Joys of Winter in Southwest Quebec
I arrived to Rouyn-Noranda, in southwestern Quebec, just as a snowstorm was kicking-off. It was milder than normal, I was told, but still much colder than what I had experienced thus far back home.
My schedule included a long list of activities in the snow and I was excited. There are so many things to do especially in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region. In fact, throughout the 4 days of my visit, I came across people of all kinds making the most of the area around them and, it turns out, skiing isn’t one of them which for me was perfect.
Here are some of the highlights of my weekend and what you can expect during your visit. Take note that this was a winter trip and thus the overall experience might be a different depending on the season.
Snowshoeing in the Parc National d’Aiguebelle
This natural oasis covers over 103 miles of land that is diverse and wild. From waterways to cliffs and forests, these protected lands have served travelers who come from near and far in search of an escape from it all.
Within the parks’ network are options to stay in 4-star hotels, camp, as well as to rent a chalet, or cabin, with or without electricity. In the winter the cabins are heated by a wood fire stove and you can get one small and intimate to accommodate one or two people, or large enough for a family. The cabins tend to book in advance especially for the summer months, so consider them early. My favorite cabin option is a small one along the lake. You have to hike and then kayak or canoe to it. It is as private and secluded as you can get. Well, except for another on the side of a cliff that requires about a 2-hour hike, depending on your ability.
I didn’t stay in a chalet, but I had the great opportunity to go on a 2-hour hike through the woods on a snowy afternoon.
The serenity of nature’s silence is so refreshing to the soul. I often wonder why I didn’t discover this joy much sooner in my life. Just the crunching sounds of my steps as the snowshoes buried themselves into with the occasional bird chirping, branch falling, or little animal stirring in the bushes.
The bears are hibernating now, but they are here. Along with wolves, foxes, rabbits, and moose – just to name a few. The views during the winter were awe-inspiring, but imagine this would be the case no matter what the weather. Warm-weather lovers should note that August is a very popular month as it is also a more mosquito free period.
Snowmobiling through Rouyn-Noranda
Initially, snowmobiling may feel like a really intimidating sport. The machine is fast and heavy, but once you get a good feel for it there is little to hold you back – well, except for maybe speed limits.
The snowy conditions are perfect for giving it a try and you won’t be alone. I saw more snowmobilers here than I have anywhere else. There are great paths along the region, over 20,500 miles, and several hosted events throughout the season. Snowmobile in Quebec is a great resource for those wanting to experience the region in this way.
Ice fishing on Lake Duparquet
Lake Duparquet has 135 small islands in it and in the summer its fun to kayak around and explore. But during the winter months, the lake freezes up and the sport of choice is ice fishing. The first time I heard of ice fishing was when I met my Wisconsin-born husband. I couldn’t understand why anyone would sit over a drilled hole on a frozen lake waiting for a fish to nibble on their line.
But, after venturing on the lake myself with friends, I came to understand that it’s not so much about catching a fish (which rarely happens), but about the company. We had a little hut, warmed by a wood fire oven and spent most of our time watching the lines from our warm seats. Bring games, drinks, and snacks and it makes for a fun day.
The Pourvoirie des Iles, a country-style motel with several rooms and 4 cottages for rent is nearby and was were we arranged our ice fishing experience. You can also buy bait and rent equipment from them. And if you didn’t catch a fish, no worries. They have a restaurant where you can order one for lunch or dinner along with a yummy soup to warm you up.
Visit an animal refuge
The Refuge Pageau was founded in 1986 by Michel & Louise with the focus to give shelter to injured, mistreated or abandoned wild animals in the area. Depending on the injury or condition, the shelter is able to give temporary, or if necessary, long-term shelter to those in need of rehabilitation. The goal is to release them back into the wild, but when this isn’t possible, the animals are cared for and studied for educational purposes. Visitors to the refuge are able to learn about the animals through guided tours. The hope is that through these visits we all become ambassadors of sorts in making sure that we educate others about the many beautiful wild animals in the area and how to best protect them from harm.
More than 150 wild animals are received at the refuge each year and immediately given a second chance to health and freedom, as well as continued love and care for those that remain. It’s an endearing venture and a really good cause we can all support with our visit.
Go fat biking in Val-d’Or
I will preface this by saying that fat biking, which is riding a bike with a tire that is a lot wider (fatter) and bouncier than the tire on a mountain bike, was the hardest thing I had done in a very long time.
Tons of snow had fallen a couple of days before my activity and this made it trickier to navigate the trails. If your tire veers just a bit off trail it immediately gets stuck in the snow bank and down you go.
At one point, I went down a hill, my tire turned enough to catch the edge of the trail and I landed on my face. The good thing is that the snow was soft, and though I did walk away exhausted from falling a million times (at least if felt like it) and even brought home a few bruises as trophies, I had a lot of fun.
I am not the greatest at fat tire biking but if I had to do it again, I would definitely want Eric Larochelle and crew of Fatbike Abitibi as my guides. One of the guides, Carol, stayed with me and helped me through it. She let me freely fall and get back up without once telling me I should stop. I mean, I eventually did stop, but not because anyone told me I had to and that made the experience all that much more enjoyable for me.
Go dog sledding
Something I immediately learned from my trip to Mont Tremblant is that dog sledding is a lot of work. You can sit in the sled and be the one pulled around, but that’s not really the fun part. The fun part is helping the dogs by navigating the sled, jumping off to help them push the sled, and hoping that you and your passenger don’t fall losing the sled entirely.
The dogs are always so eager and excited to get out there. When they are still they bark and go nuts, but when they are running it is peaceful and serene and beautiful. They really enjoy being out. And I am always left impressed with how strong they are.
In this region, I visited Husky Aventure Harricana. It’s important to note that this family owned business is French-speaking, so dust off on your language skills or bring a fluent-speaking friend for translation.
Don’t miss out on the food!
From Montreal to Mont Tremblant, I have had nothing less than delicious food in Quebec. This, my 3rd visit, was no different.
Stop into Bistro Jezz for some delicious homemade soups and tasty fusion cuisine. Stop for a break at the microbrewery Balthazar Cafe. Enjoy the seasonal menu at the trendy Bar-Bistro L’Entracte (and if you can, stay for music during their live jazz concerts). Warm up to a spicy cup of hot chocolate at the Chocolate-Bistro Le Gisement.
Oh, and of course, have yourself a glazed maple syrup donut from Tim Hortons. Because, Canada!
Needless to say, I’ve had my fill of winter, though I had to travel a bit north this year for it. No regrets. My adventures in Canada have been thus far limited to Quebec, but the hospitality and fun I have had in each visit make me want to return and see more of this beautiful country. Hope it will inspire you to visit too!
Merci to the Abitibi-Témiscamingue tourism team for their hospitality and friendship!
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