Formed in the 1960s when four separate towns merged, Alma sits on the southeastern shore of Lac Saint-Jean where the lake empties into the Saguenay River. This small (population 30,000) city is a winter wonderland in colder months, with plenty of cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. But it is during summer that visitors flock to Alma and the surrounding Lac Saint-Jean countryside.
Among the most popular family attractions in Alma is the Odyssey Builders theme park. Its focus is on water—particularly how an abundance of it helped this part of Canada to grow and prosper. An exhibit centre housed in the former Isle-Maligne town hall offers engaging interpretive displays. The complex is run in cooperation with Hydro Quebec, which operates a nearby hydroelectric complex. It includes a 360-degree theatre, which shows a film about the region; a water tower that Alma visitors are welcome to climb; and a children's play area.
On a warm day, Alma visitors can head to the Complexe touristique Dam-en-Terre, which boasts a wide, sandy beach and a large wading pool for young children. Kayaks, canoes and pedal boats are available as well, or you can play a few rounds of miniature golf.
If you see a preponderance of people on two wheels wearing helmets, you may surmise, accurately, that cycling is among the most popular activities in Alma. Alma is along the 257-kilometre Véloroute des Bleuets (Blueberries Bicycle Route), which circumnavigates Lac Saint-Jean with plenty of picturesque stops along the way. The name of this bicycle route is a clue to one of the other attractions in Alma and the surrounding area: wild patches of possibly the world's tastiest blueberries.
An interesting day trip for visitors to Alma is a scenic, 49-kilometre drive west along the Saint-Jean shoreline to the ghost town of Val Jalbert. In the 1920s, the town developed around a paper mill at the base of a breathtaking waterfall. The site includes 40 authentic, restored buildings including the mill, workers' homes, a convent and school, and general store, now staffed by guides in period dress. Other facilities on-site include a swimming pool, restaurant, lodging and camping.
Drive a bit farther—82 kilometres, to be exact—and you'll come to the opposite shore of Lac Saint-Jean and the town of Saint-Félicien. A popular destination here is Zoo Sauvage, the Savage Zoo. It turns the entire zoo concept on its head by putting the visitors behind bars on a train and letting its 1,000 animals roam freely through a 485-hectare boreal forest.
North of Alma is a nature lover’s delight, Pointe-Taillon National Park. It encompasses kilometres of sandy beaches along the huge Lac Saint-Jean, which is often called an inland sea. While you are there, take one of the nature trails through its coastal marshes and bogs, with fields of wild orchids, cranberries and even several species of carnivorous plants. A few hours at Pointe-Taillon provide a fitting close to a visit to Alma and the great northern outdoors.