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Gaining Ground

Take off to the wild blue yonder through the outdoor network of the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq). BESIDE x SÉPAQ

Sépaq is the outdoor network of 23 national parks, 15 wildlife reserves, a marine park, the Sépaq Anticosti Outfitter, and many tourist attractions and hotel facilities spread across the province of Québec.

  TEXT Daviel Lazure Vieira  A world in itself that you can explore all year round through more than 200 trails and 13,000 fishing lakes, it’s a territory made up of some 77,000 km2 total, partly blanketing the majestic St. Lawrence River. But Sépaq, whose mission is to showcase and provide easy access to these unique, richly diverse spaces in keeping with its sustainability objective, is more than just numbers. It’s a direct access point to exciting adventures, from weekend getaways to escape city life to breathtaking expeditions for the most intrepid pioneers.

Whether you live in Montréal, Boston, or Toronto, you can wake up in your own bed in the morning and be in a chalet in Québec’s untouched wilderness that very same night. And with some of the most pristine woodlands on the globe waiting for you, this could be the best trip of your life. From a romantic kayak excursion along the cliffs of the Saguenay fjord, to a hike down the valleys of the vertiginous Chic-Choc Mountains, to a relaxing respite in the heart of the boreal forests, Quebéc’s lush landscapes are much more accessible than we think.

Sépaq offers an incredible array of activities year-round in each territory. It also makes available numerous lodging options (cabins, huts, hotels, yurts, ready-to-camp tents, rustic to fully serviced campsites) to extend the fun. Once your experience is reserved, you will be able to get a head start as soon as you arrive on fishing, hunting, hiking, cross-country skiing, or whatever activity you’ve set out to do! On site, you will meet with Sépaq employees as passionate as you are about the wilderness, including park wardens who are always happy to share their knowledge of the many natural wonders of our environment.

While Sépaq’s mission is to make these wild places accessible and visible to all, the organization also aims to remind the public how essential it is to protect these spaces. The conservation of this natural and cultural heritage, alongside preserving Québec’s unique diversity of wildlife, are among Sépaq’s top priorities. Making use of solar power and energy-efficient technology; safeguarding the natural habitats of its animal residents, such as the Gaspé caribou, the wolf, or the ruffed grouse; and favouring the use of low-emission vehicles are among the many ways in which Sépaq strives to reduce the ecological footprint of wilderness management with every passing year.

In short, whether you’re seeking greener pastures or just a breath of fresh air, Québec’s natural landscapes are always just a stone’s throw away.

And so we present three stories by outdoor enthusiasts that will surely inspire your next adventure.

PARC NATIONAL DU FJORD-DU-SAGUENAY

Catherine, 33 years old, entrepreneur

August is always the best month to paddle along the Saguenay fjord. Our whole family ventures out together this year: my youngest son of two and his older brother of four and a half, their paternal grandparents, my partner and I.

We unpack in the late afternoon at Camping Baie-Éternité so we can go on a hike the following morning. We’re here to kayak, but it’s nice to stretch our legs before setting off on a new adventure. As soon as we wake up, the whole family runs off to the Sentier des Caps trail. Perched at the top, we admire the stunning view from the cliffs overlooking the great fjord. My two little explorers begin to get drowsy. Just as I get them onboard the kayak, they are already beginning to fall asleep in their seats with their heads pressed against their paddles. Even if I’ve been kayaking for almost 10 years now, I never tire of paddling against the current. We land near Anse-Saint-Jean, where we enjoy the last rays of the evening’s sunlight. After a well-deserved night of sleep, we get some more paddling done. Suddenly, I hear someone screaming: “Mom, look!” My eldest son points to the small white whale sticking its nose over the horizon. A few minutes later, the beluga catches up with us, with several others in tow, and the pod follows us all the way to Saint-Louis Island.

We stop for a quick picnic with the supplies carefully assembled by my husband. Once everyone has regained their strength, we get back to our paddles to cross the fjord to find our camping spot on the Passe-Pierre peninsula. With the sun setting over the fjord, we unpack the two tents that house our little family of three generations and set up camp. Our busy day of exploration ends with the simple pleasure of roasting marshmallows over a bonfire. The next day, we ride powerful waves and bask in the raking light of the noonday sun. I look at my family and smile. “Full speed ahead to Tadoussac!”

