Jacques-Cartier National Park
Location: Quebec, Canadian Highlands
Prominence: 2000 feet
Note: Every so often, if you’re a hiker with a few mountain ranges under your belt, you may have the luck to come across a landscape that is basically pristine. In these pristine places, after hiking for a while, you can’t help but notice, what it is that you don’t notice. For example, here at Jacques Cartier National Park, there are no ‘stone-linings’ running through the woods; no Dolmens tilting their capstones at the tops of the hills; no Colonial Period walls dividing the Passes in the heights; and no Standing Stones. Here in this wonderfully peaceful place, you will simply find deep forest glades with uninterrupted streams, and steep mountain ridges overwhelmed with trees; but no signs of the Neolithic works that overwhelm the landscapes just 200 miles south, across the U.S boarder. This is the Atlantic side of Canada, where french is spoken in delightful tones beneath the trees. Here you will find the Black Spruce, beautiful groves of Yellow Birches, millions of Maple trees, and the classic Northern Pine.Places without Neoliths: It is just as important to seek out these landscapes, and not lean too hard on the cultural discoveries of antiquity; and furthermore, not “lean” at all during a hike through a place such as this. Just enjoy the luck of being in a gorgeous wilderness. Long before any European explorers, such as Jacque Cartier, had arrived in this particular wilderness in the 1490’s, we should remember that an incredibly beautiful and thriving native culture already existed here. Since the receding of the last Ice Age, this region fostered the indigenous tribes of the Huron, Ottawa, Iroquois, and Mic-Mac. These tribes embraced the landscape in every possible way, and there is so much to embrace. Today, long after this regions Colonial conflicts have played-out, the Range is now known as the The Laurentian Mountains, or Canadian Highlands; complete with dramatic peaks booming out of the valley, and a wide rushing river that runs ultimately down to the imposing northern Atlantic Ocean. In places where there is no Neolithic culture to consider, a more personal exploration can take place. Just one moment with butterfly by the river can bring things into perspective for you, as crazy as that sounds, and that opportunity will find you here. Here, the commercial world of monetized value and the dull overload of inanimate things fades out slowly when staring into the tiger like streaks and spots of a delicate, but tough, Monarch. Great beauty is found in little things. These are the lessons of the forest. This place is the perfect opportunity to think about the last time you were in such a vast reserve; realize the curiously challenging feeling that hits all of us initially, when we get into spaces where our hyper-urbanized interactions, with all it’s bells and whistles, aren’t dominating our senses. It’s o.k to feel a little strange; and after a while, with practice, walking into wild spaces can honestly become like walking into a dream. Even the language used to describe hiking in natural spaces becomes poetically philosophical and soothing. Let these themes roll over you like a stream; ride with abandon on the current if you can; catch the Sun, then take shade; climb high, and then look down at what you’ve done. Your mind, as well as your body, will thank you in a place like Jacques Cartier National Park.
Driving Directions: Just 45 minutes northwest of Quebec, the drive to the gates of this National Park is striking. Follow Route 73 all the way to the park entrance where there is a small entry fee. The 5 mile drive along the Cartier river-valley will take you to the Park-Center, and Parking. During that five mile ride you will realize that you have entered a vast hinterland. This is a 31 square mile reserve of hiking trails, kayak routes, glamping quarters, and snowshoe access, all maintained with total excellence.
Les Cascades Trail: For a great initial experience at Cartier National’ take the Cascades Trail, meaning ‘waterfall’, which stems directly from the Park Center. Begin by crossing the river on the wooden foot-bridge and you will get a wonderful initial perspective on the entire scene, before heading into the forest. The mountains on both sides of the river have a prominence of about 2000 feet, with the River measuring about 200 yards across. The woods are massive here, with rolling knolls and glens supporting every type of Canadian wildlife, including Moose and Deer, which could cross your path at any given moment. This waterfall trail is a simple loop, so you can be at ease in terms of navigation. The first portion of the lower trail is a relaxing treck along a wide and hilly path running for about 2 miles. There is a classic stream crossing, with a little wooden bridge just over two miles into the trail. (Image/Below) The streams here were beautiful, similar to the cinematic rivulets of Tollymore Forest in Newcastle Ireland, where Season 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones was filmed. (Image/Below)At place like this, by streams that have that “Camelot” type feel, the spiritual side of hiking in big woods can become clear all at once. One of the amazing and very real benefits of basic hiking over time is the “Deja Vu” factor of natural spaces. Obviously natural spaces are going to be similar in many ways; but it is important to reinforce the idea that: just like listening to a song you loved from many years past, which can immediately transport your mind to that former place and Time in your life, streams actually have this very same incredible quality. Where streams rush in deep forests, there can be literal “Deja Vu” flashes, perhaps of other beautiful places like: Tollymore in Ireland, Savoy in Massachusetts, or Glen Coe in Scotland, all of which are vibrationally similar to Les Cascades Trail. When this “Deja Vu” feeling takes place along beautiful streams, the effect on your mind, that “outside Time” feeling, is the very vibe that individuals who practice ‘meditation’ or ‘prayer’ are striving to achieve. Forests are a sacred vehicle for a better state of mind, if you take the time to pass through them. More advanced studies are now coming out revealing the physical and psychological benefits of natural spaces; they refine the palette of your senses, making you capable of accepting the subtle bubbling of a brook; the low booming echo of tall trees stretching in the wind; and every so often, total stillness. Getting back to Cartier National Forest, follow the trail to the left, just after the stream, where the larger stream is dancing down the valley through boulders and stones, and you will begin to climb into the beauty of the third mile. There are many stops along the path to just relax, jump in the water, and generally exhale for a while by the picture-perfect rushing water. After following the third mile along this waterfall you will eventually cross another wooden bridge and have the choice of heading directly back, or taking the the elevated route to get another 100 feet or so up the valley, which is recommended. At the top of this elevated trail is a heart-warming view of the mountains on the other side of the river-valley. After viewing the mountain you can follow the trail out and back to the beginning with ease.
In a place like this, a forest of supreme tranquility, it can actually be hard to come out at the end of the day. Jacques Cartier National Park is worthy of a lifetime of visits, with kayaks and snowshoes, depending on the time of year. With the new weather pattern that is now dominating roughly the last fifteen years, this particular part of the world is now under snow and ice for 7 months (or more) each year. Canadian winters make Celtic winters look mild at most. Time spent in the warmth of the Sun in Canada is absolutely precious. If you decide to experience the northeast extreme of the North-American Continent, continuing into Canada, go in Summertime. Even Canadians are challenged by the deep winters here. Give Quebec and the beautiful Jacques Cartier National Park a try while the flowers are blooming. This place will bring out the best within you, and in more ways than you might realize. Go well, with each and every step.