Many visitors to Quebec City will take the roughly 20-minute journey north along the St. Lawrence River to see Montmorency Falls. The large Quebec waterfall is visible from the highway and is very popular. But for those willing to drive a little farther for an experience that is more intimate and off the beaten path, there is another option. Only a short distance farther, Canyon Sainte-Anne offers a chance to experience a pristine waterfall nestled amongst the trees.
The Quebec waterfall Canyon Sainte-Anne offers an impressive and immersive experience, too. Multiple suspension bridges cross over the waterway, allowing you to take in multiple views during a brisk hike in the fresh air. A visit to the waterfall is a refreshing outdoor adventure that lets you recharge.
The History Behind Canyon Sainte-Anne
Approximately half an hour’s drive north of Quebec City is Canyon Sainte-Anne. But you would not quite know it upon arrival. At least, not initially. The waterfall and canyon are well hidden, a secret that is known only to the trees and the hills. Only the sign along the roadway teases what lies down the quiet private road visitors will turn off onto: a gorge on the Sainte-Anne-du-Nord River.
The Sainte-Anne-du-Nord River cut the gorge into the riverbed’s 1.2-billion-year-old rock. Along its path, it has left behind a 243-foot waterfall as well as additional cascades and potholes. (For comparison, Niagara Falls is 167-feet and Montmorency Falls is 272-feet.)
The canyon only opened to the public rather recently, in 1973. However, it should be no surprise that it was known to the locals for centuries. It had plenty of visitors and was even appreciated by no less than American philosopher Henry David Thoreau.
Visiting Canyon Sainte-Anne
Waterfall watchers at Canyon Sainte-Anne get to experience an entire outdoor adventure. From the moment you arrive, the mood is set. Tall trees tower over the site providing a leafy canopy and carefully carved wooden sculptures decorate the landscape.
From the entrance, it is a brief downhill walk to reach the waterfall. While you cannot yet see the Sainte-Anne-du-Nord River yet, you can certainly hear the rushing water. But as the trees part and the path opens, suddenly the river stands before you.
From there, visitors get to walk along the gorge, crossing back and forth by way of three separate suspension bridges. There are informative signs along the way but the real star of the attraction is, of course, the falls.
Part of what makes this waterfall so exciting is that the trail and bridges allow for many different views and perspectives onto the river, the gorge, and the falls. It is remarkable how close to the waterfall and the gorge the trail allows you to get. At some observation points, you will feel the gentle spray of the water on your skin.
The trail around the gorge is only about a mile in length, but it is the stairs that prove the challenge. To reach some of the most interesting observation points, you have to go up and down dozens of stairs. There are benches, but the trails are narrow and it can be difficult with large crowds. The suspension bridges can also prove a challenge as they swing as people cross. It’s an exhilarating experience.
If all of this communing with nature and quiet hiking to the sounds of the rushing water don’t sound exciting enough to you, there’s another option. Canyon Sainte-Anne has an AirCANYON, a seated zip line-like attraction that shoots riders 90 meters across the gorge at speeds of up to 30 mph.
Walkup admission is available and advance tickets aren’t required to visit. The AirCANYON ride requires an additional fee not included in admission.
There are a number of picnic tables set up near the entrance under the trees, making for a great spot to enjoy lunch or a snack.
The site also has a small gift shop and cafe, however, both were closed during my visit due to Covid. If you’re interested in either, be sure to call ahead to see if they’re open.
Reaching Canyon Sainte-Anne by car is the easiest option. The Quebec waterfall sits just off of QC-138, down a private road. There is a relatively large parking lot that visitors can use for free.
There are no public transit options of note so if you don’t have access to a car, ridesharing or a car rental are your options.
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All photos, as well as opinions, are my own.