The Getaway: Saguenay Fjord


With postcard–worthy views and ecotourism credentials, this Quebec whale–watching destination has carved out a spot among the travel bests.

Works of staggering beauty don’t just happen overnight. This is especially true for geological wonders like the Saguenay Fjord, a deep–set inlet cradled by imposing cliffs and tightly–packed conifers that stretches over 100 kilometres from Saint–Fulgence to Tadoussac in southern Quebec. Its story traces back millions of years, covering everything from the collapse of a hollow of two mountains to prolonged glacial erosion and a pivotal, identity–defining flood.

Part sea, part river, Quebec’s only fjord stands out for its strikingly complex ecosystem. Warmer, fresh water, mainly from Lac Saint–Jean, hovers over the cold, briny current from the St. Lawrence Estuary, together hosting a remarkable concentration of marine life. With whale–watching a main draw for the region, tourists typically visit in the warmer months. In some cases, attractions close for the winter, but bustling ice–fishing villages and snowy sporting expeditions take their place, meaning that no matter the season, there’s enough to keep you busy. Here are six stops to get you started.

December 7, 2022
A geodesic dome connected to a boardwalk in Cap Jaseux
Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux
  1. Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux, Saint–Fulgence —

    Travellers with a penchant for blood–pumping adventure are well–served at this close–to–200–hectare park, where aerial herbertism circuits of varying degrees of difficulty and via ferrata are among the activities on offer. But, with waterside massages and mushroom foraging walks, Cap Jaseux also satisfies those who prefer the ground level. Stop by for an activity–filled day or stay the night in one of its gutsy suspended spheres, cozy tree houses or roomier geodesic domes overlooking the fjord. The park is fully open from May to October and clears the way for independent explorers to snowshoe and ice fish from January to March.
    Less than a kilometre away is family–run La Vieille Ferme whose self–service shop stocks baskets of organic fruit, baked goods, vacuum–packed meals and all manner of jarred confit, rillette and jams — perfect for enjoying on–site or at Cap Jaseaux. With shop clerks typically not on–site, customers are asked to respect an honour system, writing down their purchases in a notebook, adding up their totals, and paying for their goods by cash, e–transfer or credit card.

Rows of houses on the snowy plains of Okwari Le Fjord, La Baie with a mountain in the background
Okwari Le Fjord.   Photo: Laurent Silvani
  1. Okwari Le Fjord, La Baie —

    Black bears are known as “Okwari” in Mohawk, and at this organization devoted to educating the public about the area’s flora and fauna, they can be admired in their natural habitat from a dedicated watchtower. Additional activities include nature hikes, birchbark canoe excursions and, in the winter, a tour of the vibrant ice fishing village set up on nearby Baie des Ha! Ha! (With its deep, stratified waters, the fjord is home to freshwater and saltwater creatures, making it a special place to drill a hole and cast a line.) But Okwari’s finest feature has to be its staff’s encyclopedic knowledge of Indigenous cultures, geological formations, and the wonders of medicinal plants. Depending on the time of year, both wintergreen, a common painkiller, and willow bark, known as “nature’s aspirin,” can be found on–site.

A group of kayakers in L’Anse–Saint–Jean
Fjord en Kayak
  1. Fjord en Kayak, L’Anse–Saint–Jean —

    The region’s onshore views are legendary and its river cruises eye–opening, but to begin to know the fjord is to try to navigate it yourself. With three–hour guided sea kayaking excursions simple enough for novices and multiday expeditions for the pros, Fjord en Kayak gets customers up close and personal to the Saguenay waters. In the fall, before the fjord freezes over, it typically closes up its dockside shop until late spring, but this year is offering ice fishing cabins for rent.
    Sea kayaking instructors and beginners seem to agree: a meal at La Chasse–Pinte, open seasonally from spring to late fall, is a delicious way to round off an outing on the fjord. This L’Anse–Saint–Jean brewpub crafts beers based on boreal botanicals and prepares creative pizzas, venison tartare and knockout poutine with an ale–based gravy and curds from Fromagerie Boivin — the same company that once lost 800 kilograms of cheese in the fjord after submerging it in an attempt to enhance its flavour.

A group of skiers at Parc National du Fjord–du–Saguenay
Parc national du Fjord–du–Saguenay.   Photo: Marc Loiselle
  1. Parc National du Fjord–du–Saguenay —

    If whale–watching brings you to the region, head to Parc national du Fjord–du–Saguenay to stake out on the banks of Baie–Sainte–Marguerite, where female belugas take refuge with their young in the summer. Year–round residents of the St. Lawrence, and summertime visitors of the fjord, the belugas in Saguenay Fjord once numbered up to 10,000. Due largely to hunting in the 1800s, only 889 remain by recent counts, rendering this population of the species endangered. Still, pods of these snow–white cetaceans, known for their sing–song communication, flexible necks, and permanent grins, can be spotted from coastal lookouts and tour boat decks throughout the Saguenay—St. Lawrence Marine Park. From May to October, they’re joined by migratory species, including the humpback, minke and blue whale.
    In the Baie Éternité sector of the provincial park, an uphill climb leads to panoramic views and the Notre–Dame–du–Saguenay statue, a nine–metre–tall figure that’s presided over the fjord since 1881. The Méandres–à–Falaises trail offers a less strenuous, one–hour option, incorporating waterside trails, marshy detours and woodland vistas. Visitor centres and naturalist tours are not available in the winter, but the park remains open to the public for snowshoeing and other independent exploration.

The exterior of the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre in Tadoussac
Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre.   Photo: Lise Gagnon – GREMM
  1. Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre, Tadoussac —

    This museum, a project of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), houses the most extensive collection of whale bones in Canada — and is a non–negotiable stop on any adventure to the fjord. A variety of suspended skeletons can be seen within, including the 2.5–ton frame of Piper, a right whale known to researchers since 1993. Thanks to interactive activities, informative chats with specialists, and an immersive music and lights show dubbed the Whale Ballet, you are unlikely to leave without becoming overwhelmed with admiration for the marine giants. Open from May to October.
    Before learning all about the whales frequenting the St. Lawrence, try your luck at spotting one on the neighbouring Pointe de l’Islet trail, a 20–minute loop that offers some of the best views of the Tadoussac Bay, the mouth of the fjord and a feeding ground so abundant naturalists frequently liken it to an all–you–can–eat buffet for whales.

Coastal view of Hotel Tadoussac in Quebec
Hôtel Tadoussac.   Photo: Dominique Lafond
  1. Hôtel Tadoussac, Tadoussac —

    The arrival to Tadoussac, by way of the fjord, unveils a picture–perfect town and one of its most iconic landmarks: the Hôtel Tadoussac. Located on the banks of the confluence of the Saguenay Fjord and the St. Lawrence River, this 149–room hotel is recognized for its red roof, green shutters and all–around stately presence. Locals refer to the establishment, which dates back to 1864, as “older than Canada,” yet the structure you see wasn’t always there; the original building was torn down in 1941 and rebuilt under the same name in 1942. Open from May to October, like much else in this village of just about 800, Hôtel Tadoussac accommodates individuals and groups hoping to catch a glimpse of the region’s whales in what is considered one of the most incredible places in the world to do so.
    From a replica of the first fur trading post in Canada to quaint, boutique–dotted streets, there’s plenty to do in Tadoussac’s village centre. But it’s worth venturing off to visit the sand dunes deposited by glaciers 10,000 years ago. In the 1940s to 1980s, they were a hub for a unique, slightly offbeat sport: sand skiing.