Story by Jenn Smith Nelson
SAGUENAY, QUEBEC — The region of Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean is well known for a few things: delicious squeaky cheese curds (of poutine fame), picturesque cycling paths, the Fjord du Saguenay — one of the world’s longest fjords — and the beautiful lake found smack dab in the centre of it all, Lac-St-Jean.
Attracting scores of cyclists each year the Véloroute des Bleuets (Blueberry Route), which circles scenic Lac-St-Jean, is one of North America’s premier biking routes and considered one of the top bike routes in Quebec.
Offering 256 kilometres (159 miles) of paved pathway, surrounding towns feature bike-friendly stops and specific accommodations for cyclists along the way. An active and fun way to see the lush green region, families can do the Véloroute. It generally takes about three to five days at a leisurely pace to finish the route.
[box_info]VACAY.CA TIP: Ride counter clockwise to avoid the wind and hills![/box_info]
Beyond cycling, the region and its charming small towns are rich with unique experiences that often include a great dose of the outdoors, plus activities and accommodations with a twist.
Whether you choose to cycle or road trip through Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean, be sure to check out these stops along the way.
1. Museums in Bagotville
Start your journey off with visits to two of the region’s best museums, both offering hands-on experiences. The pairing of aviation history and technology make the Musée de la Défense aérienne de Bagotville a great stop for families. Armed with iPads, kids can explore and learn about Canada’s history of air defense, while searching for and viewing on site the real planes that played historic roles.
Next, a Canadian Signature Experience awaits at the Musée du fjord, where you get to take in the best of both worlds with interactive activities inside and out. Venture onto the tidal flat of the Fjord du Saguenay to dig and collect live organisms such as soft-shelled clams, shrimp, worms and more. Then head inside with your specimens to learn more about them under the microscope. While in the museum, view more than 650 fjord-dwelling species and organisms, from cod, anemones and black sturgeon to sea urchins and more. Kids will love stepping up to the touch tank to have an up-close experience with starfish and sea cucumbers.
2. Get active sea kayaking on the Rivière-Éternité
Drive along daisy and fern-lined forest road until you arrive at your next stop at the Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay. A truly wonderful way to take in the fjord’s beauty and magnificence is on top of the water with a guided sea kayak tour with local company Organisaction, and spend the afternoon paddling on the Rivière-Éternité.
3. All-in-one experience at Village Vacances in Petit-Saguenay
Experience a full day of fun and games at the Village-Vacances, an exceptional resort that provides a fun French immersion experience for families. Think all inclusive meets cottage getaway. Stay in well-equipped chalets and take advantage of the beautiful setting in Petit-Saguenay. “Animateurs,” best described as entertainment for the kids, are on hand to make sure they have fun and unique experiences while parents can slip away for some quiet time, hiking or wine-and-cheese tastings. Kids will love their time away, too, enjoying fun activities such as a fjord mud bath, theatre shows, forest hikes, beach bonfires and more.
4. Time for exploration at the Parc de la Caverne Trou de la Fée
If hiking, history and science are of interest to your family, exploring the canyon areas and caves of the Parc Caverne trou de la Fée make for a fun day. Follow footpaths lush with ferns and wild blueberries as you hike alongside the scenic rapids and waterfall of the Métabetchouane River. Once you arrive at the Caverne Trou de la Fée, strap on your helmet and make your way down 68 metres (223 feet) for a 30-minute cave tour. Learn the legend of the Cave Fairy and about the two species of bats (brown and Nordic) that hibernate there in the winter. The return hike offers a look back to the past, revealing the area’s history through an incredible repurposed hydraulic pipe and dense green forest.
[box_info]VACAY.CA TIP: Zip lines, river rafting and tubing are also offered at the park, so perhaps plan for a hike and cave exploration in the morning and river activities in the afternoon.[/box_info]
5. 1920’s immersion at ghost town, Village historique de Val-Jalbert
Val-Jalbert, a former pulp mill town from 1901-27, is one of the most well-preserved ghost towns in Canada. Experience full immersion into the 1920s, staying in a recently modernized turn-of-the-century home and then enjoy some of the many things to do: Hop on the trolley and tour the remaining buildings; take a cable car to the lookout high above Ouiatchouan Falls; stop at a convent school for a quick lesson or dress up for an old-time photo at the studio. Not to be missed is a highly sensory experience that takes place in the grinder’s room of the town mill. Put on your headphones and watch and learn all about the history behind Val-Jalbert told by projections and re-enactments — complete with ghosts!
6. Howl with the wolves at Parc Mahikan
If you ever wanted to get close with a pack of wolves (yes, really!), then look no further than Parc Mahikan where viewing of grey and Arctic wolves is made easy. Advantageously placed lodgings across from the wolves’ enclosures, such as prospector tents, yurts and cabins allow you to see wolves and howl along with the pack at night. If this isn’t cool enough, there is a pack of five domesticated grey wolves that you can actually meet (you must be over 14).
If you love animals, also consider saying hello to the boreal animals of the Zoo Sauvage de Saint-Félicien. And, if you are keen, plan for a sleepover there at the Land of the Caribou where the wonderful animals will surround your camp.
7. Hang in the trees at Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux
Parc Adventures Cap Jaseux truly is all about adventure. Taking advantage of its incredible landscape overlooking the fjord, the park offers a slew of activities from hiking and sea kayaking to ziplining, parkour, tree-top ropes courses, Via Ferrata and more. The fun doesn’t end there, though, as the accommodations at the park are most definitely part of the adventure. Stay in a sphere hanging over the Fjord; star gaze from the comfort of your bed in a dome; or choose a tree house high rooted up in the forest. While at the park, do not miss the opportunity to visit and eat at Bergerie La Vieille Ferme, mere minutes from the park entrance. The property is an example of agro-tourism at it’s best (and the food is delicious). It’s a great opportunity to learn about where your food comes from before enjoying a delightful dinner prepared by the farm’s owners.
MORE ABOUT VISITING SAGUENAY-LAC-ST-JEAN
Getting There: Fly into Bagotville or drive to Saguenay. Or drive two hours from Quebec City and five hours from Montreal. By train: You can also take a Via Rail departure from Montreal to Chambord (on the Jonquiere route) and after the eight-hour trip, hop right onto the Véloroute.
More Vacay.ca Coverage: Read Jennifer Merrick’s story “Swept Away in Saguenay” to learn more about the fun adventures in the region.