The small town of Tadoussac in Quebec is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. The reason is simple.
Tadoussac sits at the confluence of the freshwater Saguenay River and salty St Laurent River.
Three undersea currents meet here and cause an abundance of plankton and other whale food, which in turn attracts the whales.
As many as thirteen different whale species can be spotted in this area, which is about a three-hour drive north of Quebec City.
With the chance to see the endangered beluga as well as the legendary blue whale, whale watching in Tadoussac is incredibly varied. It is also exceptionally easy!
Best of all, Tadoussac whale watching can be cheap too, even free in some circumstances.
Read on to discover four fun ways to go whale watching in Tadoussac, Quebec, Canada. This post also includes the best places to stay in Tadoussac, other great things to do and other top travel tips.
We first visited Tadoussac in 2018 with the support of Quebec Maritime, visiting again in 2022. There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, we may receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you.
Tadoussac whale watching season
Whales can be seen in the waters surrounding Tadoussac all year round. The variety and number of whales, however, does fluctuate between seasons.
- Most whales travel through the area from May to November. Only the belugas and blue whales stick out the colder weather during the rest of the year
- The peak season for whale watching in Tadoussac is late June to early September. For the most choice in boat tours and departure times, this is the time to visit. But it is also the busiest time, with the most crowds
- Tadoussac receives fewer visitors in September and October but the whales remain quite active and high in number at this time
How to go whale watching in Tadoussac
Whether you like to be taken directly to the whales or prefer to try spotting them yourself from shore, Tadoussac is a whale watcher’s dream.
1. Whale watching boat tours in Tadoussac, Quebec
The absolute easiest way to go whale watching in Tadoussac is to take a boat tour. No tour company can guarantee whale sightings, but the tour guides are masters are spotting whale fins and know all of their favourite spots.
When choosing between a boat or Zodiac tour, keep in mind that:
- Zodiacs can cover more of the area, give the impression of being closer to the water and travel a lot quicker than the larger boats
- Boats are larger, typically more stable (better for photos) and have sheltered seating areas, washrooms and food/drink availability. Boat tours are usually last a little longer
Whichever type of Tadoussac whale watching tour you decide to go on, be sure to dress warmly. This is true even in the middle of summer! Out on the water, the temperature drops by as much as ten degrees (!!)
Special suits (splash proof trousers and jackets) are provided for Zodiac tours, however, we still both wore warm layers underneath plus hats, gloves and scarves.
2. Kayaking with whales in Tadoussac
For a more intimate encounter with whales, consider a kayaking trip on the St Laurent or Saguenay Rivers. Not only is the scenery spectacular, but the chance to paddle with whales is a once in a lifetime experience.
Kayaks move almost silently through the water and hence disturb whales less than a motorised boat.
Mer et Monde offer both full and half day kayaking tours from Tadoussac and their basecamp at Les Bergeronnes. For the full whale watching experience, try booking a spot at Mer et Monde’s campground.
Just a 25-minute drive north of Tadoussac, many of the campsites are located directly on the water with panoramic views of the St Laurent River. We were lucky enough to see two belugas from here!
3. Whale watching from shore in Tadoussac, Quebec
There can’t be too many places in the world where it is possible to reliably see whales from shore, but Tadoussac is lucky enough to be one of them. We have spotted whales from shore at all six of the following locations.
When watching whales from shore, keep in mind that most whales return to the surface to breathe every 15 to 30 minutes. Be patient!
Sometimes, we would arrive at a viewpoint and see whales within minutes. Other times, it would take up to 30 minutes.
Sentier de la Pointe-de-l’Islet viewpoint
Starting at Tadoussac’s marina, this easy trail (1.3km total) travels towards the mouth of the Saguenay River.
Try to spot whales from the boardwalk or get a better view from the rocky shoreline, though some caution is required. We saw minke whales here.
A great aspect about this viewpoint is how expansive it is. There’s plenty of space for everyone.
This free to access viewpoint is walking distance from downtown Tadoussac. There is parking available at the wharf as well, but it is very limited.
Pointe Noire Interpretation and Observation Centre
This Parks Canada operated centre is situated just before the ferry terminal when driving to Tadoussac from Quebec City. It looks out over the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, a spot particularly popular with beluga whales.
A boardwalk leads down many stairs to a number of different elevated viewpoints. In the summer months, Parks Canada staff members are often available for questions at these viewpoints. We saw half a dozen belugas here.
There is a small indoor exhibition too (English and French), highlighting some of the whale species found in this area as well as the history of the site.
A lighthouse was established at Pointe Noire in 1874. The old fog signal building still remains today.
The fee to visit Pointe Noire is $6.25/adult. Youth and children are free. It is possible to upgrade your entry fee towards the purchase of a same day visit to Cap-de-Bon-Désir and/or the Marine Discovery Centre.
