Quebec Road Trip, Day 4
Day 4 we woke up to the sad, sad sounds of rain assaulting our tent. My hopes of seeing less fog and more fjord were quickly evaporating, much unlike the crappy weather. I was pretty disappointing for a second morning in a row. We packed up our wet things a bit grumpily and opted for the slightly longer drive north to the bridge in Saguenay to cross the fjord. I suppose if I were to paint a more realistic portrait of the morning you would see J be annoyingly positive and thinking of alternative plans for the wet morning, pointing out how beautiful the trees were and other such crap and myself sulking around the campsite trying to find things that I could plug in to our 'services', huffing and puffing the whole time. (We were forced to get a more expensive serviced site at the campground even though we only had a tent (that we couldn't plug in) because the park was only partially open. I was annoyed.)
We set off with a happy music playlist streaming extra loud from the speakers into the grey day. The fog hung low in the trees making it atumnal and atmospheric leaving me longing for a PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte-duh), which for some inconceivable reason are not a thing in Quebec. Even at McDonalds. The audacity! We drove north on Hwy170 crossing to the north side of the fjord in Saguenay town. And BAM! Suddenly it was Fall! The clouds lifted sightly and the orange and yellow of the Fall trees popped against the dark sky. The north side of the fjord is definitely the road less traveled lacking the main tourist draws, but the scenery was spectacular! My mood lifted with the fog and I couldn't help but be impressed and reluctantly admit that (dare I say it) the brooding weather enhanced the dramatic landscape . Rocky cliffs and thick spruce forests lined the highway giving way to the occasional fjord view and a plethora of beautiful roadside lakes.The fog and clouds moved in and out of the trees allowing us an everchanging view of the surrounding nature. We stopped at one short trail that circumnaviagted a small mirroed lake on a whim and all of the sudden it felt like a different day. Fine. Jonathan was right again. The rain didn't ruin my life after all.
We were on Hwy 172 on the north side of the fjord and made it to the Baie-Sainte-Margueritte sector of the Saguney Fjord National Park around noon. The park pass that we bought the day before was still good for entrance at the this other section of the park, despite it being geographically quite far away, since we had camped in the park the night before. This was convenient. Baie-Sainte Margueritte is known for beluga sightings and this was something that we were definitely interested in. We had a picnic lunch with a great view over the water and headed out to find whales!
The hike (Sentier le Fjord) was awesome. It was easy enough that you could also bike the majority of it, the forest was exceptional and the views were spectacular. We made a detour into the walk-in campsite about 2kms into the trail. The campsites were right on a bluff over the beach and fjord and afforded great views of the bay and changing tide. Maybe even a front row seat for whales if you're lucky! This would be a really memorable place to camp if you had lightweight camping gear! (Or a super strong husband who just loves carrying your stuff...)
It was still grey and overcast when we got to the end of the hike's impressive boardwalk and peered over the edge of the lookout platform, eyes peeled for whales. Whales! Whales! Come out, come out wherever you are! Then, suddenly, like a Quebec miracle, 2 things happened at once. First we saw a whale, or maybe even more than one(!!), breaching not too far off shore and secondly a unicorn galloped in and pulled the clouds away leaving the sky so clear and blue it was hard to imagine that there had been clouds there only minutes before. It was magic. We scampered down a set of old wood stairs down onto the wide beach and began an epic land based whale chase. We clambered over slimy rocks, jumped over little rivers and made our way as far as we could down the beach to where a sheer cliff rose up in our path preventing us from going further. We watched a minke whale jump and breach in front of us, quite close to shore. It was amazing. The sun was warm, the skies were blue, the surrounding fjord was majestic and there was a whale frolicking right in front of us. Wow! I could have stayed there all day, warmed by the September sun, surrounded by stunning nature, happily waiting for whales to re-appear. And we may have just stayed there on those glorious rocks, if I had not happened to look back in the direction we had come. It was then that I noticed, with a breath caught in my throat, that there seemed to be a lot more water and a lot less beach behind us then