10 Things To Do in Saguenay That Do Not Require Snow

From watching whales to wandering in the wilderness, the Quebec region that runs north from Tadoussac, along the Saguenay Fjord, may be one of the best-kept secrets in Canadian tourism.

Those who are fans of the region may see it primarily in terms of cold-weather recreation. But during our summer exploration of the area east of the Saguenay Fjord, we quickly discovered that it is a wonderful year-round destination. In fact, given the cornucopia of activities from Tadoussac on the St. Lawrence River to the multi-community municipality of Saguenay, I would prefer to visit in the warmer months. Here are 10 reasons why.

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A young visitor learns all about whales at the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre. (Paul Knowles photo for Vacay.ca)

1. Explore the shores! Something special happens at the confluence of the Saguenay Fjord and the St. Lawrence River. The meeting of these waters creates an ideal feeding ground for many species of whales. And that in turn creates an ideal whale-watching opportunity for curious human visitors in an area now protected as the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park.

If you linger on the shoreline in the historic Tadoussac, located on the eastern shore of the mouth of the fjord, odds are good you will see amazing marine mammals swimming by. There is an excellent boardwalk offering views of the fjord adjacent to the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre.

On the western side of the fjord is Parks Canada’s Pointe-Noire Interpretation and Observation Centre. Visitors can combine a hike, a picnic, and whale-watching from the rocky cliffs in a delightful afternoon adventure.

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The whale-watching boat AML Grand Fleuve has undergone several renovations in recent years. (Paul Knowles photo for Vacay.ca)

2. Have a whale of a time! You don’t have to keep your feet on the ground when it comes to watching whales around Tadoussac. There are several water-going options available, including Zodiac expeditions and larger whale-watching cruises, including those offered by Croisières AML. We opted for the big boat, AML Grand Fleuve, and were not disappointed. As we cruised on the St. Lawrence, and then a short distance up the fjord, we spotted minke whales, several belugas, literally more humpbacks than we could count, seals, and porpoises. The cruise operators cannot guarantee whale sightings, but it would be rare if passengers did not get good looks at these creatures.

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A whale in the St. Lawrence River, with the village of Tadoussac in the background. (Photo courtesy of Le Québec Maritime).

3. Study the science of cetaceans. Tadoussac is home to the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre (MMIC), a facility that will tell you everything you wanted to know about whales. The gallery is jam-packed with whale skeletons, suspended from the ceiling and on mounts on the floor, the remnants of 16 whales in all are on display. That includes the enormous jawbones of a blue whale that form the soaring entrance archway.

The MMIC was founded in 1991 and expanded in 2021. You can learn about all 12 species that inhabit the St. Lawrence River, including the cuddliest of whales, the belugas. There are up to 2,000 belugas who call the St. Lawrence and the fjord home. Some visitors might come here first, before wandering the shore or boarding a cruise ship. I suggest keeping the centre for later — you will get answers to all the questions your whale-watching will engender.

4. Walk through six centuries. Before you leave Tadoussac and head north through the Saguenay, spend some time exploring the history of the village. Tadoussac was founded in 1599 by merchant François Gravé Du Pont, and Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit, a captain of the French Royal Navy. Historic buildings still dot the village-scape, including: the Poste de Traite Chauvin, founded by Pierre de Chauvin de Tonnetuit and dating to 1600; the simple but beautiful Chapelle de Tadoussac, built in 1747, and the oldest wooden chapel in North America; and the iconic Hôtel Tadoussac, a still-elegant heirloom of the Belle Epoque.

5. Connect with wolves! A few miles north of Tadoussac is a rustic resort called Ferme5etoiles. Rustic, yes, but welcoming, comfortable, and offering a huge variety of activities. You can stay there, with a variety of accommodations options, including cabins overlooking the fjord. My favourite thing was the animal refuge, where visitors can get up close to a variety of rescued wildlife, most impressively a pack of beautiful wolves.

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A herd of bison roam the grounds at Fermes5etoiles. (Paul Knowles photo for Vacay.ca)

6. Enjoy dinner with a view. The drive north from Tadoussac to the top of the fjord on highway 172 offers beautiful scenery, but does not provide direct views of the fjord. If you want the best views, you have to head a few kilometres southwest to get to the fjord itself. Perhaps the handiest — and certainly the tastiest — option is to turn left onto the Rue du Quai and travel a couple of kilometres to the restaurant and auberge named Aventure Rose-des-vents.

