Mont Tremblant National Park

Getting There

I picked up the hire car from centre-ville in Montreal, set the GPS for Mont Tremblant and away we went. It was an interesting trip, as I had brought my own GPS and loaded a North American map into it. Our GPS has voice navigation using a female voice with a pleasant Australian accent and here she was trying to pronounce the French names as they should be. The technology was impressive but the accent was "affreux" – even worse than ours. Still, she guided us well and we arrived at the Diable Sector of the National Park without a hitch. 

The colours of autumn begin

Diable River

We were staying in a tent at a campsite on the edge of Lac Monroe. However, our “Huttopia”, situated in a small clearing with the Laurentian forest all around, was no ordinary tent. It was large, comfortable, well-equipped with good mattresses, tables, the wherewithall to cook and eat and, above all, it was heated. The latter made a big difference, as the skies opened soon after we arrived and rained almost non-stop for the rest of the day.

On the way up, my attention had been focussed on the developing rain. Such conditions had been forecast by the weather bureau for the next six days and I was becoming increasingly despondent. The fair Nello, on the other hand, was focussing on the increasing amount of autumn colour appearing in the trees - shades of red, orange and yellow amongst the greens of the forest – and she was becoming more excited. She, of course, had the right attitude. We were here to see the change of autumn colours and no amount of rain was going to detract from that - I had a little talk to myself. For the moment, we resorted to plan B, which became read books and catch up with journals while drinking hot coffee and eating biscuits, followed by a nap in a warm sleeping bag.

Our tented accomodation at Lac Monroe

How to pass a rainy day in a tent

The burglar beats a hasty retreat

An intense patch of colour near Lac Monroe

After a relatively calm night, during which time a raccoon made several attempts at a tent invasion (what else to expect, they wear a mask), the rain recommenced the following morning. As the French would say “ca pissait comme une vache” and we had another morning holed up in our (thankfully) large and warm tent. With cabin fever setting in, after lunch we decided that today's Plan B would be to drive over to nearby Mont Tremblant ski station and check it out.

Mont Tremblant ski station

The misty slopes of Mont Tremblant

Looking over the Mont Tremblant forest

I was pleasantly surprised by the colour and integrity of the Mont Tremblant village architecture, but not so pleasantly surprised by the dense fog at the top of the chairlift, which we had taken to get our bearings in the region. Still, we were doing something other than twiddling our thumbs and, while we were there, the rain stopped and a watery sun tried its best to pierce the cloudy veil. This greatly raised our hopes.

View over the forest to Lac Tremblant

Village street at Mont Tremblant

Our original plan had been to spend two days here, do a canoe trip on the one day and a long walk to a forest refuge on the other. The rain had clearly put paid to that, but if tomorrow were fine, we could perhaps do the canoeing and a short walk on the same day. We opted to stay an extra night and our luck held.

Descent of Les Meandres de la Diable by canoe (13.5km)

The Laurentian region is a world dominated by water – hundreds of lakes lie scattered throughout the forests, some connected by rivers and streams like beads on a string. It is easy to see why the canoe was one of the main means of transport in days gone by and, today, canoeing and kayaking are probably the main sporting activity here.

It would have been a shame not to have done at least one canoe trip while we were here, so we set out to do “La Descente des Meandres de la Diable”, perhaps not a great canoeing adventure, but a 13km introduction into this mode of transport and the new land- and river-scapes that it opens up.

The Diable River is one of the main water courses flowing through Mont Tremblant National Park – it starts deep in the mountains, flowing through Lac Monroe and Lac Chat, and then follows a broad meandering course beneath the cliffs of Le Centenaire, before leaving the park. The fair Nello and I rented a canoe at the Lac Monroe Visitor Centre and were taken by bus with a foursome of kayakers to the shores of Lac Chat, where our descent would begin. Four hours later, the bus would pick us up at the park entry and bring us back. It seemed a good deal.

The sun shines on Lac Monroe

Yesterday, we had abandoned our first attempt to do this, due to the incessant rain, but today we were in luck – the sun broke through as we were unloading the boat and stayed with us, off and on, for the rest of our trip. With the fair Nello up front and myself in the rear, we pushed off from shore and paddled across to the the narrow exit point of Lac Chat – we were underway.

Heading off on Lac Chat ....

.... to enter the Diable River .....

.... and head off downstream

A splash of colour amongst the conifers

Passing into the river proper, we were immediately faced with our first (and only) set of rapids, a 300m section of Grade I-II rapid, enough for a few splashes and a fast ride, but not enough to raise the heart rate. That was fine, as this trip was about enjoyment not about “frisson”, and enjoy ourselves we did.

At times the river was like a glassy highway through the forest

The sandy banks of a big bend in the river

For much of the next six or so kilometres we let the fast flowing current do some of the work -  a few paddles here, a correction or two there, an occasional push back upstream to try and get that perfect photo – as the canoe took us down the beautiful course of this clear tannin-tinted river, lined by trees, some overhanging the water. At first it was mainly conifers along the banks, with the occasional broad-leaf tree, its leaves bright red or orange, contrasting the dark green of the conifer needles.

Paddling down a long reach

Reflections in a still reach

Riverside conifers with a hillside of broadleaf trees

As we rounded corners and looked down the long reaches, they were backdropped by hills covered in a patchwork of rosy hues. The autumn colours were deepening. Eventually we passed under a wooden bridge and, on the other side, pulled ashore on a sandy stretch near La Sablonniere Camp Ground. It was a good place for an early lunch. In fact, it was a necessary place for an early lunch as after 90 minutes of sitting in the canoe, our backsides were getting numb.

