I received an annual Sépaq card for my birthday a few weeks ago. This gives me access to all of Quebec’s national parks for the next year. Exciting! Immediately received, immediately used since I spent a weekend hiking all the trails at Oka National Park.
I visited Oka National Park a few years ago. At that time, I had hiked the Calvaire Trail. Since it was January and it was extremely cold (it was so cold my phone died while I was taking some photos), I hadn’t hiked any other trails. But I promised myself that I would come back to the national park one day to explore it more in depth!
Located near Montreal, Oka National Park protects lands on the shores of Lac des Deux Montagnes. The park is particularly popular in summer with its 7 kilometres of beach, but its historical and natural heritage is not to be overlooked.
Camping, biking and water sports are possible there, but first and foremost I visited it to explore its multiple hiking trails.
Sentier du Calvaire (Calvaire Trail)
As I mentioned above, I hiked the Calvaire Trail a few years ago. This 4.4-kilometre trail follows an old Way of the Cross laid out in 1740 on Oka Hill. There was a time when thousands of people climbed to the top three chapels each year, singing and praying.
The Calvaire Trail is now a historic site and the oratories and chapels on the trail have been restored. The trail is arguably the most popular in the park, not only because of its interesting historical heritage, but also because the summit of Calvaire Oka offers a lovely view of Lac des Deux Montagnes.
Sentier du Sommet (Summit Trail)
As I had hiked the Calvaire Trail before, I decided to focus on the other trails on my most recent visit to the park and instead headed for a nearby trail, the Summit Trail. Like the Calvaire Trail, the Summit Trail is also located on Oka Hill (the trail head is in the same parking lot as the Calvaire Trail). It makes a 6.6 kilometre loop that leads, as the name suggests, to the summit of the hill.
There were plenty of other hikers in the national park that day, presumably because they wanted to enjoy some of the fall colours. But to my surprise, the tall oaks and tall maples along the trail were all still pretty green.
After a first climb, the trail descends rather steeply and crosses a small stream before reaching the point where the loop begins. I decided to follow the loop clockwise, because it was the longest way to the top, and I figured the climb was going to be more gradual.
And the climb was very, very gradual. In fact, I barely noticed that I was getting any elevation. It must be said that the summit is not very high (150 metres) and that the path is wide enough to allow the passage of mountain bikes, which makes it rather easy to follow. The park classifies this trail as difficult, but I found it relatively easy.
I made it to the top, where there were no views (I was not surprised, but I might have been a little disappointed) and then headed back down to the parking lot to complete the loop.
Sentier Grande Baie (Great Bay Trail)
After hiking the Summit Trail, I returned to Oka National Park the following day to hike the trails located in the southern part of the park. I first started with the Grande Baie Trail, a 4-kilometre trail that goes through a maple grove and near a marsh.
As with the Summit Trail, I decided to follow the trail clockwise, going first through the forest and ending up with the marsh. From the first few metres I was surprised because this trail seemed almost as steep as the Summit Trail (which is why I actually ended up enjoying it a lot).
While there were several hikers on the Summit Trail the day before, the Grande Baie Trail was rather quiet. So I was completely alone when I reached the Grande-Baie marshes, near which there is an observation tower. It seems that there is also a footbridge in the summer allowing a closer observation of the flora and fauna of this wetland, but unfortunately for me, the footbridge no longer seemed to be present (seasonal closure, perhaps?) .
Sentier L’érablière (Maple Grove Trail)
After finishing with the Grande Baie Trail, I decided to hike the L’érablière trail, as it is accessible from the same parking lot. The L’érablière Trail is very short (1.3 km) and as its name suggests, it goes through a maple grove. After the other trails it seemed rather uninteresting to me, but it is a good option for those who want to take a shorter walk and explore this area of Oka National Park.
Sentier La Sauvagine (La Sauvagine Trail)
The La Sauvagine trail is the longest trail in the park, and is accessed by the beach in the area where the campgrounds are located. Since the beach is extremely popular in the summer, I imagine the trail must be too, but on this October morning I had the deserted beach all to myself.
In fact, this is probably what I liked the most about the La Sauvagine Trail: the contrast between the tall trees and the beautiful empty beach. The first few metres are on the sand and, with the fall colours, it was simply beautiful.
The trail eventually leaves the beach to go deep into the forest, towards Lac de la Sauvagine. The trail makes a long loop around this lake, created in 1975 when sand was mined there for road construction nearby. Over the years, life has developed in this artificial lake and today it is home to fish, amphibians, ducks and herons.
The La Sauvagine Trail is very flat and fairly wide, so the hike is fairly easy and can be completed quickly. The national park website says the trail is 12 kilometres, but my hike ended up being 6 kilometres instead. I think it is possible to follow the La Sauvagine Trail to the Grande Baie Trail via the cycle path, but I did not try it. It might be a project for another time …
Please note that due to the preventive measures against Covid-19, you must obtain your right of access in advance or have an annual pass to visit the national park. In summer, it is also recommended to reserve online your spot in the beach parking lot.