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 is a 361 km² wedge of land extending north and west from the city of Gatineau. The main entrance to the park is 4 km north of downtown Ottawa. It remains the only federal park that is not a national park. The National Capital Commission manages the park, not Parks Canada.
The park's area has a long history of human inhabitation and usage predating the arrival of European settlers. Its more recent pre-park history includes various forms of human exploitation such as farming, logging, hunting, and industrial activity.
- Gatineau Park Visitor Centre, ☏ , toll-free: . May-Oct: daily 09:00-17:00; Nov-Apr M-F 09:00-16:00, Sa Su 09:00-17:00. Information officers are on-site to provide tips and advice. You'll also find an exhibition on ecosystems, passes and souvenirs for sale, and washrooms. Free Wi-Fi.
Gatineau Park starts within the city of Gatineau, in the Hull and Aylmer sectors.
To get to the Visitor Centre, take Quebec Autoroute 5. From Ottawa, it is 16 km: take the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge from Lower Town, which leads on Autoroute 5.
If you're not going to the Visitor Centre, you can get into the park on the Gatineau Parkway, which runs north from Alexandre-Taché Boulevard on the west side of downtown Hull.
The STO (Gatineau bus system/blue and white) has buses that run from downtown Ottawa to the southern edge of the park (34 & 59) and the eastern edge (31).
- 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 1 Lusk Falls parking lot.
- 2 Champlain Lookout. This spot 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.
- 3 Kingsmere. The country estate of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the tenth Prime Minister of Canada.The estate 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. The cottages, including Kingswood and the primary residence, Moorside, have been restored and feature interactive exhibits about Mackenzie King's era.
- 4 King Mountain. The highest peak in Gatineau, rising an almost-vertical 345 m (1,132 ft) from the Eardley Escarpment, was the first triangulation point in Canada. Also, the mountain's unique positioning provides an interesting spectrum of vegetation ranging from evergreen and deciduous forests to windswept savannas. The mountain is also home to a number of trees which are rare in the area, including some that are nearly 600 years old.
- 5 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 isn't inside the Gatineau park, but it is this nearby and worth the visit. It is on the shore of the Gatineau River and has neat little shops and cafés.
- The Keskinada Loppet. One of the world's largest cross-country skiing races, held every year in February. Two linear races of 51 km are the main features; they leave from Parking P17 in La Peche and cut through Gatineau Park north to south amidst enchanting landscapes. There are other courses (2 km, 5 km, 10 km, 15 km, 27 km) in classic and free technique. Snowshoeing and fat-biking races also held.
- Wildlife: Gatineau Park provides a habitat for many species of birds, including the pileated woodpecker and common loon. Turkey vultures and migrating hawks may be observed soaring on the thermals above the Eardley Escarpment. The park is also home to a large population of beavers and white-tailed deer, as well as black bears and two wolf packs in the more remote sections.
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.
- Although the practice is not permitted in the park, some of the more secluded corners are popular with nudists. In particular there is an unofficial nude beach northwest of parking lot P11 on trail 36; the beach is extensively used by members of Ottawa's gay community.
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.
Hiking and mountain biking
The park is packed with excellent hiking trails. Everything from a 20-minute 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.
There are 165 km of hiking trails and 90 km of trails for mountain bikes and the Trans-Canada Trail passes through the park. The park is also popular with cyclists where many routes are quite steep and very demanding on legs, heart and lungs.]
Skiing and snowshoeing
- Cross-country skiing is one of the park's main recreational activities. Nearly 200 km of cross-country trails criss-cross the park, which hosts the annual Gatineau Loppet ski race (formerly known as Keskinada Loppet).
- 1 Camp Fortune. Downhill skiing and snowboarding.
During the summer months, Camp Fortune offers an aerial experience including ziplines and treetop obstacles.
- 1 [formerly dead link] The Mackenzie King Estate Tearoom, 75 Chemin Barnes, ☏ . Mid-May to mid-June: Sa Su, mid-June to late Oct: W-M; traditional tea service 11:30-15:45; lunch 11:30-15:00. Fully wheelchair accessible.
There are three places to camp in the park, including 260 campsites for tents, trailers and motorhomes at Philippe, Renaud and Taylor lakes, and 11 ready-to-camp units (yurts, four-season tents and cabins), equipped with beds, wood stove and cooking surface. Campground amenities include comfort stations, laundry facilities, dry toilets, water taps, convenience store, beaches, boat rental. Services vary by sector.
- 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.
- La Pêche Lake has 33 canoe camping sites.
Prices (taxes excluded, June 2019):
- Unserviced campsite: $35.60 per night
- Ready-to-camp unit: from $90.00 per night
The summer season runs from mid-May to mid-October. Reservations can be made on line.
- Gatineau Park Information and Ski Conditions, ☏ , toll-free: .
- National Capital Commission Gatineau Park Website.