Quebec’s Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region is often referred to as “The Land of Giants.” Paddlers who visit this special place will quickly see why Saguenay is a dream to kayak. The mighty Saguenay River links the wide-open waters of Lac Saint-Jean with the Saguenay Fjord—one of the longest in the world—that cleaves through towering mountain cliffs for more than 100 kilometers. Here, freshwater from the region’s countless cascading rivers merges with the saltwater of the St. Lawrence estuary, creating rich habitat for beluga whales, seals and other marine life.

Sea kayakers can explore this dramatic landscape for a few hours or a few days; two superb national parks ensure over 75 percent of the fjord remains pristine and untouched. Beautiful beaches and gorgeous bays accommodate kayak campers, while whitewater kayakers enjoy some of the best rivers you’ll find anywhere.

[This article is part of our 35 Adventurous Things To Do In Saguenay series. Learn more about where to hike, bike, paddle and sightsee around Quebec’s Land of Giants.]

A map of Saguenay

 


 

Places to Kayak

Saguenay Fjord

Excavated by mile-thick glaciers tens of thousands of years ago, the Saguenay Fjord is a mystical landscape of dark waters enclosed within dizzying, 300-meter-high cliffs. Extending 105 kilometers from below Lac Saint-Jean to its mouth at the St. Lawrence estuary, the fjord is at once a sea and a river, as cold saltwater from the St. Lawrence floods its depths while warmer fresh waters from the lake and its tributaries run along the surface. When the tide comes in it carries nutrient-rich saltwater deep into the Saguenay, and whales, seals, porpoises and other marine life follow.

A woman stands near a line of kayaks on the shore in Saguenay
Skyscraper-sized cliffs loom over the deep waters of scenic Saguenay Fjord. | Photo courtesy of: Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean © Tourisme Québec / C.–D. Robitaille

Sea kayaking Saguenay Fjord rewards with sightings of ice-white beluga whales, paddling at the base of skyscraper-sized cliffs and ending the day in a charming village or beautiful campsite. Two parks protect this stunning and ecologically diverse region: the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park encompasses both the waters of the fjord and the adjoining St. Lawrence estuary, while the shores of the fjord are protected by the Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay (Saguenay Fjord National Park).

Three areas of the national park are popular for Saguenay Fjord kayaking day trips.

Baie Éternité

A narrow bay surrounded by the fjord’s highest cliffs, Baie Éternité is one of the most beautiful spots on the Saguenay River and a terrific place to view peregrine falcons—cliff-diving birds of prey that can reach speeds of 200 km/hour! It’s also accessible; you can paddle around the whole bay in just a few hours. The area also offers hiking trails, an excellent visitor’s center and a variety of camping and cabin options.

 

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Baie Sainte-Marguerite

This is a natural nursery for beluga whales, which arrive in Baie Sainte-Marguerite in the summer to give birth and raise their young. The bay provides these small, white whales with plentiful food and quiet, sheltered waters where the calves can grow strong before venturing into the wider waters of the St. Lawrence. Kayakers hoping to glimpse the beluga can launch from nearby L’Anse-de-Roche and paddle across the mouth of the bay in the designated corridor only, being careful to avoid stopping here or entering the restricted zone. Kayaks can attract the whales’ attention and reduce the amount of time they spend looking after their young, feeding and resting—so it’s critical that paddlers follow these whale protection regulations.

Beluga whales swim underwater
Beluga whales swim in their summertime nursery at the Baie Sainte-Marguerite. | Photo courtesy of: Flickr // Brian Gratwicke

Baie de Tadoussac

Baie de Tadoussac lies at the mouth of the Saguenay River, where the fjord meets the saltwater estuary of the mighty St. Lawrence River. Here, the seafloor rises from a depth of 300 meters to just 20 meters, creating an upwelling of oxygen, zooplankton and other nutrients toward the surface—a veritable buffet for fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Three types of seals and six different whale species frequent these waters from May through October—from the diminutive beluga to the gigantic blue whale and acrobatic humpback. Launch from the kayak-friendly beach at Tadoussac, or from Baie Sainte-Catherine on the south side of the river mouth.

