The St. Lawrence
Québec’s southern latitudes are bisected by one of the world’s longest rivers:
the St. Lawrence, gateway to the Great Lakes and the North American heartland since time immemorial.
From its 16th-century charting by Jacques Cartier to the present day, the mighty river has been a veritable lifeline for the Québecers who made their homes on its shores.
Open and welcoming, ever-present but forever on
the move—just like Québec—the St. Lawrence is your invitation to fascinating discoveries.
The roadways running along both shores of the St. Lawrence showcase a coastline that’s by turns rural, mountainous and breathtakingly wild, from Montréal right up to the very tip of the Gaspé peninsula or the edges of Labrador. Whether you travel by car, motorcycle or even bike, the road hugs the waterfront first on one side, then the other, for hundreds of miles. An unforgettable odyssey between sea and sky!
Meandering routes along the water
The river is dotted with ancestral villages whose origins often date back to New France. Five scenic routes let you explore the river for much of its impressive length: the King’s Road (Chemin du Roy), the New France Route (Route de la Nouvelle-France), the St. Lawrence Route (Route du Fleuve), the Whale Route (Route des Baleines) and the Navigator’s Route (Route des Navigateurs). Fishing ports, quiet hamlets, industrial towns, choice vacation spots: each area along the way offers a wealth of cultural or natural heritage.
The train léger de Charlevoix travels the waterfront from Québec City to Baie-Saint-Paul and La Malbaie. VIA Rail’s Montréal-Gaspé run covers the south shore from Montmagny to Mont-Joli for a distance of over 250 km.
A steady stream of parks
The banks of the St. Lawrence also offer an array of splendid national parks, including Le Bic, Forillon, Miguasha and the Mingan Archipelago. A section of the Fjord du Saguenay—a colossal gash in the rock face of this St. Lawrence tributary—is encompassed by a national park prized by outdoor enthusiasts. Nearby, the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park is a 1,100-km2 conservation zone created to protect the marine life that flourishes at the confluence of these two great rivers. Closer to Québec City, the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Reserve welcomes snow geese by the thousand on their migratory journeys each spring and fall.
The banks of the St. Lawrence are punctuated with lighthouses, including the impressive Pointe-des-Monts on the north shore and Pointe-au-Père on the south. Take time out from your travels to stop in at one of the many museums showcasing maritime heritage, like the Site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père or the maritime museums of Charlevoix and Phare de Matane.
At the time of their construction, the awe-inspiring Pont de Québec (1917) and Pont Victoria (1859) bridges in Québec City and Montréal respectively were considered masterpieces of engineering.
Borne by the waves
If cruise ships continue to sail up the St. Lawrence, it’s partly because Québec seen from the river is a spectacle of unsurpassed power and magnificence! Climb on board yourself and fall in love with the endless pageant of vistas.
The St. Lawrence River, estuary and gulf are really three worlds in one, leaving you spoiled for choice! If you’re driving through the province, take a break from the highway on board one of the ferries linking both shores of the St. Lawrence, or join a guided tour of some of its many isles. Montréal and Québec City also offer up port tours, dinner cruises and romantic evening excursions on the water, with great views of the city—and sometimes of the fireworks.
The St. Lawrence is home to over a dozen species of whale, from the beluga to the largest rorquals on the planet. Why not get a closer look from an inflatable raft or the comfort of a cruise ship? These great sea mammals, protected by the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park, can generally be relied on to make an appearance, delighting onlookers with their antics, which can be quite acrobatic!
The open sea air
The St. Lawrence is also ideal for pleasure boating, sailing or kayaking. All along the river, you’ll find tour operators who specialize in guided sea kayaking excursions. If you’ve got experience and a taste for adventure, explore the “blue routes” of the Sentier maritime du Saint-Laurent (St. Lawrence water trail): a few hours or a few days spent breaking the waves will make you feel truly alive! Other coastline companies offer scuba-diving rentals and excursions.
In winter, the river lends itself to all sorts of original diversions. Fancy a little ice fishing on Lac Saint-Pierre or the Fjord du Saguenay? How about taking in an ice canoe race at the Québec Winter Carnival? You’ll see that good times and cold weather aren’t mutually exclusive—in fact, quite the opposite!
The ferry trip between Québec City and Lévis takes only 15 minutes, while the one between Matane (Gaspésie) and Godbout (Duplessis) takes a full two hours and 10 minutes to cover the 55-km span!
From Montréal to Anticosti and the Îles de la Madeleine, innumerable islands and archipelagos, lushly verdant or rocky outposts, lie scattered along the St. Lawrence. Discover their fauna, flora and the customs of the farmers, sailors or fishermen who once called them home—and in some cases still do.
A string of discoveries
Right next to Montréal, Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville offsets urban congestion with a little fresh-air fun: cycling, kayaking or, in winter, cross-country skiing. Midway between Montréal and Trois-Rivières, you’ll find a major bird sanctuary on the Lac Saint-Pierre archipelago, where more than a hundred islands teeming with life are separated by narrow channels and begging to be explored by boat.
Historic Île d’Orléans, visible from the ramparts of Vieux-Québec, is cherished by poets and artists and renowned for its local products. Continuing east along the river, Grosse Île takes visitors back into the 19th century, when the Irish immigrants fleeing the ravages of famine were quarantined here. Neighbouring Île aux Grues is a destination of choice for summer visitors seeking a quiet spot to recharge. Further downstream, Île aux Coudres with its picturesque windmills sits at the foot of the rugged Charlevoix massifs. Eastwards still, the lovely isles scattered across from Rivière-du-Loup—including the charmingly named Îles du Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie (“brandy pot islands”)—are a treat for nature lovers.
En-gulfed with delights
The astounding monoliths of the Mingan Archipelago (Duplessis) are a dazzling display of nature’s artistry. Nearby Anticosti, almost the size of Corsica, has fewer than 300 residents but over 100,000 white-tailed deer! The island’s national park preserves some of the loveliest (and least-known) natural settings on the river. Île Bonaventure at the extreme tip of the Gaspé peninsula is home to the largest colony of northern gannets in North America. Together with the celebrated Rocher Percé, the island is part of a national park renowned among vacationers the world over. Right in the middle of the Gulf, the Îles-de-la-Madeleine unfurl their gracious lagoons fringed with fine sand beaches and their famous red sandstone cliffs. Fishing and tourism coexist here in perfect harmony. As winter draws to a close, you can witness the touching spectacle of the seals giving birth on the ice floes.
The St. Lawrence has literally hundreds of isles and islands, including the 200 that dot the river between Lac Saint-Pierre and Sept-Îles (Duplessis). The Hochelaga archipelago accounts for no less than 325, the largest of which is the island of Montréal.