PARC NATIONAL DE LA GASPÉSIE

Nicolas, 26 years old, graphic designer

There’s eight of us. Four girls, four boys—all winter outdoorsy types reunited in Gaspésie, ready to take up a new challenge. Even if the carefree high school days when we first met are long gone, and we now live adult lives in different cities, we’re always excited to answer the call of great outdoors.

The Village Grande Nature in Saint-Octave-de-l’Avenir is the point of departure for our epic journey on the Logan circuit across the Chic-Choc Mountains. Our goal: 65 km of Nordic skiing in five days, trekking from one hut to another. We meet in the morning on the first day, prepared to confront the snowcapped highlands and travel to our first stop, a hut nicknamed Le Huard. Our bags are stocked with food supplies, but most of our luggage will join us later. We decided to use the luggage transport service so we could enjoy the immaculate whiteness of our surroundings without being overloaded. Once night has fallen, we make hot chocolate and sit around the wood stove to share stories. There’s no wifi here, so we can fully enjoy the present moment and get busy with concrete stuff. The next day, the real trek begins: 500 metres of vertical drop to Mount Logan, with an overnight stop at La Nyctale. The eight of us hike together, isolated in the midst of scenery decorated with ice and snowy conifers. On our way uphill, the wind starts up and gusts of snow drift around us. We soon reach an altitude of 1,000 metres, our skis firmly entrenched in the powdered slopes. We spot a caribou standing out in stark contrast against the pure white background. 

Photo: Avalanche Québec
Photo: Avalanche Québec

The caribou pauses in its movement, its body animated by a bewildering strength and ease that we have the chance to observe for a few seconds. Then the caribou rushes past us toward the peak of the mountain as we’re about to complete our alpine hike. At dawn the sky is clear, and before us towers the majestic Mount Logan, atop which we admire the beautiful view over the mountain range a few hours later—we can even catch a glimpse of the misty St. Lawrence River. After an entire day gliding across powdery trails, we must find our way home: It’ll take us two days to retrace our footsteps in the snow and return to our starting point. From there, we jump in the car for one last night at the Gîte du Mont-Albert hotel in the parc national de la Gaspésie. It’s a well-earned rest to recharge our batteries before we part ways . . . until the next time.

RÉSERVE FAUNIQUE DES LAURENTIDES

Jean-François, 38 years old, photographer

The wildlife reserve is only a short distance from Québec City, I tell my girlfriend to convince her to come fishing with me for a weekend. It turns out it’s exactly the quick getaway we need. June is the perfect time for trout fishing. We book a cabin for the weekend, take our fishing gear, buy some last-minute groceries, and off we go. Once we get there, we stop by the main reception post where we get the keys to our lodge, conveniently situated on the banks of Jacques-Cartier Lake. We meet with the fishermen from the surrounding lodges and cast lots in order to find our fishing spot for the next day. We wake up to the sunrise. After a quick breakfast, we pack our lunches and our equipment and start walking outside, listening to the sounds of birds and the branches crackling under our feet. A rowboat is waiting for us. We get on board immediately and navigate the calm waters that flow straight to the middle of the forest. It’s quiet. We remain perfectly still, whispering, afraid to disturb the fish. We take a break around noon, and then get back to “work,” catching a few more trout that we release back into the water and saving two or three for dinner in the process. It’s early evening when we register our day’s catches. We then light a fire, open a bottle of wine, and savour our fish. The weather is gorgeous the following day, and we start fishing early. Soon, we come across another fisherman on the lake who asks us if we happen to have a few extra worms. I tell him we only use flies. Behind me, my girlfriend smiles, holding a jar full of night crawlers she happened to find at the bottom of the boat. We give it to our fellow fisher, who returns the favour later that day. As we’re heading back to the lodge, he shows up with his partner, carrying a beautiful brook trout that he hands over to thank us—the pièce de résistance of a wonderful feast for four that we prepare that night before our departure.

Photo: Pierre Carbonneau
Ready to go?

Check out sepaq.com to book your next adventure without any fuss. You will be able to choose amongst a year-long list of available activities and lodging possibilities. Sépaq also provides all of the necessary maps and practical info to guide your trip and direct you to the vantage points and most memorable natural features along your chosen path.

Read more . . .

This article was initially published in Issue 01 of BESIDE Magazine.

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