We’ve had some amazing experiences road tripping, overloading and camping through Quebec, so we started researching new provincial parks to explore and stumbled upon Parc national des Grands-Jardins. Located in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, it’s a short 2 hour drive from Quebec City or 4.5 hours from Montreal.
Grands-Jardins translates to “great gardens”. The park features unique landscapes including the taiga characterized by lichens (usually only found much farther north) and areas ravaged by the forest fires of 1991 and 1999. Since the area was used for logging before coming a provincial park, the forest wasn’t mature enough to bounce back quickly from the forest fires and is still relatively barren. This makes for wide open vistas on many hiking trails.
We chose to camp at the Arthabaska campground because of its wide open vistas owing to the campfires of 1991 the nearby taiga landscapes. The campground features 30 unserviced sites, all beautifully levelled with gravel, with decent separation between sites.
The Arthabaska campground is a good 20 minute drive from the park entrance, so you’re completely cut off from cellular signal. The modern Arthabaska Discovery and Visitors Centre centre is your only source of wifi at the campground. The centre also offers canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals.
You’re also at the trailhead of several amazing hiking trails.
The hiking trails of Grands-Jardins aren’t as extensive as other national and provincial parks, but they are great hikes through unique landscapes and offering unparalleled views.
De La Tour
Barely a hike, De La Tour is an east 1.4km round-trip walk starting from the middle of the Arthabaska campground to a lookout over Lake Arthabaska. It gives a good overview of the area as you settle into the campground.
Le Boréal is an easy 3.4 loop through several unique landscapes, from the park’s oldest boreal forest to areas burned in the 1991 wildfire, now covered with snow-like lichens, blueberry bushes and other shrubs. A very unique hike.
At the turnaround point of Château-Beaumont, you can extend the hike with La Pinède trail.
While labeled easy, this La Pinède borders on intermediate in areas. It’s a 6km loop extension of Le Boreal, for a total hike of 9.5km. A worthwhile endeavour, even for novice hikers, going through grey pine forest and offering views of ice age lakes.
From here, you can also add the Pommereau trail, a 1.8km intermediate extension (each way) that promises a water plant environment that is developing into a peat bog. We decided to save this hike for a future visit.
Le Brûlé trail is presented as a 10km intermediate loop that overlaps with sections of La Pinède and Le Boréal. Since we had already hiked both these trails (and short on daylight hours), we chose to only hike in 2.2km to the summit lookout and turn around. Beware that sections can get quite muddy if it’s been raining, and the trail was closed for periods of 2023 due to heavy rains making it impassable. Don’t let this deter you; the views are outstanding!
If you were up for a longer hike, you could complete Le Boréal, La Pinède and Le Brûlé in a single 13km loop that only skips a few kilometres of trail.
Canoeing from Lake Arthabaska to Barrage Wabano
If you’re into canoeing, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding, you can rent these from the Arthabaska Discovery and Visitors Centre and explore the series of lakes and rivers connected to Lake Arthabaska. You can explore up to 4.5km of waterways (for a 9km roundtrip adventure) with minimal waves or current, for a relatively easy adventure. There’s one very short portage and a small section of mild rapids. For the rapids, you can safely canoe this section downstream, while going upstream it’s easiest to get out of the canoe and pull it up.
The navigable trail ends at Barrage Wabano where you’ll find a picnic table and pit toilets. A nice spot for a picnic before starting your return journey. Plan for 4 hours if you do the entire journey.
If you’ve been to other Quebec provincial parks, you might have encountered via ferrata, climbing routes in the mountains that use permanently mounted footholds, rungs and steel cables to facilitate climbing and to which climbers affix a harness, limiting any fall.
We tried this for the first time at the Saguenay Fjord National Park and loved it (although we were also a bit terrified). So we jumped at the chance to try it again at Grands-Jardins.
We opted for the complete La Montée route, which includes the crossing of the side of the Mont du Lac des Cygnes, as well as a journey to the mountain peak where we stopped for a small break.
Happy to say this was less fear-inducing than the via ferrata at Saguenay Fjord, and offered amazing views of the Charlevoix crater and the Laurentian highlands. Definitely strongly recommended over hiking this area, as you have amazing views every moment of the journey.
Learning about edible mushrooms
A unique educational activity offered by the park explores the world of edible mushrooms. It starts with an informative presentation on mushrooms (we learned a lot!) and how to safely learn to forage for mushrooms.
We then went for a 2km hike, wandering off train in an area known to offer lobster mushrooms. Success isn’t guaranteed, especially because finding specimens suitable for eating is dependent on the correct rainfall. But we got lucky and found an excellent specimen.
After the hike, we returned to the classroom to learn about cooking the mushroom, and then returned to camp and split the mushroom between our next two meals.
We were at Grands-Jardins in mid-August, which happens to be peak blueberry season in Quebec, and Grands-Jardins is literally full of wild blueberry bushes.
In most protected parks, picking any type of vegetation is strictly prohibited. But at Parc national des Grands-Jardins, the blueberries are so abundant that they are officially allowed to be picked for immediate and personal consumption. Blueberry bushes surrounded our camp site, bordered every hiking trail and covered the summit of our via ferrata route. So at every moment during our camping trip, we had access to a fresh snack.
And since we usually make pancakes for breakfast while camping, we found ourselves enjoying wild blueberry pancakes with blueberries literally picked every morning on our camp site. It doesn’t get more magical than that!
We spent an amazing 5 nights at Parc national des Grands-Jardins and thoroughly enjoyed every moment. We could have even stayed a few more days to explore some more hiking trails, but this just means we’ll have to return. Highly recommended, as it’s surely unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.