Snowshoeing, Yurts, and Beavers
Find Winter Adventures and Wildlife at Gatineau Park
Ottawa is one of Canada’s most cosmopolitan urban centers. But only fifteen minutes from Parliament Hill sits Gatineau Park, the National Capital Region’s Conservation Park, which offers visitors the chance to explore 360 square kilometers of pristine wilderness.
“The park is a gem in the region,” says François Leduc, manager of public programming and communications, a thirty-year veteran of the park. “It brings happiness to people.”
Fall may be the park’s busiest season, but an array of unique adventures awaits visitors during the winter months. Cross-country skiing is by far the most popular activity for visitors to the park, with almost 250 kilometers of trails available, while snowshoeing is among Gatineau Park’s fastest growing offerings.
“Snowshoeing is being brought back to life,” says Leduc. “It’s an old tradition. But new snowshoes are lighter and easier to use.” Visitors can explore over 60 kilometers of snowshoeing trails that range from easy and family-friendly to challenging for experienced hikers. Shoes can be rented right at the Visitor’s Center. Beginners should not be afraid to try this activity, Leduc explains. “If you can walk, then you can snowshoe.”
Gatineau also offers activities for the more experienced adventurer, although these are not for the faint of heart. Snow biking is among the most recent additions to the park’s offerings. “Snow biking is not popular yet, but it is getting there,” says Leduc. He warns that the bikes—known informally as “fat bikes” due to the large size of the tires—can be expensive and the activity can be quite arduous, but he also points out that the activity harmonizes well with the park’s other offerings.
Winter camping is a more daring choice for visitors to the park. Gatineau offers a range of overnight accommodations, ranging from furnished cabins to bring-your-own-tent winter campsites, that affords visitors the opportunity to spend a night in the great outdoors or enjoy an early-morning hike. “It’s not for everybody,” Leduc cautions. “You need the right equipment and need to know what to do to be safe.”
Yurts are one of the park’s unexpected successes, growing in popularity in recent years. “The main thing about yurts is that they’re round,” Leduc explains. “They’re based on a design from Mongolia that was supposed to be easily transportable. Ours don’t move, of course, but they’re furnished with wood stoves. They’re quite comfortable.”
Although popular with tourists, Gatineau Park is, at its heart, an integral part of the local community. “Gatineau is part of Ottawa,” says Leduc. “One of the things that I hear is that people choose to live here because of the park. They use the park regularly.”
All year long, Gatineau Park offers visitors the chance to encounter the beauty of Canada’s wild spaces, and for park staff like Leduc, this makes the challenging work of conservation worthwhile. “We see wildlife every day,” he says. “I remember one time that I saw beavers only three feet from my canoe. It was very quiet and we could hear them as they were eating. Those little moments are really special.”
- By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, EMILY JARMOLOWICZ
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