La Mauricie is typically known for its canoe routes, and so the Laurentian Trail is often overlooked. It is strictly regulated by a permit and quota system and traverses the most remote section of the park.
The Laurentian Trail was established in 1998 and is still not very well known. The most delightful aspect of the trail is that every campsite is located on or near a river or lake.
Before or after your hike you will find many other fun ways to spend your time. Canoeing is the primary reason for most visits to the park, but there is also mountain biking, day hiking and cross-country skiing in winter.
Upon entering the park, you will need to stop at the visitor center to pick up your trail permit. The trailhead parking is at the Riviere-a-la-Peche Service Center at Km 6 on the Parkway that runs through the center of the park. The other trail terminus is at Km 35 on the parkway, so you will want to drop a car or plan on hitch-hiking back at the end of your hike. You can also try what we did, which was to stash our mountain bikes deep in the woods and pedal the 30km back to our car at the end of the hike. It was a fine option, and we were glad we completed the circuit under our own power.
About halfway back to your car, you can stop at Lac-Edouard where there is a sand beach and a snack bar (serving that fine French Canadian delicacy known as poutine).
Route DescriptionThe first section of trail takes you from Riviere a la Peche to Lac de la Dam. It is 7.4km and travels through mixed forest and under a shady fern-covered rock outcropping. The first campsite on the trail is located near Hamel Creek, which provides some nice white noise for sleeping. The nearby lake is great for an afternoon dip. Wolves have occasionally been heard by hikers in this area.
Water is plentiful, as there are lakes or rivers at every campsite. Consequently, blackflies and mosquitoes can be a real problem. Bring a headnet if traveling early in the summer and your favorite bug dope at other times.
Campfires are prohibited along the entire trail, so a lightweight stove is a necessity.
Red TapeAccess to the Laurentian Trail is strictly controlled. A permit is required and it is advisable to reserve one in advance to ensure that you get the dates you want. For the 2006 season the cost is $36.00 Canadian plus a $7.00 reservation fee. To reserve call (819) 533-7272 or to request the Laurentian Trail Information Guide call (819) 538-3232. We made our reservations in the early spring and had no trouble getting the dates we wanted.
The trail can only be hiked from east to west. Do not bother asking to go the other direction. This is a strict, non-negotiable policy. Also be prepared for a full screening of you abilities when you call. Many of the people who attempt this trail are inexperienced and ill-prepared, carrying way-too-heavy packs and hiking short distances each day. When we filed an itinerary that involved hiking the trail in 3 nights (averaging only 15 miles per day), we set off all kinds of alarms and the park warden had to get special clearance from his supervisor to issue our permit, but only after I went through a 20 minute interview process and explained I had thru-hiked the AT a few years earlier among other things.
Don't be offended by the grilling you will surely receive. Many of the people who attempt this trail seem to be first time backpackers who end up struggling to finish under under the weight of their packs. The wardens just want to make sure you understand what you're getting into. Once you're on the trail, there are no hassles and you can really enjoy yourself in a pristine and serene environment.
The best quote from a Parks Canada employee during my phone interview:
(in a thick French Canadian accent):
"Ooh lah lah! My friend if you can hike 15 miles a day...I would like to see your physique!"