Exploring The Mountains In Charlevoix
A slight mist was falling as I gathered the kids into our rental car and headed out of La Malbaie in Québec’s scenic Charlevoix region. Our mission was to explore the Parc National des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie — a provincial park deep in Charlevoix’s spectacular Laurentian foothills.
If you’ve never been to this part of the country, I suggest you start planning a visit as soon as possible. Charlevoix sits just east of Québec City, hugging the St. Lawrence River from Le Massif in the west to Baie-Sainte-Catherine in the east. All throughout the region, villages and towns dot the valleys between the mountains that seem to rise up right from the edge of the water. To add further to the scenic delight, farms stretch out along the rolling countryside.
We were already suitably impressed by the charms of Charlevoix before our expedition along the undulating Mountain Road and our admiration only grew the more we explored.
The clouds seemed to follow us as we drove out of town along the Malbaie River. It is a short and very scenic 40 km drive from the town of La Malbaie to the park entrance and just as we parked, the sun started to peek out. Good thing too as the scenery that surrounded us was too good to miss.
The Parc National des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie is one of the core areas of the UNESCO Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve, which protects the agricultural lands, river ecosystems, tidal marshes, mountains and forests of this biologically diverse region.
Cars are not allowed inside the park. After parking at the entrance, visitors are transported to different areas inside the park by shuttle bus. As soon as our bus headed into the park, we knew we were in for a special day in an enchanting place.
What to do in the Parc National des Hautes-Gorge-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie?
This spectacular provincial park encompasses an area where deep valleys cut into the mountains and through which flows the Malbaie River (which eventually makes its way to its namesake town and empties into the St. Lawrence).
Overnight camping is available at the park, including a few different roofed accommodation options.
Hiking is popular and the park’s signature trail is the Acropolis-des-Draveurs, an 11.2-km challenging hike that offers spectacular views over the Malbaie River valley and the surrounding peaks. It is not only the most challenging trail in the park, but one of the most difficult ones in the entire Québec parks network.
If you are like my family and not up to the challenge of the Acropolis-des-Draveurs, the park also has lots of easy-to-moderate trails that allow you to take in the splendour of the surrounding nature.
Paddling up the Malbaie River and gazing at the stunning cliffs that surround it has to be one of the best things to do at the park. You can paddle all the way to l’Équerre and then walk to the foot of a waterfall but we, alas, did not have enough time to do this. Hopefully on another visit!
Canoe and kayak rentals are available at the park.
Although we visited in the warm months, the park is open year round and just as popular in the winter as it is in the summer. When the river freezes, it provides opportunities for fat-biking, skating and snowshoeing. Other winter-specific activities such as cross-country skiing and ice climbing are also available. I can only imagine how beautiful the winter scenery is as the mountains and forests become dusted with snow.
The park offers a number of guided excursion to help visitors fully explore the park. There are excursions in inflatable or rabaska canoes as well as a Riverboat Discovery Cruise.
We were lucky enough to hop aboard the Le Menaud, a riverboat that holds nearly 50 passengers. The captain and a park naturalist narrated the ride along the most scenic part of the river. While most of the narration was in French, the staff made every effort to translate information for us into English and also provided us with a handy English guidebook for all the important spots along the way.
It was a truly enjoyable ride with beautiful scenery. Just as we were nearing the end of the cruise, we got a little bit of rain again. But luckily most of the boat is covered so people were still able to enjoy and stay dry if they wished — we did not, however, as the kids and I loved hanging out in the gentle rain.
Looking for more information on visiting the Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie? Visit the SEPAQ site.
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