La Mauricie National Park    

Getting There

After leaving St Donat, we let our French-speaking, Australian voiced GPS lead us along the maze of  smaller roads that crossed forest and farmland from Mont Tremblant National Park to La Mauricie National Park. Back home, I have a good friend and former colleague who is Quebecquoise and she recommended this park, having spent time here in her youth on walking and canoe-camping trips.

The village of Grandes-Piles

Rivière St Maurice at our condo

We had the good fortune of finding a small condo at St Jean des Piles, near the park entrance on the shore of the incredibly wide St Maurice River and, after stocking up on groceries at the quaintly named town of Grand-Mère, we installed ourselves there for the next three nights. Hopefully the weather would permit us to do a couple of walks here. We'd given up on using the forecasts to plan our time and were just winging it day by day.

Lake Pimbina Circuit (with variant) (12.5km - 470m ascent – 470m descent)

La Mauricie National Park is blessed with several well-marked walking trails that take you through the different park landscapes.  We opted to do a day-hike based on the Lac-du-Pimbina Circuit, which passes several of the 150 lakes scattered throughout the national park. The Laurentians are a fascinating region – more steep hills than mountains, ground down by the ice of eons ago into a wrinkled mantle of rounded ridges, troughs and hollows, where any low point that can hold water does.  Coming from a water-deprived part of the world, this and the deciduous forests that cover it are the aspects of the Laurentians that fascinated us the most.

The day began cloudy but fine, with the odd patch of blue sky, as we set out from the trailhead at Rivière-à-la-Pêche. We headed straight into the forest, following a narrow earthern footpath and the  crimson “15” markers that designated the Pimbina track, through the humps and hollows of the forest. The day may have been grey, but the foliage above glowed yellow and lime-green, as summer colours faded from the leaves of birch and beech.

The Laurentian forest

Setting out on the Pimbina Circuit

Birch with a dash of silver and gold

Mossy path around Lac aux Chevaux

Soon, we were climbing steadily up a long ridge, where gnarly roots clung to shallow soil, in places washed away to reveal the grey bedrock of these mountains. The climb brought us out to the top of a rounded ridge, high above Lac Solitaire, framed by steep forested walls on three sides, with the hills beyond its outlet a mosaic of autumn colours – beautiful.

The beautiful setting of Lac Solitaire

Descent to the lake - as steep as it gets

Fir and pine seemed to dominate the lake edges and the track now dropped steeply down through these conifers, passing several more view-points to reach the lake shore. Lac Solitaire sits in a high hollow and the track from it continued on down to reach the shore line of the neighbouring Lac aux Chevaux. We were picking our way along the rocky shore, when the fair Nello spotted the otter. It climbed out on to the bank several metres ahead of us then just as quickly returned to the water and dived. We sat on a rock and watched – twice it emerged and dived again, but my they can hold their breath for a long time.

A quiet bay in Lac aux Chevaux

Woodpecker - too fast for the photographer

Ascent through the leafy forest

We had to move on, heading inland to the spongy track around the edge of the lake across a steeply sloping hillside. At the end of the lake, we followed a canoe portage track away to the west, before leaving it to climb steeply up through the mixed conifer-broadleaf forest. It was curious how quiet the forest was, just the occasional call of a bird, tap of a woodpecker or chatter of a squirrel as we passed. On a track that was soft and lined with fallen leaves of yellow, red and orange, even our footsteps made no sound.

View out over the trees

Close-up of some spectacular autumn shades

At the crest of the climb, we found ourselves on the edge of a rock cliff-face, looking down over the dark waters of Lac Benoit. A cold wind had sprung up, hurrying the clouds on and allowing patches of sunlight to move across the surrounding forest, creating a mosaic of light and colour – the tree-crowns that had already turned to scarlet and orange standing out from the background green.

We followed the track as it descended along the cliff edge through the conifers to rejoin the canoe portage at small marshy inlet. We did not follow it down to the lake, but headed off back into the forest, climbing again to pass high above an un-named and unseen lake, hidden by the dense vegetation.

