Zoos. You either love them…or you don’t. Where do the Roarbots fall? Ironically, I think we’re somewhere in between. Good zoos can be wonderful. Bad zoos? Don’t get me started. They can be some of the most depressing places on Earth and cause for us to denounce all zoos.
But the good ones? The unique ones? The truly awe-inspiring ones? The places that genuinely care about the animals and actively support conservation efforts? Those are fantastic.
We’ve been fortunate enough to visit several such places that we’d recommend in a heartbeat: the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, The Singapore Zoo and Night Safari…and now, Zoo Sauvage de St-Félicien in Quebec, Canada.
About three hours north of Quebec City, on the other side of a breathtaking drive through the Laurentides, Zoo Sauvage is located near Saint-Jean Lake in Saint-Félicien. We drove up from Quebec specifically for the zoo.
Was it worth the drive? Absolutely.
What makes it so special? At Zoo Sauvage, the clichéd adage “quality not quantity” holds true. A visit to this zoo isn’t marked by the sheer number of animals you’ll see. (There are about 1,000 animals, representing more than 80 species. By contrast, the San Diego Zoo has about 4,000 animals from about 650 different species.) Rather, Zoo Sauvage is marked by the quality and size of the animals’ enclosures and the care given to those animals. The enclosures are some of the largest and most lush I’ve ever seen. The animals here, while still “captives” at the zoo, have a lot of space to roam, especially those that live in the Nature Trail Park section (see below).
The pedestrian area of the zoo is divided into six sections: Asia, Mountains, Arctic, Mixed Forest, Mongolia, and the Kid’s Farm.
For my kids, the highlights were the Arctic (my daughter is a polar bear fanatic) and the Kid’s Farm (naturally). The latter provides opportunities for kids to get “hands on” with sheep, chickens, pigs, a miniature horse, a Nubian donkey, and others. Plus, there’s a cool maze above the barn that captivated my 3-year-old for much longer than I thought it would.
As I said, the animals throughout the zoo are spread out in large enclosures. Wooden boardwalks that mostly blend into the environment surround many of the animals. In many respects, this is the most low-impact zoo I’ve ever seen. The focus is always on the animals. Not on gift shops. Outside of the main reception building, there’s only one gift shop inside the park (near the polar bear).
In places, one animal enclosure takes the same amount of space where other zoos might cram three or four. For this reason, the zoo at times feels very spread out. It sometimes feels more like a nature park than a zoo.
Being in this region of Quebec, the zoo is naturally gorgeous. They’ve also done a wonderful job landscaping the park and incorporating the surrounding nature into the zoo’s overall design. It was just beautiful.
The highlight of Zoo Sauvage is the “train ride” through the Nature Trail Park. The concept here is nothing new: it’s a ride through a large open space—a sort of safari park within the zoo. Think of a drive-through safari, the Africa Tram at the San Diego Safari Park, or Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
However, the kicker here is that the trip takes you on a 7 km (almost 4.5 mile) journey that lasts an hour! Of the nearly 1,200 acres that the zoo covers, the nature trail area takes up an impressive 800 acres. In places, it really feels like wilderness.
It also reverses the dynamic and puts the visitor in a “cage.” There are no enclosures here. No (visible) fences. No bars. The animals are all “free” to roam across the landscape.
Indeed, this makes for unpredictable trips since you never know what animals you’ll see or where you’ll see them. It gives the trip a more authentic safari feel, even if it’s ultimately still a controlled environment.
Verdict: If you have kids, like animals, or enjoy beautiful places, you cannot go wrong with a visit to Zoo Sauvage. Admittedly, it’s fairly out of the way. Most people won’t simply be passing through St. Félicien. However, if you find yourself in either Quebec or Montréal and have two days to spare, I highly recommend the diversion. The drives between the zoo and both cities are also destinations in themselves. The stunning landscape of Quebec is unmatched.
(Disclosure: We were guests of Zoo Sauvage for the day. All opinions are my own.)