There’s much more to Quebec, Canada’s largest province, than weekend escapes to Montreal and Quebec City. The Saguenay-Saint Lawrence region is filled with nature, adventure, great food, and unique accommodations, all at a very affordable price point. Though it’s beautiful all year long, I have to admit that I’m particularly fond of it in late spring. That’s when I first visited on a press trip, and I loved that everything was in bloom, that it was warm enough to explore outdoors without needing heavy layers, and that there were few other visitors.
For most people, the starting point for exploring this area is the community of Tadoussac, just a few hours north of Quebec City. If you have some time to spare, you might want to detour a bit while en route to the first stop. Jacques-Cartier National Park, about 30 miles north of Quebec City, isn’t that far away. (While it’s called a “national” park, it’s actually a Quebec provincial park.) The park is known for hiking, rafting, bird-watching, cycling, and stand-up paddleboarding, and it’s a great destination for nature lovers.
Tadoussac is a Maritime village through and through. The ocean and the river are at the heart of the community, and nowhere is this more evident than at the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre. It’s the most-visited museum in Quebec’s Cote-Nord (North Coast) region for good reason. The team at the museum is constantly engaged in activities to protect and preserve the beluga whale, which calls the Saguenay-Saint Lawrence Marine Park home. The museum’s staff know some 350 belugas by name! Using unique markings on each beluga, they’re able to monitor their movements and gain important information about the health of the community.
Their beluga-based research isn’t the only thing that makes the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre remarkable. Their collection of marine skeletons includes a narwhal tusk and a 42-foot-long sperm whale skeleton.
Just a short walk from the museum is La Galouine Inn and Restaurant. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a view of the water and the community all while tasting freshly caught seafood. During my last visit, local berries, herbs, lobster, salmon, and scallops were all on the menu.
Saguenay-Saint Lawrence Marine Park
It’s one thing to learn about the whales in the museum, but it’s another thing altogether to see them in the wild. The Saguenay-Saint Lawrence Marine Park is the perfect destination for some Quebec whale watching. This space ensures that marine life like beluga whales can be enjoyed in the wild, but also that they and their habitat are protected.
Multiple Tadoussac outfitters offer whale tours that traverse the Marine Park and the waters of the Saint Lawrence River. I opted for a classic whale-watching boat cruise with Croisieres AML. Their boats offer a mix of open-air deck space, outdoor seating, and indoor tables and chairs, plus a small kiosk that sells drinks, snacks, alcoholic beverages, and souvenirs. (For those in search of a bit more adrenaline, the same company also offers whale-watching tours on Zodiac boats.) In addition to belugas, you’ll see a dozen other species of marine animals on most tours, including minke whales and seals.
For the most comfortable whale-watching experience, bring along sunscreen, a hat, binoculars, an extra sweater, and -- if you’re like me -- some ginger ale. (But never fear -- my travel companions swear they didn’t get a bit of motion sickness. All but the wimpiest stomachs -- such as mine -- should be safe.)
Saguenay Fjord National Park
While seeing the waters of the Saguenay region by whale-watching boat is an unparalleled way to enjoy the area’s natural beauty, there’s definitely more than one way to explore the local waterways.
Kayaking on the waters adjacent to Saguenay Fjord National Park is the perfect way to gain a new perspective on this part of the world. Outfitters like OrganisAction arrange sea kayaking excursions that last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. If you’re a beginner kayaker, you’ll find it easy to navigate the waters, and there’s still plenty to see even if you’re not that far from shore.
Onshore itself, an entirely different kind of adventure awaits. This part of Quebec is home to the Via Ferrata route. The Via Ferrata is an exhilarating place for cliff walking and rock climbing. It’s anything but a gentle day walk! But if it’s adrenaline you crave, this is the place to be.
Saint Fulgence And Cap Jaseux
If it's an adventure in the great outdoors you’re after, the accommodations at Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux near Saint Fulgence certainly fit the bill.
It’s hard to know exactly how to describe the individual accommodations at Parc Aventures. One is a spacious white dome with incredible views of the river. Another is a quirky, shiny sphere suspended in the sky from a tree. Some are deliberately hidden, while others are made to stand out and glitter like UFOs. If you can imagine what a tiny house would look like if it were shaped like a ball and suspended in the air, you’ll have an idea of what it’s like to sleep at Parc Aventures.
Each of these funky sleep spaces comes with corkscrews, wine glasses, coffee makers, and even espresso cups. But there’s one thing that’s missing -- bathrooms! Composting toilets are located back on the ground.
Saguenay is the ideal home base for exploring this area. Of course, you can camp or stay at inns along the way at each community, but if you prefer to have one spot to return to day after day, the town offers plenty of amenities and services for visitors. Those who prefer a business-style hotel will appreciate the pet-friendly Delta Hotel.
Saguenay isn’t just a good base with terrific accommodation options. It has a lot of attractions as well. In particular, the Fjord Museum is a standout. The rotating exhibits cover everything from genealogy and local traditions to environmental issues. The grandkids will love the touch-friendly tank of marine animals like sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and starfish! Plus, their massive on-site aquarium has 650 species in it and is mesmerizing to watch
Alma is one of several gateway communities to Quebec’s Blueberry Bike Route. Made up of more than 20 different short-to-medium bike rides through the blueberry-rich countryside, the route circles Lac Saint Jean and connects not only to Alma, but also to Saint Felicien, Roberval, Sainte Monique, and Pointe-Taillon National Park. There are plenty of beginner-friendly bike trails for those who just want a short ride, and Alma has lots of cute cafes if your style is more to rest and relax while others are off getting exercise.
The small community of Saint Felicien is home to one giant attraction. The Zoo Sauvage of Saint Felicien is a “wild” zoo where the people are in cages (or actually, in tour buses or trains) and the animals roam free. Nearly 1,000 animals live in the zoo’s natural, wide-open spaces. On any given visit, you’ll see black bears, musk oxen, wolves, deer, caribou, moose, and more incredible species endemic to the area. There’s also a walkable area where less fearsome animals live. The zoo has a beautiful interpretive center, and the on-site cafe does a good job of serving up local cuisine.
Do I Need To Know French?
The short answer is no. Most people in Quebec, especially those who work in the tourist industry, speak some English. But the long answer is that you’ll want to speak French in Quebec! In rural Quebec in particular, the locals will be delighted by your efforts and will happily fill in the gaps around any mistakes you might make. Even knowing a few basic words will go a long way toward making your trip more memorable. Plus, all the road signs are in French!
Here are some resources to start: