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Hiking in Côte-Nord: Paradise on Earth!
  • Lower North Shore
    Anne Pélouas

Hiking in Côte-Nord: Paradise on Earth!

I’ll admit it: I love walking along the water. My best memories of walks in the province of Québec include views of the Saguenay Fjord, the St. Lawrence Estuary or the Gulf of St. Lawrence, all in Côte-Nord! As a hiking enthusiast, I can tell you that this region, which stretches from Tadoussac all the way to Blanc-Sablon, offers numerous opportunities for hikes of varying lengths over a variety of terrains. Want to walk along the seashore, the Saguenay Fjord or inland? You have many options and are bound to enjoy hiking in this region!

From the fjord to the estuary

One summer, I enjoyed trekking for four days along the demanding fjord trail in Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay. From Sainte-Marguerite Bay to Tadoussac, the trail takes you up and down over and over again along the Saguenay Fjord. You can admire vistas through the forest cover as you make your way towards your next campsite or shelter, which is always ideally located right on the water. As you walk, you are likely to see belugas swimming in the fjord. You can also opt for a shorter trip, by turning back at any time.

Tadoussac offers a change of scenery: the St. Lawrence Estuary, which fills the horizon. You can walk along the dunes or on the sand at low tide. Located at the confluence of the fjord and the estuary, this area is a great place to observe seabirds. To see marine mammals, head to Pointe de l’Islet, where you can watch them feed in an underwater trench that ends abruptly here, turning the estuary into a rich feeding ground. Follow the loop trail from the Tadoussac wharf and take a picnic to enjoy on the rocks as you wait for the whales to make a spectacular appearance.

Speaking of rocks, in Les Bergeronnes, the coastline itself is a trail of sorts. Whenever I stay in the campground at Mer et Monde or Paradis Marin, I don’t have to go far to find somewhere to hike: the pinkish flat rocks along the shoreline offer kilometres to explore as I breathe in the sea air and enjoy the company of whales, more often than not!

Along the shoreline and on magical islands

Of course, beaches and wide sandbars, so characteristic of Côte-Nord, are also great places to hike. In Longue-Rive and Portneuf-sur-Mer, you can enjoy walking on warm sand for an hour or more. The Portneuf Sandbar, which is just off Route 138, is a perfect natural hiking trail. This high-conservation-value environment stretches for 4.5 km (nearly 3 mi.) into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is a popular location to observe seabirds and marine mammals. Last summer, I climbed the 200 steps leading up to a lookout where you can admire the sandbar in all its splendour.

I love this part of the Manicouagan Peninsula, which is completely surrounded by sand. The new campground in the park overlooks the gulf and you can stay in birdhouse-themed cottages in the forest. The site offers several hiking trails (varying in length from 2 km to 5 km / 1¼ to 3 mi.), which will take you through the forest or to a salt marsh where you can observe many birds. In the heart of the park, be sure to visit the bird garden, which also features an impressive butterfly aviary. In addition, every year, the park hosts the Côte-Nord Migratory Bird Festival in September.

Further east, there’s Grande Basque Island, off Sept-Îles, where I enjoyed a unique wilderness camping experience. I saw gulls dropping sea urchins from the air onto the rocks (to break them open) and enjoyed the beautiful trails through the forest and along the beach (11 km / 7 mi.).

From Havre-Saint-Pierre, you can take a boat to Anticosti Island, where you can enjoy even more hiking. Explore the Échoueries (12 km / 7½ mi.), Canyon du Brick (12 km / 7½ mi.), Falaise Puyjalon (9 km / 5½ mi.) or Petit Canyon de la Chicotte (2 km / 1¼ mi.) trail and admire the Vauréal Falls. I recommend going on a guided excursion in Parc national d’Anticosti, during which you can learn more about the limestone geology of this fossil-rich island or about white-tailed deer, which are so plentiful there.

And what about the Mingan Archipelago? This national park reserve is a popular destination for kayakers, but also offers beautiful hiking trails on nine islands, particularly Quarry and Niapiskau. You can also hike along the shore on several of these islands.

Back on the mainland in Natashquan, you have the option of walking along the sea or inland. The beach in this area is well-known as a place to swim in relatively warm waters, but you can also hike along it for several kilometres to Pointe-Parent. Inland, the Portageur trail will take you through rugged terrain that will appeal to adventure lovers: it runs alongside the Petite Rivière Natashquan for 15 km (9 mi.) through forests and peat bogs via falls and rocky outcrops.

On the Lower North Shore

Last summer, I hopped aboard the Bella Desgagnés supply ship in Natashquan and headed to Blanc-Sablon. Whenever the ship stopped in a village, I stretched my legs by enjoying beautiful walks.

In Harrington Harbour, for example, after you explore the village’s famous wooden boardwalks, climb the hill to the cairn erected to commemorate Jacques Cartier’s exploration of this area. An unusual russet cotton grass grows here and the sweeping view of the surrounding islands is simply magnificent.

From Tête-à-la-Baleine (Whale Head), you can take a boat tour of the archipelago. I especially enjoyed hiking on Providence Island where I visited the Sainte-Anne chapel, which sits on a hill overlooking the gulf.

Once you arrive in Blanc-Sablon, it’s easy to head out for a hike. The L’Astragale trail (1.5 km / 1 mi.) climbs a hill not far from the wharf. Before I hopped on the ferry to Newfoundland, this was the perfect spot to say goodbye to the unique land and seascapes of Côte-Nord!

Author Anne Pélouas

Anne Pélouas, a native of France, has been a journalist in Québec for over three decades. She was the Canadian correspondent for the prestigious French daily newspaper Le Monde for 20 years, while also working as a freelance journalist specializing in tourism, the outdoors and the art of living for Québec publications, a niche she maintains with passion. She has travelled throughout the maritime regions of Québec and continues to be enchanted by the landscapes found here as well as by her memorable encounters and the unusual activities on offer, all of which provide rich fodder for her stories.

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