Snowshoeing in Gatineau Park, Gatineau, Quebec

Taken from Lac Meech on a -30C day with 50km/hr winds, we faced numerous whiteouts trying to cross the lake. As we approached the Western shore the clouds broke above a large hill and provided some awesome contrast with the house and shadows below.

Gatineau Park is a protected area of semi-wilderness lying just outside the Quebec city of Gatineau. It’s just a quick 18 minute trip across the river from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city into the province of Quebec, which boasts some of the finest and most impressive natural landscapes in Eastern Canada. This provides an easy and affordable escape to nature for residents of the area, and those from out of town.

The park, which lies nestled in the Gatineau Hills range of the much larger Laurentian Mountains supports several small communities. It also is the location of the Prime Minister’s summer home, and boasts a rich history of important figures and events in Canadian history.

Park Information and History

Gatineau Park is an area steeped in interesting history, in terms of the events that have taken place here over the years and those that have called the area home. It does not take long before visitors of the park realize why so many, including the Prime Minister of Canada, have grown to love the area and why many have decided to call it home. The natural landscapes and friendly communities make the area a true treasure.

With Gatineau Park outside of the bight lights of nearby cities, you can catch some pretty incredible starry skies at night.

An area first settled by the Indigenous Anishinaabe People, Europeans first settled the area in the 1700s. The area became a park in 1938 and has grown in size and in residents’ hearts ever since. The area includes historical sites such as the MacKenzie King Estate and the Carbide Ruins. It also includes natural points of interest such as the Luskville Caves and Luskville Falls.

The area is home to a myriad of lakes offering snowshoeing opportunities in the winter and canoe opportunities in the warmer seasons. Accessing any of the well maintained snowshoe trails within the park is easy to do. It can also provide a quick and enjoyable escape from the bustle of city life.

Where To Snowshoe

The park offers 60 kms of snowshoe trails. These vary from easy and relatively flat to much more difficult areas with significant up and downhill portions. The trails take snowshoers around the many lakes and through the hills of Gatineau. This offers amazing views of the natural landscape as well as views of Ottawa in the distance.

A sunrise snowshoe on the Lac Philippe Trail. The trail is a steady 12.7 kms of hilly terrain and requires a full day to complete which allows for both sunrise and sunset light along the adventure.

Lac Philippe Trail

Popular routes include the 12.7 km trail around Lac Philippe, with significant elevation gain and loss throughout the hike. This trail winds itself through classic Canadian boreal forest and Northern groves of beautiful red oak trees. This trail is one of the longest trails in the park requiring a full day to complete. Less visitors use the trail because it is located in the most Northern reaches of the park. This offers a more remote escape than is likely to be found on other trails.

Wolf Trail

Flicking up some snow on the Wolf Trail

A trail that is located closer to Ottawa and the small town of Chelsea is the 7.9 km Wolf Trail, located near Lac Meech. This trail quickly gains elevation while making multiple frozen creek crossings and passing old abandoned beaver ponds. In the summertime these ponds would be hotbeds of activity for moose and other forest creatures. As you continue along the trail, it will carry you up and above the forest cover along ridge lines. This overlooks much of the park landscape and surrounding Gatineau hills topography.

As the trail generally runs in a westerly direction, the viewpoints can offer some spectacular sunsets for those that come prepared for navigating in low light conditions. If you choose to set out on this trail near sundown, remember to bring a headlamp, emergency gear and extra food. Even though the trail is well marked and receives consistent cell service, it is always best to be prepared.

Cabin Snowshoeing

Take shelter in the Herridge public cabin within the park. It was a cold night at -25C and the warm wood stove provided a welcoming break with friends.

Another popular activity in Gatineau Park is night time snowshoeing to one of the public cabins located throughout the park. The park has purchased or erected these cabins through the years. They serve as a communal spot to sit by a warm wood stove, play a round of cards or enjoy some conversation. The cabins are open both night and day. However, they possess a certain atmosphere at night that makes the dark and cold trek through the quiet forest of Gatineau Park worthwhile. Remember to bring some candles or a lantern along for the venture. The cabins are not serviced, which is in part why they hold such a rustic charm.

Guided Treks

Taken on Lac Meech as well, the extreme cold can cause the ice to pop and groan. This provides for a pretty surreal experience as long as you are willing to brave the open exposure to the elements.

Guided treks are offered January to March, which include animal tracking on snowshoes or snowshoeing under the stars. The tour includes snowshoes. However, if you decide to go out of your own, snowshoes can be rented for 9 CAD/ hr or 28 CAD/day. No matter which of the many trails available in Gatineau Park you choose, you will be greeted by beautiful scenery, quiet snow covered forest and friendly smiling locals moving along the trail!

Other Activities

Gatineau Park plays host to a wide variety of other activities to enjoy throughout the winter. The park offers 200 kms of cross country ski trails. They go so far as to close down multiple parkways throughout the park during winter months in order to convert them to skiing paths.

As the strong winds howl across many of the large frozen lakes they stir up snow tornadoes.

An excellent day adventure could involve some light cross country skiing followed by some adventurous snowshoeing through the more densely forested snowshoe trails. The park also hosts the small communities of Chelsea and Wakefield. These are both excellent locations to grab a coffee before the day’s activities or end the day over dinner and a drink! The area also plays host to a local ski hill, Camp Fortune, offering a variety of runs from beginner up to black diamond.

This unique and beautiful area of Quebec offers a window into the natural landscape of the Laurentian hills and an excellent place to spend weekends snowshoeing and exploring. A visit here cannot be recommended enough and has kept people coming back year after year.

About the author

Taylor Kipfer

Taylor lives in Ottawa, Canada where he works as an adventure photographer. During the winter months he is often out snowshoeing and winter camping deep in the remote Ontario and Quebec bush. During the summer he can be found canoeing or rock climbing with a camera not far away.

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