The majestic Saguenay Fjord is the largest fjord in the east - 120km long, in places 3km wide and with granite cliff walls soaring as high as 1500 ft. It has it all - beautiful scenery, sweeping panoramas, sparkling waterfalls and pristine streams and lakes. The fjord joins the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the picturesque little town of Tadoussac, where fierce tidal currents and deep underwater trenches combine to churn nutrient rich water to the surface, making it a choice summer feeding ground for whales - and a prime destination for whale watchers. Tadoussac is rich in history, being one the earliest settlements of New France and gateway to the fabled “Royame du Saguenay”, where legends of a great city with untold wealth in gold and diamonds lured the early French explorers.
Our hike started at Baie Éternité (about half way down the fjord) and ended at Tadoussac, covering about 90km in seven days. Baie Éternité is on the south side of the fjord and Tadoussac on the north, so the sixth day provided some unusual excitement crossing the fjord in a Zodiac inflatable boat. Most of the trail is in the Parc Saguenay and is very well maintained and clearly marked. Three nights were spent in wilderness refuges and three nights in B&Bs. Every night we had a roof over our heads so we didn’t need tents or sleeping pads, although we did need sleeping bags, cooking gear and water purification equipment. The wilderness refuges in the Parc Saguenay all have twelve bunk beds, a table and chairs and a wood stove. There is a privy outside and a water source close by. We were twelve in our group so we would have all the refuges to ourselves. Our group consisted of Anne McCotter and David, Francois and Veronica, Ann Lane, Donna, Kay, Bev, Liette and me (all Ramblers) as well as Chris and Mary, a brother and sister from Kingston and Deep River.
Friday, 13th August (Motel Castel Horizon, La Malbaie)
We met at La Malbaie on Friday the 13th (fortunately none of us were superstitious!). There was a happy atmosphere at the “get acquainted” supper, so I think we’re all going to get along fine.
Saturday, 14th August (Refuge Lac de la Chute – 6.5 km)
After breakfast we set off in convoy for Rivière Éternité, stopping on the way at the B&B in Petit Saguenay to leave a resupply box for the second half of the hike. After checking in at the Parc Saguenay office, lunch at the “Centre d’interprétation”, and some last minute adjustment of backpacks, we were off. It was only 6.5 km to our first night in the refuge at Lac de la Chute but mostly uphill so it was a good workout. Many of us had a refreshing swim in the lake on arrival and Chris and Mary amused us all by doing headstands on the picnic table. Then everyone wanted to try out my new Hennesey hammock which I’d brought along, not because I needed it but because I’d only just got it and it was a good chance to try it out (and to give everyone a break from my snoring!).
Sunday, 15th August (Refuge Lac du Marais – 9.3 km)
This morning was bright and clear and we had our first real glimpse of the splendour of the fjord from the top of Cap Éternité, and as the trail wound along the edge of the steep walls of the fjord. An afternoon swim in Lac Kalmia and then on to the refuge at Lac du Marais. Marais is French for swamp so we weren’t sure of the water there and hauled all we needed from Lac Kalmia. It turned out we needn’t have bothered – there was a little stream flowing out of the swamp and the water was OK even if it did taste a bit strange.
Monday, 16th August (Gîte du Fjord, Anse St Jean - 16.3 km)
Today’s hike would be our hardest yet, up and over Montagne Blanche and down into the little village of Anse St Jean. Montagne Blanche, at about 1900 ft, is one of the highest points around, not high as mountains go but impressive nevertherless, as it is above the tree line and offers magnificent 360º panoramas. Seven of our number opted for a shorter and easier route avoiding Montagne Blanche altogether. I particularly wanted to do the Montagne Blanche trail as I had help to build it when I lived in the Saguenay back in the 80s. Those of us who went this way were rewarded for our efforts by beautiful panoramas and up close views of cascading waterfalls. A beer at the marina and a convivial supper at the Gîte du Fjord rounded out a most enjoyable and satisfying day.
Tuesday, 17th August (Auberge les deux Pignons, Petit Saguenay – 14.6 km)
Today was a pleasant, gentle 10 km hike along the fjord, topped off with 4 km slog along a country road to a warm welcome at the Auberge les deux Pignons in Petit Saguenay. I was way behind everyone else because I had spent a long time chatting to two trail maintainers from the Parc Saguenay who knew many of the people I had worked with back in the 80s, and because the views today were some of the best of the hike, so I kept on stopping to admire them.
Wednesday, 18th August (Auberge les deux Pignons, Petit Saguenay – day off)
We were staying a second night at Petit Saguenay because there was no room at the next stop in Baie Ste. Étienne. The original idea was we would hike there today and use a shuttle to get back. However, since this road section is the least interesting of the whole hike everybody opted to take a day off instead. Most of us took a relaxing stroll through the whimsical “Monde Enchanté de Mon Enfance”, an extensive forested site close to the village, replete with waterfalls, covered bridges, and gazebos. We had lunch at the “Gratte-Ciel”, a mountain hut perched precariously right at the top, with a commanding view of the village.
Thursday, 19th August (Refuge Cap de la Boule – 16.2 km)
This was the big day for our ferry ride across the Saguenay, and it very nearly ended in a complete fiasco. We got a minibus to Baie Ste. Étienne and to my relief the ferry operator remembered to show up, albeit somewhat late. It was a large inflatable zodiac dinghy with a 150 hp outboard. But it wouldn’t take all of us, so we went over in two groups. I was in the first group and we had a most enjoyable ride across but, when the guide tried to turn the boat around in the rocky, muddy inlet at Anse Creux, he got it stuck on a rock – and the tide was going out so fast you could see it. Ann and I pitched in to help but the boat was surprisingly heavy and we only just managed to get it floated again before it ended up high and dry. Just imagine, the group waiting on the other side wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what had happened, and before the tide floated that boat off again they probably would’ve given us up for lost! Anyway all’s well that ends well and half an hour later we were safely reunited with the second group – and sure enough, that place where we were wrestling with the boat was high and dry about fifty metres from the waterline! Today was a day of energetic day of up and down hiking. It was also the first (and only) day we had some rain, nothing much really more like a drizzle. Even that had its compensations because when we got to the refuge (a superb modern chalet perched almost on the edge of the cliff with a magnificent view of the fjord) we were treated to one of the most spectacular double rainbows I’ve ever seen.
Friday, 20th August (Suites de l’Anse, Tadoussac – 9.3 km)
This was our last day and once again I dawdled and let everyone else go on ahead. I was enjoying myself so much I didn’t want the hike to end. As usual the views were superb and I found the most idyllic lunch spot near Mont Adela Lessard with a view over Tadoussac Bay and the St. Lawrence. From where I sat I could just reach out and pick handfuls of succulent blueberries. After gorging myself I took a siesta, soothed by the warm sun and the gentle breeze. When I eventually got to Tadoussac everyone was settled in and the drivers had already left by taxi for Baie Éternité to pick up their cars. We ended the day with a celebratory supper at the outdoor bistro of the Hotel Tadoussac. We were a happy group and I really think all the others enjoyed the hike as much as I did.
Saturday, 21st August
Tadoussac is well worth a few days sightseeing, but unfortunately most of us had to return to Ottawa today. Donna and Kay were going further to explore the Gaspé Peninsula, and perhaps to scout out some hiking possibilities for next year?
The Saguenay Fjord is one of the best all around hikes I’ve ever done. Though I’ve done it many times before, I never seem to tire of it and I would thoroughly recommend it. To keep it pristine the Parc Saguenay strictly control the numbers, so if anyone reading this has the urge to go there next summer, you should book soon – February at the latest. I’d be glad to help in any way I can.