there had been when we had excitedly ran way out here, to the very end of the long, rocky beach. Oh boy. Take a deep breath. Maybe one more. I couldn't even see the lookout from where we currently were, oggling over the admittedly very distracting whale. There was a moment of confusion followed by a tinge of panic. Crap. The tide. Stupid tides. Right. We had to move. Like, now. Five minutes ago would have been prudent. The beach was quickly disappearing and with the craggy cliffs and rock outcroppings rising straight from the water we could be in for more than wet socks if the water rose quickly. Bah. You win again, Mother Nature. We were on the move. This wasn't the first time and likely wont be the last that a rising tide would send us darting up the rocks like a couple of panicking gerbils as water laps threateningly at our heels. We're definitely not coastal people. Its a shocking revelation every time. Even more embarrassing was the fact that when we rounded the last rock outcropping and could finally see the lookout again looming above us we looked up and noticed that there were many people up there with a prime viewto witness our misjudgment and glare down at us with disapproval. Which they did, and we deserved. The tide had rose high enough that we ended up having to climbing over some pretty dicey, steep rocks to get back to that wooden staircase up to the lookout. We, of course, acted cool like it was all part of our master plan but I'm pretty sure the jury saw through us. Regardless of recidivisim in bad tide-related decison making, it was one of my favourite memories of the trip, and lets be honest. I'd do it all over again.
Back on Hwy 172 towards Tadoussac we made our first stop the exceedingly helpful Tourist Information house.
We learned all sorts of interesting tidbits at the Tadoussac Tourist Office. There are sand dunes just outside Tadoussac, various campgrounds in the vicinity that are on the water, there is a boardwalk along the harbour, belugas have been sighted in the mouth of the fjord, you can park free behind the tourist office and, the crowing jewel: there is a magnificent bakery with fresh cheese bread just around the corner! Although it was too late in the day to take advantage of anything other than the bakery, we were armed with heaps of useful of info for the next 24hours. Two cheers for the Tadoussac Touriet Office!
We decided that we would camp at Paradis Marin in Bergonnes, about 20 minutes outside of Tadoussac. The afternoon was still glorious and sunny, plus, rumor had it that the sites at Paradis Marin were right on the water. It was beginning to sound like a perfect evening! By the time we got to Paradis Marin thick fog had rolled in. Sigh. Not you again. It was unbelievable how fast and severely the weather could change. The fog was so thick that it made choosing a campsite a challenge. You could tell you were on the water but had no idea what else was out there. Despite this, I was pretty sure site #56 was the one for us. On a small rocky bluff about 10 feet above the water with what appeared to be a picturesque rugged, rocky shoreline stretching out beside us. Since my sight was of little help, I honed my spidey-senses to help make this most important of decisions. Yes, Paradis Marin was the perfect campground for us even if we couldn't really see it. Bonus points for having almost the entire campsite to ourselves! Yay for September travel! There was one other guy camping in the loop we were in (The Hot French Man "we" called him) and he had seen whales the morning before right in front of his campsite! I didn't want to get too excited, since I figured teh odds of that happening two mornings in a row was maybe a little less likely. I kept my fingers and toes crossed, just in case. I can imagine in the height of summer the campsites at Paradis Marin would be significantly less serene, as most of the sites have little privacy... but that's only a concern if you have neighbours.
The fog cleared just before the sun set (which was spectacular). But we still went to bed not knowing exactly what our view would be in the morning. It was kind of exciting! What surprises would the morning hold? The night sky was surprisingly clear and alight with stars. We slept soundly to the sound of waves crashing below us and the stars twinkling a us through our fly-free netted tent roof. I had high hopes for the next day.
Where we stayed:
Paradis Marin, Site 56, $33 CAD for a site without services
Lots of perfect sites where you can fall asleep to the sound of the St.Lawrence, shoreline views, stars, mix of openand a couple more private sites, rugged vistas, 20 mins form Tadoussac
Helpful info: Baie-Sainte-Margeritte sector of Saguenay Fjord Natonal Park is a great place to either camp or see whales.
Park Entrance: $8.50 pp/ day (2 days if camping)