We spent two weeks of July at Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier, just north of Quebec City. It's a 30 minute drive from Quebec City to the park, which makes it a great location for a combination wilderness and city vacation. Although the drive from the City to the park is short, it's almost all uphill.
We stayed in the Alluvions campground, which is just a short walk to the Visitor Centre. The campground is very similar to the Ontario Parks, with electric sites and a dump station in the campground. The comfort stations were handy and clean, and showers cost 50¢ for two minutes. The showers could be stopped for lathering up though, so we didn't need more than 50¢ at a time.
There are no laundry facilities in the park, but there's a dogsled campground just up the highway with a single washer and dryer. Language was not a barrier at all. Most park staff speak English well enough to carry on a conversation, and if they didn't they were able to understand our French, and we had little difficulty understanding them. The park seems to be very popular with travelers. We saw cars from all over the east of Canada and the USA in the parking lot of the Visitor Centre.
The main part of the park is in a deep river valley. Steep, sometimes vertical, hills rise 500 metres to a plateau on either side of the narrow river. There is no real beach in the park, since it's all along the river, although there were quite a few people swimming at the Visitor Centre in the shallows, or at the many sandy spots elsewhere along the river.
The river has a few areas of reasonable flat water for canoeing, but there are also several faster sections. A popular stretch is to head from Pont Banc at km 18 down to the Visitor Centre at km 10. This route runs through one Class III, two Class II and several Class I rapids. The Class III is a must-portage for the rafts and rental canoes/kayaks, although we did see a guy successfully run it in his own small kayak.
The park rents inflatable 4-6 and 8-10 person mini-rafts, inner tubes, kayaks and canoes, and provides a shuttle service to various stops up-river. You can also take your own watercraft on the shuttle, if you're not afraid of dashing it to pieces in the rapids. We did the 8km from Pont Banc to the Visitor Centre in a mini-raft twice. The kids handled it easily, and had a blast.
Our favourite spot to start a canoe trip was farther up-river, around km 25, at the L'Ekwatek put-in. The road upstream runs alongside the river, and it was quite a dusty drive to get to the put-in or to the hiking trails. From the km 25 put-in it's possible to head upstream against the current for almost 2km, until you reach a stretch of shallow fast water. Downstream is even easier, with close to 3km before a rapid. Paddling back upstream from there isn't difficult, as the river is wider and deeper in this area.
The stretch of river between km 19 and km 27 is the best location we found for spotting moose. The park's symbol is a moose, and they are everywhere. For our first trip on the river, we headed downstream from km 25, and surprised a female with a calf. Later in the week we spotted them again (probably the same pair) and the female alone, in roughly the same location.
The next day we headed upstream. I was watching a guy fishing on the far side of the river. Just beyond him was another guy, with a camera. He was pointing to the riverbank ahead of us. I slowed down and we peeked around the corner.
The big moose watched us for a second, then wandered across the river in front of us to have lunch. We sat and watched him for about 15 minutes.
The guy with the camera yelled over that there had also been a female on the shore earlier. After a while, I heard some twigs snapping in the bush to my left. I looked over and saw the female wandering out to the edge of the river. She checked us out for a while, then joined her friend for lunch.
In addition to the moose that were all over the place, the wildlife sighting board in the Visitor Centre had lots of bears, a few foxes, porcupines and skunks listed. We did see a fox crossing the road one night, but didn't see any bears. One evening, a skunk visited our campfire. Luckily it left after a few minutes of sniffing around.
We spent two days in Quebec City walking around the walled part of town. It is such a beautiful city - I would go back in a second. We toured the Governor General's residence in the Citadelle. The staff was quite impressed that we were from Waterloo Region, the old stomping ground of His Excellency.
While in Quebec we made sure to visit a few of the hundreds of restaurants, tour Montmorency Falls, and take in the Cirque du Soleil show "Les Chemins invisibles". Smallest daughter's eyes were popping out of her head at the acrobatics and dancing.
Back in the park we hiked a few trails. The Cascades and L'Apercu trails are within walking distance from the Alluvions campground and the Visitor Centre. Each is a nice, slightly hilly, walk through the woods alongside a babbling brook.
The far more challenging hike was the Les Loups trail. It's 11km long, with a 500m vertical climb (up and back down again). The reward is two spectacular lookouts, one to the North and one to the South. The lookouts are just under 3km apart, over mostly level ground. The initial climb up from the parking lot is the worst, with the final ascent to the lookouts pretty steep too. The girls grouched a bit on the way up, but were able to scamper back down without too much complaining.
Lots more photos here: