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The north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec is one of the world's top whale watching destinations, and one of the few that offers visitors a realistic chance of seeing the near mythical Blue Whale, the largest animal that has ever existed on the planet. In fact devoting 2 or 3 days to whale watching in this area can be enough to make this seemingly unlikely eventuality a probability.

The "Routes des Baleines" running northeast from charming and historic Quebec City is a veritable whale watching highway that provides access to some of the best sites in the world for shore and boat based viewing. In addition to Blue Whales other species including Fin, Humpback, Northern Right, Minke and Beluga Whales are frequently seen in the St. Lawrence River, along with other marine mammals like dolphins, porpoises, and seals. The best way to view the St. Lawrence whales is from a small zodiac or rigid inflatable boat which is less intrusive than larger vessels, though a highlight for many visitors is the opportunity to encounter a large whale whilst sea kayaking. Quebec is one of the top sea kayaking destinations in North America and is home to some exceptional kayaking companies that set high standards in guiding, equipment, and safety. Sea kayaking is a sport that can be enjoyed by all, regardless of experience and fitness levels.

The Côte Nord has much more than whale watching to offer the discerning visitor however. At the northeast end of the Routes Des Baleines the St. Lawrence widens noticeably and splits into two channels either side of Île d'Anticosti as it empties into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A French chocolate magnate name whose empire became Nestle bought the island in 1895 to turn it into his own private game park, but more recently it has been reclaimed by nature and designated as a National Park, and is now home to over 120,000 deer and a wide variety of other wildlife.

Between the Côte Nord and Île d'Anticosti is Mingan Archipelago National Park, a chain of 40 limestone islands and nearly 1000 granite islets runs parallel with the north shore for about 90 miles (150km's). Each of the islands is unique in character and many support unique but fragile flora and ecosystems ranging from boreal forest to sub-arctic barren land that are not usually found in such close proximity. Some of the islands are protected nesting sites for seabirds including the Razorbill, Common Murre, and Atlantic Puffin which nest here in June and July, so are understandably a Mecca for birders. The islands are however best known for their geology and most visitors' most enduring memories are of the numerous limestone monoliths which have been formed over 500 million years, not by erosion, but by hydraulic action exploiting cracks and fissures in the stratified rock. These surreal formations, often dubbed "flowerpots" due to lichen and vegetation that often flourishes on top of them, have a real otherworldly quality and inspire even the most rational amongst us to recognise familiar shapes in them, as some people do in clouds.

Closer to Quebec City the picturesque Charlevoix and Saguenay regions encompass many national and provincial parks and wildlife reserves. Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, just 45 minutes north of Quebec City, boasts some of best Moose viewing anywhere in Canada, while Parc National des Hautes-Gorge-de-la-Riviere-Malbaie 2 hours northeast has a sizeable but shy and elusive Black Bear population and good opportunities for birding, but is more known for its dramatic canyon like landscape and geology, scenic riverboat tours. It is also a popular location for hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and mountain biking. Many visitors climb the 2600 foot (800m) L'Acropole, a moderately energetic 4-5 hour hike, with the possibility near the summit of seeing a small herd of half a dozen Caribou re-introduced to the adjacent Parc National des Grand Jardins.

Further northeast where the stunning and dramatic Saguenay Fjord empties into the St. Lawrence is Parc National du Saguenay. As deep as 250m some places, and flanked by cliffs as high as 500m, Saguenay Fjord is the most southerly fjord in the Northern Hemisphere. At its mouth the riverbed rises to a depth of only 20m which causes the warmer waters of the Saguenay River to jet out over the frigid salt waters of the St. Lawrence. It is this convergence of waters that brings massive volumes of krill towards the surface and attracts the whales with which the area has become synonymous. Large rorqual whales feed just offshore in the St. Lawrence while the smaller, ghostly white Belugas frequent the fjord itself, and can often be seen from a number of walking trails in the park. The park also contains a number of terrestrial habitats and wildlife species.

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