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- Saguenay Quebec with Kids
- Things to Do with Kids of All Ages in Saguenay Quebec
- Visit a Cave
- Zipline in Parc Caverne du Trou de la Fée
- Hike to a Waterfall
- Bike the Blueberry Trail
- Learn about Glass Blowing
- Commune with Nature. And Bears
- Hike at Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay
- Cuddle a Wolf
- Explore a Fjord
- Learn about Crystal Quartz Mining
- A Couple of Things to Note about Saguenay Quebec
Just two hours north of Quebec City lies the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. It’s home to the Saguenay Fjord and the Saguenay River runs through it. The Saguenay Quebec region is famous for its winter snowshoeing and outdoor activities like sea kayaking and biking the blueberry trail. In the summer, the area blooms with color and vigor. Here are the best things to do with kids of all ages in this lovely region of Canada in the summertime.
Saguenay Quebec with Kids
Maybe it’s the love of lake-life that comes from my southern roots or maybe it’s my French heritage, but I can think of at least 50 reasons to return to Quebec. The beauty of Lac Saint Jean in the summer is at the top of the list. Imagine wild blueberries and raspberries everywhere, bike trails (including a Blueberry Trail), waterfalls, hiking and warm, friendly people who don’t mind if I speak English or bad French.
Just two hours north of Quebec City, the region is home to a collection of charming towns and villages that ring Lac Saint-Jean (Saint Jean Lake). The biggest city in the region is Saguenay. It is made up of three boroughs: Chicoutimi, Jonquière, and La Baie, Each borough has its own communities with unique personality and charm.
In typical Quebecois fashion, Saguenay is filled with vibrant, colorful festivals year round. Even though it’s only a seven-hour drive from my home in Connecticut, the whole place feels like an exotic cultural excursion, very far away from the United States.
My 5-day visit in August 2019 included hiking, biking, sea kayaking, ziplining and crystal quartz mining.
Things to Do with Kids of All Ages in Saguenay Quebec
Visit a Cave
The Parc Caverne du Trou de la Fée is best known for its 68-meter-deep granite cave. (That translates to 233 feet, less than the length of a football field.) Here, you can hike, zipline and descend into a cavern that was once home to hundreds of bats and four World War II draft dodgers.
Today, there are only 4 bats living in the cave and then only in the winter when the cave is closed to visitors. The rest died from a fungus. The four draft dodgers who lived in the cave emerged when World War II ended, saying that a fairy told them the war was over. That’s how the cave got its name, which translates to Fairy’s Cave.
This journey into the cave is short, and there is one area that is a tight squeeze. The 6-foot-3-inch tall guy in our group barely fit through. There isn’t much to see in the cave — just one stalagmite that grows one centimeter every 1,000 years.
The park is worth a day visit but I wouldn’t go just to see the cavern. The fun part is the exploration, hiking uphill to the cavern entrance and then squeezing thru the narrow passage to get to the cavern.
If you prefer to skip the cave hike, head to the brand new visitor’s center for incredible views of the canyon and a new multimedia show.
TravelingMom Tip: Wear good closed-toed walking shoes. The hike is short, but it’s bumpy and slippery. If you want to zipline, closed-toe shoes are required. Bring water. There are no water fountains on site, although there is bottled water for sale.
Zipline in Parc Caverne du Trou de la Fée
Ziplining was an adventure. Too adventurous for me. I left that to the 12- and 15-year-olds on the trip. They were really excited about it — until they got to the top of the first platform and found out they would be clipping themselves in. I watched the guide leave the group on the cliffside to go to the receiving end. Then I watched as one adult clipped her 12-year-old niece into the harness and waved goodbye as the kids flew over the canyon.
I was horrified. I am not a fan of heights. When I have ziplined in the past, it was comforting to know that a trained professional clipped me in AND another pro caught me at the other end. I would never have made it off the platform here. And I certainly would not have let my kids go. That said, the 15-year-old said she would go again; the 12-year-old said, “No way.”
