Canada

Best Active Day Trips From Quebec City for Outdoor Adventurers

Last month, I visited Quebec for the first time since I was in high school. My wife and I spent several days exploring Quebec City’s historical attractions, walking through neighborhoods, and bakery-hopping. While the city is still a great place to explore, day trips from Quebec City were actually my favorite part of a Quebec vacation!

Read on for four of my favorite day trips from Quebec City for active travelers. 

The Best Active Day Trips from Quebec for Queer Travelers

Quebec City has a reputation for being one of the most romantic cities in North America. Meandering cobblestone streets, stone walls and a sugary-sweet aroma from maple candies and baked goods.

Many of the best day trips from Quebec City for outdoor adventures are only an hour away from downtown. So you can base yourself in Quebec’s LGBTQ friendly neighborhoods and easily explore the beautiful nature right outside city lines.

These four day trips from Quebec City are ideal for queer travelers who want to escape the city (and the tourist crowds) with an active getaway.

Ile d’Orleans

Île d’Orléans is an agricultural island located in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, 15 km from Quebec City. Of all the day trips from Quebec City, this was my favorite!

Why go: You love agritourism, you want to taste your way through local cideries and wineries, or you want to picnic on local cheese, bread and produce while driving or bicycling around a beautiful rural setting less than half an hour from Quebec. 

Getting there: It’s accessible by a bridge located east of Quebec City. There are no ferries to Île d’Orléans. The best way to get there is by car, but you can also bike to Île d’Orléans.

Cost: Free

A large farmhouse off to the side, surrounded by rows of growing wine grapes and the mountains I the background.

Île d’Orléans puts Québec agriculture front and center with a wide selection of farmers, dairy producers, winemakers and distillers, bakers, jam makers, and more. In between your DIY food tour of the island, you can stop off at craft shops and makers’ markets to browse for the perfect souvenir. 

The road is dotted with small shops offering all sorts of gastronomic treasures. You can make your own itinerary, but here are a few of my favorites to inspire you: 

  • Confiturerie Tigidou: A local jam maker that produces several varieties of jam and jelly, plus cocktail syrup. There is a tasting room where you can try blueberry cream, pear coffee cream, strawberry rhubarb jam, blackberry jam and more. We loved everything we tried and had to restrict ourselves to buying (just!) four jams to take home.  
  •  Du Capitaine Farm, Vinegar, Distillery and Boutique: This vinegar producer makes vinegar flavored with local products, like spruce tips and melilot, a wild sweet clover. At the farm store you can taste products and purchase grocery staples. 
  • La Midinette: This local bakery/restaurant is the ideal pit stop for a coffee, pastry, or loaf of bread should you need a vehicle for jam and cheese. 
  • Ferme Audet: This farm makes three varieties of goat cheese — a tome, a feta, and a crottin — plus the most divine goat cheese soft-serve, which can be dipped in chocolate or salted caramel. Get a cone and sit in the backyard, where you can watch the goats.  
  • Cassis Monna & Filles: A multigenerational black currant farm that makes their own creme de cassis, blackcurrant wine and other local products. You can do a free half-hour tasting, purchase a bottle of sangria or a cone of black currant soft serve to enjoy at the picnic tables out back, or try blackcurrant flavored condiments, like caramelized onions or zingy blackcurrant mustard. 
  • Ste-Pétronille Winery & Cidery: Of all the wineries on the island, this was our favorite. It has dry white wines and fruity rosés. Purchase a taste for a couple of dollars and serve yourself using the wine vending machine, or buy a glass to savor at a patio table overlooking the river and Mont St-Anne in the background. Come with an appetite; the homemade pizzas looked and smelled divine. 

I drove around the island, but it also makes for a great cycle tour. It takes around 3 hours to cycle the most popular route. You’ll be bicycling on the shoulder of the road; there are no protected bike paths on the island. However, the cycling culture is robust and you won’t be alone. This makes it safer because drivers are on the lookout for cyclists. There are bike rental shops available on Île d’Orléans if you’re not traveling with bikes.

Farmstead with zucchini, garlic scapes and fresh herbs on Ile d'Orleans.

Montmorency Falls 

Why go: The falls are taller than Niagara and there are many ways to explore them: on foot, by biplane, or on a via ferrata course. 

