The second stop of my 10-day backpacking journey took me to La Mauricie National Park – a full three-hour, 200 kilometer drive west of the city. The brochure guarantees an awful lot – a full menu of available outdoor activities and plenty of natural beauty:
La Mauricie National Park invites you to a close encounter with the Laurentians, the chain of mountains flanking the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River. Covering an area of 536 square kilometers, the park gives off an air of serenity throughout its gently contoured terrain.
On this vast plateau of rolling hills intersected by valleys and dotted with myriads of lakes, life moves in perfect unison with nature. Here only the changes of the seasons mark the passage of time, retouching the landscape with subtle strokes and calling visitors with a promise of both activity and relaxation.
It’s a tall order, but I quickly discovered that it delivers as promised. For backpackers and outdoorsy folk, the park hits all your nature-loving pleasure centers with a laundry list of activities, including hiking, wildlife viewing, nature interpretation, camping, canoe-camping, picnicking, bicycling, fishing, canoeing, and (in the winter) cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter camping.
For those seeking a bit of solitude a la Thoreau, there are also plenty of secluded scenic lookouts and winding sandy beaches for a little quiet reflection.
Parks Canada also notes:
Since its creation in 1970, the park has safeguarded the continuing integrity of this richly endowed land, protecting it as a representative sample of the southernmost part of the Canadian Shield.
This highlights an important difference between the national parks of Canada and those of the United States. The mandate of parks in the U.S. is typically to cordon off massive sections of land to protect it from over-development and ensure that residents and visitors can count on vast swaths of untouched nature.
Parks Canada follows this mandate as well, but with one additional consideration. Their National Parks are strategically chosen to represent the most diverse sampling of land, wildlife, flora and nature that each province has to offer. This can make inter-park travel within each province difficult and costly (I’m looking at you Quebec). But it also guarantees a unique experience as visitors to each park find vastly different landscapes in every one.
I visited during the final week of the fall season when many park services begin shutting their doors. That, along with the cooling fall weather and (at least during my visit) constant rainfall meant that I had the park almost entirely to myself. A handful of RVs dotted the park’s main Riviere a la Peche campground, but few campers dared brave the cold, wet Quebec weather to venture far from their assigned spots.
I had the aforementioned hiking trails, scenic lookouts and winding sandy beaches to myself. For two full days, I hiked La Mauricie’s myriad trails passing nary an outdoor soul along the way. During my brief trip, I focused on the park’s best short hiking trails.
If you’re planning a trip, one of my personal favorite hikes is Lac-Solitaire. As the park’s newest trail, it came highly recommended from a kind fellow at the visitor’s information center. The trailhead is conveniently located steps off the main parking area at the Riviere a la Peche campground. The full, “long way ’round” hike runs just shy of 6 kilometers and requires 3-4 hours if you plan on taking your time.
It’s technically rated as “intermediate”, but I would say it’s a great hike for any skill or physical fitness level. The trail is laid out to form two large loops that pass a series of spectacular viewpoints along the way. Hikers enjoy 15 natural vantage points overlooking five bodies of water and some of the best scenery in the whole of La Mauricie.
Hiking the Laurentian Trail: When Time Isn’t of the Essence
The park offers plenty of activities and accommodation options for visitors planning a trip of any length. Although my particular trip was brief, the park offers an excellent long-term option as well.
The Laurentian Trail wanders through 75 kilometers of the park’s more remote backcountry. Hiking its full length typically requires five full days, assuming coverage of 15-20 km per day. Throughout the duration of the hike, you’ll cover various mountainous terrain that crosses several summits. Although it is rated difficult, I’m assured it’s well worth the effort with the promise of spectacular natural lookouts, diversified forest landscape, impressive watershed, and myriad wildlife.
Gotta Keep Moving
I can’t say enough about my (albeit brief) time in La Mauricie. While the weather didn’t entirely cooperate during my stay, it also guaranteed a level of solitude and tranquility that hikers rarely experience in many popular parks.
After two days enjoying the late season quiet of the park, I’ll awake the following morning to drive six hours east to the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. There, I’ll camp on the beach and awake each morning to the sound and awe-inspiring view of whales breaching the surface near my tent site. Oh, Quebec, how I heart you.