TravelingMom Tip: Before you pay for your family to go ziplining anywhere, ask what the protocol is. Does a guide accompany you the entire way? Or are you left to figure it out? I learned that this do-it-yourself approach is also popular in Finland.
Hike to a Waterfall
What I loved most about Parc Caverne du Trou de la Fée is the trails. Instead of ziplining, I took the hike to the “3 Chutes“ waterfall. It winds through thick green forest with lookout paths along the way for views of the river.
However, there is no sign that says, “3 Chutes over here!” I knew I had passed the ultimate view when the sounds from the falls grew faint. I turned and took a path I had passed and found my way to the falls overlook. And I soaked it in.
Bike the Blueberry Trail
I was surprised — and so happy! — to find that the blueberries were still in season when I visited in late August. Our 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) Equinox Adventure bike tour of the blueberry trail took much longer that it would in non-blueberry season because we stopped often to pick and eat the tiny blueberries that grow wild everywhere. They’re small but flavor-packed.
The bike trail winds past fields covered in yellow and light pink flowers reminiscent of Provence. The trail is mostly flat road. There are some moderate hills, but no mountainous challenges. And we stopped often — for blueberries and to the take in the gorgeous views of the Saguenay River from the dams along the way.
Equinox Adventure offers several different biking tours. I can’t wait to do the 5-day, 256-km tour that circumnavigates the entire Saint-Jean Lake, the national park and the charming towns along the way.
Learn about Glass Blowing
There’s no denying that glass art is gorgeous. But understanding how artists do their work ratchets up the appreciation level! At Economusée Touverre in La Baie, glass blowing is mostly art and part science. We watched as a glass artist created colorful, fragile works of art and finished them with wet newspaper. The artist spoke some English, but glass blowing does not require a lot of narration. Just watch and learn.
Commune with Nature. And Bears
We spent an afternoon with the outdoor activities guides from Okwari Aventures. This outdoor package includes hiking with a guide along the Rivière-à-Mars canyon, canoeing on a picturesque lake and observing black bears in their natural habitat.
We watched from an elevated perch as a mama bear and her cubs came out of the woods to inspect food that was left for them by the rangers. We were far enough away to be safe and close enough to really see what was going on. The zoom on my camera captured it all.
After bear watching, we hiked the gorgeous Riviere-a-Mars Canyon, marveled at the hydroelectric dam and relaxed on a canoe tour of the river that gave us close access to beaver lodges and the serenity of the river.
The Riviere-A- Mars is a busy research river where scientists study the spawning habits of salmon, how restocking affects the river’s natural habitat and fluvial hydrogeomorphology. (That’s the study of how rivers move and change over time. It focuses especially on how the flow of water interacts with the movement of sediment – dirt, sand, gravel, boulders – and debris, such as downed trees and branches.)
Our guide explained the history and importance of the dam and pointed out the two kinds of labrador plant, one good and one bad. The indigenous Montagnais people used the good labrador plant to make amazing healing tea. The bad one can kill you. They grow right next to each other so it is good to know the difference.
I would recommend hiking this area with a ranger or guide who can point out all of the fascinating intricacies of the river. Plus, having a guide is another opportunity to practice speaking French.
Hike at Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay
We headed to Saguenay Fjord National Park for a leisurely 3-km (1.86 miles) hike to the lookout over Baie Sainte-Marguerite along the Saguenay-Fjord for a picnic and whale watching.
The bay is supposed to be a great spot to see beluga whales. We tried several times to find whales but missed out on this trip. That did not diminish our enthusiasm or appreciation for the surrounding nature. Whether you see whales or not, this hike is a big recommend for its views.
The hike ends at a beach. On a hot day, it’s a welcome spot for cooling off. We shed our hiking boots and socks and dipped our toes into the frigid waters of the fjord. We didn’t bring bathing suits, but even if we had, I doubt I would have jumped into those chilly waters! The 12- and 15-year-olds, though, seemed impervious to the cold and were all about polar plunges. They jumped into the freezing water any time they got the chance.
