I love to explore and discover new places, especially close to home. When I don’t have the time or money to travel very far, its such a nice surprise to uncover a new place that’s easy and quick to get to. This is exactly what happened to me this summer when I headed a few hours north of Ottawa into the province of Quebec. Located just an hours drive west of Quebec City is a beautiful forest Eden called Vallee Bras-du-Nord.
Vallee Bras-du-Nord is an incredible outdoor adventure destination filled with hiking trails (snowshoeing and back country ski trails in the winter) , mountain biking single tracks, rivers for canoeing and kayaking and they even run their own Via Ferratta and Canyoning trips. There’s also a stable close by that will take you horseback riding.
Heading this far north (from Ottawa) the forests and landscape changes a bit from the south. Valle Bras-du-Nord is made up of boreal forest which is considered to be the largest intact forest on earth and is Canada’s largest vegetation zone covering approximately 60% of the nation’s land mass.
The small town of St. Raymond is the gateway to this outdoors mecca and is also where you’ll find the main information center for Vallee Bras-du-Nord. There are 5 different entrances to the park , each offering various activities and accommodations. We ended up camping at Shannahan, about a 30 min drive north of St Raymond as this was the most well equipped locale and offered the greatest variety of outdoor adventures.
Shannahan has a information center/office as well as a bike shop where you can rent mountain bikes and buy souvenir t-shirts and hoodies. It’s also the main office and starting point for many of the hiking and biking trails and is where you meet your guide for Canyoning and Via Ferratta.
Vallee Bras-du-Nord has a lot of options for accommodations, from car camping, to yurts, to fully equipped cabins. If your more interested in a hotel stay, attached to the information center in St.Raymond is the Roquemont Hotel and restaurant (also a great place to stop for a pint of the local brew!).
When I visited in August it had been raining for 4 days non-stop and the banks of the Neilson River that flows through the area were swollen with fast moving water. When we arrived on our first day in the late afternoon, we only had time for a short hike before the sun set. After inquiring at the Shannahan main office and paying our trail fees, we went for a walk in the woods getting our first glimpse of the mountain biking trails and the beautiful northern forest.
The hike to Chutes Delaney was more of a walk in the woods as the trails were well maintained and packed down from use over the years (albeit slightly muddy). Again, due to the excess rain the region had been receiving the last few days, we arrived at Chutes Delaney to find the waterfall churning and flowing with massive amounts of water. We could hear the roar of the falls long before we felt the spray of water surging over the edge of a cliff, 150 m above us.
The hike is 8 km round trip and takes approximately 1.5 – 2 hrs depending on how long you stay to admire the falls. We were back at our car camping site in plenty of time to get our fire going and cook some dinner.
The next day started out with the promise of sunshine but mother nature quickly changed her mind. We geared up on our mountain bikes and took to the forest trails, getting completely soaked with rain and mud (but also thoroughly loving it!).
It felt like we were biking around a northern rainforest with large green ferns and small pools spread across the forest floor and the odd creek crossing (for which there were bridges). The single track trails were in superb shape and held up well to the beating they were taking from the rain and bikers.
Our last day at Valle Brad-du-nord we chose to go Canyoning. We only had the morning as we were off to Quebec City in the afternoon, and rappelling down waterfalls just seemed like too much fun to pass up.
(NOTE: They offer various canyoning experiences, some full day some half day with varying levels of difficulty. There are multiple waterfalls in the area that you can rappel down, again it just depends on how much time you have. We did the half day experience down Easter Island Waterfall, and you’ll just have to go try it to find out why they call it that!).
We met our small group (only 4 others joined us plus our guide) first thing in the morning. We were all outfitted in wet suits, helmets, climbing harnesses and made sure we were wearing the appropriate footwear (running shoes or hikers you don’t mind getting wet). We had a 2 km hike up into the forest to get to the top of our falls. From there we spent a few hours rappelling down 3 waterfalls and even had a small zip line in the middle of it all!
After returning to Shannahan (with the sun shinning bright, finally!) we felt reluctant to leave the stunning nature behind as we headed off to the city. Vallee Bras-du-Nord is such an incredible wilderness area just waiting to be explored, however you like to do your exploring. I only had the time to do a few of the activities available in the area and hopefully I can return there next summer to try a few more!
Location: Valle Bras-du-Nord is located approximately 4 hours north east of Ottawa and about 1 hrs drive west of Quebec City. You will need your own car to get there and get around.
What to Bring
Clothing: Well this depends on what activities you plan on doing! As always, I suggest layers of clothing suitable to your activity, no matter what time of year it is.
Water: Once you leave St Raymond there is no running water (well, no drinkable running water) so be sure to get some in town before you drive in or you can purchase some from the information center at Shannahan (limited). They have a bike washing station so you can hose off your muddy mountain bike (and yourself!) beside the information center.
Food: There is nowhere to buy food (no restaurants or stores) once you leave St Raymond so be sure to pack enough for your stay. You can always do the 30 min drive back into St Raymond as well.
Visit Vallee Bras-du-Nord website for additional information and to make your bookings.