Canada's expanse is brimming with pure wilderness to satisfy the explorer in all of us. Home to one of the most beautiful fjords in North America, there's no finer example of the limitless splendour of the great outdoors than Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean.
Quebec's third-largest region is defined by the Saguenay Fjord, Lac St-Jean, and a majestic bevy of rolling hills, craggy cliffs, rushing waters, and reclusive wildlife. Global travellers and long-time residents alike are sure to find new adventures and create cherished memories when camping Lac St-Jean at any time of year.
If you've never taken in the spectacle of Lac St-Jean, it's time to start planning a trip. Let's explore the area, so you can discover the most exciting experiences to suit your style.
Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean is situated in Quebec, reaching roughly 300 km from the St. Lawrence River. The region, which covers nearly 100,000 square kilometres, is highlighted by three central features:
Saguenay Fjord: A 105 km long fjord and estuary of the Saguenay River
Saguenay River: A major Canadian river stretching 170 km to Lac St-Jean
Lac St-Jean: An impact crater lake covering 1,053 sq km
Around 275,000 Quebecers call the region home, but it welcomes huge swaths of visitors throughout the year.
Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean thrives on its tourism industry. With all the diverse activities available, it isn't hard to see the appeal. If you somehow tire of the endless spans of unsullied nature, you'll have no shortage of escapades to choose from, including:
Taking a trip back 100 years in the ghost town at Val-Jalbert
Biking and picking fresh berries along the famous 256 km-long Blueberry Route
Touring museums and historic sites around Lac St-Jean
Relaxing on any of Lac St-Jean's many beaches
Whale-watching at the Sainte-Marguerite River
Hitting the slopes at one of eight ski resorts
There are thousands of exciting opportunities along every inch of the region, but most of the attraction comes from the soaring, diverse landscape.
Part of what makes Quebec one of the best places to live in Canada is the old-world, European feel you can find in select pockets of the province. That extends to the environment of Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean. The flowing mountain streams hint at an Alpine atmosphere, while the Saguenay Fjord transports you to Nordic shores.
The entire region is a playground of unique wildlife. You'll find everything from a heavy population of black bears roaming the forests to beluga whales, seals, and Greenland sharks swimming in the fjord. As you travel the wilderness, don't be surprised if you happen across bison, moose, muskox, and caribou.
Shaping the Wilderness
Since the late 1800s, Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean has been an industry-driven area. The pulp-production and smelting industries were centrepieces of the economy. Aluminum smelting is still big business, as Canada's 50 mile-long Aluminum Valley, featuring five smelters, sits in the middle of the region.
Settlement in the region affected much of the landscape and spurred the evolution of its plant life. Forests are sparser due to fires and the lumber trade of the late 19th century. Today, the region consists mainly of a mix of pine, maple, and poplar trees dotted across the terrain.
Getting to Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean
Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean is a 5-hour drive from Montreal. If you want to make a beach trip during the summer, you can reach Lac St-Jean by following QC-155N.
The city of Saguenay, which lies east of Lac St-Jean along the Saguenay River, is about two hours directly north of Quebec City. Whether, you're coming from Montreal or starting in Quebec City, taking QC-175N is the quickest route to the region's liveliest urban area. From there, it's only an hour's drive east along QC-170E to reach Saguenay Fjords National Park.
Getting Around the Park
Travelling around the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region is simple if you're trying to check out the hot spots.
If you take QC-155N from Montreal, you'll arrive at Lac St-Jean at the intersection of QC-169. Following this highway will take you all around the lake, with stop-offs at all of its beautiful beaches and accommodating campgrounds.
When you're camping Lac St-Jean, head east on QC-169 from QC-155 to find several camping areas on the southeast side of the lake as you approach the Saguenay River. Alma, the region's second-largest city, is on the way, sitting right where the river meets QC-169.
From QC-169, you can jump on QC-170E, which will take you along the south side of the Saguenay River. You'll travel through the city of Saguenay before reaching Saguenay Fjords National Park and finally the St. Lawrence River.
At the end of QC-170, head north on QC-138. Travel along the shoreline of St. Lawrence as far as you like if you want to experience one of Canada's most scenic drives. To see more of the Saguenay region, hang a left on QC-172 right after crossing the Saguenay River.
QC-172 follows the Saguenay River on the north side, bringing you back to Lac St-Jean. Along the way, you can branch-off north to enter Monts-Valin.
What to Do in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean
The changing seasons of Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean can bring you back to the same spots for completely different reasons. Summer brings locals to the placid beaches, but it's one of Canada's best wintertime destinations for travellers from across the globe.
During the summer, Quebec residents flock to the beaches of Lac St-John. Many municipal beaches are free to the public, and with the sheer number of swimming spots, you won't find too many crowds.
Of course, the summer is also time to hike, bike, and explore. There are myriad trails at all difficulty levels around the river, lake, fjord, and beyond. From the fjord to the lake, there are plenty of spaces to go kayaking, canoeing, or sailing.
Whale watchers can find tons of marine life in the fjord and along the St. Lawrence river connection. Cruises around the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park get you up close and personal with everything from belugas to blue whales. For a more convenient vantage point, observation towers are accessible for land-based viewing.
