Gatineau Park in winter is a wonderful playground for nature lovers. Located mainly on the territory of the Regional County Municipality (RCM) of Les Collines-de-l'Outaouais, this vast Canadian federal park covers an area of 361.31 km2 enriched by a multitude of waterways, woodlands, hills, caves and other natural wonders.
In winter, Gatineau Park is a delight for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its network of more than 200 kilometers of trails. You can ski, either classical or free style, hike in your boots or with snowshoes, or ride a flat bike. Whether you are a seasoned sportsman or a beginner, young or old, Gatineau Park is for everyone.
Gatineau Park is divided into distinct areas, which is useful for orientation, especially if you're not from the region.
Gatineau Area. To the south of the Park is the Gatineau area, located in Hull, one of the City of Gatineau's sectors. This area of the park is right in the city and is served by public transportation. You will find the P1, P2 and P3 parking lots as well as the Relais Plein Air (at P2). The Gatineau Parkway begins in this area from Alexandre-Taché Boulevard. In winter, the section of the parkway between Alexandre-Taché Boulevard and P3 remains open to cars, but from P3 on, it is closed to cars and entirely dedicated to cross-country skiing. One of the attractions of this area is Pink Lake, a real jewel to be discovered in summer.
Chelsea Area. In the center of the park is the Chelsea area, well-known for its numerous trails, the Visitor Centre, as well as restaurants and cafés in a part of Chelsea called Old Chelsea. In the Chelsea area, there are a variety of attractions and sites such as Mackenzie King Estate, Meech Lake, Camp Fortune, Champlain, Étienne-Brûlé and Huron lookouts, Carbide Willson ruins (closed in winter), and Keogan, Shilly Shally, Huron, Western and McKinstry shelters. This area is served by the following parking lots:
Meech Creek Valley Area. Still in Chelsea, but further north, towards Wakefield, is the Meech Creek Valley area. Not very far off of road 105, it is located only a few minutes by car from Auberge Tom B&B. There is a covered bridge, a beautiful hilly valley and forest trails, Herridge and Healey shelters as well as an outdoor stopover. This area is served by parking lots P15 and P16 (open in winter only).
Philippe Lake Area. Located north of the park and west of the Wakefield area and serviced in winter by parking lot P19, this area is beautiful regardless of the time of the year. There are four lakes, Philippe, Lusk, Renaud and Taylor, as well as the Lusk cave. In winter, you can count on the superb Renaud shelter as well as on two outdoor stops. It is also possible to rent a chalet or bivouac to spend the night, even in winter.
Luskville, Des Loups Lake and La Pêche Lake Areas. In winter, these areas are not serviced.
Gatineau Park in winter is served by two information and equipment rental centers.
The Relais plein air is located in the Gatineau area, in a neighborhood where high schools and colleges abound. It is an ideal gateway to the park for winter sports enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. Several services are offered, including equipment rental, ski and waxing lessons, hiking experiences, heated indoor stops and a coffee shop. From the Relais Plein Air, you can head out into the Park and enjoy all the winter activities mentioned below: cross-country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing and winter biking.
The Gatineau Park Visitor Centre is located in the Chelsea area, not far from the restaurants and cafés for which this municipality is famous. It is also an ideal gateway to the park for more experienced winter sports enthusiasts who are looking for the uneven terrain in the forest. In addition to information services, snowshoe rentals, public washrooms and a dining room, the center offers a permanent, interactive exhibit on the park's ecosystems, its fascinating history and the conservation efforts being made to protect it. Right next to the parking lot you can skate on a beautiful outdoor rink.
Internationally recognized for the quality of its network of cross-country ski trails, Gatineau Park is one of the largest in North America. A team of snow groomer experts maintain the trails, while professional and volunteer patrollers ensure the skiers' safety. Trails of varying degrees of difficulty, from easy to very difficult, cross the park and can be tackled from different starting points throughout the territory, thanks to the numerous parking areas (P).
