An outing to the Forêt Montmorency offers just such an experience. Approximately one hour north of the city on route 175, it puts the calm of the woods within easy reach. Forêt Montmorency was established in 1964, and is unique in that it is a Université Laval research forest. At that time, the provincial government granted the university a 99-year lease for the 6664 hectare forest. The university, in turn, manages it as a research station which demonstrates best practices in forestry and mixed-use recreation.
The Rivière Montmorency and Rivière Noire merge in the forest, and at least four lakes provide ample opportunity for year-round activity. Well-groomed cross-country ski trails and clearly marked snowshoe trails open at 8h00 and close at 16h00. The trails are accessible to the public for a nominal fee ($8.50 for ULaval affiliates and $13.50 for the general public), and fees for children are about half those of adults. Ski and snowshoe equipment are also available for rent, including “baby gliders” for small children.
We spent the day there recently with some friends. We enjoyed a relatively warm day and nearly 9 inches (25cm) of fresh snow. We had lunch in the Halte de l’Étang, which was spartan, but boasts a wood stove and outhouse. If you are on skis, several rustic trail-side shelters like this one are available. They offer the perfect spot to rest a few minutes, warm up near the stove, and even dry out your feet if necessary. However, if you follow the snowshoe trails, consider taking your lunch in the quirky, round, sunflower yellow observation tower, located at the top of a low ridge. It has a great view – when not obscured by thickly falling snow.
All day, we had the trails almost entirely to ourselves, aside from the forest inhabitants. Forêt Montmorency hosts a wide range of wildlife, and we encountered signs of various animals throughout the day. Flocks of winter residents, such as grosbeaks, chickadees and sparrows, filled the treetops and wheeled and dipped in flight overhead. The birds were quite cheeky – at one point, we paused in the forest and made "psh-psh" whispers which brought them within inches of us. Chickadees actually landed on my hand, and my head!
Another animal active in the winter, the porcupine, takes advantage of deep snow to gain access to tender tree bark. Throughout the forest, young tree trunks displayed the vivid strips of porcupine handiwork. Once the outer bark is peeled back, they gnaw off the more nutritious inner bark for nourishment. For us, the afternoon became a game of hide-and-seek, as we hoped to spot a porcupine or a clear set of their tracks. However, the thick new snow had obscured all traces of them.
Late in the day, we headed back toward the lodge. As the light waned, the snow-coated trees along the trail stood out in soft relief against the darkening forest. While removing our skis, we heard a few last bird calls, and a squirrel chattered nearby. Aside from these muffled sounds, the woods were nearly silent – just the peaceful excursion we had hoped for.
Next weekend, the woods will not be so still, but with good reason. Forêt Montmorency is hosting a winter sports competition weekend. The family-friendly event features cross-country ski and endurance mountain bike races (March10), the Quebec Snowshoe Championship (March 11) and the World Snowshoe Championship (March 11). On Sunday, the 11th, the public can also participate in 5km and half-marathon snowshoe events.
All competitions are part of a 36-hour event held in support of La Maison Dauphine. The theme is “food and fun” and promises participants and audience alike a range of music and gastronomic delights. You can sign up to compete in your event(s) of choice, head out to the woods to cheer on your favorite athletes, or simply enjoy a day in the snow.
If you would like to compete, or join the bundled-up audience, you may find this contact information useful: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: 418-580-8421; Website: www.36hforet.com
Phone: (418) 656-2034
- For complete fee information (overnight visitors, day passes for the trails, and rental equipment): http://www.fm.ulaval.ca/tarifs/tarifs.asp
- Maps: http://www.fm.ulaval.ca/cartes/cartes.asp
The forest location is a troublesome address for Google Maps. It is located within the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve (la réserve faunique des Laurentides), at kilometer 103 (Route 175). You reach the main buildings by following Secondary Road number 33 for 3 kilometers, after turning off Route 175.