View Saguenay Fjord National Park visitor’s guide

See a map of the marine park

Kayak Camping Saguenay Fjord

Multi-day Saguenay Fjord kayaking trips are the ultimate way to experience the beauty and exceptional biodiversity of this natural wonder. Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay offers 13 kayak camping areas situated on both the north and south shores of the fjord. Campsites are spaced at regular intervals to facilitate backcountry through trips of the 100-kilometer-long gorge. Experienced kayakers should allow at least 5-6 days for an end-to-end journey.

Kayak campsites are available June to September, and multi-day trips must be taken in a downstream direction (heading towards the river mouth). The national park website offers suggestions for kayak camping routes from 2 to 6 days.

Weather and paddling conditions can change quickly in the Saguenay Fjord, and the vertiginous geography means there are few places to get out of the water safely when conditions deteriorate. Tides of four or five meters are common, making tide tables essential for multi-day paddling trips. Tides near the narrow mouth of the fjord reach up to 9 knots, which can create hazardous conditions for kayakers. Unless you’re an expert at rough water paddling and navigating in tidal environments, go with a guide. There are a number of top-rated local outfitters (scroll down for Saguenay Kayak Tours) that can help novice and intermediate kayakers explore the fjord safely.

 

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Saguenay River

Kayaking on the Saguenay River centers on the Saguenay Fjord, with numerous park accesses and a handful of historic villages serving as departure points. Kayak launching sites inside the national park include Baie Éternité, L’Anse du Petit-Saguenay and L’Anse de Saint-Étienne on the south side of the river; and L’Anse de Roche and Tadoussac on the north side. The villages of Sainte-Rose-du-Nord and L’Anse-Saint-Jean are also popular for accessing the north and south side of the fjord, respectively.

 

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Lac Saint-Jean

Overshadowed by the spectacular river and fjord that drains its waters, Lac Saint-Jean is no slouch itself when it comes to size and scenery. The lake is more than 35 kilometers across and is rimmed by mountains, forests, farms and vibrant communities. The unusually shallow depth makes for warm water and large waves—even a modest wind can whip the surface into a frenzy of whitecaps. For these reasons, most kayakers on Lac Saint-Jean enjoy shorter excursions along the lakeshore or exploring the many beautiful rivers that spill into the lake.

Possible half-day and day outings include venturing up the Ashuapmushuan River (the river’s name translates to “the place where one lies in wait for moose”) at Saint-Félicien, or paddling along kilometers of white sand beach at Vauvert on the lake’s north shore. If you’re looking to extend your Lac Saint-Jean kayaking into a weekend adventure, Vauvert and nearby Parc National de la Pointe-Taillon offer lakeside camping, glamping and cabin rentals. From the national park, you can paddle up the Péribonka River or explore a scattering of small islands clustered at the lake’s outlet (the Grand-Décharge).

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Tadoussac

Located at the great confluence of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence rivers, Tadoussac sea kayaking focuses on the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord and the Upper and Lower Estuary of the St. Lawrence River. The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park protects these estuaries and the extraordinary biodiversity they are home to. Most kayakers head north from Tadoussac down the St. Lawrence into the Lower Estuary, a crucial summer feeding ground for whales, seals, fish and seabirds. Paddling along the coastline towards Anse à la Cave, you may spot plumes or hear the great misty exhalations of blue, minke, humpback or fin whales feeding just offshore. With locations in Tadoussac and Les Bergeronnes (Anse à la Cave), local specialist Mer et Monde Écotours offers guided kayak trips and spectacular riverfront camping.

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Rivière-aux-Sables

Coursing right through the Saguenay suburb of Jonquière, the Rivière-aux-Sables offers whitewater kayakers a short and sweet river run that’s perfect for practicing laps. The river’s tight and technical class III rapids have hosted national slalom championships. Because it runs right through town, the river is very accessible for laps of varying length.

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Shipshaw River

Just across the Saguenay River from Jonquière, the Shipshaw River charts its own whitewater descent, with two popular sections offering different challenges for kayakers and canoeists. The top section, named Chûte-aux-Galets (9 km), is the preferred section for kayaking and features a fast and furious procession of class III–IV rapids. An agreement with dam managers ensures an ideal flow all summer. The lower section begins east of Saint-Ambroise at the Portage-Lapointe bridge and offers an exciting day trip better suited to whitewater canoeing. Here, long peaceful stretches of river are interspersed with class II and III rapids.

