I believe that many people who visit Gatineau Park for the first time start at the beautiful Mackenzie King Estate. After all, with its ruins, gardens and access to the Lauriault and Waterfall Trails, the estate is kind of an emblem of the park. It offers a perfect blend of history and nature, like the park itself.
I really like Gatineau Park, but since I often find its trails a bit too crowded, I prefer to avoid it (especially on weekends). Maybe that’s why I had never visited the popular Mackenzie King Estate before, let alone hiked the Lauriault and the Waterfall Trails. I was worried that I would find the trails too busy for my liking.
But it had been a long time since I visited Gatineau Park (not since my hike on the Skyline Trail last year) and I was missing it, and I also wanted to hike a trail I had never hiked before. So I got up very early on a Saturday morning and headed for the park (hoping to get there before the crowds).
I parked at the Mackenzie King Estate (note there is a parking fee during the summer season) and found what looked to be the start of a trail. After a year of absence, it was good to be back in Gatineau Park! Every time I come back to it, I remember why I love this beautiful park so much!
The Waterfall and the Lauriault Trails together form a loop of approximately 5 kilometres. It was the former Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King himself who created this trail in the 1930s. He sought to showcase the nature of the area while remaining faithful to the principles of landscaping of the time.
The first few metres of the trail first took me to another parking lot, then through a tunnel under the Champlain Parkway.
You can guess it, the Waterfall Trail obviously leads to a waterfall. A few signs along the trail, however, indicated that the waterfall lookout was partially inaccessible, so I wasn’t sure how well I was going to be able to see it. I decided to go anyway. Arrived at a fork, I took the direction of the fall, and I followed the path that descended gently into the forest.
I could hear the Chute du Voile-de-la-mariée (Bridal Veil Falls) before I saw it. And since part of the lookout was effectively closed, I could only glimpse it between the trees. It is apparently more impressive in the spring, but I thought it still looked very pretty.
I climbed back up to the fork and continued my hike. This time, I was on the Lauriault Trail. The Lauriault Trail is typical of the trails in Gatineau Park: a slightly steep, well maintained and well marked trail, which passes through a beautiful mixed forest.
And like many other trails in Gatineau Park, there is also a lookout on the Lauriault Trail. From the top of the escarpment, you can have a nice view of the Ottawa Valley. I was glad I came early, because I had the lookout all to myself and I was able to enjoy the scenery for a few minutes.
The Lauriault Trail eventually brought me back to the Champlain Parkway, towards the Mackenzie King Estate. On the other side of the parkway, the trail passes near the small Mulvihill Lake. The lake was very quiet on this Saturday, the silence only being disturbed by a big flock of crows. A lovely place to take a break and enjoy the raw beauty of Gatineau Park.
As I got closer to the Mackenzie King Estate, I started to meet a few more hikers on the trail. I was no longer completely alone when the Lauriault Trail finally brought me back to the estate.
Mackenzie King Estate
I probably should have spent more time at the Mackenzie King Estate. The estate was for more than 50 years the summer residence of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the 10th Prime Minister of Canada. When he died in 1950, Mackenzie King bequeathed his residence to the country.
Mackenzie King, whose home in Ottawa can also be visited, was the longest serving Canadian Prime Minister (22 years) and he seemed visibly passionate about landscaping.
The ruins found on the grounds of the estate come from ancient buildings in Ottawa. It was Mackenzie King himself who decided on their location on the estate, thus seeking to harmonize them with the surrounding nature. The estate also includes a French garden and an English garden, as well as a tea house.
As I said, I could have spent the day strolling around the magnificent grounds of the estate. But it was getting a little too crowded for my taste. And I had accomplished my goal for the day: reconnect with Gatineau Park and hike another of its beautiful trails.