I experienced my first Fall Rhapsody as a Gatineau Park employee in the fall of 1987. Now, in 2017, the upcoming Fall Rhapsody for Canada 150 will be my 30th — as well as my last as an employee, since I will be retiring in January.
Park visitors during Fall Rhapsody
As manager of visitor services, I met many people who had chosen to live in Gatineau or Chelsea to be able to take full advantage of the proximity to Gatineau Park. Most of them visit the Park several times a week — some, every day. It’s part of their lifestyle.
As a general rule, these are not the people who visit the Park during Fall Rhapsody. This colourful fall display usually attracts occasional visitors, who come to enjoy their annual walk in the fall leaves with their family. Their first instinct is to go to the Park on a weekend, and try to access one of the well-known and very popular places in the Parkways sector.
The best time to enjoy Fall Rhapsody
Those who frequent the Park on a regular basis stay away from the Parkways sector on Fall Rhapsody weekends. They know that, with the high volume of traffic and number of visitors, they will not get the experience they are looking for.
When they can, they choose instead to go during the week or early on weekends. If you would like to visit Pink Lake, the Mackenzie King Estate, King Mountain or Champlain Lookout in the fall, I would advise you to do the same.
But, not everyone has the luxury of being able to choose the time when they can visit the Park. If you are going to go during a weekend in October, and you would like to visit one of the spots I just mentioned, the free shuttle is the perfect way to go. It is probably the only way that you can be sure to get to the popular destinations in the Parkways sector. The parking lots, especially the ones at Pink Lake and King Mountain, are not very big and become jam-packed very quickly. On the other hand, the shuttle will get you there, no problem.
Other interesting spots
Did you know that you can also enjoy the Park’s spectacular scenery from outside the Park? In fact, a drive east or west of the Park will provide a full view of the landscape from a distance, and allow you to discover Chelsea, La Pêche and Pontiac.
The first option is to follow the Park’s eastern boundary between Gatineau and La Pêche. From Gatineau, take Highway 5 north to exit 28, marked La Pêche. You will be rewarded with magnificent views of the Park’s forests and a panorama of the Gatineau Hills.
Then take Highway 366 west. The route from Gatineau to the Philippe Lake sector has several cultural and natural attractions located within the Park and on its outskirts. The following are few of them.
1. Meech Creek Valley to Chelsea
This beautiful valley winds through farmland and includes a covered bridge, as well as a route, on Cross Loop Road, with interpretation panels on the history of settlement in the area. From parking lot P16, you can access trail 50, which is open for mountain biking.
2. Wakefield, Municipality of La Pêche
The tourist village of Wakefield is a destination in itself.
3. Philippe Lake sector, Municipality of La Pêche
This area provides access to picnic spots and a network of hiking and mountain biking trails. It also offers captivating views of scenic landscapes from the lakeshore. Those with a taste for adventure can also enjoy a hike to the Lusk Cave.
4. Municipality of Pontiac
To get there, follow the western boundary of Gatineau Park toward the Municipality of Pontiac. From Gatineau, take Highway 148 west. This route offers magnificent views of the Eardley Escarpment. It also provides access to the Luskville Falls Trail. You will find several suggestions for attractions to visit on the new road map produced by the municipality.
It is also possible to do a loop around the Park. This route provides magnificent views of the countryside around the municipalities of Chelsea, La Pêche and Pontiac, all in the same outing. Please note that an eight-kilometre section of the Eardley-Masham Road, which links the municipalities of La Pêche and Pontiac, is a gravel road, and that the La Pêche Lake sector of the Park, which is accessible in the summer via this road, is closed at this time of year.
My preference for a fall hike in the Park
On weekends, my choice would be, without a doubt, the Philippe Lake sector. This area is underused at this time of year and, since it has large parking lots for people who come to use the beaches, it can accommodate a lot of vehicles. But the real reason is that I especially love seeing the beautiful fall scenery reflected in the water, and Philippe Lake is a great place to capture such stunning views.
Have fun discovering the Park!