Please note that the parking lot is very small at Pointe Noire – there is space for up to eight vehicles only.
Pullout after Pointe Noire
If the ferry traffic doesn’t block the entrance, you can make a quick stop at the pullout just after the Pointe Noire centre for a high angle view of the Saguenay Fjord entrance.
Like Pointe Noire, the parking area is very small so you do have to be lucky to get a spot, but it’s definitely worth trying (especially as it is completely free!) We spotted several belugas from this pullout.
Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre
Whales love the shallow waters surrounding rocky Cap-de-Bon Désir, a Parks Canada site just a short drive north of Tadoussac.
The lighthouse at Cap-de-Bon Désir has kept watch over the St Lawrence River since 1941. Visitors can walk right up to the lighthouse and also explore other nearby buildings, including the lighthouse keeper’s house and generator building.
The whale watching lookout is a short 375m walk from the lighthouse station area. There is boardwalk access to several rocky viewpoints as well as a small shelter. During the summer months, Parks Canada staff are on hand to answer questions.
Some caution is required when exploring this lookout. The rocks can be slippery. Visitors with children should be careful to keep them close.
The fee to visit Cap-de-Bon Désir is $8.50/adult. Youth and children are free. It is possible to upgrade your entry fee towards the purchase of a same day visit to Pointe Noire and/or the Marine Discovery Centre.
This is a particularly good Tadoussac whale watching location for families, as there is a large playground and some child friendly indoor exhibits to explore (English and French).
Cap-de-Bon Désir is also a good destination for visitors with RVs and trailers. It has the largest parking lot of all the locations mentioned here. There’s parking space on the approach road as well.
Marine Environment Discovery Centre
This relatively new Parks Canada operated centre is also located north of Tadoussac (25 minutes drive)
Of the four paid viewpoints mentioned here, the Marine Environment Discovery Centre would definitely be my favourite. We saw so much wildlife here too, including porpoise, seal and minke whale.
The bright and airy space in the main building features huge windows and comfortable seating as well as interpretive exhibits (English and French) and an amphitheater.
A diving centre is situated downstairs. Guided scuba diving and snorkeling tours are available, alongside rentals. Reservations are highly recommended to avoid disappointment.
Outside, there is a large deck and multiple boardwalks offering elevated views of the St Lawrence and access to the rocky shoreline. One route leads to a pair of Parks Canada red chairs with some of the best vistas in the Tadoussac area.
The Marine Environment Discovery Centre is an ideal choice for visitors with limited mobility. There is a wheelchair accessible boardwalk, with sweeping water views. I spotted a minke whale right from it!
The fee to visit is $8.50/adult. Youth and children are free. It is possible to upgrade your entry fee towards the purchase of a same day visit to Cap-de-Bon-Désir and/or Pointe Noire.
Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre (CIMM)
Not only is the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre an interesting place to visit (more details below), but it offers a great vantage point of the Saguenay Fjord. The bilingual staff may be able to help with identification of any sightings.
The fee to enter the CIMM is $15/adult, with accompanying youth and children receiving free entrance. The rocky viewpoint around the CIMM, however, is absolutely free to everyone.
The Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre is situated close to Tadoussac’s marina, a short walk from downtown. There is a small parking lot next to the CIMM, with the hourly parking rate being $4.
4. Spot whales from Tadoussac’s free ferry
A ten-minute ferry ride is required to reach the town of Tadoussac from the south.
The ferry travels across the mouth of the Saguenay River, giving great panoramic views of both Tadoussac and the Saguenay fjord to the west.
The waters here are especially popular with beluga whales. We’ve always managed to spot at least one beluga whale while taking the ferry to and from Tadoussac. You do have to pay attention though!
Being part of the highway, this short ferry ride is completely free for both vehicles and passengers. It runs continuously back and forth across the Saguenay, so there’s no need to worry about missing a scheduled crossing.
Other things to do in Tadoussac
Before heading out to whale watch in Tadoussac, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre.
Usually open from mid-May to late October, the CIMM is a great place to learn more about the whales that call the Tadoussac area home.
The whale statues outside the centre are actually realistic models of local whales, complete with unique true-to-life identifying features. Complete whale skeletons are found inside.
Displays in the CIMM are in French but there are English guides available to use. There is also an educational movie in both English and French.
And, as mentioned, be sure to check out the observation area outside! You never know what you may see…!