Cuddle a Wolf
Wolves get a bad rap. Or so our guide at Ferme 5 etoiles told us. Wolves are not evil, she said. In the last 125 years, there have been just 17 wolf attacks and two deaths caused by wolves.
Wolves play an important role in the ecology of a forest. They eat the animals that eat a lot of vegetation (moose) and they eat the sick animals. When France needed to combat a burgeoning wild boar population, it reintroduced wolves in the area.
At Ferme 5 etoiles, an agri-tourism destination in Sacre Coeur, the wolf keepers feed baby wolves with a bottle to acclimate them to human touch. That means — you guessed it — humans get to cuddle the baby wolves! They also introduced a husky to keep one of the wolves company. I know I should love dogs – everyone does — but I only like them — from afar. Petting a wolf was not high on my list but I did it and was glad I did. My kids were confused and thrilled with my photos.
TravelingMom Tip: Wolves can be sensitive to smells. So don’t wear perfume the day you visit if you want to cuddle the cuties!
Explore a Fjord
We did this two ways — by power boat and by sea kayak.
Tadoussac is a small village nestled where the Saguenay and St. Lawrence River meet in Saguenay Quebec. Whales are often seen here because of the abundant marine life created by the mix of fresh warm water and salty water. Our nearly 2-hour cruise on the Navettes Maritimes du Fjord shuttle from Tadoussac along the Saguenay Fjord took us to the charming village of L’Anse-Saint-Jean along a picturesque section of the fjord. Our guides kept us on the lookout for more beluga whales but we did not spot them.
In L’Anse-Saint-Jean, we donned our bathing suits and set out for an up-close look at the fjord by kayak. Fjord en Kayak has operated for more than 20 years on the Saguenay Fjord. The company’s multi-day excursions are considered “Canadian Signature Experiences” by Destination Canada.
The guides are entertaining and with a teeny bit of prompting they will roll their kayak for you. They are eager to share their knowledge of kayaking, marine life and the fjord with all ages and everyone from the youngest (age 6) to the oldest (50+) raved about the experience.
TravelingMom Tip: Fjord en Kayak supplies all of the kayaking equipment as well as a hat, sunscreen, water shoes, and kayak skirt. But plan to wear a swimsuit or quick dry clothing. You will get wet and the water will be cold!
Learn about Crystal Quartz Mining
It’s a one-mile hike from the Cristal du Lac mine Interpretive Center to the actual mine, located in the heart of the forest at Métabetchouan-Lac-à-la-Croix. But this stop is more about education than exercise. The mine is privately owned by a family of educators who are passionate about the geology of the area.
Our guide for the 45-minute tour is also a fifth grade teacher. It was her dad who discovered the mine. She started our tour with a review of the Mohs scale.
We used that knowledge later to determine the difference between quartz and crystal quartz when we donned helmets, gloves and glasses to mine for our own quartz. Within a few minutes I found several crystal quartz gems and it became harder and harder to leave.
In all, we spent a little over two hours at the mine and everyone left with treasures.
At the interpretive center, treasures can be turned into jewelry or you can buy some already made. And you can look for pearls. The family farms oysters. For a small fee, you can select one to be shucked. The pearls are colorful and make beautiful jewelry.
- Kids have to be at least 8 years old to dig in the mine. Younger kids can find their own rubies, emeralds, quartz crystals, amethysts, fossils and other minerals at Prospection-Express.
- If you are not up for the 1 mile hike to the mine, you can stay at the Interpretive Center and watch a film about quartz crystal and the mine. No reservation is needed; the mine is open 7 days/week from the end of June to the end of September. There is a port-a-potty on site.
A Couple of Things to Note about Saguenay Quebec
1. You’ll need transportation. If you want to tour around this huge, gorgeous lake, you’ll need to either sign on with a tour company, rent a car or bike it. The distances are great. On the plus side, GPS works well here. You can fly into Montreal or Quebec City and rent a car for the trip.
