“I’m sorry folks, but we are unable to land because the runway needs to be cleared off. We’ll be diverting to Montreal until they can get the snow cleared and will try again,” our pilot explained. My trip to Quebec actually started by getting delayed by the snow. I was tired and sad as my chance to stay in the Ice Hotel was slipping away with this blustery bad news, but when you go to a destination specifically for snowy winter activities, you actually kind of like hearing that there is too much snow! Traveling to Quebec in the winter means that you are at the whim of Mother Nature, and mère Nature has a reputation for being volatile in the winter.
As I drove along the highway towards Saguenay, I went through little towns where piles of snow basically engulfed the houses along the roadside. There was nowhere to put the snow, so it just kept piling up in front of the houses until you couldn’t even see them. Occasionally I would see people on the roofs of houses shoveling the snow off of the roof. I have a feeling that for the people of Quebec, shoveling their roof was as normal as mowing the lawn in the summer.
Daring to Be Different and Visiting Quebec in the Winter
“We’ve got hiking, and kayaking adventures, as well as a new via ferrata in the fjord,” the Quebec tourism rep excitedly said to me as she pointed to pictures of the lush green fjords around Saguenay.
I smiled, “It looks beautiful, “ I remarked, “but I’d like to visit in the winter.”
She was surprised by this request – most people prefer to go to Quebec and visit the Fjord in the summer. However, I don’t like to be like most people, I had to fulfill my desire to be different…hence why I was driving through winter in Quebec.
Quebec Guarantees Snow and Winter Fun
The region receives approximately 123 inches of snow annually and the Quebec region is listed as one of the top 10 snowiest cities in the world. Everyone I had talked to in Quebec talked about how the snow each year is “guaranteed”, but in this age of global warming I kept wondering why does Quebec consistently get all of this snow? Many other regions, like my home in Colorado, the snowfall fluctuate quite a bit from winter to winter. I never was able to find the answer (and I tried googling it for a while!), regardless, if you go to Quebec anytime between Nov and April you will have snow…guaranteed.
Quebec Winter Activities is All About Embracing the Snow
So if you have a place that guarantees snow, then you better get out and embrace it with fun winter activities! That is exactly why I wanted to go to Quebec in the middle of winter – for winter adventures.
Snowshoe the Valley of Phantoms
Crunch, crunch, crunch…that’s all I could hear as I huffed and puffed my way uphill in the freezing temperature. I was hot inside, and cold on the outside, so cold that my eyes started watering and my eyelashes kept freezing together making it hard to see! And trust me, you wanted to see this incredible landscape around you. The ghostly Vallée des fantômes, atop Parc national des Monts-Valin in the Saguenay region is one of the most unique winter landscapes I’ve ever seen. Trees are covered in snow so thick that they appear as ghost blobs in the landscape.
The ghosts were incredible, but even more astonishing was looking at the snow-covered trees and knowing that they were buried in 8 feet of snow and we were just seeing the tops of the trees! Thanks to a unique microclimate created from the Fjord and the altitude, this park receives 20 feet of heavy, humid snowfall a year! It packs down and buries the Black Spruce on the summit. So this means you are actually snow shoeing on top of 8 to 20 feet of snow!
After a 45 minute ride up the mountain in a van turned snowcat, they let you off and you start the 3KM climb up through the trees. The best tip I got from a local before I went was to not get too excited too early; the best pictures are after the warming hut and at the top! Boy were they right – don’t lose time taking pictures in the beginning because it just gets better! Once at the top you can follow your park guide off trail as they point out views and you get to act 6 years old again and play in the deep snow! However, they do warn you to not go too close to the tree trunks as you can fall in and down 8 feet. Don’t worry though; the guide has a shovel to get you out if necessary!
For the entire 3km up the snowshoe trail I kept feeling as if I was hiking up from Whoville to meet the Grinch! Not only was it a bit of a climb (1000 ft in 3 km), but it was also -13 F at the top! I couldn’t even keep my batteries in my camera as they would drain immediately in those temps – so I kept my camera batteries in my pocket with a hand warmer and then would insert them ever time I wanted to take a picture. I risked my fingers to get these pictures so I hope you enjoy them!
Going hiking among ghosts
To see this natural wonder for yourself – you’ll simply need to book the snow shoeing trip with Mont Valins Park by contacting them here or call them directly and Reserve your place at 1 800 665-6527. You can also rent snowshoes and poles at the park as well as have them provide a lunch.
Cost is $50 to $60 CAD
Sometimes the best way to get around in the snow is by snowmobile! I was stunned at how much snowmobiling was a huge part of the Quebec winter culture. They have 2,300 miles of trails all maintained and groomed by the 13 clubs in the region. It’s basically a whole road system to get around in the winter.
And it’s not just a road system, it’s an entire infrastructure around the sport. When you pulled up to hotels and restaurants there would be more snowmobiles than cars in the parking lots! People regularly do multi-day trips staying at hotels near the trails.
I went on a 2 day snow mobile outing with a guide from OrganisAction – Québec. The first day we had sunny skies for our 60 mile ride from Chicoutimi to L’Anse Saint-Jean. Since I was new to snowmobiling, I was surprised at how comfortable it was even though it was cold out. The scenery was lovely and as we came into L’Anse Saint-Jean. When I saw the Fjord for the first time it was a jaw dropping moment. That night I stayed overnight at Chalets sur le Fjord with my snow mobile parked outside!
