Near And Far Adventures In Quebec, Canada

Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - by Ann Yungmeyer

A vacation escape and getting away from familiar territory often means long travels or hours lost to jet lag. Yet, my recent trip to Quebec, Canada, reminded me what an intriguing destination it is – the unique French-Canadian heritage giving a far-away feel, but with travel time relatively short for North American travellers. Quebec seems particularly convenient for East Coast dwellers, who, without even changing time-zones, can experience the vibrant culture, language and cuisine, along with splendid mountain scenery and year-round outdoor recreation.

My summertime escape to the French-speaking province was prompted by plans to join friends for a few days of wilderness adventure in the Laurentian region, north of Montreal. The trip was touted among us as a chance to get away from it all and reconnect with nature in the vast, forested terrain that is sprinkled with more than 9000 lakes and rivers. Canoeing, kayaking and fishing were on our agenda, along with “glamping” – glorified camping, a first time experience for me.

We headed first for Mont Tremblant National Park and then on to Mekoos, a fishing and hunting outfitter situated on a large lake. From Montreal, our group of six drove in rented vehicles about two hours north to Saint-Saveur Valley, a village-style development with boutique shopping, restaurants, art galleries, and night-skiing during winter.  After buying our provisions for camping, we continued driving another hour to the park, where we had reserved a Ready-to-Camp site with a Huttopia tent. A convenient set-up, the tent came with electricity, a small fridge, hot plate and platform beds with foam mattresses, which made cooking and sleeping easy. It was only the night-time trek to the outhouse on a dark path that was lacking in “glam.” And, for visitors wanting even more in creature comforts, the park has cabins and yurts available to rent.

The following morning we stopped by the Visitors Center at Lac Monroe to learn about the variety of offerings in Mont-Tremblant National Park, which was founded in 1895.  Three distinct sectors of the park offer activities from ranger-led programs and fireside chats to multimedia presentations (although most are in French).  Canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and bikes can be rented, and guided kayak and canoe excursions are offered with opportunities to spot wildlife and hear the sweet call of a loon.

We had booked a canoe tour with an English-speaking park naturalist who met us at the starting point on the River Diable (meaning devil in French) to guide us downstream through a winding section called the Meanders. An expert in her field, she pointed out the area’s unusual geologic formations along the riverbanks and wildlife habitat frequented by beavers, black bears and a variety of birds. We saw some hikers cross a swinging bridge over the water but otherwise had the river to ourselves. Throughout our morning paddle, our guide’s passion for the natural environment was evident, as was her cheerful joie de vivre, shared by many we met in Quebec. 

Activities in the park are family-friendly, including two beach areas with swimming. Biking is popular on a new 14-kilometer bike lane along the paved park entrance, and hikers can enjoy breathtaking views from observation decks over Lac Monroe’s glacial valley and the Mont Tremblant massif. Marked trails lead to several impressive waterfalls, including the famous Chute du Diable and Chute aux Rats, accessible by bike or hiking. 

Our next adventure took us to Mekoos, an outfitter that takes its name from Native American Algonquin meaning “brook trout heaven.”  The lakefront accommodations feature a log lodge and restaurant in rustic-comfort style and newly built cabins. Wildlife is often spotted on the expansive property, including moose, deer, black bear and small game, and area lakes are home to native speckled trout, walleye and northern pike.

We engaged two fishing guides who drove us on a rough dirt road through the woods to a private lake where we put in four small johnboats and set out to catch lunch. Our group of mostly novice fishermen and women learned enough technique to master the motorboats and net plenty of pan-size brookies for our shore cookout.

A blazing sun beat down on us in an unusual heat wave for Canada, while our freshly caught trout sizzled in an iron skillet over a smoky campfire. I cooled my feet in the clear lake water as we watched our guides prepare our shore lunch – a campfire culinary feast. Having fished many times on Florida’s Gulf Coast, I had eaten my catch at a shore cookout in similar fashion before. But this was Quebecois-style – with the enthusiastic guides, who spoke good English, bantering back and forth in French as they tended the campfire. No baked beans and slaw at this fish fry; our fishermen chefs prepared a sumptuous spread of trout, pike, fried potatoes and leafy greens. With a nod to French favorites, it was served with a baguette, wine and chocolates for dessert.

Back at the lodge, we enjoyed kayaking along unspoiled shoreline and a swim in the refreshing water, savoring the quietness of the environment and a memorable getaway. And it seemed that for all that the Laurentians have to offer, this piece of Canadian wilderness is a perfect blend of near and far.

If you go: The Laurentian (Laurentides) region is one of 21 tourist regions in Quebec offering year-round recreation. From Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport, take a rental car with a good map to supplement GPS. www.laurentians.com, www.quebecoriginal.com 

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Ann Newell Yungmeyer is a freelance writer in Kingsport, Tenn.


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