Some curious riverbank strata

Lunch break at Sablonniere campground

A swampy lake bordering the Diable

We pushed off again to do the final 6-7 km of the trip on a section where the meanders of the river became even more pronounced. A wind had sprung up and on some reaches it was behind us, giving us a little push. A big curve in the meander might then bring us into a windless and mirror-still reach that reflected the shapes and colours of the trees lining the banks. Yet another turn and we had the wind in our face chopping up the water and blunting the work of the current, obliging us to drive the paddles a little deeper and harder. And so we progressed down this beautiful section of La Diable, passing the occasional billabong or “delaissee”, where ancient meanders had been cut off and turned into swampy lakes.

Time to just drift and enjoy

A palette of autumn colours ....

... and yet more pastel shades

Heading towards Le Centenaire cliffs

La vie en rose

The display of colour was endless ...

... as we slowly paddled down the big meanders

Ahead we could see the ridge of Le Centenaire looming above, its higher slopes marked with a band of orange-coloured autumn canopy. Soon, the meanders brought us up against its smooth and steep-walled rock face.

Nearing the rocky walls of Le Centenaire

A still dark reach beneath the cliffs

We passed beneath a narrow suspension bridge that formed the start of the local Via Ferrata, back-paddled a bit to retrieve a helmet floating in the river – as the owner was not underneath it, we assumed that he was still attached to the Via Ferrata wire!

Golden beech overhanging the river

The cliffs of Le Centenaire

And then it was all over – as we rounded the next bend, we passed under a bridge and reached the terminus beach. Our bus was waiting, and within minutes we were heading back to Lac Monroe and a hot cup of coffee. It had been a totally enjoyable descent of the river and, if you only have one day in Mont Tremblant, this is what you should do.

A late afternoon walk to La Roche (5km - 280m ascent – 280m descent)

We got back from canoeing mid-afternoon and, after a clean up and cup of hot coffee, set off around 4pm to try and immerse ourselves a bit in the Laurentian forest. Our destination was La Roche, a look-out point on the ridge to the east of Lac Monroe.

View across Lac Monroe towards the La Roche look-out

The broad gravel track took us immediately into the forest, a mixture of broad-leaf trees, some still green, some already turning vibrant yellow, orange or shades of pink and red. The colour changes were starting from the crown and slowly seeping down into a greener lower canopy. Almost immediately, the lightness (in both senses of the word) of the foliage brought on a feeling of serenity that I have not felt walking in other types of vegetation. These deciduous broad-leaf forests are special.

Heading into the Laurentian forest ...

Another waterfall on the way to La Roche

...past rocky streams ...

...beneath a gold-tinted canopy ...

...and next to babbling cascades

Sunrays on the Laurentain Mountains

We climbed gently and silently along the path, the muffled crunch of footsteps on leaf-covered gravel and the babbling of the  small clear stream our only accompaniment. Beneath the luminous tree-tops, the path took us up past cascade and waterfall to the lookout.

View from La Roche to the south

By the time we arrived at La Roche, grey sky and sun were battling for dominance and the first drops of rain for the day began to fall. That, however, did not detract from the magnificent panorama that greeted us. Below, the full length of Lac Monroe stretched out, darkly glistening and surrounded by the immense Laurentian forest.

View from La Roche over the autumn forests that surround Lac Monroe

The pastel shades of a Laurentian autumn

Patches of sunlight lit up parts of the tree-clad hills opposite, even as the rain fell. Looking down on to the tree-tops from our lofty perch, the background green disappeared to be replaced by a riotous tapestry of pastel shades – and this was only the beginning of the autumn colour change! As we admired the scene, the haunting wail of a lonely loon drifted up from somewhere on the lake below – it was one of those moments where time momentarily stops.

Back home beneath the canopy colours ...

... where mossy rocks abound ...

... and mule deer roam

The canopy above

On descending, we paid our respects to a deer wandering through the car park, then headed on back to our “Huttopia” tent. It had been a great day in this wonderful forest and we felt a little envious of the locals, who can come here year after year. Still, we were fortunate that the weather had finally smiled on us and went to bed feeling very content. Away in the distance, the rising cadence of a long drawn howl cut the silence of the darkened forest. We flattened the hairs on the back of our necks and snuggled deeper into our sleeping bags – the call of the wolf is such a primal sound!

Leaving Mont Tremblant

Again the weather forecast seemed to have been somewhat pessimistic as we were greeted by a mixture of grey and blue sky – sun and cloud, but no rain. It was moving day and we decided to drive up higher into the National Park to get a better feel for its different landscapes and forest types. It was a good idea, as we could better appreciate the forces that shape this region of 400 lakes.

The road into Mont Tremblant National Park

The cascades of Lac Escalier

The Diable Falls and River

There were fast-flowing streams, short but powerful waterfalls, forests dominated by conifers and forests dominated by broad-leaf trees, and of course the lakes – big and small, wide and narrow – seemingly at every turn. Water, water everywhere – for people from the driest continent in the world, it is an extraordinary sight.

Gravel road deep in the forest

La Chute aux Rats ...

... or the Rat Falls

A tranquil forest track

The red glow of autumn over the Laurentian Mountains

Reflections of autumn

Despite losing two days to the rain, Mont Tremblant National Park lived up to our expectations. It was a great introduction to the Laurentian landscapes and whetted our appetite for the great change of autumn colours to come. We left the Park through the Pimbina Sector and celebrated our time there by sampling a poutine, that classic Quebecqois dish of chips, gravy and cheese (sounds pretty gross, but  it is actually very morish), in the pretty town of St Donat.
Au revoir Mont Tremblant!