Estimated time to read: 5 minutes

Joëlle Tourangeau

Communications Assistant, Strategic Communications

Two people raising their cups in front of a four-season tent in winter.

Winter in the National Capital Region can be pretty rough. This year, I decided to change my opinion about winter, and get the best out of the cold and all the snow that we have. There’s no better way to tame this season than winter camping in Gatineau Park.

The Park has several different types of accommodation: campsites, where you stay in your own tent (for true winter enthusiasts!); yurts; four-season tents and cabins. My choice was to stay a one of the four-season tents, which have a few conveniences and are suitable for a small group.

Our adventure started at parking lot P19B (first aid station), in the Philippe Lake sector. When we arrived, my friend and I registered at the check-in, where we bought our ski passes (at a discounted price with proof of reservation). You can also buy passes at the Visitor Centre before 4 pm, as well as a Park trail map. Wear your pass where it can easily be seen.

Bring only what is necessary, because you have to transport your equipment to your camping accommodation on skis or snowshoes. There is no source of drinking water at the sites, but there is a water delivery service that will bring an 18-litre container to the site for an extra charge.

We put on our backpacks, loaded with all our equipment, and 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 accommodations several months in advance, as the Park accepts winter camping reservations starting in November. It’s hard to know in advance what the weather will be like on the day you’ve reserved. You have to be ready for all possibilities: major cold, mild weather, snowstorms and so on. I would advise wearing more layers of clothing than necessary. It’s better to be too warm than to be cold due to lack of preparation.

The day of our arrival, it was sunny but, with the wind chill, the temperature was -20°C. We started out wearing several layers of clothing. Once we got going, the cold seemed less intense, but it was wise to have the extra clothing as a precaution.
Fire in a wood stove
The signage on the trails was very clear, and we had no problem finding our tent. Our first job was to make a fire. We had everything we needed: wood, newspaper, matches and an axe were all provided. Contrary to what you might think, it is warm in the tent, once the fire gets going.

The four-season tents sleep four people. There are bunk beds for four with mattresses. All you need to bring is your sleeping bag and pillow. There is also a table, four chairs and a bench. A small light in the kitchen area runs on solar power. Cooking items were provided, so we only had to bring dishes and utensils. Always check the site information provided in the reservation system, because amenities vary from one ready-to-camp unit to another.

After lighting the fire, we started making dinner. Plan to make an easy dinner that requires as few dishes as possible. It’s easier that way, since you have to ration your water. For our dinner, we made vegetable frittata, which we cooked on the wood stove. Make sure you bring a few candles to create a nice atmosphere — and don’t forget the coffee! If the weather is nice, you can have your morning coffee and breakfast at the picnic table outside the 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!

The next morning

If you’re a morning person and you’d like to get the maximum out of this winter experience, set your alarm earlier, 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.

Skier on a classic cross-country ski trail in Gatineau Park

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 are aimed at minimizing human impact on nature. The idea is to leave the outdoors in the same state as it was when you arrived.

We absolutely had to take advantage of this sunny day. We went back to the car to leave 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. The best way to end a beautiful day!

I never thought that I would be the type to enjoy the experience of winter camping. The types of accommodation that are offered in Gatineau Park make the experience easy and very pleasant. I’m happy to have changed my opinion about camping and winter. In our part of the country, it is cold and snowy for close to five months of the year. Best to take advantage of that! I strongly encourage you go and play outside.

How about you? Will you get out and try winter camping in Gatineau Park?

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