A visit to this fascinating region is well worth adding a few extra days to your trip. Beginning just northeast of Baie Ste. Catherine, a trek along the magnificent Saguenay River will appeal to anyone with an interest in impressive scenery, whale-watching and leisurely cruises. The principal attraction is the rugged shoreline of the fjords, inlest from the sea similar to those found in Norway, Patagonia and Alaska.
Start at Tadoussac, one of the first French settlements in North America, where the Saguenay River pours into the St. Lawrence. This confluence of freshwater and salt water provides a rich feeding ground for the many whales (including beluga, humpback, pilot, minke and blue) that feed there each year (July-September). Whale-watching cruises depart from Tadoussac, and you can learn more about the creatures at the Centre d'Interpretation des Mammiferes Marins (Marine Mammal Interpretive Center), which has video displays and other exhibits. You can also visit the Poste de Traite Chauvin, a replica of Canada's first fur-trading post, and the Petite Chapelle de Tadoussac, also known as the Indian Chapel. The Jesuits first celebrated Mass there in 1747. While in town, look for the Hotel Tadoussac, a wooden Victorian hotel that started welcoming wealthy Americans and Canadians in 1864 and is still open for business.
From Tadoussac, take Highway 172, which runs west along the river. Then cross the bridge to Chicoutimi. Take time to see the buildings that once housed the town's pulp mill (La Pulperie de Chicoutimi), which was built in 1896. Several of the granite buildings have been renovated and are open for tours. The high point of your visit, though, will begin at the old port, Le Vieux Port de Chicoutimi, where you'll board one of the sightseeing boats operated by Croisier Marjolaine for a cruise along the fjord. The towering cliffs, some more than 1,500 ft/460 m tall, are truly impressive, particularly the landmarks Cap Eternite and Cap Trinite (note the statue of the Virgin Mary about halfway up Cap Trinite). When you return from your daylong cruise, spend the night in Chicoutimi. The next day, take Highway 175 through the woods of Reserve Faunique des Laurentides and back to Quebec City.
Much of the land around the Saguenay River has been incorporated into the Parc National du Saguenay, which runs from Tadoussac to Baie des Ha! Ha!. The park system has all the usual amenities, including hiking trails and campsites.
Anglers may prefer to extend their trip northwest on Highway 172 to Lac St. Jean, where they can fish for the ouananiche, a type of Atlantic salmon that has a reputation as one of the best fighting fish in the world. The town of Mistassini along the lake is also paradise for blueberry lovers. If you visit, taste as many blueberry products as possible, including the blueberry liqueur. Also on the shore of the lake is St. Felicien, where the Zoo Sauvage de St. Felicien allows visitors to observe Canadian wildlife in natural habitats. The Saguenay River and Fjord is 115 mi/185 km northeast of Quebec City.
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