Photograph by Yves Marcoux, All Canada Photos
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Ice fishing huts add bright drops of color to the frozen over Saguenay River.
Photograph by Yves Marcoux, All Canada Photos

Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean

The 62-mile-long Saguenay fjord north of Quebec City is the only navigable fjord in North America. Carved by glaciers during the Ice Age, the waterway is the prime feature of the region. Here, clear lake waters perfectly reflect the white pines, jagged peaks, and blue skies. Once a thrill for historical navigators, it has found new admirers in outdoor enthusiasts who come to climb the cliffs, pedal the pathways, and discover new culinary uses for the blueberries that flourish here in the fall. The locals know what they have. "The Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean region is a huge playground," says Hugues Ouellet of local outdoor adventure company Equinox. "It is a boreal El Dorado for people who live here and for those who choose to live an adventure-filled trip."

When to Go: Mid-July through mid-September offers weather perfect for outdoor adventures and the annual six-mile-long Main Street feast at the Traversée Internationale du Lac Saint-Jean; in August-September, the harvest is musically celebrated at the Festival du Bleuet. After Labor Day weekend, some businesses close for the season.

How to Get Around: You'll need a set of wheels, but two will work if you've got the stamina. The 160-mile Veloroute des Bleuets winds through 15 cities around Lac Saint-Jean in a mix of flat paths and small hills. Sail the fjords on the maritime shuttle, which has several stops between La Baie and Tadoussac. Whales can often be spotted en route.

Where to Stay: Melissa Potvin and her family offer conversation and respite at their La Nymphe des Eaux B&B. The 105-year-old house is fully restored, beautifully set, and offers a hearty (and tasty) breakfast. Unique tree house accommodations at Cap Jaseux allow you to wake to the tapping of a woodpecker on your roof and a stunning view of the fjords.

Where to Eat or Drink: Dine on lamb specialties and garden-fresh organic veggies at rustic La Vielle Ferme. Sample Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean's own Perron cheddar cheese and Boréal Saint-Prime pork at Restaurant du Moulin in Val-Jalbert. At the Auberge des 21 hotel and spa's Le Doyen restaurant, try edible plants like bullrushes, wild violets, and mayflowers.

What to Read or Watch Before You Go: The book Maria Chapdelaine (1991) by Louis Hémon is a French literature classic about the hardscrabble life of early French-Canadian colonists. It is set in Péribonka, a small village on Lac Saint-Jean, where there is a museum dedicated to the author and the novel. The Hotel New Hampshire (1984), a movie starring Jodi Foster, Rob Lowe, and Beau Bridges based on the John Irving novel of the same name, was shot in the region at the Hôtel Tadoussac and showcases the iconic hotel and area scenery.

What to Buy: Buy treats that fit easily into your bicycle pannier: blueberries in all forms (jam, tea, pie) and cheese made fresh locally. Take home the area's famous chocolate-covered blueberries. Locally made bearskin boots evoke Quebec's fur trader history.

Helpful Link: SaguenayLacSaintJean

Fun Fact: The area is home to Arvida Bridge, the first bridge in the world built entirely of aluminum.

Heather Greenwood Davis is an award-winning travel writer for the Toronto Star, Canadian Family, Parents Canada, and O, The Oprah Magazine.