Gatineau Park, Quebec is absolutely beautiful year-round. Come summer, Ottawa-Gatineau locals venture to Gatineau Park for day hikes on the trails, bike rides, and caving. Way up in the hills you will find everything from epic views to secluded beaches and old ruins. There’s something around every corner, and Gatineau Park trails for every level of hiker.
Growing up in Ottawa, I have spent many days in the Gatineau Park myself, and have hiked all of the Gatineau Park trails multiple times. One of the amazing things is that the park is only 15 minutes from the downtown. These trails are definitely the best hikes near Ottawa. Once you’re on a trail, you would never know how close the city is.
We’re still waiting to see what Gatineau Park access with look like in 2021!
Hiking in Gatineau Park
Tips for Hiking the Gatineau Park Trails
Hiking is more fun when you’re prepared! Here are a few things that you need to know about hiking the Gatineau Park Trails.
Just a few notes on protecting these beautiful areas, too. Gatineau Park has been welcoming visitors for decades, and the ecosystems have paid the price. If we want to keep enjoying this space, we have to protect it.
Gatineau Park Access in 2021
National Capital Commission has extended a pilot project that reserves Gatineau Parkway for active use during much of the week. The parkway is accessible via vehicles from 1:00 PM to sunset on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. The active use reservation is ideal for cyclists! I have indicated in this guide which trails are accessible during the active use reservation.
Every trail has it’s own parking lot. There is a fee for parking from June to early September, per vehicle. Bring friends, drive together, and split the cost!
One of the great things about Gatineau Park is that the trails are fantastic, but you’re not roughing it. There are outhouses near the entrance to every trail.
If you find yourself running low on water before or after a hike, the Visitor Centre at the entrance to Gatineau Park has a fountain where you can refill.
This is the phone number for the Gatineau Park emergency line, add it to your contacts before venturing out (Correct as of 2018: 613-239-5353).
Take away your trash
It hurts a little to even have to write this, but please take away your trash. On more than one occasion, I have found garbage strewn along the trails. If you take anything with a wrapper or made of plastic, take it with you!
Respect the dog-free trails.
Many of the trails in Gatineau Park do not permit dogs. This is to protect the unique and delicate ecosystems. There are trails that welcome dogs so choose one of those if you want to bring your furry friend!
What to Bring for a day in Gatineau Park
A few essentials are all you need to have a great day of hiking in Gatineau Park. Overall, the trails are moderate and don’t require a ton of preparation. This is all you need:
- Reusable water bottle: in the spirit of protecting not only Gatineau Park but also earth in general, bring a reusable water. Stainless steel water bottles like this one will also keep your water nice and cold all day.
- Snacks: pack some snacks! I love bringing trail mix and Cliff Bars along.
- Hiking shoes: Hiking shoes are necessary if you want to have a good time, because some of the trails have very uneven ground and a lot of steep ascents. Even the most challenging trails in Gatineau Park are moderate compared to hikes through the mountains, so you don’t need hiking boots. You just want a good shoe. Browse hiking shoes online: Women’s | Men’s
- Sun protection: I go all out on sun protection myself, with a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The trails might seem shady, but you’ll get a lot of sun if you’re out for a few hours.
- Bug spray: don’t hold back on the bug spray! Given the combination of calm lakes and forest, there are a lot of bugs out in the summer.
Gatineau Park Trails
Distance: 2.5 km | Time: 45-60 minutes | Difficulty: Moderate | Accessible after 12 PM
Note: Parking at Pink Lake is not accessible when the Gatineau Parkway is reserved for active use. If you’re up for a big trek you could park at Gatineau Visitor Centre or Mackenzie King (enter via Kingsmere).
This is a fairly short and relatively easy hike, with a lot of stairs in some areas. It has plenty of beautiful lookouts, and panels along the way that tell you more about Pink Lake’s unique ecosystem.
Pink Lake is the most remarkable lake in the Gatineau Park, and one of my favourite Gatineau Park trails, because it’s sheltered location has allowed it to develop a rare ecosystem. The lake is named after the Pink family, who originally settled on the land in the 1800’s. But the lake is actually green!
Pink Lake is what’s referred to as a “meromictic” lake, meaning that the upper and lower layers of water don’t mix. It’s a fairly small lake with no water running in or out, so it stays still throughout the year. The green is the result of a form of algae that grows in the lake which, while beautiful, gradually takes over the oxygen around the lake. This process is supposed to take thousands of years, but of course we the humans have sped things up a little.
Efforts to rehabilitate Pink Lake’s ecosystem have included the planting of new trees, and the installation of platforms along the trails. This is to limit the damage caused by erosion from people walking. Please stay on the platforms wherever you find them along the trail.
There’s nothing but more trees if you venture off, I promise you. The good stuff is all along the well-marked trail anyways!
Distance: 7.9 km | Time: 3+ hours | Difficulty: Challenging | Parking Lot: 13
Note: Parking at Wolf Trail is accessible even when Gatineau Parkway is reserved for active use.
Many of the Gatineau Park trails are short and scenic, but Wolf trail is longer hike that will have your legs burning by the end. It’s still got all the great scenery you want, and the lookout part way through the loop is my favourite view in the park.Wolf trail takes about 3 hours, following a winding loop around some of the highest points in Gatineau Park.
