By Marie-Sophie Giroux of Parks Canada
See why the waters around Quebec’s Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Charlevoix, and Côte-Nord regions are worth the trip.
Quebec’s Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park protects nearly 2,200 wildlife species over a whopping 1,245 km2 in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay Fjord. That’s more than twice the size of the island of Montreal. It also happens to be the first national park in Quebec—and one of the first in all of Canada—to protect a purely marine environment. Activities are supervised, but you won’t be disappointed.
As you navigate your way through the park, the landscapes change. The northern bank of the river becomes increasingly steep. Islands, cliffs, and lighthouses surround you. Once past the village of Cap-à-l’Aigle in Charlevoix, you arrive inside the marine park. Unlike land-based parks, there are no visible boundaries to indicate you’ve arrived. Continue to make your way to the mouth of the Saguenay, where the fjord flows into the St. Lawrence. For this next leg, you’ve got a tough decision on your hands: You can either go deeper into the valley of the Saguenay Fjord to explore the soaring cliffs, or continue eastward into the lower estuary, where the deep waters bordering the North Shore abound with marine life. If you take this second route, you’ll be heading into the ideal hunting ground of whales.
©RENAUD PINTIAUX/PARCS CANADA
Boating in the marine park means navigating in a whale habitat.
During the summer, this entire area becomes a massive food pantry. Whales, seals, and birds travel thousands of kilometres to feed here. Since these creatures are protected, the Saguenay Fjord is known to be one of the top spots in the world for whale watching—both from the sea and from the shore.
Create lasting memories responsibly
By now, you’re in the heart of the marine park, surrounded either by the vertiginous cliffs of the Saguenay Fjord or the vast expanse of the St. Lawrence Estuary. Keep your eyes open; a whale might surface at any moment. These whale-filled waters are teeming with surprising discoveries, but they can also make operating a watercraft a challenge. Six species of whales—including two endangered species, the beluga and the blue whale—regularly frequent this sector of the St. Lawrence. Observing them in their natural environment is a privilege that also comes with certain responsibilities. Two regulations govern boating in the St. Lawrence Estuary. When exploring these waters, it’s essential that you respect the protective measures that have been put in place at all times.
©RENAUD PINTIAUX/PARCS CANADA
As a responsible boater, how exactly can you abide by the rules? Start by visiting the Navigating whale habitat website, which offers boaters and kayakers, both novice and experienced, free training on sharing the water with whales. This fun training takes little time and adapts to your type of watercraft (boat, sailboat, kayak, or paddleboard). You’ll learn how to identify the species of whales you might encounter and how to safely operate your watercraft in their habitat. By respecting the need of endangered species for peace and tranquillity, we can support their recovery in a concrete way.
A side-trip on land
A great side-trip while visiting the marine park is to make a stopover at one of the bordering marinas to explore the network of 21 discovery sites that surround the entire protected area. You’ll be rewarded with a host of fascinating activities and information about the marine environment. There’s something for everyone: observing marine life, hiking the beautiful landscapes, visiting museums and historical sites… Several sites offer stunning lookout points for observing whales. Bring a picnic, set yourself down on the rocks and enjoy the majestic creatures as they pass by.
Come and navigate one of Canada’s most breathtaking marine protected areas. Start planning your visit to the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park today!