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Rivière Métabetchouane

In total, 45 rivers spill into Lac Saint-Jean—all accessible within a 100-kilometer drive on the lake’s encircling network of roads. These rivers drop down to the lake over polished outcrops and boulders of Canadian Shield granite, enticing kayakers with the promise of exhilarating and accessible class III–V rapids. Picture amazing playboating waves and holes, steep chutes, technical water and big-water runs that compare with the world-renowned Ottawa River (minus the crowds).

Traveling clockwise around the lake, one of the first you’ll encounter is the Métabetchouane River at the town of Desbiens. Starting at Parc de la Caverne Trou-de-la-Fée, the Métabetchouane boasts a steep and continuous 7-kilometer run through a beautiful, undeveloped canyon with a dozen major rapids rated up to class IV.

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Mistassibi River

Three massive and powerful northern Quebec rivers—the Mistassini, the Mistassibi and the Ashuapmushuan—pour into the northwest corner of Lac Saint-Jean near the small town of Saint-Félicien.

Joining the mighty Mistassini River at the regional hub of Dolbeau-Mistassini, the Mistassibi River rivals its sister to the west for huge rapids and rugged landscapes. High volume, continuous class IV & V rapids are best left to expert kayakers—or join H2O Expédition for an intense half-day whitewater rafting descent of the Mistassibi’s roller coaster rapids.

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Ashuapmushuan River

Perfect for playboaters and making relaxing river laps, the Ashuapmushuan at Saint-Félicien is a treat for whitewater kayakers. Just north of downtown, Chutes à Michel is the put-in for a short playboating run of the lower Ashuapmushuan. Look for a pair of huge hole features below a railroad bridge and don’t miss surfing the impressive Vague Arcand breaking wave near the take-out. Further upstream, expert kayakers can tackle the spectacular rapids and slides at the massive Grand Chute à l’Ours. A well-appointed tourist campground at the chutes makes for a convenient basecamp.

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Saguenay Kayak Tours

Fjord en Kayak

Located in the lovely village of l’Anse-Saint-Jean in the heart of the Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay, Fjord en Kayak are renowned for their award-winning service, expert instruction, performance fiberglass kayaks and gourmet dining options available during their multi-day expeditions. If you’re looking for a shorter voyage in the fjord, they offer guided 3-hour and 1-day trips, as well as 2-hour family trips in tandem kayaks for youth ages 3 to 13. Fjord en Kayak’s guided 2-, 3- and 4-day Saguenay kayak trips combine comfortable camping, delicious food and the fjord’s finest scenery and wildlife encounters.

Location: L’Anse-Saint-Jean
Phone: 866-725-2925 | 866-72-KAYAK
Website: www.fjordenkayak.ca/en

Organisaction

With guided sea kayak tours from 2 hours to 6 days, Organisaction are year-round specialists in Saguenay outdoor adventures. They offer kayak trips from two main bases of operation at Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay—Baie-Éternité and Villages-Vacances Petit-Saguenay (L’Anse-Saint-Étienne). Multi-day kayak trip options include a luxury 5-day end-to-end traverse of the entire Saguenay Fjord, combining camping and stays in cozy cottages and inns.

Locations: Baie-Éternité, Saguenay Fjord National Park
L’Anse-Saint-Étienne, Village-Vacances Petit-Saguenay
Phone: 418-579-8763
Website: www.organisaction.com/en

 

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Mer et Monde Écotours

Mer et Monde specialize in sea kayaking guided excursions within the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park along the St. Lawrence estuary. Their award-winning kayak trips are renowned for quality of services, safety of activities, professionalism and integrating marine conservation values into their excursions. Kayak tours include 3-hour and full-day whale-watching trips in the Lower Estuary, and combo paddling and hiking day trips in Saguenay Fjord. Mer et Monde is also the only kayak outfitter offering 3-hour sunrise kayak trips in the estuary and 3-hour night tours to experience bioluminescence and listen to whale sounds with a hydrophone.