Autumn colour in La Mauricie

Reflections in a still pond

Overlooking Lac Benoit

A mossy rock wall

The outflow from Lac du Pimbina

Beaver Dam near Lac du Pimbina

A little further on, the views from this steep ridgeline opened up across a forest kaleidoscopic in colour and pattern, that tumbled down to the pale green marshlands at the back of Lac du Pimbina. Our walk was now accompanied by the sound of the wind – a rustle through the broad-leaf canopy, a soft shirring sound through the conifers – it sure beats the hiss of tinitus.

A pastel tapestry of leaf colour

We dropped down off the ridge to cross the outlet of the lake on a small wooden bridge and then quickly cross the inlet to it from another lake. Just above the bridge, beavers had constructed a dam of tree-trunks and branches, which raised the water level of the lake behind by a metre. The water in this lake was mirror still, reflecting the trees on its shore-line.

Hunger pangs were starting to set in, so we hurried around the edge of Lac du Pimbina to the shelter of the same name, and enjoyed a long lunch in its pleasant setting under a sun now winning the sky, piquing the curiosity of a resident chipmunk.

The track from the refuge

Refuge du Lac Pimbina - a good spot for lunch

The resident chipmunk

Reedy swamp on the fringe of Lac Nello

Doubling back to the beaver dam, we then headed off along the shore of another unnamed lake (now called Lac Nello) to start the inward leg of our hike. At its end, the track led us down alongside a sun-dappled and tranquil stream as it babbled its way between Lac Nello and Lac Bouchard.

Autumn colours reflected in a forest pool

We crossed it on a wooden bridge, before heading into the quiet of the forest once again. The track undulated and meandered across the uneven forest floor, passing another small beaver dam, to reach the northern end of Lac au Chevaux.

Another beaver dam

Following a shady creek ...

The stream flowed through the forest ....

The tranquility of the Laurentian forest

... with splashes of sunlit colour

... and into Lac Bouchard

Climbing though a golden arbor

Near a narrow inlet in the lake, lined on one side by a row of impressive rock cliffs, we took the first variant to our walk. Leaving Route 15 at the junction there, we instead followed the orange “14” markers up and along the cliff-edge, offering beautiful views over the lake now bathed in sunlight.

Inlet lined by a low rocky cliff

View from the cliff-top

Island in Lac aux Chevaux

The spectacular Lac aux Chevaux

Moss and ferns on the forest floor

Leaving the cliffs, we had a small “frisson” as the fair Nello spotted a snake on the track. I suspect that it had a much larger one! We headed on to make the last steep climb of the day, up on to a ridge overlooking the two arms of Lac aux Chevaux, backed by the tree-covered hills of the Laurentians – spectacular.

Even the snakes were out enjoying the warmth

View from the ridge over the Laurentian forest

Birches next to a rocky outcrop

The reds of autumn

It was time for the second variant – we now headed north-east following the green “13” marker. It took us over a rocky knoll beneath glowing yellow birches and out along a narrow ridge. As the track meandered from side to side on the ridge, it offered views both eastward across an orange-tinted canopy towards the St Maurice River and westward, across a forest speckled red and scarlet to the mountains of the park interior – a beautiful ridge to walk on.

A scattering of reds and oranges ...

...intermingled with gold

The light-green of the valley forest

At ridge-end, we descended into the “flat” to follow the path through a dense undergrowth that was itself turning to gold, before finally emerging at the trail head and completing the circuit. The Lac du Pimbina circuit is a beautiful day-walk and I suspect that our variants to take in the cliffs above Lac aux Chevaux and the ridgeline of spectacular views made it even more so.

If you only have one day at La Mauricie, this is the walk that you should do.

Mekinac Trail (11km - 410m ascent – 410m descent)

After a day of rain, during which we caught up with washing and other chores, the fine weather returned. When I looked out the window first thing in the morning a curious long narrow band of fog hung over the St Maurice River. By the time we left for our hike, it had risen and dispersed, although low grey cloud still covered the hills of the park.

We only had a morning free before heading off to Quebec City, so opted to do the Mekinac Trail which offered a different perspective on La Mauricie to the Lake Pimbina Circuit. We set out again from Rivière-à-la-Pêche, but headed in the opposite direction to Lake Pimbina, crossing the main road and following a wide even track through the flatland forest. A short section of single file footpath alongside a creek connected this to to an even wider and smoother section of track.

