Fall is my favourite season for hiking. There are no more mosquitoes, it is neither too hot nor too cold and the colours are simply beautiful. It is probably for these reasons that my favourite hikes are often the ones I do in the fall, as was the case with the Forêt-la-Blanche Ecological Reserve near Mayo, in the Outaouais.
The Forêt-la-Blanche Ecological Reserve protects one of the last representative examples of the primitive forest of southwestern Quebec. The forest has been little affected by human disturbance and is home to rare and fragile species. As the forest there has not been logged and has been left in its natural state, some of the trees in the reserve are a few hundred years old.
The ecological reserve is home to 15 kilometres of trails. I decided to follow the route recommended on the ecological reserve’s website, starting with trail 4, called Le Cendré.
Le Cendré Trail gave me a good taste of what the ecological reserve was to offer me. The trail is well maintained and well marked, and it was still easy to follow even though it was covered with fallen leaves in places. I was amazed at the number of boardwalks, bridges and stairs there: everything was in place to provide an enjoyable hiking experience.
What also particularly surprised me was the number of interpretive signs found along the trail. History of the forest, tree species, description of flora and fauna, geological formation … All aspects of an ecosystem seem to be covered by these interpretation signs. Impossible to leave La Blanche Forest without having learned a little about it!
After going around a swamp, Le Cendré Trail took me down a very, very long staircase that got me closer to Lac la Blanche. Then it took me to a first lookout, offering a magnificent view of Lac la Blanche, which gives its name to the forest.
This is where Le Cendré Trail joins Trail 5, called La Prucheraie Trail. As its name suggests (prucheraie means hemlock grove in French), the trail goes through a hemlock grove on the shores of Lac la Blanche. It offered me another lookout on Lac la Blanche, before taking me to another lake, Lac en Ciel. Smaller than Lac la Blanche, Lac en Ciel looked almost turquoise in the early morning sun, reminding me of Pink Lake in Gatineau Park.
La Blanche Forest had not finished wowing me! After yet another lookout on Lac en Ciel, La Prucheraie Trail rejoins Trail 3, called Ouaouaron Trail (bullfrog in French), on which I made a short detour to see a small waterfall. Then, I continued my hike along the small lakes of the ecological reserve. After the Lac en Ciel, it was the turn of Lac aux Hérons, along which there is a long and magnificent boardwalk.
Once again, I was amazed by all the work that had been put into developing these trails. The boarwalks and the lookouts definitely showcase the forest and its lakes, and almost give the impression of walking through a forest straight out of a fairy tale.
I still had one lake to see, Lake Amik, where there were obviously other lookouts and other boardwalks and around which the forest was just as majestic.
Ouaouaron Trail eventually brought me back to the Interpretation Centre, my starting point. My initial plan was to then follow L’Orignal Trail, a slightly more rustic one-way 2.4 km trail, offering other lookouts on other lakes in the forest. But I made a mistake and started following Le Forestier Trail instead, a short, slightly steeper trail that brought me to yet another vantage point on Lake Amik.
After reaching the end of the trail I retraced my steps. By this point, I had hiked nearly 6 kilometres and felt a little less motivated to follow L’Orignal Trail and add another 5 kilometres to my hike. So I put it off until next time. Forêt-la-Blanche completely enchanted me, so I’m sure I’ll be back soon!