In winter, the Gatineau Park parkways (Gatineau Parkway, Champlain Parkway and Lake Fortune Parkway) are closed to cars and transformed into an ideal trail for free-style skiing. From the Gatineau area, it is possible to dash out onto the Gatineau Parkway and ski to the Chelsea area where a network of forest trails opens up.
The trails reserved for cross-country skiing do not allow dogs, even on a leash. To access the trails, a daily or seasonal pass must be purchased.
(A blog dealing specifically with cross-country ski trails will be published shortly.)
Gatineau Park in winter offers ten kilometers of beautiful groomed and marked walking trails, some of which are equipped with interpretation panels (Pioneer Trail, Gatineau area). However, the majority of summer trails are closed to hikers because they have been transformed into cross-country ski trails, while some, including the trail around Pink Lake, are shut down altogether in winter.
On the trails designated for hiking, it is possible to venture out with your dog if it is kept on a leash. Of course, etiquette dictates that owners should pick up their dog's feces and throw the bags and their contents into the garbage (not leave the bags lying around on the trail).
Hiking trails are free (no pass required).
The Capital Trail (1.6 km) is linear and connects P1 to P3. It can be taken from either parking lot and easily turned around to return to the starting point.
The Pioneer Trail (1.3 km), which is only accessible from parking lot P3, forms a loop. It is therefore possible to add this trail to the Capital Trail for a longer hike of 2.9 kilometers.
Chelsea Area – Visitor Center
The Sugarbush Trail (3 km), located right next to the Visitor Centre on Scott Road, is an easy and very pleasant forest trail that starts at the Sugarbush shelter and then forms a loop that can be repeated for as many times as you wish. The strength of this trail is that it is not far from the cafés and restaurants in the Old Chelsea area, a popular spot in all seasons.
Chelsea Area – P6
The splendid Lauriault Trail (4.5 km) is considered difficult, but beginners can tackle it without any problem as long as they go at their own pace and allow themselves more time to cover it. Personally, it's my favorite trail in all seasons, because it crosses various ecosystems, runs along a stream and a lake in addition to leading to a waterfall, and offers a superb panoramic view of the countryside. The Lauriault Trail begins at Mackenzie King Estate, parking lot P6, where there are also many cross-country ski trails. In winter, access to P6 is not via the Gatineau Parkway, which is closed to cars, but via Kingsmere, Swamp and Barnes Roads.
Gatineau Park in winter has a network of 61 kilometers of snowshoeing trails, ranging in difficulty from easy to very difficult. The network crosses the entire territory of the park and the starting points are distributed between all areas. Create your own route according to the degree of difficulty or the areas you wish to explore.
With the exception of the Philippe Lake area, all snowshoe trails are shared with winter bikers. However, snowshoe hikers have priority.
To access the snowshoe trail network, a daily or seasonal pass is required. Dogs are not allowed.
For those who want to be tempted by a snowshoe hike but do not have this equipment, it is possible to rent snowshoes at the Visitor Centre or from local merchants. At Auberge Tom B&B, we gladly lend our two pairs to our guests.
Trails 60, 61 and 63
Trails 60 (1.5 km) and 61 (0.8 km) are accessible through the Visitor Centre. Trail 60 begins in a linear fashion and then splits in half to form a loop. From this loop you can access trail 61, which also forms a loop. These two trails offer a pleasant route, especially since the starting point is located near the cafés and restaurants in Old Chelsea.
Trail 63 (1.6 km - P6) crosses Mackenzie King Estate and is also an easy loop.
Trails 65 and 66
Trail 65 (2.6 km) is at the end of trail 29 (easy) and loops. From this trail, you can access trail 66.
Trail 66 (3.6 km) begins in a linear fashion until it splits to form a loop that allows access to trail 67 (easy) and return to P1. Interestingly, trail 66 leads to the chemin de la Montagne North, close to the connection to trail 68 (easy). However, there is no parking lot (P) on chemin de la Montagne N.
