Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Mauricie National Park - Edouard Lake

Location: 3 hrs (200 km) north of Montreal
Website: Parks Canada
Map: Parks Canada
Camping Facilities: Backcountry and Car Camping
Grade: B+
Setting sun on our
 Lac Edouard campsite
Thoughts: With national parks, I have this expectation that the quality of the scenery and uniqueness will merit national attention and provide shining examples of significant Canadian natural environment for visitors from abroad.  Of the few that I've been to, this has generally been the case.  La Mauricie, however, was a bit of a disappointment.  Its not to say that La Mauricie wasn't beautiful, but compared to other parks in the Laurentians, its not the brightest jewel in the crown.

Mist over Lac Edouard 
La Mauricie is a long 3-hr drive from Montreal, with lots of winding, two-lane roads.  Once you arrive at the park, probably the first thing that strikes you is the pleasantness of the staff.  All of my encounters with staff at this park were very positive and I appreciated that entrance of the park was the gateway to all of the attractions, with no backtracking necessary (take note, Bruce Penninsula National Park).  There are plenty of hiking opportunities, backpacking on the Laurentian Trail and some serious looking canoe routes (complete with 5 km portages), but we had about 20hrs to spend in the park and hence didn't get a chance to do any serious canoe camping.  We settled for Lac Edouard, which was nice and, even mid-August on a weekday, we had the lake to ourselves.  The campsite had been drenched the night before so there really wasn't much chance to enjoy a campfire.
View over hilltop lake

Regarding hiking trails, we did the Mekinac trail, along the Mekinac River.  Its a worthwhile hike, though I imagine one of the less scenic ones. It gives you a great view along the Mekinac, then takes you down to water level to an inlet. You then head back up again (up some stairs, I believe), and then come to a lake which is a nice spot to stop for a water break or some lunch.  There is also the Laurentian backpacking trail that seems to provide some excellent camping, with single sites on lakes scattered through La Mauricie's backcountry.

Lac Edouard at dusk
As far as wilderness goes, you definitely get a sense of it here, being so far from the major urban centres.  As well, its plenty quiet and I'm not sure this place ever is completely booked (though it could very well be on some summer weekends).  This could be because there are a number of high quality camping opportunities in Quebec and roughly half the population of Ontario (and without the wilderness bottleneck found in Central Ontario).  This is all conjecture, but I suspect it has some validity to it.
Mekinac River
I would also guess that anglophone tourists also tend to stay away from Quebec's national and provincial parks (provincial parks are also referred to as national parks in Quebec, so this can lead to some confusion in terminology) due to concerns over communication difficulties.  This shouldn't limit anybody, as many Quebecois are bilingual and those that aren't will meet you halfway (you can use your broken French, they'll use their broken English).  If you stay away from  Quebec's parks due to an inability to speak French, you'll miss out on some of the most amazing scenery in the country, so I urge you to go.

In summary, there seems to be a lot more to La Mauricie than I was able to see, with some very rugged looking backcountry canoe routes and hiking trails.  Considering the terrain, I would guess that travelling along these routes would be quite scenic.  However, from just seeing the easily accessible trails, there's little to inspire when considering other opportunities (see Jacques Cartier & Haute Gorges).  You probably have to venture in much further to justify the drive from Montreal.  

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