In the winter, the landscape transforms into an entirely new recreational offering. You can go snowshoeing through Monts-Valin National Park, ice fishing on the fjord, or downhill skiing at Valinouet.
Follow the Blueberry Route
RV'ers will have an easy time hopping around Lac St-Jean, but the best way to experience the area is by bicycle. The Veloroute des Bleuets (the Blueberry Route) circles the lake, giving bicyclists 256 km of rolling farmlands and forests. The challenge is rewarding enough, but the incredible views along the way make it truly special.
For the best berry-picking, visit the region between late July and mid-September. Check out the many bakeries and shops featuring various blueberry-based dishes. If you feel like grabbing a beer, break away from the path and stop in at one of the 12 microbreweries along the Route des Bieres.
Camping Experiences at Lac-Saint-Jean
Lac St-Jean is a notable highlight during the warm summer months, featuring numerous top-tier campgrounds.
Pointe-Taillon National Park on the northern peninsula offers lakefront camping along the beach and a range of activities to keep you entertained. Visitors can explore the area with the help of convenient bike and kayak rental shops.
Travelling further north, you'll come across Camping Vauvert, a 7-km beach dotted with campsites and chalets. Along the west side of the lake, Camping Plage Robertson is an excellent place to bring your family and pets.
Parc National des Monts-Valin
At 984 metres above sea level, Parc National des Monts-Valin is a high-altitude landscape of breathtaking views and winter fun. Here you'll find excellent downhill skiing opportunities and some of the most ideal snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in all of Canada.
Winter can be one of the best times to visit Canada, and Monts-Valin offers pristine conditions for snow sports enthusiasts. Don't miss the chance to snowshoe the serene Valley of the Ghosts trail after a generous snowfall. Reserve a snow bus to take you to the trail's entrance, and enjoy one of the most jaw-dropping views in the entire country when you reach the summit.
Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay
The pride and joy of the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region is the Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay. Carved out by glacial movements, the Saguenay Fjord is a 105-km inlet flanked by towering cliffs, giving visitors photo-worthy views at every turn.
Nature lovers can find creatures of all kinds in land, sea, or air. In a single hike around any of its 100 km of trails, you can happen across Peregrine falcons, beavers, moose, and black bears. If you go to Baie-Sainte-Marguerite, you'll enjoy one of the best places for prime whale watching.
Entre Chien et Loup
Entre Chien et Loup ("Between Dog and Wolf") is a once-in-a-lifetime dogsledding expedition based out of L'Anse-Saint-Jean. Trail guides and a team of 40 wolf dogs take visitors through a peaceful wilderness journey around the mountains and waterways of the Saguenay Fjord. You can take it easy with a 1/2 day excursion or get the full adventure spanning six full days.
Where to Stay (If Camping Isn’t Your Thing)
Camping is the main draw of the region, but with all that there is to do, there's plenty of reason to visit even if you don't like the idea of roughing it.
Stay in Saguenay, Alma, or L'Anse-Saint-Jean, and you'll find plenty of hotels and motels to use as a base for your time in Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean. For any cheddar and Swiss lovers out there, a room in Saint Felicien puts you near the Fromagerie Perron, where you can enjoy tastings and experience the cheese-making process first-hand at Quebec's oldest cheese manufacturer.
Auberge des îles
Auberge des Iles is the only resort on Lac St-Jean, located on the east shore of the lake only 20 minutes from Alma. During your hotel stay, you have exclusive access to the resort's private beach. Set out on a rented kayak or paddleboard, or simply relax on the sand and take in views of the lake's many islands.
The resort makes an ideal centre of activity in the winter as well. Visitors can enjoy downhill skiing, cross-country treks, and snowmobiling all within a stone's throw of their hotel.
Hôtel Château Roberval
On the western shore of Lac St-Jean is the town of Roberval, home of the Hotel Chateau Roberval. Like Auberge des Iles, the hotel is an ideal home base whenever you visit Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean. It features 124 guest rooms, an indoor pool and spa, and a fitness room, making it a perfect spot all year round.
When staying at Hotel Chateau Roberval, you're only a short drive from Val-Jalbert, a popular tourist destination. The historical village, which was constructed in the early 1900s for workers at the pulp mill, has been a ghost town since the 1920s. But other than having a lack of residents, the structures that make up the small town have remained unchanged for nearly 100 years.
Heading north from the hotel on QC-169 will bring you to a completely different experience. The Zoo Sauvage de Saint-Felicien is Quebec's most popular zoo. See how it turns the zoo concept on its head by putting visitors in cages and letting the animals roam free.
The mesh train tours at Zoo Sauvage take visitors around the grounds, giving them up-close views of bears, foxes, wolves, and more. Unique exhibits even bring tourists face-to-face with greater beasts like caribou and polar bears.
Experience Camping Lac-St-Jean
The vast expanse of Lac-St-Jean offers something new and intriguing with every visit. From the campgrounds to the whale-watching tours, there's something for everyone within the region's vibrant culture, rich history, and untouched wilderness.
If you've got an itch for adventure, there's opportunity around every corner of the country. For more camping insights, check out our post on more exciting and beautiful camping experiences in Ontario.
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