Here are some other ideas of things to do in Tadoussac:
- Go bird watching at the Observatoire d’Oiseaux de Tadoussac
- Visit the Petite Chapelle, the oldest wooden church in Canada
- See huge sea dunes – yes, really! The views from the top are spectacular
- Hang out on Tadoussac’s sandy stretch of beach (plage)
- Take in the views of the iconic red roofed Hotel Tadoussac
- Browse freshly made breads and pain du chocolat at Boulangerie À l’Emportée coop
- Learn about Tadoussac’s history at the Chauvin Trading Post, a replica of Canada’s first fur trading post
- Treat yourself with some handmade chocolates from Cétacébon
- Sip 12+ varieties of locally made beer at the Microbrasserie Tadoussac
What to bring whale watching in Tadoussac
Whale watching is a reasonably inexpensive activity, especially if you plan to utilise one of the free or low cost viewing areas in Tadoussac. When you go, be sure to bring the following items:
- Binoculars – While not absolutely essential to go whale watching in Tadoussac, binoculars offer the chance to see the whales in even closer detail
- Warm clothing – Even in summer, Tadoussac can be pretty cold. Our late July trip was pretty foggy and temperatures hovered around 13-16c. Out on a whale watching boat, it would have been even cooler
- Sunglasses – Polarized sunglasses can really help with the glare from the ocean
- Sunscreen and a sunhat – Even on a foggy or cloudy day, it’s so easy to get sunbunred while whale watching in Tadoussac!
- Closed toe shoes with good soles – Whale watching companies usually ask guests to wear closed toe shoes. This type of shoe is ideal for exploring rocky whale watching viewpoints as well
Where to stay in Tadoussac
Our room was very comfortable and the staff friendly, but the real winner was the location – just up the road from downtown and 10 minutes walk to Tadoussac’s waterfront. Guests receive free parking in a big parking lot at the back of the hotel.
Conveniently, there’s an on-site restaurant serving a la carte breakfasts in summer. The local bakery is across the street, so plan to pick up some warm croissants for later.
Choose between motel rooms and spacious balcony queen rooms. Connecting rooms are ideal for families.
If Hotel Le Beluga is full (or above your budget) consider Motel de l’Anse a l’Eau – it’s just a few doors down.
Here are some other great options for accommodation in Tadoussac:
Hotel Tadoussac – Iconic historic hotel overlooking Tadoussac Bay. Just a few minutes walk to everywhere downtown, including the wharf. On-site restaurant, bar, wellness centre, swimming pool, games room, tennis court and more.
Auberge La Merveilleuse – This inn has an amazing waterfront location, close to everything but set back enough to be quiet too. Multiple room configurations are available, with the five bedroom house being ideal for larger families.
Maison Hovington – Charming B&B in convenient downtown location, with historical features and a view of the bay from the porch. The Junior Suite has sea views
Parking in Tadoussac
Tadoussac is a small place and is usually busy during the summer months. Parking can be a little tricky, especially for visitors driving RVs.
Downtown parking is $4/hour and is limited in availability. Please note that overnight parking is not allowed in public parking lots.
If you can, I would recommend staying at a local hotel and walking downtown, rather than trying to waste time finding parking.
Alternatively, park in the Sépaq parking lot, located 300m on the right hand side after departing the ferry. Parking is completely free. Tadoussac’s waterfront area (wharf, downtown) is accessible via a short 500m trail.
Tadoussac whale watching FAQs
I’ll end this post by answering some of the most frequently asked questions about whale watching in Tadoussac.
When is the best time to see whales in Tadoussac?
May to October, when most whale species are visiting the area. This is also the time when most whale watching tours are running and local services are open. The busiest time is mid June to the end of August.
Are Tadoussac whale watching tours responsible and sustainable?
The Saguenay—St. Lawrence Marine Park protects all marine life in the waters around Tadoussac, from the sea bed to the surface. All activities undertaken in the Marine Park are strictly regulated.
The Eco Whale Alliance is an initiative that ensures the highest standards in eco-responsible whale-watching practices. Members include local tour boat operators, Parks Canada, Sépaq and the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM).
Whale watching activities must be conducted in a way that:
- raises public awareness of conservation
- limits the impacts of activities
- monitors the resource and effectiveness of management measures
- follows responsible practices (environmental, social, economic)
- develops a spirit of consultation, bringing together stakeholders in tourism, research and conservation
For more information, head to the Eco Whale Alliance website.
Can you see whales from shore in Tadoussac?
Yes, absolutely! For visitors with a little patience, the chances are very high to see whales from shore in Tadoussac. We have personally seen minke and beluga whales from shore while visiting Tadoussac, as well as seals and porpoise.
Where is Tadoussac?
Tadoussac is a small village (pop. 800) situated at the confluence of the Saguenay and Saint Lawrence rivers in Quebec, Canada. It is a three hour drive north of Quebec City.
How long should I spend in Tadoussac?
We would recommend spending two nights in the Tadoussac area. This would provide adequate time to join a whale watching tour (by kayak or boat), explore the downtown area and also check out some of the viewpoints.
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada