The Essential Itinerary: Western Quebec

A six-day tour designed to hit some of the highlights of western Quebec during the most colourful time of the year 

  • Published Sep 22, 2022
  • Updated Mar 10, 2023
  • 1,459 words
  • 6 minutes
As an area with abundant forests, western Quebec is the perfect place to visit to experience the best of Canada's fall colours. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
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Fall is a fantastic time to wander the woods of western Quebec on a circular route north from Ottawa. From mid-September to mid-October, the autumn hues hit their high notes, wildlife are seemingly ever-present prepping for winter, the days are typically warm and the nights are perfect-for-cozy-campfires cool. Outdoor adventures and rustic accommodations allow one to make the most of the season. Here’s a six-day tour designed to hit some highlights.

Day 1

12 p.m. | Field foods

Fuel up for the fun ahead with a scrumptious plant-based meal at Astoria Bistro Botanique in Gatineau, Que., just across the river from downtown Ottawa. The menu boasts a seasonal section of heart-warming fare, such as jalapeño popper grilled “cheese” and tomato soup, taco salad and buffalo mac ‘n cheese.

Using boardwalks as a method of exploration is a great way to experience Quebec's different landscapes. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
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2 p.m. | Advance to boardwalk

Situated on the north bank of the Ottawa River, Parc national de Plaisance features five very accessible hiking trails that wind around, such as the Marais-aux-Rubaniers trail boardwalk, and through, such as the Zizanie de Marais floating path, the heart of marshes bordering the mighty waterway. In fall, fish-hunting herons, busy baby beavers and skittish mallards abound—thankfully, bugs do not! Bonus: the park offers a range of accommodations, including yurts and fully equipped ready-to-camp tents.

8:30 p.m. | Night lights

While many of its animals disappear after dark, the drive-through Parc Omega wildlife preserve just north of Montebello, Que., stays “up” with a unique artistic sound and light experience, Omega By Night. Walk a 1.5-kilometre trail through the cedar woods and around the swamp, replete with a range of magical sights and wilderness buzz, en route to the wolf observatory, where the pack roams under a full moon.

Day 2

10 a.m. | Where the wild things roam

Return to Parc Omega in the daylight to get up-close-and-personal with dozens of wildlife species native to Quebec and suited to the local climate and habitat along the 12-kilometre, safari-style drive-through trail that winds through large open expanses. See coyotes, foxes, wolves, white-tailed deer, elk, caribou, bison, bears and all sorts of birds — some of which will wander right up to your car! Get there early to avoid the traffic jam.

With more than a dozen zip lines, Kanatha-Aki Nature Activity Center is the perfect place to fly through the heart of the forest. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
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Noon | Climb the hills at Kenauk

One of North America’s largest (26,000 hectares) and oldest (established in 1929) private wilderness preserves, Kenauk Nature boasts more than 60 lakes within its boundaries and some 20 kilometres of hiking trails, ranging from shorter loops for beginners to challenging treks for hardcore hikers. Combine the intermediate Fern and Skymount trails to explore an approximately four-kilometre trail that winds through a young hardwood forest, along the Kinonge River, past the Magic School Bus (how did it get here?!?) and up a natural rock staircase to the Skymount fire tower. Climb the 20-metre-high lookout for incredible views of the area.

5 p.m. | Zip through trees

About 30 minutes northeast of Mont-Tremblant, the Kanatha-Aki Nature Center offers a range of outdoor experiences, from horseback riding to a bison preserve. A unique highlight is the tree-to-tree zipline course (18 sections!) that lets you fly through a stream valley at your own speed. Spend the night in the off-grid mountain hut, which boasts panoramic views of the surrounding region and overlooks the expansive bison herd pen, for an authentic explorer experience.

Day 3

9 a.m. | e-bike Tremblant

D-Tour Tremblant offers an e-asy way to explore the bike trails around Mont-Tremblant: high-stability, electric-assist mountain bikes. Climbs are a cinch and even rugged routes are made simple. Combine smooth riding with glorious fall colours, cool temps and abundant wildlife—local white-tailed deer are particularly audacious at this time of year—and you’ve got a great way to hit Tremblant’s hills. D-Tour also offers traditional guided mountain bike treks and hikes, too, with knowledgeable, enthusiastic locals.

