You have no idea how much I miss the Rideau Trail! I miss following a long-distance trail that allows you to walk through entire regions. It is partly for this reason that I decided it could be interesting to follow the Sentier National through Gatineau.
The Sentier National au Québec (SNQ) is a 1,650-kilometre trail that crosses several regions of Quebec, from the Outaouais region to Gaspésie. The sections of the trail are not all interconnected, but the existing portions cross some of the most beautiful territories in Quebec. I have come across the SNQ trail markers a few times before (at Mont Ouareau for example), but I have never followed one of its sections.
The Canadian Museum of History is the starting point of the trail in Gatineau, and that’s where I went on a grey Sunday in April. From the other side of the Ottawa River, I could see the Parliament buildings and the locks of the Rideau Canal, the starting point of my hike on the Rideau Trail a few years ago. So it was with a bit of nostalgia that I started this hike on a new long-distance trail!
The Voyageurs Pathway and a first obstacle
In Gatineau, the SNQ follows the same route as the Trans Canada Trail (not to be confused) on a network of bike paths managed by the National Capital Commission. Along the Ottawa River, the SNQ route first follows the Voyageurs Pathway through Jacques-Cartier Park, a place I visited more often for its festivals than for hiking.
I had barely hiked a few metres on the bike path that I encountered my first disappointment of the day: a barrier indicating the closure of a section of the pathway due to work.
This also had happened to me when I started my hike on the Rideau Trail, so rather than feeling too disheartened, I followed the indicated detour. Walking on a sidewalk along Laurier Street was not exactly very exotic, but I finally got back to the bike path and Jacques-Cartier Park very close to the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge.
This section of Jacques-Cartier Park was very quiet (there was only me and a few Canada geese on the bike path). I took a few minutes to enjoy the view of the Rideau Falls across the Ottawa River, and continued on the Voyageur Pathway.
After taking me across the Ruisseau de la Brasserie, the bike path follows Fournier Boulevard in a straight line. Nothing too thrilling, so when I came to a sign for a detour to a lookout, I didn’t hesitate and followed this side trail (who doesn’t like lookouts?). At the far end of the gravel trail, I came to a small lookout on the Ottawa River, which was swollen from recent snowmelt. I imagine the view must be prettier in the summer or fall, but I enjoyed this little break from the bike path.
After returning to the bike path, I crossed the pretty Màwandòseg bridge, named in honor of the place’s archaeological significance for First Nations (Màwandòseg means “land where our people once gathered” in Algonquin). Then the Sentier National route left the Voyageurs Pathway to now follow the Leamy Lake Trail.
Leamy Lake Park and a second obstacle
I had barely walked a few metres on the trail along a creek when I ran into my second obstacle of the day: under Fournier Boulevard, the water from the creek completely covered the trail.
The water wasn’t very deep, but the flooded portion was long enough that walking into it really didn’t seem like a good idea. So I retraced my steps, and tried to find a safe place to cross the boulevard, before returning to the path on the other side. Phew!
I was very happy that this obstacle did not cause me more problems, especially since this portion of the trail was very pretty and peaceful. The trail made me forget for a few moments that I was in town.
Then I arrived at Leamy Lake, a place well known in Gatineau for its beach and its casino. The beach was covered with water, and I haven’t yet grasped the intricacies of casino-going fun, so I quickly continued on the trail that follows the shore of the lake.
Along Gatineau River and Leamy Creek
I stopped my hike at Leamy Lake on that day and resumed it at the same point a few days later. After leaving the shore of the lake, the Sentier National route follows the Gatineau River. I was still on a bike path and I was still in town, but the weather was nice and mild and the walk was pleasant.
From the Gatineau River trail, I arrived at the Leamy Creek Pathway. If the hike had been pretty but a little monotonous until now, things changed a bit when I passed on the other side of Highway 5. Suddenly, the path began to take a little more elevation. At this location, the winding Leamy Creek (which flows from the famous Pink Lake to the Gatineau River) has shaped the relief of the land, digging a gorge in the hill.
When I came across a sign indicating the direction to a lookout, I didn’t hesitate (again, who doesn’t like lookouts?) and took the short detour which led me to a nice viewpoint of Gatineau and Ottawa. If lookouts abound in Gatineau Park, I didn’t really expect to find one along the Leamy Creek Pathway…
This section was definitely my favourite of the SNQ hike in Gatineau. The tall trees and the changing elevation made me realize that I was getting closer to Gatineau Park, to my delight. Walking on a bike path can be tiresome after several kilometres, but I liked having that feeling that the path was taking me quietly away from the city.
Then the trees cleared a little, and I arrived at Boulevard de la Cité-des-Jeunes. On the other side of the street, the entrance to Gatineau Park. Mission accomplished.
Hiking these 14 kilometres on the Sentier National has definitely given me again the itch for long-distance trails. Maybe I can now challenge myself to cross Gatineau Park on foot?