Snowshoeing to Lac Philippe in Quebec's Gatineau Park

One section of our route along trail #73 in Gatineau Park.
In an effort to see as many family and friends as possible over the holidays, my husband and I went on what I dubbed the Great Ontario Road Trip. We covered 1,500 miles driving from Philadelphia to Canandaigua, NY, crossing the Rainbow Bridge through Niagara Falls to London, Ontario, on to Toronto, Dwight, and Ottawa, and then back home.

We got to see and do so much along the way, including a beautiful cross country ski in Algonquin Park, visits to multiple breweries (Naked Dove, London Brewing Co-Op, Anderson Craft Ales, Flying Monkeys, Flora Hall), visits to multiple CrossFit affiliates (Canandaigua CrossFit, West London CrossFit, CrossFit NCR), and two separate trips to Quebec's Gatineau Park.

Given we don't have much, if any, snow in Pennsylvania right now, we took every opportunity we had to play outside in the snow in Ontario. And when we made it to Ottawa, it was clear that Gatineau Park was the perfect place to do just that.

Getting to the Northern Sector of Gatineau Park

We spent one on our drive from Dwight to Ottawa at Wakefield Mill because it's situated right in Gatineau Park. (They also have amazing food, and it's a beautiful location! From there, we took a look at the National Capital Commission's super easy to use interactive map of the Park's 60 km of snowshoe trails. 

Though Meech Creek Valley trails (P15 and P17) are closest to Wakefield, we drove to the Northern Sector (P19) with the goal of seeing Lac Philippe. The interactive map told us how many parking space there were in each lot total, and provided quick, easy "get directions" links for us to use in Google Maps. It was a 13 minute ride from Wakefield to P19, which also happens to only be about 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa.

This beautiful lake I'm standing on is why we picked this section of the park! (PC: D. Herscovitch)

The 50 space parking area was almost full midday on a Thursday, which blew my mind. I couldn't believe so many people wanted to and could spend a 15-20ºF weekend afternoon outside! The majority of folks we saw were suiting up for cross country skiing, (which makes sense, the park has 200 km of ski trails), but we didn't see any other snowshoers until we arrived at Lac Philippe.

Snowshoeing to Lac Philippe

Our leisurely Wakefield Mill breakfast and the game of trunk Tetris we played with two weeks worth of luggage meant we got a late start, so doing the entire 12.7km lap around Lac Philippe before dark wasn't in the cards. We started from the parking lot at P19 around 12:30pm, walking adjacent to a large groomed cross country ski trail until a clear sign pointed us left to trail #73, a snowshoe-only trail.

About to turn on to trail #73 after a short walk from the parking lot adjacent to a cross country ski trail. 

After passing a small wooden structure, we followed trail #73 up and down small hills, through beautiful pine forests, and within ~1 km, we had our first view of Lac Philippe with the trail entirely to ourselves. The trail took us along the western side of the lake for another 2-2.5 km, including some small sections where whomever had broken trail for us walked straight on to the lake.
 
Meandering along trail #73 toward Lac Philippe. (PC: D. Herscovitch)

It's clearly a popular summer destination; "beach closed for the season" signs stuck out of the snow in multiple spots along the route. Lifeguard chairs stood lonely and blanketed in white, some picnic tables were piled up under trees, and canoe racks sat empty. It was almost a bit eerie, but also beautiful, and fun to imagine how it might look during the summer season.

Walking along Lac Philippe on a nearly perfect winter day. (PC: D. Herscovitch)

We continued on along the lake toward a series of four season tent sites, looking for a junction between trail #73 and #74. Though we likely could've made the full 12.7 km loop and done the entirety of trail #73, with headlamps handy, we knew we still had some travel to do, had to check into our AirBnb, and wanted to find a nice spot for dinner in Ottawa. Signage was impossible to miss, and before we knew it, we'd reached the junction and turned right to continue on trail #74.

There were multiple "beach closed" signs, but with snow everywhere, it's hard to imagine swimming in the same spot!

The route back to the parking lot along trail #74 was a mix of wide open forest road looking terrain at first. We crossed trail #50, a large cross country ski trail, found ourselves back in the woods, and then at a junction with trail #75, another snowshoe trail that goes past Lac Renaud and to Lac Taylor.

The trail #74 and #73 junction.  Signs were super easy to follow and impossible to miss!

We turned right to stay on trail #73, and quickly found ourselves on a much narrower path, winding through woods and up and down steep, short hills. It was beautiful and quiet, though we did see a number of other snowshoers on that section. We crossed another cross country ski trail, #51, and found ourselves back at the parking lot ~0.5km later.

Our route, which we did clockwise, in orange, just about 7.0km. 

Overall, it was a short, but perfect introduction to a beautiful park. I was super impressed with the signage; any time there was a hint of a junction, a sign post indicated distances to various landmarks and waypoints, and though we didn't have a paper map, a photo of the map posted in the parking lot was plenty to get us where we needed to go. It's clearly a popular place to visit, and in hindsight, I'd likely have gotten us there earlier to avoid a potentially full parking lot, and to give us a chance to do the whole loop around the lake. Guess we'll have to go back!

Have you been to Gatineau Park, and/or this part of the park? I'd love to hear from folks who've been there in any season, if you've done this route, and if you have other favorite places a visitor might want to know about!

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