Getting there: The falls are a 15-minute drive from Quebec City. They’re also accessible via public transportation including the #800 bus.

Cost: $0-$50 depending on the activities you choose. Tip: They charge for parking from 9:30-5, but the park itself is open from 7 am-10pm. If you go in the morning or evening, you’ll avoid the parking and entry fees. However, you won’t be able to try the zipline, via ferrata or cable car.  

A large waterfall with a pedestrian bridge over it. Smaller cascades of water tumble down the rocks on one side.

Montmorency Falls is larger than Niagara Falls but gets a fraction of the visitors. Located so close to Quebec City, it makes for a nice day trip. 

While the waterfall is an Instagrammable backdrop, there are also several ways to enjoy the site. 

From the top of the falls, you can walk on a suspension bridge to access a few nature trails or the panoramic staircase, which takes you closer to the falls via 487 steps. To get back to the upper parking lot, take the stairs or hop the cable car for an additional fee of $15. 

Thrill seekers can ride a zipline across the waterfall or climb the face of the rocks alongside the fall on a via ferrata course. 

There are several picnic areas that offer river views and different play areas for children. 

Image showing over 400 steps leading down the side of Montmorency Falls, with people walking down.

Baie Saint Paul

Why go: An hour from Quebec City, this historic town offers art galleries, shops, and outdoor activities. 

Getting there: Drive yourself; it’s about an hour each way. Alternately, take the seasonal Train de Charlevoix, which leaves from Montmorency Falls and takes 2-½ hours each way. On the train, you’ll have four hours to explore before the return trip. 

Cost: There’s no cost to wander the streets and window shop, but the day trip can be expensive if you stop at the shops, cafes or restaurants that line the village streets. 

Three purple plates with two small cakes and a coffee set against a wicker table in Baie-Saint-Paul Saint Paul

Baie-Saint-Paul was named Canada’s Cultural capital in 2017. The city has the highest number of art galleries per resident. The village’s tiny streets are filled with independent shops, art galleries, restaurants and cafes. You can take everything in in an afternoon plus – bonus – the trip there takes you through rolling hills that open onto a gorgeous and unexpected view. Where it passes by Baie-Saint-Paul, the St. Lawrence River is so wide it looks more like a sea. Thousands of shore birds coast on the breeze. Crest down the road and into the village to meander at your leisure. 

While the town may be well-known for its arts scene, Baie-Saint-Paul is a great spot for nature lovers. This is why it makes the list of best active day trips from Quebec City.

At Baie-Saint-Paul wharf, a short walk from the village, there is a small sandy beach for swimming and fishing. Local outfitter Katabatik offers half-day kayaking trips on the St. Lawrence and the Gouffre River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence. They also have SUPs. 

If you’re in the mood for a hike, Boisé du Quai trail is accessible from the beach. It takes you through forests and eventually to an observation tower, where you can watch the birds drawn to the wide bay. 

Photo of Baie-Saint-Paul Saint Paul beach, a sandy beach with people walking. In the background is a blue tent.

If you have more time, consider extending your drive to La Malbaie along the Route du Fleuve, a scenic route that meanders between the mountains and the river. La Malbaie is the trail town for Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park, which offers hiking and camping in a rugged landscape with more dramatic slopes than you typically find in East Coast mountains. 

Thirty minutes north of Baie-Saint-Paul is Parc National du Grands-Jardins, a provincial park that is part of the UNESCO-protected Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve. The park’s lake is one of the places in Quebec where you can fish for exclusively native trout. Kayak, canoe and SUP rentals are offered seasonally in the park. There are over 18 miles of trails, including a via ferrata route up Mont du Lac des Cygnes (seasonally open).

Jacques Cartier National Park

Why go: Sixty miles of hiking and biking trails plus two gorgeous rivers for canoeing, kayaking or SUP adventures. 

Getting there: It’s a 45-minute drive from Quebec City. 

Cost: $9.25 admission fee per person 

Mountains int he background with a river in the foreground and two orange canoes off to one side.

Nestled between mountains roughly forty-five minutes north of Quebec, you’ll find Jacques-Cartier National Park, one of the best active day trips from Quebec City for hikers. Its proximity to Quebec City plus a range of outdoor adventures offered make it perfect for a day trip for adventurers of all levels! 