On day 2 of snowmobiling in Quebec and I woke up to 7 new inches of powder. The day of fresh powder on the trails was even better than the first! Thank goodness I had my guide Simon to follow on the snowmobile as I never would have figured out which way to go! We even drove out on the fjord where we experienced white out conditions in the snow. Having a guide really did make a big difference for me – as I didn’t waste time trying to figure out maps or which turn to take. In addition, since I always had him in sight in front of me, I could see the next turns and curves coming up which allowed me to go much faster than I ever would have on my own!
Organize your own snow mobile tour
There are fees to access the trails, but if you go with an outfitter on a tour they provide your rental snowmobile and your cost includes the fees.
Trails around Saguenay Lac Saint Jean
OrganisAction tours and rentals
Winter Carnival Quebec City
If you are looking for maybe less adventure but more snow fun – then the Quebec City Winter Carnival is a must. In fact – I planned my whole winter trip around being able to attend the Winter Carnival; the largest winter carnival in the world. I was greeted by the man himself – Bonhomme – the jolly snowman that presides over the festivities welcoming visitors while embodying the j oie de vivre of Quebecers. He’s sort of like the Micky Mouse of Carnival in a way – but whatever you do, don’t call him a mascot. I was told very clearly that he is a man, not a mascot! In fact, he’s an ‘old man’ of 64 years old!
I was only there a day but I packed in as much as I could which included viewing ice sculptures, eating maple taffy, drinking the carnival grog, screaming my way down the tobbagan slide, touring the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, eating poutine, and attending the night parade.
The night parade was the best parade I’ve even seen. I think the parade was a real look into the Quebec culture and their love of festivals and parties. They are fun loving people full of creativity and energy. The parade was like a cold weather dance club full of colors, lights, music, dancing, and fun; all while traveling down the street! It was so fun that I forgot that it was below freezing out!
Want to attend the Quebec Winter Carnival?
Learn more about the Winter Carnival activities including the parade and the frozen canoe races!
Visit Ice Fishing Villages
If you like snow, but you also like to be inside, then ice fishing is a great option for enjoying Quebec winter! Every winter in Quebec large villages are created on the fjord and various lakes around the region. One of the biggest ones is at the town of La Baie. With over 600 ice huts this little village sits on the frozen Fjord like a little colorful elf village! The ‘village infrastructure’ (roads, homes, street signs) is constructed for the winter ice fishing season and it’s a sight to see! There are stop signs, street signs (with names of fish), and cars parked in front of huts. I sort of imagined this is what it would be like if the planet froze and there were still humans!
But it’s not enough to see it; you need to go live it! Pêche Aventures Saguenay will provide everything you need to do an afternoon of ice fishing. I used their warm hut complete with a stove and futon, radio, and bathroom (!) as well as their equipment to slow down for a while and try to catch some fish. They even provide instruction for first time ice fisherman!
There are many varieties of fish you can catch in the deep fjord, but the most common to catch are redfish, cod, rainbow smelt, or turbot. Sadly I didn’t catch any of those, but I did have a great time enjoying my winter hut and a nice place to sit for a while!
Go Ice Fishing in La Baie
Beginners are welcome! So if you want to go try you hand at ice fishing there is no better place than La Baie! You can even go meet your neighbors and share a cold beer if you want! Get everything you need at Peche Aventures Saguenay.
Observe Arctic Wolves
You can actually do this activity with or without snow, however doing it in the winter is actually much more satisfying. In the winter the trees are bare and all of the undergrowth and bushes that normally provide places for wolves to hide are gone – giving you the best views in the winter!
Some people are bird lovers, but Gilles Granalis a wolf lover. He started with his first wolf pack and wildlife viewing area in 2006 and has since become an expert on their behavior and lives. He started the observation center to allow people to come observe the behavior of the 3 packs. All of the wolves here were born in captivity, but the word ‘captivity’ is very broad. They have big areas to roam and live and they don’t get fed every day or taken care of. They are really left to fend for themselves within the large enclosure.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect with this experience, but it turned out to be my favorite thing I did in the Quebec winter. The wolf packs are separated into 3 different enclosures that you can walk around – and yes – they will follow you stealthily as they are watching you as much as you are watching them.
You can make this experience as adventurous as you’d like to; you can simply observe the wolves, or you can also go in and have contact with the tame wolf pack; a highlight of my time there for sure. You can even spend the night and sleep between the wolf packs!
Go Observe the Wolves in the Winter
Aventureaid actually offers many activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling, and snow shoeing during the winter in addition to the wolf observation. Learn more here
How did I stay warm during my winter travels in chilly Quebec? I layered up! I first stared with Krimson Klover base layers. They are so soft and warm…and they have cute winter designs like these I’m wearing with snow flakes! Next I layered up with Marmot Scree pants or ski pants. The Scree pants were perfect for snow shoeing because they weren’t as heavy as normal ski pants and I always find that I overheat when snow shoeing! I used Seirus Innovation Magnamask for my balaklava which kept my entire face toasty warm while still allowing me to breath. Then I used my Popia Design wool hat in bright pink so that if I felt into a snow hole while in the Valley of Ghosts someone could find me! I continued more Marmot layers for a pullover and heavy down jacket. And finally I used my Oboz Footwear Thermal Bridger boots that I love for winter! I stayed toasty warm…and looked good while doing it!
You can find most of these items in my Amazon Store here!
You can also see my favorite extreme winter gear list here
So now it’s time to go out and enjoy some of that guaranteed Quebec snow for yourself!
I as a guest of Quebec Tourism during my stay however all opinions expressed here are all my own.