Three Days of Mountains and Fresh Water in Mont-Tremblant
Mother-daughter travelogue in the southern Laurentians
Text—Marie Charles Pelletier
In partnership with
For eight years, starting in the summer of 1996, our parents jammed me and my brother into the back of our efficiently packed car bound for Acadia National Park in Maine. We slept together in a four-person Eureka tent, damp despite two ingeniously placed tarps. I envied my friends who stayed in beach motels with in-ground pools and all-you-can-eat Popsicles.
Family vacations are long over. The Eureka tent has given way to a small, air-conditioned two-seater camper. But the smell of summer, the trunk of a car full to the brim, and my mom’s quick-dry shorts take me back. This time, rather than heading to the border, we are taking Route 117, heading north. My mom is leaving from the Eastern Townships and picking me up in Montréal. Destination: the Laurentians, where we’re hoping to discover the peace and quiet of the early week. The roof is open and we are — with no great surprise — 30 minutes behind schedule.
– Day 1 –
My mom doesn’t know it, but I think she’s the biggest outdoors enthusiast I know. For her, a day spent without traversing a mountain — by foot, ski, or bike — is incomplete. Creatures of habit, my parents typically camp in Estrie. My mom hasn’t set foot on Laurentian soil in years, and this trip will be a change of scenery for her. At a bend in the road, I sense her gaze fall on Mont Tremblant, whose Johannsen Peak summit stands at 932 m. We finally reach Labelle, a small town straddling part of the Red River. The dirt road vanishes into a forest toward Petit lac Caribou. Eve Brasseur, founder of Excursion Yoga, makes no mention of our late arrival. Leaning against her white Westfalia, she welcomes us with a broad smile. We are about to leave on an excursion interspersed with a yoga session.
Afternoon — Altitude yoga
“We forgot our mats,” my mother whispers to me. Let’s just say it’s a slow start for the two of us. This isn’t Eve’s first rodeo, though, and she kindly lends us some. She came up with the idea of combining hiking and yoga last summer when, after a mountain-biking accident, she began spending most of her time walking in the woods. On our way to the summit, she tells us that on each excursion she makes a point of teaching people about the fragility of biodiversity and reminding them how important it is to keep to the trails. After a few kilometres of ascent, we finally reach a rocky ledge. Beneath the afternoon sun, we string together downward dogs and warriors one and two facing the rounded hills that stretch out in front of us. For my mother, “struggles through” is maybe more apt than “strings together,” but the mountain view makes her forget her lack of flexibility.
Our backs glistening but well stretched, we descend to Petit lac Caribou. My mother remarks, with her calves in the water, that we haven’t seen anyone since the beginning of the afternoon. The peacefulness of this place soothes us.
Evening — Tired legs and tree houses
The sun continues to warm the backs of our necks despite the late hour, and Muchacha — a light beer from the Saint-Arnould microbrewery — is more thirst quenching than ever.
Good and tired, we head to the tree houses Les Refuges perchés in Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré. On the winding road that runs along the lakes, cottages with screen windows bathe in the golden light of late summer days.
We arrive at the eco-park at dusk. The crickets and tree frogs are about to start their evening shift. Armed with a 12-volt battery, a propane tank,* and our bags, we head about a kilometre and a half down a path that surrounds Lac du Cordon. Luckily, it’s well marked, since our headlamps are the day’s second glaring omission. (Maybe all those years of camping weren’t that useful after all!) Through the leaves we find the shelters perched in the trees, each one unique and adapted to the surrounding nature. We finally reach ours and collapse into our sleeping bags.
*The tree houses are off the grid, but they are well equipped and functional. A battery and propane tank for cooking and lighting are provided upon arrival.
– Day 2 –
We open our eyes two hours after sunrise, overcome by the stillness of the lake. From our balcony, we silently observe a canoe’s path. Gathering ourselves up after this moment of pristine relaxation, my mother and I reluctantly abandon our rock-perched cabin to start the day’s activities.
On a quay-turned-terrace, I put together a breakfast that’s more frugal than continental: coffee and bananas. A nearby loon glides by. Having seen no other fellow creature since our arrival, we say hello.
Early in the afternoon, locals converse with neighbouring tables on the village patios, happy to finally be meeting up.
Outside the post office, an older woman arrives by bicycle and very carefully inserts her letter into a mailbox. She double-checks that the envelope has dropped before getting back on her bike. Time slows down here during the week.
The art of covering ground
We meet Audrey Leclerc, owner of D-Tour. She has been organizing tailor-made guided adventures in Mont-Tremblant for over seven years. Today, she’s initiating us into electric mountain biking. Thankfully, my mom and I remembered to bring a helmet and gloves. For the first time on our trip, we seem organized.
Audrey moored herself to the region more than 10 years ago to enjoy its proximity to nature, and she never left. Her work showing this place to others allows her to rediscover it daily. We follow her to the start of a trail that runs alongside the Rivière du Diable. The bikes are gentle on our hamstrings, and we easily navigate forest trails with names like Sciotte, Boneyard, and Cachée. Since we can cover more ground with less effort, we have more time to observe the sunbeams filtered by the mature forest creating a play of shadows on the narrow earthen path. We end up in a pine forest, where the tall, perfectly strung trees collide above our heads in a waltz of creaking wood. As we greet two golfers, we notice that the horizon is black behind them. “One more,” my mom pleads, despite the looming threat. So we continue. The belly of the clouds eventually opens up above our heads for the last kilometre. We smile at each other happily in the refreshing rainshower.
