Manicouagan and Les Monts Groulx are the main attraction.
MANICOUAGAN CRATER & LES MONTS GROULX
At km 335 or 340 of route 389 we have a natural jewel. The Manicouagan crater is one of the oldest and largest craters on the planet. It was caused by the impact of a big asteroid (5 km in diameter) approximately 215.5 million years ago, in the Upper Triassic. Today in that place there is a circular lake or reservoir 70 km in diameter around a plateau that has therefore been isolated. An impressive place that will leave you speechless, full of water and forests. In autumn it is spectacular. I highly recommend sleeping at the Uapishka Station, a research and conservation station that also offers accommodation on the shores of the lake. There are some very nice cabins, but if you travel alone it will be expensive. The cheap alternative: camping and using the showers. They also serve meals, which you will appreciate before or after doing the route that I will describe below.
If you want to see from an amazing perspective the lake and the crater, it will not be enough to see it from the road or the Uapishka Station. You will need to go all the way up to the neighboring Monts Groulx. Those who are into hiking are in luck, because this little-known and traveled place will welcome you with its powerful nature and will fill you with a unique sense of freedom. Be attentive to wildlife: caribou, snow ptarmigan, wolves, foxes, black bears... You can see on this website the 4 trails that lead to the plateaus of the Monts Groulx: https://www.lesmontsgroulx.com/les-sentiers-d-acces (only French)
I did the excursion "Le Sentier Veyrier", an exciting walk. It starts at km 335 on Route 389, a couple of km below the Uapishka Station. The first thing you will have to do is cross a river, where the Refuge La Lyre rests. This refuge is wonderful: a free night for all hikers. In addition, there is a kind of open-air museum of carved wood (wood art). From here it starts a hard climb of about 4 hours through forests to the bare plateaus. On the way up you can stop at very cool places, like Lac Castor. Once up, the views will make you feel more alive than ever. From here you can see the circular shape of this lake formed by the collision of a meteorite. The trail continues through the alpine tundra full of puddles and small lagoons. And so, after 10 km (6-7hours) you get to Lake Quintin, where there is a very primitive shelter (you'd better sleep in your tent!). The route continues through the mountains, but it is not marked and you must go well prepared. Most people go back the same way to the road (you can spend a night in the Refuge La Lyre and keep going the next day).
Another hike you can do is "La Fin des Sentiers Balisés", a route of 36 or 52 km, depending on the way you decide to take. A minimum of 4 days is required to complete this route.
Dogs are super welcome to Les Monts Groulx ;)
Anodyne but interesting city. Maybe because there are no tourists? There is nothing more to do than walk along those long streets or roads with hardly any buildings on their sides and look at the brave - or crazy - people who decided to set roots here. The reward is high salaries. From what I heard, an apprentice who starts in the popular mining business can easily get 40 Canadian dollars an hour... The most important mineral in the province of Labrador is iron, being precisely the mine of Labrador City and Wabush (neighboring city) the main one. But there are other minerals in the province (silver, gold, lead, copper and zinc). Here 90% of population lives from mining.
A route with a total of 1,200 km that will get you through the wildest nature. You will feel that you are the only human being on the planet crossing infinite forests that seem to never end... And some small mining population. But very few... Apart from Labrador City we have Churchill Falls, Happy Valley Goose Bay, Port Hope Simpson... And that's all, not even gas stations until you reach the coast. Crazy. Well, not that crazy. Who the hell dares to live here in winter. Holy smoke, it´s so cold! On the coast and south there is more life, though, with a few fishing villages scattered here and there. It is great to make a stop in some towns to see these interesting populations. Red Bay is the most popular stop. Most of the adventurers who drive this road do it quietly but with few stops. There are hardly campgrounds or other accommodation options. But that is precisely its charm. Just drive through it for hours without seeing anything other than green, water and probably some other moose or bear.
By the way, be careful if you are hitchhiking this route in summer. There is water everywhere and black flies can be a hell. You´d better to do it in September or before summer.
And finally, after traversing the endless trans-Labrador hwy we reach the end. This pleasant town sits just across the border of Quebec, and is where the adventure to Newfoundland begins for many. From here there are two or three daily ferries to the island of Newfoundland (about two hours to St Barbe). But first take the opportunity to walk around here. There is a free campsite (at least as of September 2017), right at the entrance to the city.
You can also drive along the coast to Vieux Fort (from here the transport is only fluvial). I have not done it, but I was told that this area is particularly beautiful. Many places to spot whales and other aquatic fauna.