Quebec road trip, Day 2
The morning of Day 2 of our Quebec Road-Trip was glorious and sunny. Our drive took us on Hwy 362 along the St Lawrence towards Malbaie. It was spectacular. There were two route options to get to Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Riviere-Malbaie National Park from Baie St, Paul. It would have been about an hour to take the more northern 'Mountain Route', but we chose the slightly longer 'Fjord Route' so we could stay along the St. Lawrence a little longer. Thick, morning fog rose off the river creating an illusion that the river was actually a bowl of clouds. It was unbelievable. Almost like you were looking down the cliffs into the sky. The further along the coast we drove, the more impressive it was. If I were to have seen a picture of the fog climbing up the shoreline from the water and fading magically into the trees giving the impression that the land was floating on a cloud I would have thought it was fake. But this surreal scene was real life! We were in Care-O-Lot!
We made a quick stop at adorable Point au Pic. Its so small, that it was a delightful surprise how much we liked it. A single street along the water with colourful houses, a store and a railway crammed between a cliff and the St. Lawrence. There's a photogenic bridge and pier that were floating on fog when we visited adding to the fairy tale atmosphere. Granted, its probably not as sleepy and adorable in the summer. Have I mentioned that I love September? The Fairmont Richilieu is nestled on the cliffs behind the street an looks like a wonderful place to stay for those with much more money than us.
We headed North from Malbaie on Hwy132 towards saint Anne-aux-lacs and the magnificent Hautes-Gorges National Park. The park doesn't allow vehicles in the summer. Doing some reading before it sounded annoying, having to take a bus around the park, especially with our lack of French skills. However, my research also lead me to believe that the hikes here were unmissable and definitely worth the extra effort.This was our first experience with Sepaq (the association of Quebec Provincial Parks- which by the way, they refer to "National" Parks- just because the 'Nation' of Quebec likes to make things complicated, I guess. I'll complain more about this later)
The Visitor Centre didn't have any English information, which is forgivable and the young friendly park employee spoke enough English to get us a campite and describe a couple of the hikes to us. It was Sunday, mid September and the bus was running that day. There is one road through the park its only about 6kms long and then there is no more road and you're in the middle of nature. SO, knowing this makes it a little easier to understand this bus situation. The bus passes in each direction every 15 minutes and stops at various points. Its actually very easy and almost impossible to screw up (unless your bus driver is a jerk and pretends he doesn't understand what stop you want because you're English- but I'll complain more about that later too. And even then it only meant we had to walk an extra 500 m to the campsite, so it wasn't even a big deal).
Anyways, not to mar the rest of our marvelous day, the fact that the bus was running that day actually worked out perfectly for us because it meant that we could hike 'Sentier le Riverain' in one direction (about 3 hours) and then take the bus back to the campsite. The park's most popular hike is the Sentier de l'Acropole-des-Draveurs. l'Acropole hike sounds like an up, up, up type hike that rewards you with the unbelievable panorama that you'll see splashed all over the park's brochures. Its pretty much why you're there. However it is meant to take 4-6 hours to complete and be quite demanding. Seeing as it was after noon we thought it smarter to take on a shorter hike that afternoon (and make use of the bus) and then get up in the morning and attempt the longer l'Acropole-des-Draveurs, giving us a full day. Plus, the next day (Monday) there would be no bus to save us from backtracking on Senier le Riverain and we would be able to drive our truck into the park and right to the 'Acrople-des-Dravurs trail head. The plan was flawless.
Sentier le Riverain started off as an easy stroll through beautiful, dense forest beside the rushing river. It was very nice. Seeing as there was no English information we didn't really know what to expect and were quite happy with where the hike was going. It was a wide path, with a changing forest, rivers, bridges...We went uphill a bit, nothing crazy, but definitely gaining some altitude. Before we knew it we had sweeping views over the valley and distant mountains. It was gorgeous. A little further along and a little more uphill we were blown away. If there has ever been a genuinely jaw-dropping moment in my life- this must have been it. The panorama was insanely impressive in every direction. Cliffs rose up around us cascading down to the blue squiggle of a river below. It was probably even more breathtaking because it was a complete surprise. It was one of the most beautiful hikes we've ever been on and it wasn't even the park's crowning jewel (which somewhat explained why we had this vista all to ourselves). Kinda. We ended with a long bridge over the river and old dam (Barrage des Erables) at the Draveur Visitor Centre in the middle of the park and the bus' last stop. The bus driver took us back to the Visitor Centre at the entrance instead of dropping us at our campsite, but it was still mostly helpful.
The campsite itself was great, surrounded thick foliage with views of the mountains through the trees. There was no one around, which would be an on-going theme for our trip, and we loved it.
We woke up in the morning to rain and, disappointingly, our plans to hike l'Acropole-des-Draveurs washed away with it.... I knew we'd be back to this wonderful hidden gem of park though, which helped take a bit of the sting away...