Gatineau Park: Winter Paradise in Ottawa’s Back Yard Captured on Mapillary

Parkway in Gatineau Park
Parkway in Gatineau Park

The title of this post is a bit unfair, because Gatineau Park really is in the province of Quebec and Ottawa isn’t. It is managed by the National Capital Commission, which also manages the Greenbelt and the Rideau Canal Skateway to name but a few of the many properties they look after.

View from Champlain Lookout in Gatineau Park over the Ottawa Valley.
View from Champlain Lookout in Gatineau Park over the Ottawa Valley

But hey, in a globally connected world, in which two left-of-centre NDP run Canadian provinces (!) (Alberta and British Columbia) duke out a trade war over oil sands oil pipelines, Ottawa, Gatineau and the NCC (National Capital Commission) really should market the area together as one big National Capital Region multicultural playground where you can bike, ski and skate to your heart’s content. And in one day sometimes.

Shilly Shelly Cabin in Gatineau Park
Shilly Shally Cabin in Gatineau Park

200 km of groomed ski trails

The park, the size of a mid sized Caribbean island (361 km2), has tons of trails and in winter many of those trails are prepared for cross country skiing, skate skiing, snowshoeing and recently for winter biking on fat bikes. A great bonus is that most of the parkways in the park are closed in winter, saving the park from road salt and general road destruction. The parkways are becoming part of the 200 km (120 miles) ski network, with space for skate skiing in the centre and (often double track) XC ski tracks along the sides.

Trail in Gatineau Park
Trail in Gatineau Park

Karen and I prefer the Classic skiing over skate skiing and we prefer skiing in the forests rather than on the parkways. Asticou is often a starting point for us early in the season. It is only a 25 minute drive and gives easy access to both the parkway and to several trails, leading up to Pink Lake. Another one we like is the trail that starts at O’Brien beach and passes Meech Lake.

One of those dream landscapes along Meech Lake
One of those dream landscapes along Meech Lake. Rivendell comes to mind.

Lac Philippe

Later in the season we tend to go further north to Wakefield (P17) and Lac Philippe (P19). It is a much longer drive, but the rewards are a more peaceful ski and a somewhat different environment, with more snow covered evergreens. These visits are usually much longer, and include lunch in a hut around the wood stove and even outside later in the winter. We rarely ski over 20 km though although lately we have been pushing past 20 km.

Further north in the Park, the Renaud. It has been recently replaced, the old one was cozier, but this one is super light and has large windows.
Further north in the Park, the Renaud hut. It has been replaced recently. The old one was cozier, but this one is super bright with large windows.
The inside of the Renaud hut
The inside of the Renaud hut

Special place

Gatineau Park is special for me. I learned to XC ski in the park by falling and standing up again, by crashing on icy patches and skiing straight into the forest at a sharp turn. It is also special to me because I didn’t grow up with nature, let alone kilometres of snow covered hills, so close to my home. That you can ski so close to a mid sized city is a real benefit of living in Ottawa. Yet, despite around 1.4 million people living near the park in say a 50-75 km radius, it is rarely busy. During the weekends, some places get a bit crowded, but go during the week and you are virtually alone, except for some first generation retired Scandinavian looking immigrants with home made food in Tupperware containers and the odd foreign tourist who makes it to Gatineau Park.

Another gorgeous route


This year, I am mapping the trails in the Park for Mapillary, an online website where you can upload photos of roads, paths, hiking trails etc. I am using a Garmin Virb (taking a pic every two seconds) but the problem with skiing is that there are not many places to mount a camera. Your head might be one place, but a) I don’t want to wear a helmet and b) your head moves way too much and c) I am often looking down. Yes I could adjust the camera, but when I don’t look down the camera maps sky only.

A Mapillary screen shot of part of the Canada Trail that is going through the park.
A Mapillary screen shot of part of the Canada Trail that is going through the park.


So Karen and I devised a MacGiver solution. I took a plastic water bottle and drilled a large hole in the cap. This allowed me to connect the base of the camera on an object. The plastic bottle then went into a bottle holster on our belt. I tried to point the camera forward from my lower chest, but it caught to much of my poles and gloves. The bottle also moved sideways inside the bottle holder. To prevent that, I took an anti slip/extra grip material from Karen’s arthritis physio instruction kit which now prevents the bottle from moving.

Hans on the Bike on the Ski. The Garmin Virb camera is pointing back wards
Hans on the Bike on the Ski. The Garmin Virb camera is pointing backwards

I also decided to let the camera point backwards instead. This worked much better.

A close up of our concoction. The rope keeps the camera connected to the belt.
A close up of our concoction. The rope keeps the camera connected to the belt.

Tens of thousands of photos Mapillary

So now if you go to Mapillary and filter on HansontheBike and a date between December 15, 2017 and say mid march  2018, and zoom in on Gatineau Park, you should see thousands upon thousands of photos of just a few weeks ago of a number of (but not all) the XC trails in Gatineau Park. There are a few easter eggs in there, a fall, and a walk through a hut or two. Good luck finding them. If you leave my name out of the filter, you ‘ll likely see a few more winter trails not done by me. Just play around with Mapillary for a bit.

Tons of space for yourself on the Parkway

A small hut that appears to be visited less frequently is the Lusk hut, on a small lake. A lovely setting. You can stay overnight (book in advance) but you have to be out at ten am so that the day visitors can use it. Bring your own food.

Lusk hut
Lusk hut, you can stay overnight when you book in advance. The magic of waking up in silence and feel you are the only one around. There is a wood stove and about 6 bunk beds and a few pots and pans
It is customary to bring in a log or two for the woodstove

Go visit Mapillary (best on a desktop or laptop, the cell phone screen doesn’t work great) and try it out. The front page loads super slowly sometimes (as in 30 seconds), so be patient. Click on explore places and apply the filter.

If there is one downside, it is accessibility. Without a car, it is impossible to get to many of the places. In winter it is basically impossible to get there without a vehicle and that is very unfortunate. Not that I want to see the park being overrun, but access should be fair and definitely not for those who own a drivers license only.

If you want to try Mapillary, check it out below. I embedded it inside this blog:


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  1. A weekend in rural Quebec just outside of Ottawa, ski and ice fishing around the corner

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