Gatineau Park is the outdoor playground for Canada's National Capital Region (Ottawa and Gatineau). It offers amazing possibilities for outdoor recreation, within a 20 minutes drive of either city. This includes: skiing (cross-country and downhill), hiking, canoeing, camping, rock-climbing, mountain biking, roller-blading, wildlife watching and leisurely strolls.
Gatineau Park starts just north of the city of Gatineau.
- The fall colours when the leaves turn to bright yellow, red and orange and the hills seem to be on fire. The colours peak late October. Although they are spectacular throughout the park, one of the best views is from the base of the Eardley Escarpment at the Lusk Falls parking lot.
- Champlain Lookout offers breathtaking views onto the Ottawa River valley from the Eardley Escarpment. The lookout is accessible by car and is a popular spot for watching sunsets.
- Kingsmere used to be the country estate of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the tenth Prime Minister of Canada. Upon his death, King donated the estate to the Canadian Government. The estate now allows the public to take a leisurely walk through gardens and "ruins" collected by King in a woodland setting. A small waterfall also runs down the escarpment near Moorside. After this walk, guests can stop at the tea house for light snacks and refreshments.
- Pink Lake. Contrarily to what its name might imply, this lake takes on a vivid green colour in the summer months. Unlike glacier lakes from the West Coast whose colour is due to mineral suspension, the green hue of Pink Lake comes from tiny algae that thrive because of the lake's meromictic nature. The lake's name comes not from its colour, but from the name of the family who originally owned property in this area. The lake is accessible by car and there is a short hike that takes you around it.
- Mining remains can be found all around the Gatineau park. Off the path of the Pink lake, there is another path going east and many holes and closed caves can be found were mica was once extracted. Most of the holes have fences around them for safety reasons. Closer to the Chemin de la Mine close to the intersection of Hautes-Plaines Blv, there is another path that brings you to foundation remains of were old buildings used to stand many years ago. There is also a small wagon that can be found in that vicinity that was left there when mining was abandoned.
- The village of Wakefield, Quebec is technically not inside the Gatineau park, but it is this nearby and worth the visit. It is located by the shore of the Gatineau River and has neat little shops and cafés. It was also the terminal for the old-fashioned Hull-Wakefield Steam Train (currently not operating, although it may return by 2016) which went through the village twice a day during the summer months.
- Laflèche Caves, 255, route Principale, Val-des-Monts, ☎ +1 819 457-4033. Technically not in the park but worth a visit.
- The Keskinada Loppet One of the worlds largest cross-country race held every year in February.
The park offers a wide variety of outdoors activities. Two very good maps are available that show the network of trails for both summer activities (biking, hiking, beach access) and winter sports (cross-country skiing, snowshoeing). The maps can be bought at the Capital Infocentre at 90 Wellington Street in Ottawa or the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre, at 33 Scott Road, Chelsea. They are also available at the right time of year on the park website [link below]
There are many lakes in the park with beaches where you can go for a swim and a picnic. They tend to be crowded on hot weekend days.
- Philippe Lake
There are 4 very good beaches at Lac Philippe. The 3 north beaches tend to get busy during peak summer weekends. You can also rent canoes on an hourly or daily basis to explore the lake. A good paddle, hike or bike ride to the south end of the lake will take you to a more secluded beach, and is also the trailhead for Lusk Caves (see below).
- Taylor Lake
A small, quiet lake next to Lac Philippe, Taylor Lake has more private campsites, and offers a more peaceful and secluded camping experience.
- Meech Lake
There are beaches and swimming at Meech Lake, but the beaches are smaller and more crowded than those at Lac Phillipe.
- Carman Lake
- Brown Lake
- Lapêche Lake
A bit further than any of the other lakes from the city, but well worth the drive. Again there's a beautiful beach, with lots of sand, picnic tables, and rest rooms. Canoe rentals are also available and well worth it to explore the vast lake. You can easily spend days paddling around the whole lake, exploring nooks and crannies, streams and rivers. The lake is also home to the only canoe-camping in the park, and the sites offer the best in away-from-home camping. All sites are only accessible via canoe, and are far enough away from the beach to offer a very tranquil setting.
There's lots of great canoeing in Gatineau Park, on any of the lakes listed above, or some of the rivers surrounding the park (Ottawa River, Gatineau River). Canoes can be rented at Philippe Lake.
The park is packed with excellent hiking trails. Everything from a 20 minutes leisurely stroll in the woods, to all day hikes through valleys, across streams and around lakes. A trail map is a great help to help you navigate the wealth of trails available. The classic guide to the trails is "Historical Walks - The Gatineau Park Story" by Katherine Fletcher. This book also contains historical information about early settlers and how the park developed.
- Philippe Lake has a broad range of sites going from walking (short walk) sites for tents only to full-service sites for RVs.
- Taylor Lake a small and quiet campground for tents only. Most sites have access to the lake.
- Lapêche Lake has a number of canoe camping sites.
The Mill Inn in nearby Wakefield offers top-range accommodation.
Gatineau Park Information and Ski Conditions: +1 819-827-2020 or +1-800-465-1867 (toll-free).