Fall is the perfect season to visit Quebec because of the bright colours and crisp autumn air. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
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Noon | Break bread

Centrally located on the main drag in Old Tremblant Village, La Sandwicherie Café + Bistro boasts an eclectic selection of hit-the-mark lunch fare to sate an outdoor-fuelled appetite. With a wide-range of freshly made sumptuous sandwiches (naturally) and succulent soups and salads, it’s a can’t-miss menu.

2 p.m. | Fly the fall colours

While Air Mont-Laurier Outfitter offers a range of fishing and hunting excursions in the general vicinity of its seaplane base in Rivière-Rouge, a flight over the peak fall colours into the camp at Ecolodge Kiamika in Parc régional Kiamika, a 26-square-kilometre conservation reserve, is an awe-inspiring excursion.

4 p.m. | Walk the woods/kayak Kiamika

Ecolodge Kiamika provides a range of accommodation options in Parc régional Kiamika, from campsites to canvas-walled tents to cabins, on a glorious sand beach-lined site at the north end of the Kiamika Reservoir. Hit the nearby trails for a five- to 10-kilometre hike though typical Laurentian hardwood forests, then paddle the reservoir’s waters north of the lodge to explore rock-walled nooks and crannies, bald eagle nests, sandbars and marshes at sunset.

Day 4

Noon | Freshly baked

Fuel up for afternoon activities at Val-d’Or’s Balthazar Café, a warm, friendly, French-style artisanal bakery. Freshly-made breads are on offer daily, along with homemade paninis, wraps, salads, soups and desserts.

2 p.m. | Mine for gold(en leaves) 

While gold discovered in the area in the 1920s is responsible for Val-d’Or’s name (Valley of Gold in English), fall visitors to the 50-square-kilometre Forêt récréative de Val-d’Or could easily be convinced the moniker was inspired by the gilded hues of the areas birch forest. On a sunlit afternoon, trees virtually glow for hikers or bikers wandering trails ranging in length from two kilometres to more than 20.

6 p.m. | Sunset in the trees

Stay the night in one of three “tree houses” (unique cabins built on stilts) among the boreal forest on the outskirts of Val-d’Or overlooking Lac Lemoine at Entre Lemoine et l’Arbre. The off-grid Prospector cabin, nestled into the hillside and facing the west, boasts a particularly great spot for soaking in an awesome autumn sunset. Once the sun goes down, truly power down for an undisturbed night.

Offering shelter to animals in need of rehabilitation, Refuge Pageau aims to return animals to the wild but also cares for wildlife in need of long-term help. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
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Day 5

1 p.m. | Honey, honey 

Located about a 40-minute drive north of Val-d’Or, organic honey company La Grande Ourse Miellerie boasts a small shop that sells its wide-range of made-on-site products—from spreads to candles to beverages and more—and also offers tours of its facilities, which includes 500 hives.

4 p.m. | Go to rehab

Refuge Pageau is a wildlife rehabilitation and education centre that works to care for sick, injured and orphaned area animals, and when possible, reintroduce them to the wild. While its long-term residents unfortunately can’t return to their homes, they allow visitors to get close to wild Canadian species—from ravens and owls to foxes and wolves to moose—they might never otherwise see in such a small-scale environment. And learn more about their habits and habitats along the way.

Day 6

9 a.m. | Parc Place

Rent a canoe for an early morning paddle along the water-carved rock walls of Lac Patrice in Parc national d’Aiguebelle. Sections of the shoreline also boast pillow lava, cushion-shaped volcanic rock created by underwater lava. Afterward, hike to the top of the surrounding hillsides to cross the 22-metre-high suspension bridge that crosses the lake for great views and other geographic marvels, such as small kettles (erosion-created, water-filled rock holes).

The 22-metre high footbridge in Aigubelle National Park provides amazing views of the forests and water below. (Photo: Aaron Kylie)
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Noon | One last loaf

Yet another must-stop French-style artisan bakery, Le St-Honoré in downtown Rouyn-Noranda, about an hour’s drive southwest of Parc national d’Aiguebelle, offers a wide range of freshly baked breads and pastries. Naturally, super sandwiches are on offer, too, and be sure to save room for dessert (the éclair chocolat is delectable).

2:30 p.m. | Go back in time

It may be the perfect last stop for grabbing a souvenir. Magasin général Dumulon is the oldest business in Rouyn-Noranda, founded in 1924, around the time the two towns that eventually merged were rising from the forests of Quebec’s Abitibi-Témiscamingue region. Originally a local general store, today the shop’s a historic site paying homage to its original roots but now peddling wares of local artisans.


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