During our Québec City/ Bas-Saint-Laurent road trip this past summer we wanted to spend as much time as possible outside since we wanted to enjoy the nice weather but also because of covid. So we planned to do a hike in Parc national du Bic, one of Québec’s national parks. The park is right on the Saint-Laurent River and really easy to access if you’re travelling through the Bas-Saint-Laurent region. We chose to do Le Grand Tour hike which is 8.7km (about 3 hours) and listed as the most difficult and longest hike in the park. The hike also has unique time restraints since you need to complete it during low tide as it is mostly right along the coastline over the rocks.
To do this hike you need to time it so that you’re starting your hike from the Discovery and Visitors Centre – Rioux Farm 2 hours before the expected time of the lowest tide. Unfortunately the park’s website doesn’t tell you when low tide is so you have to look around online to find the right time. This proved to be a challenge since two different government websites gave me conflicting times. We knew that if we showed up later than 2 hours there was a different hike we could do but luckily when we checked in at the main gate and asked they told us we had just enough time to park and start our hike. It turns out that the tide tables from Fisheries and Oceans Canada was accurate. Here are the tide predictions for Bic where the park is located. There are many other hikes in the park as you can see from the map below so if you’re unable to make your visit line up with the tides but still want to hike there are other options. Usually we like to start our hikes in the morning but the low tide times were either super early in the morning or in the afternoon. Since we were driving from Québec City to the park we hiked it in the afternoon.
If you want to do Le Grand Tour hike you need to enter the park at the Cap-à-l’Orginal entrance and then drive to the Centre de découverte et de services – Ferme Rioux (visitor’s centre). There is a parking lot at the visitor’s centre but if it is full you can park at a lot just a bit further away and then walk over down the road or through the campground area. This trail map on the park’s website shows the entrance, visitor’s centre, parking lots as well as all the trails. There is an entrance fee for the park and during Covid it is required to buy your pass in advance online. Unfortunately this doesn’t guarantee you parking so try to plan around busier times or arrive early in the day. For Le Grand Tour hike you are kind of tied to when the tide is out so timing is a little bit trickier. Luckily when we visited on a Sunday afternoon in July around 3pm (low tide was around 5pm) it wasn’t too busy but we did have to park at the further parking lot and walk over.
The signage for the trails aren’t the best which is the one thing I really didn’t like about the hike. Part of the reason for this is that you’re literally hiking on a trail/ over rocks that are underwater when the tide is in so they can’t really put trail markers on those parts. But even the parts of the trail on a path and near the coast wasn’t marked well so we had to use the AllTrails app to make sure we were going the right way. Here is Le Grand Tour hike on the AllTrails site. It was super useful to have the map open on my phone to check our location against the trail map on the app. Even if you don’t have a subscription you can use the app and the basic map on your phone. As long as you have service when you open it and keep it open on your phone you’ll be able to use the GPS on your phone to track your location, even if you lose service. If you can though, download the map in advance on the app so you don’t have to worry about losing it accidentally. This is also handy to track your progress during the hike.
As I mentioned the hike starts at at visitor’s centre and then goes counter-clockwise all around the coast. On the trail map the parts with little black triangles mark the parts that are usually underwater during high tide. These parts are also very rocky and challenging, you’re basically scaling jagged coastal rocks and there isn’t really a trail. If you don’t want to do the whole hike but still want to do some of the coast you can hike Le Tour Cap-à-l’Original instead which is shorter and only goes along the first section of rocky coast to the point and then inland back to the visitor’s centre. For this hike you only need to leave from the visitor’s centre from between 30 minutes and 2 hours before the lowest tide time. This was going to be our alternate hike if we arrived too late for the big one. If I was to go back I would probably do the shorter hike though since the first part is the nicest and after the short section back on the beach after the point you are just on really difficult rocks for a very long time. It honestly stopped being fun at a certain point and was a bit dangerous too, I actually had to put my camera away since I was afraid of falling and breaking it.
The first part of the hike starts off really easy on a path and then you cross over to the beach. It isn’t clear at what point you need to get on to the beach to follow the trail so you can basically hope on at any point. Once on the beach you just follow the coast the whole way. As I mentioned there are no trail markers so you just need to make your own path over the rocks. Make sure you keep an eye out for seals sunning themselves on the rocks. We only saw one and it was hard to spot. Some of the rocky parts are a bit challenging but if you take it slow it’s not too bad.
After a little while you’ll start climbing a bit and then you’ll reach a point with a bunch of wild irises and roses if you visit in the summer. This is a great spot to stop and take a break and maybe have a snack. From this point once you continue along the path to the beach you can take the path inland to follow Le Tour Cap-à-l’Original hike instead. Otherwise you continue along the beach and keep following the coastline over the rocks. From the point you are also about a third of the way through the hike.
The hike gets significantly harder from this point. The rocky section is the longest here and the most difficult. At times it’s not very clear what way you should go over the rocks so you have to take it slow and use your best judgement for how to scale them. I didn’t even take many photos of this part of the hike since it got a little dangerous and I really had to keep my focus on the rocks and needed both my hands free. Eventually you’ll get back to another little beach and then take the trail through the woods. This section through the woods is pretty easy with only a little bit of elevation. You may also see some wildlife so keep and eye out and also keep your distance. We saw a fox run right across the path pretty close to us when we were almost back at the visitor’s centre.
In terms of gear for this hike your usual hiking clothes will be fine, if it’s not too hot, pants might be preferable for climbing over the rocks so you don’t get all scratched up. For women I love Alder for hiking clothes, they are a new brand with amazing hiking clothes for all shapes and sizes. Also make sure you wear really good hiking shoes/boots since the terrain is rough, I wear Keen shoes and love them. I also love my Smartwool hiking socks and Injinji sock liners for hiking. A sun hat would be a good idea since the trail is very exposed and make sure you wear sunscreen, bring plenty of water and maybe a snack. We had a 3L bladder pack of water to share between 2 people and it was enough water for the 3 hour hike in the sun. I don’t think hiking poles would be necessary for this hike and may even be a hindrance since the terrain is so rocky and you really just need to be able to pull yourself up with your arms and reach across little chasms with your legs. If you bring a camera make sure you can put it away in your backpack since there are parts of the trail that are very precarious and require your full attention. I just put mine in my Fjallraven backpack but we also had a Osprey backpack for the water. Do not to this hike if it is rainy since the rocks could be very slippery and dangerous.
Overall this was a great hike that was both challenging and fun. I’ve done plenty of long hikes before and ones the same length as this but it was probably one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever done because it was technically challenging. For a lot of it you are basically rock climbing/ scaling rocks so it’s not your usual trail hike where usually the only challenging part is the trail elevation. Even if you aren’t an experienced hiker you could do this hike as long as you take your time and wear the right shoes! As a casual hiker and semi in-shape person I found it challenging but still really doable and fun. There are many other hikes in the park as well and it was a beautiful area so I’d love to go back and explore a bit more on our next trip.