The historic and scenic St. Lawrence River flows 743 miles (1,196 kilometers) across a vast chunk of North America, from the Great Lakes all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The lifeblood for Ontario and Quebec, the mighty river has long sustained communities of both native tribes and European colonizers who settled along its banks. Its waters play host to a vast variety of wildlife, including a number of whale species such as sperm, minke, fin, blue, North Atlantic right, and endangered belugas.
Because of its sheer size, the St. Lawrence River is hard to miss. For the same reason, however, most visitors to Canada get to see only a tiny portion of it. If you’re going to Quebec (be it Montreal, Quebec City, Saguenay, or Gaspe), southeastern Ontario (be it Kingston or Thousand Islands), or northeastern New York state in the US, odds are high you will encounter the waterway at some point during your trip. Take a cycling tour along the scenic riverbanks or get out on the water with paddleboat rentals; Jet Ski, kayak, and canoe tours; narrated river cruises; and whale-watching excursions. Helicopter tours over Ontario’s Thousand Islands region reveal the river’s immensity and the vast number of rugged islets that comprise the archipelago, while tours from Quebec City to Ile d’Orleans, an agricultural river island known for its fresh produce, often also stop at the scenic Montmorency Falls, which spill into the St. Lawrence River.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Wear warm layers. It gets very cold here during winter and parts of the river regularly freeze. Even in summer, it can be cold out on the water.
- The Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park is among the best whale-watching spots in Canada.
How to Get There
Ride Montreal’s orange metro line to Square-Victoria-OACI or Champ-de-Mars stations; the Old Port, which runs parallel to the St. Lawrence River, is fewer than 10 minutes on foot from there. In Quebec City, the riverfront is accessible on foot from Old Quebec.
When to Get There
The warm summer months are prime time to explore the St. Lawrence River, as winter is bitterly cold, with temperatures often far below freezing. May to November make up the best period for whale watching.
Where to Find the Best Views of the St. Lawrence River
For river views in Quebec City, stroll the elevated Terrasse Dufferin boardwalk, which winds along a high cliff behind the famous Fairmont Chateau Frontenac hotel. The boardwalk leads to Battlefields Park and affords bird’s-eye views of the river and the cruise ships pulling into port. In Montreal, the best river vistas can be seen from the Old Port (Vieux Port).