It ain’t fancy, but it’s a great destination nonetheless. The food is excellent. We shared the appetizer board (Planche Apéro) and then I feasted on the Panini au Porc Fumé. (By the way, if you want an English language menu, a QR code is provided). And the view of the fjord is stunning.

7.  Cuddle in a kamook. Speaking of stunning views, our overnight stay in a kamook at Imago Village – located high up on Monts-Valin – offered a unique view, and several unexpected experiences. First of all, we stayed in a kamook. And I almost regret describing the experience for you, because I would hate to spoil the sheer wonder of the moment.

“Kamook”, by the way means “home” in Cree, according to Martin Thibeault, inventor of the unique dwellings. From the outside, they look like large igloos; inside, they have all the comforts of home, if slightly in miniature — a complete kitchen, three-piece bath, intimate dining and living areas, and a bedroom.

The stunning view comes in the bedroom, because this is a loft (too low to stand up in), where you lie in a double bed, gazing out through the transparent roof at the stars overhead, undiminished by ambient light. The night we stayed there happened to coincide with a meteor shower – astonishing!

Imago Village has 10 kamooks, as well as small and family-sized yurts, and a couple of restaurants/bars also in yurts. They are all-season accommodations; the kamooks rent for $285 a night, any time of the year; the small yurts cost $150.

Thibeault is proud that the kamooks are show-stoppers: “It’s always a ‘Wow! I don’t believe it!’” he says of guests’ reactions.

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A hiker and guide take in the view from a scenic platform in Monts-Valin. (Paul Knowles photo for Vacay.ca)

8. Hike the boreal forest. The road to and from Imago Village takes the visitor through parts of the Parc National des Monts-Valin, a place where “preserving nature” is taken very seriously, indeed. Park staffer Marie-Eve Lessard told us that the park covers 154 square kilometres, and the focus is on preservation and conservation of the natural treasures it contains. No park activities have a negative environmental impact. Snowmobiles are banned – it is a place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter, and hiking in the warmer months. The park is home to 4,000 species of plants, as well as the birds and the beasts of the boreal forest, from Bohemian waxwings to bears.

Guided by Lessard, we hiked up to a lookout offering stunning views of the park.

9. Discover La Pulperie. La Pulperie de Chicoutimi is officially the regional museum for Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. But it is so much more. Located in a historic paper mill founded in 1896, and beautifully situated on the banks of the energetic Chicoutimi River, La Pulperie unveils the history of the area through permanent and temporary exhibitions arising from its collection of more than 26,000 artifacts.

My favourite exhibition in La Pulperie is a house — yes, a full-sized house — once owned by the artist Arthur Villeneuve. Villeneuve is Quebec’s lesser-known equivalent to Nova Scotia’s Maud Lewis. He was a brilliant artist, whose canvasses included his own home, where he created art on the walls, ceilings, and elsewhere. La Pulperie dismantled a large section of a back wall in order to move the house inside the gallery, resulting in an expansive and fascinating display of Villeneuve’s life and work.

Visitors will spend as much time outdoors at La Pulperie as they do enjoying the exhibitions in the museum, because the mill originally included four large structures, and they, or their ruins, remain, and can be explored on boardwalks along the spectacular rapids of the river.

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The exhibits in La Pulperie focus on local heritage, in displays combining historic artifacts and state-of-the-art technology. (Paul Knowles photo for Vacay.ca)

10. Dive into the Musée du Fjord. One fascinating feature at this facility is a virtual voyage into the waters of the fjord. The experience is called “Navis: Travel to the Heart of the Saguenay Fjord,” and it’s a perfect conclusion to your visit to the Tadoussac-Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean district.

There’s much more than the Navis experience, of course. The museum is dedicated to exploring the Saguenay Fjord’s natural and historical heritage. Visitors learn the facts and figures about the fjord – it’s 275 metres (902 feet) deep, 100 kilometres (65 miles) long , and the temperature in the depths of the fjord is 0.4 Celsius degrees (32.7 Fahrenheit). You also meet some of the fjord’s creatures, swimming in the indoor aquarium or waiting in the touch tank. The museum opened in 1977, and has been educating and entertaining visitors in both official languages since then.

And – as they say – there’s more. Visitors can spend weeks in the district, enjoying the ambience and attractions, revelling in the utterly breathtaking drive north to Saguenay, exploring the boreal forest, and learning about the unique environment, history, and culture of a wildly underappreciated region of Canada.


Website: destination.saguenay.ca