For over a hundred years the fjord-like landscape at the mouth of the Saguenay River has been a cruise ship tourist attraction. In fact there are still many large cruise ships plying its waters. But now both shores of the river are in a Provincial Park with excellent hiking trails on both sides with a number of beautiful new cabins to sleep in on the way. The first 4-days will be spent on a 43km trail on the north side of the river. The last 3-days will be spent on a 28km trail on the south side. The two trails are quite different. The 43km trail has climbs from sea level to 300m (1,200 ft) and daily distances between 3 and 17.6km (2 - 11 mi) through a wide variety of vegetation closer to the river.
The 28km trail has one climb to 565m (1,850 ft) and daily distances between 6.5 and 12km (4 – 7.5 mi) through different types of vegetation. Parts of the trail are actually above tree line in semi-arctic-like conditions. The trails are very dry and provide excellent hikes for intermediate hikers. There are stairs built to help you climb or descend some of the steep but short cliff-like sections. The cabins are either close to the water or very high up on the edge of the fjord with excellent views and are equipped with a wood stove, a wood supply and comfortable mattresses on the beds. All we need to carry is our food, personal gear and a light sleeping bag. The trails are in forests of birch, poplar, red maple spruce and balsam fir. Red, jack and white pine are found on rocky outcrops of south facing slopes. Patches of black and red spruce are also found in moist protected areas. The birches and maples should be starting to turn yellow and red. Many species of arctic plants are found at the higher elevations mixed with species that are never seen in the arctic. Berries of all kinds abound.
There are many viewpoints looking out over the river and up and down the spectacular rugged shore. We are very likely to see lots of belugas, some minkys and maybe even a blue whale especially on the 4-day trip. Our timing for these trips usually eliminates most of the bugs and provides an ideal backpacking temperature and a good time for whale watching and there are less people on the trails. We usually start the day early rising around 6:30 hrs to get on the trail before 9:00 hrs. We try to finish early (between 15:00 and 17:00 hrs) each day and this allows plenty of time for relaxing, snoozing, swimming, reading, photography, etc.
Day 1: Our minibus will leave Ste-Agathe-des-Monts at 7:00 hrs and should pass through Quebec City (Ancienne Lorette) at 11:30 hrs and arrive in Tadoussac at 14:00 hrs. We will stop for lunch at a restaurant along the way. Tadoussac is a very interesting and historic village. We should have about two hours in which to visit the oldest wooden church in Canada and a replica of a fur trading post built in 1600. Dinner will be in one of the restaurants in the old Tadoussac hotel. Then off to Baie Ste-Marguerite 20 km (12 miles) in our minibus to start our hike. Hopefully, we will have enough daylight to hike the 3 km (1.8 miles) on a flat, wide gravelled trail to our first cabin on Cap Ste-Marguerite. If not we will use our headlamps.
Day 2: After an early breakfast we will break camp and head back to a viewpoint looking out on the Baie Ste-Marguerite and up the Saguenay River looking for whales.Then head up the trail towards our next cabin with all our gear and food climbing steadily for the first 2 km from about sea level to 250 m (800 ft). The trail then levels off and there are many viewpoints looking out over the Saguenay fjord. The trail slowly descends to a road and we will hike along it for two km (1.2 miles) to the small village of Anse-de-Roche and a beautiful boat harbor. We then climb back up 200 m (650 ft) on the road to where our hiking trail takes off once again descending gradually back to the shore and to our beautiful cabin for the night. Since our cabin faces west we should see some great sunsets if the weather is favorable. We may also see whales right near our cabin as we did in 2002. The total distance for the day will be 15 km (9.6 miles).
Day 3: After breakfast we will pack up and continue our hike climbing gradually 100 m (325 ft) with many great views up and down the river. We should see some cruise ships heading up or down the fjord and should also be able to spot pods of beluga whales as we hike. Here the trail is largely through white and red pine on rocky and moss covered soils – an environment rich in primitive beauty. Eventually we descend back toward the river and will have lunch at Anse à la Passe-Pierre where there is a harbor for boats, a campsite and covered lunch shelter. After lunch we climb again out on to Cap de la Boule where we can catch glimpses of the highway ferry on route 138 between Tadoussac and Baie Ste-Catherine at the mouth of the Saguenay River. The trail then winds around for 2.2 km (1.3 miles) on a road used to service a hydro-electric transmission line from Churchill Falls in Labrador. Then back into the woods for another 2.5 km (1.5 miles) to our cabin about 250 m (800 ft) above the river. The total distance for the day is 17.6 km (11 miles).
Day 4: We only have 9.7 km to go to reach Tadoussac with two major descents and two major ascents. We start by descending to a boat mooring and campsite with shelter at Anse à la Boule. There is a 400 m (1,300 ft) optional hike to a beautiful waterfall here. Then back to the trail and up onto the top edge of the escarpment in the pines with more great views up and down the river. We will pass another waterfall on our way to Mont Adéla Lessard (330 m) before beginning our drop down to Anse à la Barque, Lac de l’Anse à l’Eau and finally the parking lot in Tadoussac where our vehicle should be. We should arrive here shortly after lunch and have time for a shower at our bed & breakfast accommodation. Then out on a boat for an hour of whale watching in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence marine park. Dinner will be at a local restaurant (not included). This is the end of the 4-day trip.
Day 5: After an early breakfast we will visit a marine mammal interpretation centre for a two hour visit before taking the ferry to the south shore of the Saguenay River and our 122km bus ride to Rivière Éternité and the start of our 3-day backpacking trip. We start by crossing the Riviére Éternité and hike along its south shore and then climb 350m (1,200 ft) to our cabin at Lac de la Chute (Waterfall Lake). The distance to the cabin is 6.5km. However, there is an optional side trail round trip of 1.6km (1 mile) to a beautiful lookout above tree line.
Day 6: From Lac de la Chute we head north to the bare summit of Cap Éternité (el. 350m, 1,200 ft) for some great views of the river and surrounding country. Then south-east along the ridge to the top of Montagne du Milieu (Middle Mountain) at 457m (1,500 ft) then past Lac du Kalmia (Kalmia Lake) to Lac du Marais (Marsh Lake) and our cabin above tree line. The distance is 9.6km (6 mi).
Day 7: This is a relatively rugged day with a number of short climbs and descents for the first 6km (4 mi) and much of the hiking will be above tree line. Near the end of the first 6km is an optional 1km round-trip hike to Montagne Blanche (White Mountain) at 565m (1,850 ft) well above tree line. Then we descend about 6 km (4 mi) to L’Anse St. Jean where our vehicle should be waiting. Total distance for the day is 12.1km (7.5 mi). We should arrive back in Québec City around 19:00 hrs and Ste-Agathe-des-Monts by 23:00 hrs.
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