This 75 km (45 miles)trail is located in La Mauricie National Park, about a one hour drive north of Trois-Riviere, Quebec. The Laurentian Trail provides an opportunity to explore the transitional zone between the deciduous and boreal forests of southern Canada. Moose, beavers and loons abound here and there are even wolves active in the park.
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.
Therefore, the trail provides quite a bit of solitude. Add to that the fact that the trail can only be hiked in one direction, and you will not see many people on this trip. We only saw 6 other people in 4 days on the trail.
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.
This hiker shuttle operates on a flexible schedule.
La Mauricie National Park is about 90 km (50 miles) north of Trois-Riviere, Quebec. From Trois-Riviere take Autoroute 55 north until it turns into Route 155. At the town of Grand-Mere, take the turn off to the Saint-Jean-des-Piles entrance to the park. Saint-Jean-des-Piles is the last chance for a Depanneur (Minimart) before entering the park.
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).
The 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.
Climbing a ladder on the Laurentian Trail
Leaving Lac de la Dam, you will encounter rolling terrain with three short but steep climbs. There is a nice hemlock stand and a beautiful view of the St. Maurice River. At 15.8 km you will reach the junction with the trail to Omand Lake Campsite, 240 meters away. The campsite faces a beaver pond and is near a stream that is a good water source. There is easy access to the lake for swimming.
Typical hiking on the Laurentian Trail
Bridge to Mattawin River Campsite The trail is well-marked with signs for the entire distance.
Our single wall tent helped keep weight to a minimum.
You don't need to bring much on this trail. This is a great trail for going Ultralight. The elevation is low, so there are no open, exposed ridges. In the summer months the temperatures will rarely drop below 50 degrees F (10 C). Each campsite has a tent platform and a covered cooking shelter. We used a single wall shelter, alcohol stove and frameless backpacks keeping our pack weight down to around 20 pounds including food. The footing is good enough to hike in lightweight trail shoes.
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.
Access 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!"
External LinksLa Mauricie National Park Website