Trail 62 (7.7 km), commonly known as the Wolf Trail, is very popular in all seasons. It is a challenging loop with a 220-meter escarpment leading to two lookouts, Manhigan and Tawadina, which offer a magnificent view of the valley. Beginners who have never snowshoed before should refrain from attacking this trail, at least until they have mastered the steeper climbs.
Meech Creek Valley Area – P15
Trail 70 (4.1 km)
From P15, you must first take trail 71 (very difficult) which connects a little further to trail 70. Thereafter, the path is linear and leads to shelters Herridge and Healey. The circuit made up of trails 71 and 70 is one of the most beautiful and most interesting, if only because of the two shelters that allow you to warm up near a good fire and even to have a bite to eat by candlelight.
Chelsea Area – P5
Trails 79 and 80
Together, trails 79 and 80 form a 7-kilometer route. From parking lot P5, which is only open in winter, trail 80 leads a little further on to trail 79, which makes a long loop that is very demanding because it includes long ascents and descents. These trails are still accessible to everyone, but beginners should allow themselves more time to complete the route.
Meech Creek Valley Area – P15
Trail 71 (6.3 km) is located in the Meech Creek Valley area, north of Chelsea towards Wakefield. It forms a loop on which there is an outdoor rest area equipped with a fireplace and benches. To the west, this trail connects with trail 70 (difficult) while to the north, it connects with trail 72 (very difficult).
Wakefield Area – P17
Trails 72, 72B and 58
Trail 72 (6.9 km) starts at P17 and leads to Brown Lake shelter. Il forme une longue boucle qui permet d’accéder au sentier 72B.
Trail 72B (2.8 km) loops through very rugged terrain and mature forest.
Trail 58 (1.4 km) crosses hilly terrain with several climbs, descents and curves. It is accessed via trail 71 (very difficult) and then branches off onto trail 58. At the end of trail 58, we join trail 71 to make the loop back to P17 with, perhaps, a short stop at Brown Lake shelter.
Gatineau Park in winter has a network of over 40 kilometers of fat biking trails, ranging in difficulty from easy to very difficult. The network crosses most of the park's territory, with departure points in the Gatineau, Chelsea and Wakefield areas. Create your own route according to the degree of difficulty or the areas you wish to explore.
The network of trails for fat biking is the same as for snowshoeing, with the exception of the Philippe Lake area, where no trails are to be found. As these trails are shared between snowshoers and fat bikers, priority is given to snowshoers. It is important to understand that these trails are not groomed. It is the snowshoers who compact the trail during their hiking expeditions, which makes the conditions very variable. That said, the condition of the fat biking trails is updated regularly and professional and volunteer patrollers travel the trails.
A daily or seasonal pass is required to access the fat biking trails. Dogs are not allowed.
Please consult the trail descriptions in the section dedicated to snowshoeing, as they are the same as for fat biking.
Important note concerning trails 72 and 72B in the Wakefield area:
For winter cycling, it is recommended to take trail 72 from parking lot P17 and branch off on the eastern portion of this trail to join trail 72B. Continue on trail 72 to the 2nd intersection of trail 72B and then take trail 72B for a nice descent to the starting point.
On some trails, you will find heated shelters with tables where you can eat. Be sure to bring a snack if you plan to make a stop there. Some even bring their fondue equipment. Interested anyone? :-)
In the Philippe Lake area, it is even possible to sleep in cabins or winter camping in bivouacs and yurts. Since these accommodations must be reserved in advance, contact the Visitor Centre for more information or to make a reservation.
Our wonderful Gatineau Park is open to outdoor enthusiasts as long as there is good snow cover on the ground, often until April. Throughout the winter season, you can expect to pay for access to trails, with the exception of hiking trails. Day and season passes are available online or at the Visitor Centre. Honestly, the Park and its facilities are so well maintained that it's well worth the expense!
Need help exploring more of Gatineau Park in winter? Send me an email and I will be pleased to guide you on your next visit planning.
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