Why go to Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean in the Winter: A Sample Itinerary
I already knew that Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and its fjords were beautiful in the summer, but I wanted to go experience the winter in one of the snowiest regions in the world. The winters in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean are cold; they get average highs of -7°C and lows of -19°C. We all know the best way to stay warm is to keep moving, so my plan was to stay as active as possible while enjoying the snowy winter in Quebec.
Why not add a little adventure to your winter and keep warm with this sample winter itinerary?
I was hot inside, and cold on the outside as I huffed and puffed my way uphill in the freezing temperature. It was so cold, my eyes started watering and my eyelashes kept freezing together making it hard to see! And trust me, you didn’t want to miss seeing the snow-covered landscape around you. In the Vallée des Fantômes, atop Parc National des Monts-Valin trees are covered in snow so thick that appear as ghosts in the landscape. However, the ‘ghosts’ I was seeing were only the tops of the trees; the rest were buried in snow.
Thanks to a unique microclimate created from the Fjord and the altitude, Parc National des Monts-Valin receives 20 feet of heavy, humid snowfall a year. It packs down and buries the Black Spruce on the summit. That’s what makes this snowshoe hike so unique – you are actually snow shoeing on top of 8 to 20 feet of snow!
I got a great tip from a local before I went on the snowshoe hike, “Don’t get too excited too early; the best pictures are after the warming hut and at the top!” The advice was spot on – don’t lose time taking pictures in the beginning because it just gets better! Once at the top you can follow a park guide off trail as they point out views and you get to act like a kid again playing in the deep snow!
After snowshoeing, go relax at a colorful yurt nestled among the trees. The 16-foot yurt can sleep up to 4 people, but I had this little gem all to myself. It packed a lot into a small space; 1 double bed, 1 single bed, a sofa bed, a deck, a compost toilet, sink, fridge, microwave, wifi, and a pellet stove to stay warm. The beds were in a loft area with a domed ceiling so you could gaze at the stars as you slept! Showers, toilets and running water were available in a separate building nearby.
Observe and Sleep with Wolves
Some people are bird lovers, Gilles Granal is a wolf lover. He runs a unique wolf observation center as well as an adventure travel company called Aventuraid. His objective is to show wolves in their natural state.
Gilles offers a contact activity with the wolves in which people are able to go inside the enclosure and spend time interacting with an imprinted pack. It’s a strange feeling to have them growling and fighting among themselves as you stand in the middle of the pack. The wolves were big, sturdy, and imposing. They would still fight among themselves, but never once did they lash out at us. Gilles even had us sit on the ground; an incredible perspective to respect their size and get an even better look at them, and them at us. Few people have the chance to put their hand in their thick fur but for those who do – it’s a beautiful experience.
You don’t have to go far as Aventuraid offers you the chance to sleep with the wolves. Don’t panic, you don’t actually sleep with them, but near them. Guests can stay overnight in one of their 2 chalets, basically sleeping right next to the wolves. It’s sort of like having your own little, warm blind to hide inside while you observe the wildlife outside. I could hear the wolves walking around; their paws crunching in the snow. You can watch them run, play, eat, and howl in the moonlight all from your bed!
Go to the Ice Desert
How about a snowmobile ride on frozen Lac-Saint-Jean, also known as the ice desert. The lake is about 27 miles long and 15 miles wide – and the winds howl across the flat, icy lake. As the sun went down, I drove my own snowmobile on the lake following my guide Hugues Ouellet, of Equinox Adventure. I quickly learned that frozen lakes are the best place to go fast! We visited a few islands, saw some ice fisherman, and enjoyed the sunset and the moon rise.
An igloft is a cross between a loft and an igloo. It is also your ‘hotel room’ in the middle of the unique ice desert geography. Placed 1 km from shore atop the ice on Lac-Saint-Jean,
the little structure is small but mighty. It even floats just in case the ice decides to crack beneath you!
It is equipped with everything you need for a short stay; a futon/bed, small kitchen, a little toilet area, a pop-up table and folding chairs, plus a little wood stove. The igloft is full of windows and even a skylight so you can get a great view of the ice desert and of the stars as you sleep.
Every winter in Quebec large villages are created on the fjord and various lakes around the region. One of the biggest ones is at the town of La Baie. With over 600 ice huts this little village sits on the frozen Fjord like a little colorful elf village! The ‘village infrastructure’ (roads, homes, street signs) is constructed for the winter ice fishing season and it’s a sight to see! There are stop signs, streets (named after fish), and cars parked in front of huts.
This colorful village is fun to see, but it’s even more fun to immerse yourself in it. There are many varieties of fish you can catch in the deep fjord, but the most common to catch are redfish, cod, rainbow smelt, or turbot. Pêche Aventures Saguenay will provide everything you need to do an afternoon of ice fishing. I used their hut which included a stove, futon, radio, and bathroom as well as their equipment to try to catch some fish. They even provide instruction for first time ice fisherman like me.
Go back ashore and stay at the sophisticated Auberge des 21. This is the perfect place to warm up and be pampered. Relax in the onsite spa, and then treat yourself to a gourmet meal at Le Doyen.
With all of these winter adventures and unique places to stay in Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean, you might even find that you prefer winter over summer in and around the fjords!
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