The trembling mountain
Tonight we’re sleeping at Le Grand Lodge Mont-Tremblant, on the shores of Lac Ouimet. The huge wooden beams in the lobby and the stone fireplace are a far cry from the tree house from the day before. The path to our room takes us about a quarter of an hour as we stop every two steps to gaze at photos hanging on the wall. We’re fascinated by this foray into Mont-Tremblant’s past: an old seaplane landing on Lac Tremblant with its still-wild banks; log drivers photographed as the current carries 12-foot logs in its eddies; skiers at the top of the snow-capped mountain, with enormous skis; a man driving a train through an unrecognizable village.
Our readings teach us that the Algonquins were the first inhabitants of this place, and they called the mountain Manitonga Soutana, that is, the devils’ (or spirits’) mountain. They said they would hear low rumblings coming from the mountain and could feel the ground tremble beneath their feet as they climbed it. In French, it was therefore baptised Montagne Tremblante (Trembling Mountain).
The humidity breaks and a light breeze arrives off the lake. We head toward the foot of the mountain, mindful of the slightest tremor. But all seems quiet tonight. We enter the friendly La Savoie restaurant with its all-wood décor.
Moments later, our table is covered in plates and a half-wheel of raclette cheese. Despite the electric assistance of our bikes, we feel we deserve this Valais classic — and the wine that accompanies it.
As we leave, we are already making promises to return in the fall when the evenings are cool enough to redden our cheeks.
– Day 3 –
Before we said good night after the restaurant, we wisely scheduled a dawn wake-up call to see the pink morning sky and the mist rising over the lake. After a session of sunrise contemplation and a few rounds of “It’s beautiful, huh?” we climb aboard a canoe and break the water’s mirror.
The Devil’s River in two parts
Mont-Tremblant’s Scandinave Spa, tucked between the forest and the river, offers a relaxing experience anchored in nature. We learn that the Drakkar, found on the logo and in the lobby’s design, represents the calm power of water and of the body — a call to take care of this vessel that carries us through our lives, against all odds. After immersing ourselves in the river’s cold water, we take the road to Parc national du Mont-Tremblant.
I have always loved national parks, those sanctuaries of nature where people smile more than elsewhere and where the smell of a campfire reigns at nightfall. There is something comforting about the dépanneurs — in this case, the very famous Coté Plein Air — offering earthworms, kindling, and rope. The park wardens who question you at the entrance are a bit like the forest’s customs officers, but friendlier. The colour palette of their uniforms (beige, khaki, and brown) creates a kind of cohesion with all the other national parks in the world. As a nostalgic person, I’d wager that my attachment has to do with so many vacations spent far from motels.
I follow my mom toward Lac Chat with a paddle, life jacket, and sandwich that will end up as wet as everything else. Under a cloudless sky, we meander down the Rivière du Diable in a kayak. We paddle intermittently and simply let the current carry us while we chat. Along the banks, centuries-old pine trees watch us go by.
Our slow pace allows us to slip into contemplation. Going down a river gives you a different perspective on nature. You can only get this movable vantage point of trees and rock faces from the water.
Rivers used to be the primary way to access the interior. The Algonquin Maconce and Commandant families were the first to hunt and fish in the region, ascending the Ottawa, Red, and then Devil’s Rivers until they reached Lac Tremblant.
In 1895, to ensure the protection of this territory, whose value was already recognized, the Government of Quebec created the Parc de la Montagne-Tremblante, the oldest of Quebec’s national parks. It will go down in the history of protected areas alongside Yellowstone (1872), the world’s first national park, and Banff (1885), the first in Canada.
Originally, the park was to house a sanatorium. It was said that the clean, dry, and cool air could cure lung disease. Today, its mission has evolved and tuberculosis is less of a concern. With its 1,510 km2, its 400 lakes and streams, and its six major rivers, it continues to connect people to nature. The presence of the wolf on the territory testifies to its wild character and its immensity.*
*Source: Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America.
Legend has it that the Grand Manitou made the mountain tremble when someone dared to challenge nature. Those who respected nature and obeyed its laws were inherently more sensitive to its nuances and could be moved by the sun’s reflection in the water’s rapids, by the smell of balsam fir, by the rising mist at dawn, or by birdsong.
The end that always comes too quickly
We don’t seem to have upset the mountain during our stay; we were able to enjoy every moment alongside people who, even after years of proximity, continue to appreciate the beauty of the trees or the moon’s reflection on a lake.
On my way home, I feel privileged to have swum in rivers, to have seen the forest from the inside, and to have soaked up new scenery.
I am truly grateful to my parents for sharing their love of nature and camping with me and my brother, along with their knowledge of its fragility. I don’t dare tell them this, but we could have saved at least three hours of driving on those childhood trips if we’d just taken the 117 north instead of going through customs.
Tourism Mont-Tremblant is a private non-profit organization, formed in 1992 and incorporated in 1995. Its mandate is to advertise, promote, and market the Mont-Tremblant region, and to provide a warm welcome to all visitors at its two tourist offices.
With the participation of its regional partners, Tourism Mont-Tremblant actively contributes to the economic prosperity of the local tourism industry, positioning the Mont-Tremblant region, in a coordinated and integrated way, as a tourist destination for visitors from all over the world.