A place better known for forestry, Quebec’s Gatineau Valley is becoming a new destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Long a favourite of cottage owners from nearby Ottawa and Gatineau, opportunities for self-powered outdoor adventure are becoming increasingly common. On a recent trip through Quebec, we checked out what is on offer in the Gatineau Valley for ourselves. Keep reading for a round-up of our favourite spots!
Canoe camping in the Gatineau Valley
There’s nothing quite like travelling into the wilderness with a traditional Canadian canoe. The Gatineau Valley is the perfect place to do so with thousands of lakes dotted around the region.
La Peche Lake (Lac La Peche), Gatineau Park
Being less than an hour’s drive from Ottawa/Gatineau, Lac La Peche is something of a little oasis. After leaving Highway 5 N at Exit 28, the scenery quite quickly gives way to gravel roads and forest in every direction. Arriving at the main beach area, the view opens up to an enticing lake lined with dense forest. Most of the 32 backcountry campsites can be reached via a 60-minute paddle towards the western side of the lake. Sites are grouped in 12 sections, some offering more privacy and seclusion than others.
Campsite 9B featured a lovely little landing area filled with lily pads and panoramic views out to the western arm of Lac La Peche. Without any neighbours at site 9A, we had the view of the stars (and the free firewood stash) all to ourselves. In early September, we only saw a handful of other canoes and kayaks on the lake making Lac La Peche an incredibly peaceful escape.
- If you don’t have your own canoe or kayak, it is possible to rent equipment in the park during the summer season.
- Canoe camping reservations can be made via the Gatineau Park website. Campsites cost $35.60/night.
- Campsites on La Peche Lake have a picnic bench, firepit and access to an outhouse. Firewood is also included.
- Print a copy of your reservation in advance to place on your vehicle dashboard. I would also recommend printing a map of the park because there is limited service once at La Peche Lake.
31 MilE (31 Milles) Lake
For a less remote but equally beautiful canoe camping experience, head further northwest to Village Majopial. Here is a convenient launching point for the expansive 31 Mile Lake system that features 30 canoe campsites. Many are located on small islands, providing anyone with the chance to be king or queen of an island for a day! 30 Mile Lake is also a particularly interesting body of water to explore, with many isolated bays and channels.
Another special aspect of canoe camping on 30 Mille Lake is the chance to get takeout food from the fantastic L’Huile d’Olive Restaurant near the boat launch. It’s a new aspect of glamping I’ve never seen before! High-quality meals from the restaurant are packed into vacuum sealed bags that just need to be heated up again at the campsite. We had barbeque ribs, mashed potato, risotto and a marinated vegetable salad….it was pretty fabulous to say the least. Another option is to simply paddle back to the Huile d’Olive for dinner. In the morning, we were treated to pastries and granola.
31 Mile Lake is popular with boaters and cottage owners, however, most of the latter are well hidden or set back from the water. For those wanting a full-on wilderness experience, 30 Mille Lake wouldn’t be my first pick but I think it is ideal for anyone trying out canoe tripping for the first time or someone who prefers a little more ‘civilisation’ around. And, of course, that take out food option is very convenient!
- The main launching point for 31 Mile Lake is just to the right of the L’Huile d’Olive Restaurant. There is a boat launch for larger craft and a dock for smaller boats
- Reservations for sites can be made through the SAGE website. The cost per night is $23 and a two-night minimum stay is required. SAGE also offers yurt and cabin rentals
- Campsites include a picnic table, outhouse and firepit
- Firewood can be purchased before launching. It will be delivered direct to your site
- Canoes and kayaks are available for rental
Where to eat in the Gatineau Valley
Located just off Highway 5, the small town of Wakefield is an ideal place to stop while exploring the Gatineau Valley. In addition to a number of inviting patio restaurants and interesting one-of-a-kind shops, Wakefield is also home to the creamiest, most luxurious soft serve ice cream I have ever tasted. The price is a little higher than most, but we thought the ice cream at MaBoule was so worth it! Just a little further down the road is Wakefield Bakery, which has been producing tasty baked goods for decades. The butter tarts were particularly fantastic.
If you need any extra supplies for your canoe camping experience, Wakefield is also the most convenient place to pick up those last few items.
See more of the Gatineau Valley – observation towers
The Gatineau Valley deserves to be seen from above. The easiest way to get an overview of the whole area is to visit an observation tower, most often built next to the almost spindly looking fire towers of yesteryear. The observation towers themselves are more sturdy these days but still offer amazing panoramas of the hundreds of pretty lakes dotted around the Gatineau Valley.
Head to Mount Morisette near Blue Sea Lake to climb the 18-metre tall tower and marvel at the vibrant blue and green patchwork of hills and water. A visit towards the end of September will reveal a blaze of autumn colours. The tower is accessible via road, but there is also the option to hike from the trailhead on Chemin du Lac Long. It’s a quick 15-20 minute steady uphill climb through the forest (1.5km one way).
An alternative to Mount Morisette is the Mont Cayamant, which also has trails and an observation tower.
Other outdoor adventures in the Gatineau Valley include:
Cycling along Blue Sea – The Gatineau Valley offers some fantastic cycling opportunities if you prefer to explore with a bike. The recently developed 72km long Véloroute des Draveurs trail follows the shore of the stunning Blue Sea Lake.
Pont de Pierre –Right at the top of 31 Mile Lake is a natural geological site, with an impressive waterfall and caves. The area is a bit of a trek from most of the canoe camping sites on the lake, so the easiest way to see it would be to drive via Chemin de la Baire Noire.
For more information, drop into the Maniwaki Tourist Information Bureau on King Street.
One last detour in the Gatineau Valley
If you have the time, and budget, consider a stop at Nordik Spa-Nature on the way back into the city. You could spend a whole day hopping between the 10 baths and 9 saunas, but in most cases, just an evening is enough to wind down from a busy weekend in the outdoors. It helps that Nordik Spa is open to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays (11pm other days). The baths and saunas are set into beautiful woodland with creeks and waterfalls flowing harmoniously in between. And yet Nordik Spa is only a minute away from Exit 12 on Highway 5 (and only 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa).
Thank you to Outaouais Tourism for assisting with our trip around the Gatineau Valley! All views remain our own.