WHEN I was heading to Quebec to explore the winter wilderness, I had no idea what I was in for. I’m an active mountain biker and runner who loves getting outside and seeing the mountains, so I was excited for the opportunity, even as my tiny prop plane from Quebec to the Bagotville Airport bounced around through a burst of winter weather. What I didn’t expect was that Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean would totally make me fall in love with winter adventure – something I just don’t get back home.

211 kilometers north of Quebec in the rolling hills and wooded mountain speckled region of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean is a criss-cross of rivers and lakes with hundred-year-old mining cities and villages running along the edges that during the cold winter months prove to be an epic winter wonderland. With 38,112 square miles of diverse outdoor terrain, the negative temps weed out the uncommitted and leave wide open, less crowded extreme opportunities for those who want the best of what cold weather has to offer. From dog sledding to fat-biking, Saguenay is a hub of winter adventure and left me itching to try more experiences in its immense landscapes.

[Note: Kita was a guest of Tourism Quebec.]

1

Playing with arctic wolves

This one is not for the feint of heart, but if you love animals, the chance to pet an Artic Wolf at Aventuraid is a must do. As I entered the wolf enclosure, the females were in heat, causing a few to snarl at one another, but upon seeing a familiar human and new guests to play with, they quickly mellowed out and jumped all over me, even licking my face, taking puppy breath to a whole new level. This was my bucket list moment of the trip.

2

Snowshoeing the Valley of the Phantoms / Vallée des Fantômes

The 6.5 km round trip didn't sound like much of a hike, but once the snowshoes were strapped on, the trudge up the mountain became a workout. The below negative temperatures are perfect for producing the 5+ meters of fresh powder that blankets the region and clings to the forest creating mounds over each of the trees, making it easy to see where the name came from. The trail is well traveled and marked, but add a little extra time even if you are fit to pause and take in the views and warming hut before you reach the peak. The hike starts after you gear up at the park entrance and hop in a ride 40 minutes up to the trailhead with all of your gear.

3

Relaxing with a gorgeous view

After a few fun-filled day of winter adventures, discovering the spa of Pourvoirie Cap au Leste was a welcomed rest. The steam room and spa are both new and have large windows with a stunning view over the Fjord and are worth packing a swim suite for, escpecially in the frigid winter months.

4

Learning how to dog mush

After a quick set of instructions, we headed out with a team of dogs through 8 kilometers of well-traveled wooded trails. It was an unexpected work out as I partnered with the dogs to get the heavy sled over short hills and around corners. The dogs were very patient and well trained as I adapted to their pace. Dominic, the dogs' owner at Cap au Leste, led the team up front keeping the movement going and allowing for the rider and 'musher' to swap places.

5

Renting a cabin in the wild

After a long day of outdoor adventure, imagine enjoying a group dinner and sleeping under the stars in an "experience hut" on top of the peaks of a national park. Rent a small cabin or shared chalet months in advance for the chance to get in tune with nature and awake to a breathtaking view over the frozen lake, Baie d’Alexis. Our picturesque chalet slept 8 in small divided rooms with a shared kitchen and hot showers.

6

Snowshoeing by moonlight

Watching the sun set over the rolling mountain peaks was one of the most breathtaking things I have ever seen. The view from the 984 meters high summit showed off a bit bursting to life in bright pinks and violets as the sun dipped below the horizon while in Parc national des Monts-Valin. A bright moon allowed us to hike back down with nothing but the crunch of our snowshoes and the sounds of nature all around us.

7

Snowmobiling 3500 kms of trails

We started out after a delicious breakfast at Chalets et Spa lac Saint-Jean on snowmobiles, not-exactly-racing along the 3500 kilometers of marked and maintained trails. I learned about the intricate highway system laid out with proper signs, speed limits, and markers from our tour guide with Équinox Aventure, making it easy for my novice snowmobiling self to hit the trails and go out for a few hours.

8

Sleeping amongst the wolves

Don't tell your mom about this one until it's over. It sounds scarier than it actually is. Don't miss the chance to sleep in a classic wood stove heated yurt or in two other modern cabins surrounding the wolf enclosures at Aventuraid. The wolves near these cabins do not interact with humans on a daily basis and are far more timid than the one's I'd been playing with earlier. It was pure luck to spot a few, curiously glancing at me. In the middle of the night, the harmonization of howls sent chills down my spine as I wrapped myself in my thick blanket in yurt only a few meters from their fenced in area.

9

Experiencing a tiny home in a frozen village

I was able to warm up in a tiny home parked around the skating loop of the Village sur glace de Roberval. The locals have taking up to decking out their campers and elegant little homes as part of the growing pride in this fun winter village, with 200 homes returning year after year. It's a winter van-life dream land.

10

Skating in a village on ice

The idea of putting in a few laps on the ice track in a winter village dedicated to getting people outside and active was totally exciting. The Village sur glace de Roberval has been popping up over the frozen Lake Saint-Jean for the past 12 years from January to March, with a 1-kilometer ice track, kids ice rinks, and hockey rink.

11

Watching the sun set over a frozen fjord

My last view of Saguenay was watching the sunset over the fjord. Once again, Quebec proved just how gorgeous winter could be as reflections peaked through the trail the icebreaker left in the frozen fjord below my cabin. I was forced to pause and enjoy this last view, reminding myself how lucky I am to witness such moments.

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