Student, Strategic Communications
Winter in the National Capital Region can be pretty tough. This year, I decided to take advantage of the cold and snow and change my perspective on winter. There’s no better way to make the most out of this season than to try winter camping in Gatineau Park.
The Park has several different types of winter camping accommodations: campsites, where you stay in your own tent (for true winter enthusiasts!), yurts, four-season tents and cabins. I chose to stay at one of the four-season tents, which offers a few amenities and is suitable for a small group.
Our winter camping adventure started at parking lot P19, in the Philippe Lake sector. When we arrived, we registered at the check-in and purchased our ski passes (at a discounted price with proof of camping reservation). You can also buy passes at the Visitor Centre (33 Scott Road, in Chelsea) before 4 pm, as well as a Park trail map. Wear your pass where it can easily be seen.
Bring only the essentials for your trip as you'll have to carry your equipment to your camp site on skis or snowshoes. There is no source of drinking water available at the camp sites, but the park offers a water delivery service that will drop off an 18-litre container for an extra charge.
We put on our backpacks loaded with all our equipment, stepped into our skis, and then headed off on Trail 50, which would take us to our four-season tent 3.6 kilometres away.
Having fun at -20°C
Campers often reserve their sites several months in advance, as the Park begins to accept winter camping reservations starting on November 1. It’s hard to predict what the weather will be like so far in advance, so you should be ready for all possibilities: major cold, mild weather, snowstorms and so on. I would recommend wearing more layers of clothing than necessary. It’s better to be too warm than to be cold due to lack of preparation.
The weather for our trip was clear and sunny, but with the wind chill, the temperature was -20°C. We started out wearing several layers of clothing, but once we got going, the cold seemed less intense!
The signage on the trails was very clear, making it very easy to we find our way our camp site. Once we arrived, our first job was to make a fire to heat up the tent. We had everything we needed was provided at the site: wood, newspaper, matches and an axe. Contrary to what you might think, it's very warm in the tent once the fire gets going.
The four-season tents each sleep four people. There are bunkbeds for four with mattresses, so all you need to bring is your sleeping bag. They're also equipped with a table, four chairs and a bench. A small light in the kitchen area runs on solar power. A large pot, frying pan and small kettle are provided, but you have to bring your own dishes and utensils.
After lighting the fire, we started making dinner. Plan to make an easy dinner that requires as few dishes as possible, as you will have to ration your water for drinking and cleaning. For our dinner, we made vegetable frittata, which we cooked on the wood stove. Make sure to bring a few candles to light up the area and to create a nice atmosphere — and don’t forget the coffee! If the weather is nice, you can enjoy your morning coffee and breakfast at the picnic table outside of your tent.
Skiing by moonlight
Once we were settled in, we decided to explore the cross-country ski trails around Philippe Lake in the evening. If you’re skiing on a clear night, let the moon light the trails for you. We turned off our headlamps to be able to see the starry sky. It was absolutely magical!
When we got back to the tent, we relit the fire to keep us warm overnight. You can take advantage of the evening fire to make a tasty camping treat: s’mores — just as delicious in the winter as in the summer!
If you’re a morning person and you’d like to get the maximum out of your winter experience, set your alarm early so you can get out for a ski at sunrise. Bring some snacks and some water, and head out on Trail 50 toward Smith Beach. Not only will you get a magnificent view of Philippe Lake, you will also get to enjoy the peaceful tranquility of nature.
As our trip was coming to a close, we loaded our packs to bring back all our equipment — and our garbage. Gatineau Park follows Leave No Trace Canada’s principles of outdoor ethics, which aim to minimize human impact on nature. The idea is to leave the outdoors in the same state as it was when you arrived.
We had beautiful weather and absolutely had to take advantage of the sunny day. We went back to our car to drop off our backpacks, and then went off skiing for the entire afternoon. We were the first people to ski in the freshly set tracks on the trails. The Philippe Lake sector provides access to many trails in the network, including trail 50, 51, 54 and 55. These are easy trails despite the climbs and descents.
I never thought that I would be the type to appreciate winter camping, but the types of accommodations offered in Gatineau Park make the experience easy and enjoyable. I’m glad I've changed my perspective about camping and winter. In the National Capital Region, it's cold and snowy for close to six months of the year - embrace it and get outside!
How about you? Will you get out and try winter camping in Gatineau Park?
Gatineau Park accepts reservations for winter camping starting November 1. Reservations are quickly filled for weekends. However, there are always spots available for camping during the week. It’s an opportunity to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing experience in nature.