I was drawn by the chance to get in a good hike on an urban vacation. We chose L’Éperon trail, a 5.4 km (3.3 miles) loop trail that started with a steep hike up switchbacks. Within minutes of starting our hike we were deep in the woods appreciating the fresh mountain air. Several lookouts offered sweeping valley and river views with educational signs explaining the area’s indigenous history and recent efforts to restore the river’s local salmon population.

The trail took us around 2-1/2 hours with a stop for a picnic lunch. It was well-marked and relatively uncrowded. 

Having seen the river from our hike, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to rent kayaks. A double kayak rental for an hour cost us around $20 Canadian. We were given a beast of a kayak that was MUCH heavier than my 12-foot long river kayak with a rudder system. On the water, it was a grind to get anywhere. An hour on the water was more than enough time to get an upper body workout!  

In addition to tandem kayaks, there were solo kayaks, SUP boards, and inflatable canoes for rent for a one-hour or half-day period. The river is mostly calm. There are places with small rapids for whitewater boating, too. 

If you want to stay the night, there are multiple campgrounds and cabin rentals scattered throughout the park. With 18 trails and a range of other activities — everything from winter snowshoeing to nature activities for kids to downriver tubing, you’ll find lots to fill your time if you decide to extend your stay and camp. 

You’ll find a small store within the park which sells t-shirts, mugs, and souvenirs. They have tea and coffee, salads, prepared sandwiches and snacks, but you’ll want to pack in (and pack out!) your food and water. 

view of Jacques Cartier river from our L'escarpe hike: A river with small islands in the middle surrounded by pine forests and distant mountains.

The Best Time of Year to Visit Quebec City

Summer is the best time for outdoor adventures, but it’s also the height of the tourist season in Quebec. A summer visit means more tourists, higher prices, and crowds at top attractions. 

Visiting in May, June, or October will mean fewer crowds and a decent chance at nice weather. If you visit in October, you’ll be treated to a display of fall foliage. 

Quebec is famous as a winter travel destination, thanks to its annual winter carnival, held in January and February. If your ideal vacation includes winter activities like skiing, skating, tubing, or dogsledding, time your visit accordingly.  

Winter in Quebec can last into April. As the weather warms and spring arrives, snow turns to rain. Waterfalls near Quebec are at their peak with the fresh rainfall, but trails will still be muddy for hiking or cycling. 

Do You Need to Speak French to Visit Quebec City?

No, you don’t need to speak French to visit Quebec City. 

Almost everyone in Quebec speaks English. At tourist attractions you’ll generally be asked whether you speak French or English. At restaurants, you can ask for an English menu or use your smartphone’s translate function and browse the online version. 

However, French is the primary language for the majority of Quebecois. The province passed a law in 2022 reducing the ability of residents and businesses to access government services in English. 

Knowing some French can enhance your experience. If you know French, you’ll have a deeper enjoyment of local culture. If you don’t know French, you’ll still be able to get by.

Is Quebec LGBTQ-Friendly?

Canada is extremely LGBTQ-friendly and Quebec is no exception. 

  • Canada is more progressive on LGBTQ rights than the US
  • Forbes ranked Canada among the five safest destinations for queer travelers in 2019 
  • Canada was ranked the least dangerous country on Asher & Lyric’s LGBTQ+ Danger Index in 2022
  • Spartacus Gay Travel Index rated Canada its number-one gay friendly country in 2021

In Quebec, as throughout Canada, LGBTQ couples enjoy the same rights as opposite-sex couples. 

Quebec residents overwhelmingly support LGBTQ marriages, LGBTQ parents and LGBTQ identity and coming out, according to Equaldex

Homosexuality has been decriminalized in Canada since 1969, and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004. The US decriminalized homosexuality in 2003. Also in 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay marriages. In the US, nationwide as of 2015. 

While US states are filing hundreds of anti-trans and anti-queer bills, Canada thus far remains committed to protecting queer and trans rights making a vacation there a welcome relief for Americans who want to vacation in progressive destinations and avoid spending money in states that are moving backwards on LGBTQ rights. 

To get an annotated map with my recommendations for where to eat, drink and explore queer culture Quebec City, sign up for my newsletter!

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