2. Marijuana is legal in Canada. I did not encounter any cannabis stores or smokers on the street, which surprised me. I had the extreme opposite experience in Portland, Oregon. In Quebec, consumption is barred wherever smoking is not allowed and as of this date, you must be 21 to buy and possess it. The laws are subject to change and likely will as the retail market grows, so do check for updates. Be prepared to field questions from your kids about it.
Restaurants in Saguenay Quebec
Auberge des Îles
This inn is newly renovated and under new management. It’s the only inn located on the shores of the vast Lake Saint-Jean. We did not stay there, but we did eat there!
The adults indulged in the fish and chips off the prix fixe menu. It was delicious fresh pickerel and fries, followed by homemade gelato. The views and the breeze from the dining deck are lovely, overlooking a small sandy beach with kayakers and swimmers below. The kids in our group opted for pasta which was good enough, but they said that the sauce had a ketchupy taste.
Family Friendly Hotels and Lodging in Saguenay Quebec
Saint Jean Lake is huge. If you want to see it all, you’ll need to change hotels every few nights. Our 5-night trip included 4 different lodging properties, each with its own personality.
La Saguenéenne – Hôtel et Centre de Congrès, Chicoutimi
Pronounced Shi-koo-ti-mee, this is officially my favorite town name. The hotel is a Quality Inn by Choice Hotels in a terrific location. There’s a grocery story across the street, free breakfast downstairs and my room was comfortable and clean.
Ferme 5 étoiles, Sacré-Cœur
This is a family-owned farm that is home to rescue animals. We stayed in the lodge which was beautiful and spacious, but I was little envious of the other lodging options — who doesn’t love the idea of staying in a yurt!?!?
The family runs tours of the farm on vehicles they call “side by sides.” Think golf carts with ATV wheels. Passengers need a helmet. We rode all of the trails looking for moose, buffalo and other wildlife. It was fun but DUSTY. We slowed down only to pull a blueberry (or 10) off the bush.
Afterwards, we reinvigorated at the spa with a sauna followed by a cold shower.
TravelingMom Tip: There is no need to have your own car here. The farm can arrange for transportation from Quebec City airport.
Activities change with the seasons and there truly are fun things to do for all ages. Here are some highlights:
- Feed animals
- Wolf encounter
- Fishing and ice fishing
- Sugar shack
- Dog sledding – all year round
- Restaurant buffet
- All rooms have a kitchen
- Black bear observation (Almost every night from May through October)
- Snow mobiling
Fully Equipped Chalet at the Village-Vacances Petit-Saguenay, Saint-Étienne
My private cabin was fully stocked with all the essentials: bedding, plates, pots and pans, coffee, a cozy bed and lots of windows that opened to the woods. For adventurous kids, there’s an upstairs loft (accessible by ladder only!). Comes complete with a fire pit in the front yard.
Plenty of trails, an outdoor pool, kayaks and great food are available on premises.
I had my first ever hard kombucha at the bar. I was expecting a kombucha with a 4%+ alcohol content but what I got was a shot of Ungava gin (made exclusively in Quebec) and a can of kombucha to combine to taste. And WOW was it was tasty!
Fully Equipped Condos at the Centre de villégiature Dam-en-terre (Damenterre Resorts), Alma
These fully furnished tri-level townhouses offered plenty of space. Ours was well-stocked with necessities like fire starter bricks and marshmallow roasting sticks.
Our unit had two bedrooms upstairs and a master with an en suite bathroom in the basement. It is fine for families with older kids, but parents of little ones might choose to stay upstairs with the kids. The living room, kitchen and a full bath are located on the main floor.
Everything felt new and clean. We liked to end the day with sunset views over the lake while the kids made and ate s’mores by the firepit.
TravelingMom Tip: This is where I wowed the kids with my s’mores game. Here’s how: Use Chips Ahoy instead of graham crackers, add colored marshmallows, and substitute Kit Kat candy bars for the chocolate. Top it all with whipped cream and sprinkles and — bam! — you’ve got s’mores on steroids!