THOUGHTS ON PADDLING THE COTE-NORD
The water is between 0 and 4 degrees C. year-round. It's numbingly cold. I used a drysuit under which I wore smartwool long underwear and wool socks. Sometimes I used a tuilik over the drysuit, and often wore light neoprene gloves. This was the first week of September, when air temps varied from the low 40's to the low 60's F.
It gets cold at night. This is great for keeping bugs down. I never used bug spray, nor did I have to keep the tent zipped. Bring a warm sleeping bag though, and a hat and gloves for around camp.
Given that the prevailing wind comes from the southwest, it's easiest to travel the islands from west to east (Ile Nue toward Havre-St-Pierre).
Expect it to be windy every day, usually picking up around 10 a.m. and continuing until at least 5 p.m. If it's a front moving through, it can be windy all day and all night. If it's just thermals, it'll calm overnight. If you have an open water crossing to do, early morning is the best time unless wind and tide are working with you later.
The weather can change amazingly quickly. I didn't understand this and was caught offguard. Weather forecasts can't predict just what the weather will do here, so don't count on them. Have a Plan B in place in case the weather changes and makes Plan A impossible.
The currents between the islands can really rip. This is detailed in the current atlas listed on the info page. At mid-tide it's very strong, but even at what should be slack tide I found that there was current. It's good to be aware of this.
There are no reliable water sources on the islands. There are some emergency sources, some of which smell of sulfur and some of which are just sort of swampy. Best to bring all the water you'll need, but ask at the ranger station so that you'll know where to find the freshwater sources, just in case.
Although you are asked to leave a trip plan with the Park Service, no one is checking on you. There's a single park boat that makes the rounds now and again amongst the islands, and a few ferry boats that come out to the islands that have ferry landings. That's all the boat traffic, there are no fishing boats or lobster boats that come through. You are issued a permit which you return on the last day. If you don't show up, the rangers do a cursory look-around to see if you can be seen. If you still don't show up the next day, then the Coast Guard is alerted and a rescue effort is begun. Until then, you are on your own. Carry a VHF radio. Also carry a cellphone - you can reach the Park Service this way - the 800 phone number is posted at all the campsites and ferry landings.
Be prepared for storms that may keep you from returning when you had planned to. I planned an extra day into my trip, with extra food and water. This was probably minimal. I have heard of one party that was stuck for 4 days in a storm. No one will come and bail you out until the storm abates, so prepare accordingly.
The passages between Ile Nue and Grande Ile, and from Ile du Havre to Ile a la Chasse, are open-water crossings of some distance. It might be wise to choose a calm day or change plans.
The southern sides of the islands are exposed to the roughest weather. If weather is bad, try to stay to the north sides.
The southern sides also tend to have extensive reefs; that is, huge slabs of rock at shallow depths that are exposed at low tide. At high tide, they form shoals which create breaking waves. Take care!
Don't miss Le Chateau.
As far as I could tell, no one was watching where anyone camped. You could probably camp wherever you wish on the islands as long as you are careful not to disturb the fragile vegetation. I certainly didn't use the sites I'd reserved, but stayed at whatever site was closest at the end of the day. In September there was no one else there anyway.
The right side of the campground (as you face the river) is quieter than the left side where trucks on Rt 138 can be heard.
It costs 2 quarters to take a shower. The water wasn't very warm when I was there. But the restrooms are heated and very clean.
Bring bug spray.
Cold water. See note under "Mingan" about water temps.
There's an outfitter right there at Paradis Marin but if you are at all experienced you can just plop in from the launch and hang out offshore, no guide needed. Do read the instructions and regulations posted at the launch concerning paddling around the whales.
Go out early, as wind comes up by lunchtime.
There are two grocery stores in Le Escoumins. Go to Rt 138 and turn right. Travel a few kilometers until you reach the little town at the bottom of a long hill, by the bay. The very first building is the best grocery store. A few doors down is the other one.
There is a rack where you can keep your kayak by the launch site if you wish. There is also a big garage-like building nearby where you can hang wet gear to dry. It's right by the laundromat and cafe'.
The proprietor doesn't speak English.
The Saguenay is about 30 minutes' drive from Paradis Marin. If you wish to camp on the river, the most popular place is at Baie Eternite on the south side of the river.
Cold water. See note under "Mingan" about water temps.
You can do a multi-day river trip using the park campsites - reserve your site first. Starting at St Rose du Nord and going to l'Anse de Roche might be a nice trip - 5 days would be leisurely and allow for a day holed up in a storm. There are outfitters who will arrange this for you if you prefer, and also guide you. (Not that you can get lost, it's all downriver.)
I'm told that the wind can kick up some big water in the fjord, six-foot waves. Good day to stay at camp.
For a day trip, I thought that putting in at Anse de Roche worked beautifully. The parking and ramp were free (no one was there to collect although a sign said it cost $3.50 to use the ramp). It was a lovely area to paddle and it was easy to reach Baie Ste Margarite from there.
From the other side of the river, Jean says that a great day paddle is to put in at St. Etienne at the Petit Saguenay. This is almost directly across from Baie Ste Margarite and is a very pretty area with small islands.
Be aware that the sides of the fjord are often smooth sheer rock with nowhere to land. Watch for possible landing locations as you paddle.
Stay 400 m away from the Belugas. Or sit and wait for them to come to you - this doesn't seem to bother them at all.
Lotta mosquitos here.
I was told that this is a very popular summer vacation area amongst the Quebecois. On holiday weekends the traffic can be heavy. If you can come during the week, so much the better.