Locations: Anse à la Cave, Les Bergeronnes Tadoussac
Phone: 866-637-6663
Website: www.meretmonde.ca/en

Ferme 5 Étoiles

This laidback family vacation resort offers a huge variety of outdoor activities, including guided kayaking tours of the Saguenay Fjord. Choose from 2-hour, 3-hour, full-day and multi-day tours departing from L’Anse-de-Roche.

Location: Sacré-Cœur
Phone: 877-236-4551
Website: www.ferme5etoiles.com/en/

Parc Aventure Cap Jaseux

Situated at the western reach of the Saguenay Fjord, Parc Aventure Cap Jaseux enjoys a beautiful riverside location and provides a unique adventure resort experience. Along with surprising accommodation options—including treehouses and domes perched high in the canopy—the resort offers guided Saguenay kayak tours ranging from standard full-day and half-day trips to paddling excursions at dusk, dawn and during a full moon.

Location: Saint-Fulgence
Phone: 888-674-9114
Website: www.capjaseux.com/en/

Aventure Rose Des Vents

Located beside the fjord in the village of Sainte-Rose-du-Nord, this friendly hostel/café also leads easy 2- and 3-hour guided sea kayak tours and introductory overnight kayak trips. Day tours are suitable for children as young as 3 years.

Location: Sainte-Rose-du-Nord
Phone: 418-675-2625
Website: www.aventurerosedesvents.com/en/

Katabatik Aventure Dans Charlevoix

Paddle the bird- and whale-filled Upper St. Lawrence Estuary portion of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park with Katabatik’s expert sea kayak guides. Explore the abundant marine life, remote beaches and amazing geomorphology of the Charlevoix coast on a half-day or full-day kayak tour.

Location: Cap-à-l’Aigle
Phone: 800-453-4850
Website: www.katabatik.ca/en

H2O Expédition

Based on the south shore of Lac Saint-Jean, H2O Expédition offers a variety of guided whitewater experiences on many of the region’s most thrilling rivers. Learn new skills and enjoy wild camping while whitewater kayaking, canoeing, catarafting or rafting the Ashuapmushuan River; guided tours are available from 2 to 7 days. The outfitter also offers guided whitewater raft, river board, canyoning and lake sailing day trips.

Location: Desbiens
Phone: 866-697-7238
Website: www.aventure-expedition.com/activities.html

 


 

Kayak Rental Saguenay

 

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Fjord en Kayak

Located in the picturesque village of l’Anse-Saint-Jean in the heart of the Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay, Fjord en Kayak rents recreational kayaks and SUPs for exploring within the bay at l’Anse-Saint-Jean.

Location: L’Anse-Saint-Jean
Phone: 866-725-2925 | 866-72-KAYAK
Website: www.fjordenkayak.ca/en

Boutique Hors-Circuit

Chicoutimi’s premier outdoors store, Boutique Hors-Circuit rents a huge variety of outdoor equipment including single and tandem sea kayaks, whitewater kayaks, canoes, SUPs, watersports apparel and safety gear, camping equipment and more.

Location: Chicoutimi
Phone: 418-973-9494
Website: www.horscircuits.ca/

 


 

Kayak Stores Saguenay

Boutique Hors-Circuit

Chicoutimi’s premier outdoors store, Boutique Hors-Circuit sells a huge variety of outdoor equipment including sea kayaks, whitewater kayaks, canoes, SUPs, watersports apparel and safety gear, camping equipment and more.

Location: Chicoutimi
Phone: 418-973-9494
Website: www.horscircuits.ca/

SAIL

Outdoor retail chain SAIL features a spacious Chicoutimi store with the usual diverse selection of kayaks, canoes, SUPs, paddling equipment, camping gear, clothing and more.

Location: Chicoutimi
Phone: 418-437-8677
Website: www.sail.ca/en/our-stores/chicoutimi


Get up close and personal with the marine mammals of Saguenay Fjord and the St. Lawrence estuary. | Photo courtesy of: Côte-Nord © Tourisme Québec // Marc Loiselle

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