In winter, snowflakes, ice and winds come, transforming the grandiose landscapes of the region’s national parks. Whether you go to the Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park or the Grands-Jardins National Park, you are sure to be filled with the natural beauty of the sites, your body and soul energized by precious endorphins fueling the outdoor activities offered there. In addition, the two parks have been officially named core areas of the Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
In this article, discover practical advice and favourites through a summary of all the activities you can practice on site.
Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park
With its steep cliffs and summit overlooking the Charlevoix region from an altitude of 1048 metres, the Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie is one of the highest rock faces east of the Rockies. Beyond its altitude, the unevenness of its valleys sets it apart with its striking landscapes.
This winter will be the park’s fifth white season, whereas previously, you could only access this fabulous site during the summer. Only a few winters have allowed it to become a major centre of attraction in terms of outdoor winter activities. It is especially distinguished by the diversity of activities offered on the site: snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, fat bikes, ice skating, ice climbing and cross-country skiing.
When the frozen river becomes everyone’s playground
In winter, you can access completely new panoramas in the park, usually inaccessible from spring to autumn. Browse the frozen river (skiing, snowshoeing, fat bike or walking) in the heart of a grandiose canyon nestled between impressive mountains, and admire huge ice falls throughout your getaway… Simply breathtaking!
Start at the Draveur Visitors Centre, embarking on an ice shuttle, an all-terrain motorized vehicle that transports adventurers to more remote recreational areas. Making the round trip twice a day to the Équerre and Pointe-aux-Inukshuk sectors, the shuttle takes visitors along the linear route of the Vallée des Glaces in the opposite direction. From the Équerre sector (the farthest), we come back over 7 kilometres with a slight drop. For long distance adventurers, the round trip is possible, of course!
For ice skaters, an ice oval and trail are also available on the Malbaie River. Nearby, the Draveur Visitors Centre awaits skaters with a bonfire and hot beverages ($).
Do you know La Pomme d’Or?
This spectacular and perilous wall is located on the banks of the river and is well known to climbers. Climbing the Vallée des Glaces is for seasoned climbers only and a permit is required. La Pomme d’Or is 4 km towards L’Équerre from the Draveur Visitors Centre, so you can get there on skis, snowshoes or the ice shuttle. Plus, when you walk on the frozen river (during the 7 km trail mentioned a little earlier), it’s quite common to see climbers at work there – a spectacular show!
Even more trails
A variety of trails are available beyond the river sector. Fifty-two km of marked trails (not track set or groomed) are available for cross-country skiing, while 50 km are marked for snowshoeing. Don’t miss the Cran des Érables sector, where you find the Le Riverain trail that gives access to fabulous viewpoints while remaining accessible.
Grands-Jardins National Park
Featuring the most particular flora and fauna at this latitude, the region has always been renowned for its incredible fishing grounds. Today, Grands-Jardins National Park still welcomes anglers year-round, along with hikers, snowshoers and Nordic skiers depending on the season.
Unique tradition: ice fishing
Typically Nordic, this popular, family activity consists of fishing through a hole cut in the ice. In Grands-Jardins National Park, your find the fishing grounds on Lac Étang-Malbaie. There are no shacks on site (the holes are drilled in the ice by park staff, by the way), so it’s important to dress well while waiting for the fish to bite! Although the activity is open to everyone, a provincial fishing license is required and fishing fees apply. Nearby (between 1.5 to 2.5 km depending on the fishing area) is the La Galette refuge, where you can warm up and have a bite to eat (no food for sale on site, you have to bring your provisions).
Mont-du-Lac-des-Cygnes under its white dress
The Mont-du-Lac-des-Cygnes trail has bolstered the national park’s reputation year-round, thanks to a unique route combining snow-covered valleys, rock faces and bare peaks. At the heart of the Laurentians, this 480-metre drop is climbed by a gradual and sustained ascent (8.6 km round trip). You can ease the route by a few kilometres by following the Lac Pioui trail, which will take you to the same summit via the ridges.
A little winter advice: The path crosses a fairly young and sparse forest, and the summit is exposed to the rays of sunny days. Planning this climb on a clear day is a good idea! Also, the windswept summit calls for good planning: equip yourself with ski goggles, crampons and a change of clothes.
One day is not enough!
A single day spent in one of these enchanting parks literally flies by like a gust of wind. To get the full experience and soak up the tranquility of the place, spending the night there is a wonderful idea. At each location, chalets and refuges are available, offering all the necessary facilities in a rustic environment.
New this winter: a magnificent pavilion was built last summer in the Équerre sector of the Hautes-Gorges park (Pavillon de l’Équerre) and it is being transformed this winter into a refuge to welcome travelers who can rent per person/bed during the cold season. With four bedrooms each equipped with two single beds, it accommodates up to 8 people comfortably. The pavilion is accessible to daily visitors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.