Gatineau Park is a must-visit in the National Capital Region, and it is very, very popular in the fall. One of the best ways to avoid the crowds is to visit some of the less crowded areas of the park, and that’s why I decided to head to the Philippe Lake area to hike a trail for the first time: the one leading to Lusk Cave and Lusk Lake.
I have already visited this area in winter, to hike around Philippe Lake on snowshoes, but I promised myself to come back in another season, especially because I had wanted to see the famous Lusk Cave for a long time. I chose to follow an 11-kilometre route which would take me to the cave, but also to Lake Lusk.
Arriving at the Parent Beach parking lot, the starting point of my hike, I realized that another way to avoid the crowds at Gatineau Park was to come on a day when the weather was gloomy. It was pouring rain when I arrived at the park, but the parking lot was completely empty, so I knew the trails wouldn’t be too busy.
My hike therefore began at Parent Beach, from which I followed the trail following the shore of Philippe Lake. In the autumn rain, the lake was rather gloomy, but still impressive. After all, it is one of the largest lakes in Gatineau Park.
This trail, Trail 50, was familiar to me since I followed part of it during my snowshoe hike around the lake last year. It passes near the campgrounds (closed this year due to construction) and closely follows the lake shore. It has a few sections that are a little rockier, but for the most part it is easy to follow. And even under the gray sky, the fall colours were magnificent.
After reaching the south end of the lake, I left Trail 50 to follow Trail 54, which would take me to Lusk Cave. The trail got little steeper, but there were a few stairs to help with the climb into the forest. I just had to be careful because these were a bit slippery in the rain.
After about 4 kilometres of hiking, I came to a junction, and followed the signs towards Lusk Cave which I arrived at, about 500 metres further. I couldn’t wait to finally see it, after hearing so much about it!
The cave is one of Gatineau Park’s popular attractions, and it is also a geological incongruity. Caves of this type are rare in the Canadian Shield, because the rock in this area is usually too hard. But in this case, the rock contained a pocket of marble that was slowly eroded by Lusk Creek, forming a series of galleries underground.
It is possible to cross these galleries when the water level is not too high and with the right equipment. In some places in the cave, the water can reach more than a metre high. It is therefore preferable to be equipped with a flashlight, a protective helmet and water shoes before setting out to explore it.
The water level was quite high when I looked into the entrance and as I was already wet from head to toe due to the rain, I decided I wasn’t really ready to explore the cave further. But it was still nice to be able to see it up close for the first time. I might come back in the summer, when the temperature is warmer, and the water levels are lower.
After checking out the cave, I retraced my steps to Trail 54, which I continued to follow into the forest. It would have been a pleasant hike if not for the fact that the rain was really heavy. And with all the fallen leaves, I had to be careful where I stepped, so as not to trip over a root or a rock.
At this point, I also encountered more muddy sections, and other sections where water covered the trail. I was really starting to get tired of the rain, and when I crossed Trail 73 (the Lusk Cave Trail) which could have taken me directly back to the parking lot, I hesitated a little and almost decided to abandon my hike there and just walk back to my car.
But I continued following Trail 54, and although this section seemed endless to me, I eventually arrived at Lusk Lake, which, even in the pouring rain, was very pretty with its fall colours.
The lake is said to be named in honor of Joseph Lusk, an Irish pioneer who was a successful farmer in the area in the 19th century. From Lusk Lake flows Lusk Creek which shaped (and continues to shape) the cave, before continuing its route to Harrington Lake.
There is a day shelter very close to the lake (the Lusk Shelter), but to reach it, I would have had to make a detour adding 1 kilometre to my hike. Under other circumstances, I would have done it, but as the rain continued to fall relentlessly, I hurried to continue my hike.
After Lusk Lake, the trail becomes wider and flatter (this trail is a cross-country ski trail in winter). And despite the rain, I was once again struck by the beauty of the fall colours. In fact, when you think about it, I was lucky: I could enjoy Gatineau Park all to myself, at a time when it is particularly beautiful. In such a popular park, I don’t think it’s ever happened to me not to meet anyone else on a trail!
While I only had a very short distance to go before finally reaching the parking lot, I made a small detour to pass in front of Renaud Lake. There is a day shelter here (the Renaud Shelter), and I really wanted to stop there to warm up and take a break from the rain.
This little break allowed me to regain some energy and courage to face the rain for the last part of my hike! From the Renaud Shelter, I almost ran along Trail 55 which would bring me back to my starting point. I almost screamed with joy when I reached my car, where I took refuge, completely soaked.
In total, I covered 11.6 kilometres, with an elevation gain of 213 metres. The parking lot was still deserted when I left. But you know what? Despite the terrible weather, I am still happy to have been able to hike another trail in Gatineau Park and to have been able to enjoy a bit of the fall colours!