The list of fabulous family-friendly adventure destinations is long and growing by the day. But for all those well-known, go-to spots, there are just as many (if not more) uncharted areas just waiting to be discovered. For families in search of outdoor adventure, Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean calls.
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean — Quebec is all you really need to know. Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean is located three to four hours north of Quebec City and Montreal. It boasts Lac Saint-Jean, the largest inhabited lake in Quebec, and the Saguenay Fjord, one of the longest in the world. The potential for summer adventure is huge, but first you have to get the kids to leave their rooms, which can be especially tough in this neck of the woods.
Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux is the ultimate tree house, compacted into a suspended sphere that hangs like an ornament from a Christmas tree. Expect the kids to have that same holiday morning expression on their faces when they first lay eyes on their Canadian home away from home.
What’s waiting inside has a wow factor as well. A combination of bunk beds, padded benches and creative shelving, well stocked with camping supplies, means a family of four can all squeeze in and wake up to an amazing view of Saguenay Fjord. Both spheres are partially surrounded by a deck, which provides much-needed outdoor living space. The deck, along with an intricate cable system, tightly secures the sphere. A good thunderstorm rolled through the night I was in town and the sphere was solid — no swaying.
The only things missing are water and electricity. Solar lights and a camping lantern keep evenings bright. Running water and a composting toilet are just steps outside the sphere, and showers and flush toilets are about a 15-minute walk toward the center of the park.
Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux is home to a fun collection of what I call “gee whiz”-style accommodations. Along with two suspended spheres, it has a dome partially made of glass, two more traditional-style tree houses and a number of cabins and tent campsites.
Daylight hours are quickly filled with park activities like kayaking, hiking, a via ferrata (climbing route) and ziplining for just about all ages. The Bambino is a parent-supervised ropes/game course specifically for kids age 3 and up.
Spending the night at Zoo sauvage de Saint-Felicien, set in a stretch of boreal forest, comes with surprises. The likes of musk oxen, bison and bears wander free as guests roll by in a shuttle bus. There are animals at practically every turn, but there are things you just don’t expect to see — like when you sit down for lunch in a pioneer house from the late 1800s and a big bear strolls alongside the front porch. Or when you go for a hike and find out that a mama moose and her baby like the same trail.
Those are the kind of moments guests can expect during a stay at Zoo sauvage de Saint-Felicien. Permanent platform tents, come complete with wood-burning stoves that keep everyone warm even on the chilliest nights. Sleeping bags with sheets are laid out on balsam fir branches for padding (no air mattresses or sleeping pads, just branches). They smell amazing and are actually surprisingly comfy. Dinner and breakfast are prepared by guides over the campfire and the supply of marshmallows for roasting is neverending.
There is no running water or electricity in the tents; you are camping, after all. The composting toilet is a short walk from the center of camp. A flashlight will do, but a headlamp that will keep hands free is even better.
Aventuraid is a wildlife observation center just for wolves. Three packs of semi-wild arctic and grey wolves live in fenced enclosures that range from two and a half to five acres. Trails that run outside the enclosures make it easy to watch and wander at your own pace. An overnight stay isn’t required — visitors can come for a few hours and be on their way — but it’s not the same experience. Seeing the wolves after dark is not to be missed.
Aventuraid offers different accommodation options, ranging from a yurt to a permanent tent to a large modern guest house. But I think the small cabins are the best option for families. In addition to ground-floor sleeping areas, both cabins have elevated loft beds cool enough to get even reluctant sleepers excited about turning in for the night.
Best of all, since the cabins are right next to the wolves’ enclosures, propping your pillow up the right way means you might be able to see the wolves from bed. Solar lights compensate for the lack of electricity. Outlets for charging devices are a short walk away in a community building that includes bathrooms, showers and a full kitchen.
There’s also a modern guest house with all the touches of home, but it’s a walk from the wolves — so far that it’s hard to hear them howling at various points of the night and early morning. That’s a wake-up call you don’t want to sleep through.
One of the resident packs is what’s called an imprinted pack. The first thing these wolves saw when they were born was people, and as a result they get excited, much like puppies, when anyone heads their way. Parents and kids ages 13 and older can schedule a time to go in the wolves’ enclosure to meet and play with the pack. Aventuraid owner Gilles Granal has strict safety procedures. I spent close to two hours with the pack, and would do it again without hesitation.
When it comes down to it, the toughest part about a trip to Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean might be the packing for the many outdoor adventures. But don’t overthink it. Just bring old clothes. You know, the ones that are okay to get dirty … really dirty.
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Editor’s Note: Dana’s trip was organized by Tourisme Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and Tourisme Québec. As always, our thoughts and opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
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