On the way out, you will be walking uphill on well-marked trails. Take a snack break at the lookout. It’s well worth the hike for the view of the valley below.
The way back can be a little challenging, especially if there’s been recent rainfall. Coming back down, Wolf Trail is very steep – enough that you’re clambering more so than walking, and you have to watch your step. These steeper areas can build up little streams of water and get pretty slick if it’s been wet, so watch your step.
On the last stretch of the trail you hop your way across a small river, which can also run a little high after heavy rain. Pack extra socks or sandals to change in to at the end. You might get wet!
By the way, this is one of the few trails in the park that is dog-friendly. My dog Piper comes hiking on Wolf trail all the time!
Make a day of it by bringing a picnic lunch, and settle down at Meech Lake to relax after your hike (but leave your furry friend at home if you’re doing this, no dogs on the beach).
Carbide Wilson Ruins
Distance: 4.4 km | Time: 1 hour | Difficulty: Easy | Parking Lot 11
Note: Parking at Carbide Wilson Ruins is accessible even when Gatineau Parkway is reserved for active use.
The Carbide Wilson Ruins is technically more of a walk, but it is a really neat spot worth checking out. Combine it with another one of the Gatineau Park trails for a full day of hiking. The ruins are only a 2.5 km walk from the nearest parking lot, and it’s an easy and flat walk. The ruins themselves are a very popular spot, because it’s a great place to take pictures.
Many people bring their swimsuits up to Carbide Wilson in the summer. It’s a nice to spot to cool off and dip your toes in the water.
You’re probably wondering, how did there come to be ruins in the middle of nowhere?
Well, there’s a bit of a paranoid, mad-scientist story to place. Thomas “Carbide” Wilson was a scientist in the 1800s, who developed the process by which we create calcium carbide. He bought 40 acres near Meech Lake in the early 1900s, and built a secluded factory to hide his work. While the story has a bit of a creepy ring to it… he might have been on to something by hiding his work.
There is a path that continues on past the Carbide Wilson ruins. It’s also easy and flat, more of a walk than a hike. The path takes you along the edge of Meech lake and past some beautiful residential properties in the area.
Luskville Falls Trail
Distance: 4.6 km | Time: 2 hours | Difficulty: Challenging
Note: Parking at Luskville Falls is accessible even when Gatineau Parkway is reserved for active use. This trail is on the outside of the park.
Luskville falls, while still part of the Gatineau Park, is further away than the other trails. Every other trail in this post can be accessed off Promenade de la Gatineau, the main road that loops through the park. Luskville Falls is around the back of the park and is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Ottawa.
The trail isn’t long, but it goes straight up so it’s not an easy hike. The best time to hike the Luskville Falls trail is in the spring, when the waterfall is most powerful because of melted snow from the winter.
The Luskville Falls trail is often referred to as being a loop, but this information got my friends and I very lost the first time we did the hike. It’s a loop and an out and back. The trail takes you up alongside the waterfall, and once you’re at the top of the Falls you can carry on until you reach a tower at the top. This is the turn back point, the tower is not part of a loop. On your way back down, you will find that the trail branches off and you can go back down a different way than you got up.
Champlain Lookout and Champlain Trail
Distance: 1.3 km | Time: 45 minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Accessible after 12 PM
Note: Champlain Lookout is not accessible when Gatineau Parkway is reserved for active use.
Champlain Lookout is one of the best vantage points in the Gatineau Park. People will drive up just to see the view, even if they’re not planning to hike. It can get a little crowded on nice days for this reason.
The Champlain trail begins at the lookout and winds around the top of the Eardley Escarpment. Much like Pink Lake Trail, there are panels along the way with information about the area about the plants and ecosystem.
The trail is fairly easy, because you’re staying at the top of escarpment without many ascents or descents. This is a great trail to combine with other hikes if you want a longer day, and Champlain Lookout is a beautiful picnic spot.
It’s also a great spot to watch the sunset!
Distance: 1.9 km | Time: 45-60 minutes | Difficulty: Challenging | Accessible after 12 PM
Note: King’s Trail is not accessible when Gatineau Parkway is reserved for active use.
King’s Trail is one of the most scenic Gatineau Park trails, and it’s loaded with great lookouts. On this 1.9 km trail, there are 9 Lookout points. In truth, some are more impressive than others, but it’s still a lot! Among the lookouts are views over a beautiful lake where you can often spot beaver lodges (or maybe the beavers themselves) and a couple of spectacular views of the Ottawa valley. This is a great trail for the fall because there are so many spots to see the colors.
It might be short, but King’s Trail is fairly challenging because you essentially ascend and to descend to every Lookout. There’s a lot of up and down in this trail, and not always on the easiest terrain.
The trail has quite a few sections of boardwalks and steep staircases, serving to both protect the environment and make the trails accessible. Other areas feature very rocky ascents, with tree roots jutting out across the trail. It can also be very muddy, especially in the lower areas of the trail. Make sure you wear shoes with good support for this trail.
Have any questions about hiking the Gatineau Park trails? Drop a comment below, and refer to the National Capital Commission website for more information about the park.