Heading off on the Mekinac Trail

Mekinac reflections

Beneath the golden arches

Steps down to the inlet

This leaf-strewn walkers' highway led us parallel to the St Maurice River beneath an arbour of translucent yellow foliage, as the birch and beech branches intersected above it.  The track split and we took the high road, climbing up on to the long steep bank between the river and the swampy lowlands and disturbing a ruffed grouse in the process. Out to our right we could get glimpses of the St Maurice through the tree trunks, while the occasional gap gave a better view of this broad and impressive tributary of the St Lawrence.

The Rivière St Maurice through the trees

At the end of the bank, a set of wooden steps led us down to a floating pontoon bridge that crossed an inlet of the river. The dark waters of the inlet reflected the colour of leaves and here, alongside the river, if it wasn't green it was yellow. The brighter reds and oranges seemed reserved  for the interior.

A quiet inlet of the St Maurice

Pontoon bridge across the inlet

Once across the inlet, we began our one big climb of the day. At first a series of wooden steps led us up a narrow and steep-sided spur away from the river. Then, after crossing a small plateau, we climbed up to a track junction. Here we made a detour from the main circuit, climbing further to the top of a tree-covered rocky knoll with several viewing spots around it.

Steps leading up to the Rosoy Look-out

The track led us first to a point where we could sit and look northwards over the waters of Lac Rosoy, framed by a patchwork forest - the green, orange, yellow, red and scarlet quilt of broad-leafs pierced by the darker green of evergreen fir, pine and spruce. Even under a grey sky, it shone.

Colours of the Laurentian Forest .....

... and a close-up

Looking down on Lac Rosoy

Around the corner, we stopped to take in the southwards views of the now distant St Maurice River, winding its way through the Laurentian landscape. We spent some quiet time at both spots just enjoying the visual feast, before completing the knoll-top loop and retracing our steps down to the track junction.

Panorama of the forest of La Mauricie

Here we continued on the Mekinac Circuit, heading southwards across the steep sides of the hill beneath a rich gold-infused canopy. There were lots of small ups and downs, but we essentially kept to the contour. Crossing a stream above a small beaver-built pondage, full of flooded trees, we found ourselves on a high plateau, thick with regenerating broad-leaf saplings.

The sun was finally breaking through and, not only was the canopy above us shining yellow and lime, so was the forest floor about us. The track emerged at the edge of an escarpment, with one last view of the river. It was curious that from here, the forest near the river looked very green, whereas when we were walking in it and looked up, it had a golden hue.

Rivière St Maurice

A last glimpse of the river

We now descended quickly on a slightly slippery muddy path beneath a grove of darker conifers. The muddy footprints were not just human – one set that wandered along the track looked distinctly bear-like, though small. Hmmm, we thought, they look very fresh.

Bear print in the mud

The valley of the Bouchard Stream

Beaver pondage on the Bouchard

Just when the forest was starting to become a bit monotonous, we reached the beautiful valley of the Ruisseau Bouchard. Below us, an old beaver dam, above us the white trunks and rich-golden foliage of birches overhung the water. We followed this babbling brook upstream to reach a tranquil set of cascades. It was a great place to take a break and have a bite to eat. That was when the fair Nello saw it – the adolescent black bear cub was crossing the stream, but as soon as it became aware of us, it bolted faster than a speeding camera. Now that is one good note to finish a walk on.

We followed the Bouchard upstream ...

... beneath the golden canopy

Nello contemplates the beauty of the forest

Cascades in shades of gold

We headed on along the last stretch, with Nello wearing a big smile at her good fortune, passing a sparkling little waterfall and then leaving the creek system via a set of wooden steps that took us up another narrow spur. All that was left was a last stroll across the forested flats to rejoin our outward path just near Rivière-à-la-Pêche and our car. And so ended our time in La Mauricie, a beautiful part of The Laurentian Mountains that we enjoyed greatly. Nature was satiated and it was probably time for a bit of culture, so we hopped in the car and headed to Quebec City.

Merci d'avoir suggéré que l'on visite la Mauricie, Louise. Le pays de ta jeunesse était tellement beau!