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By Simon Diotte
Twenty years ago, my fiancée and I went on our first camping trip to Mont-Mégantic’s national park. We immediately fell in love with the area as we went star gazing at the Mont-Mégantic Popular Observatory, and as we conquered both Mont-Saint-Joseph and Mont-Victoria with elevations of over 1,000 metres.
Twenty years later, we’re back again. However, this time, we're not alone. Our two daughters, Romane and Marion, are now also part of the adventure. Plus, this time, there will be no roughing it in a tent. First, it’s not the season. Second, the park has evolved quite a bit since those early days. The Franceville sector offers us a choice of comfortable accommodations with three Echo chalets with a separate bedroom (marvellous for a family) as well as seven EXP. chalets (able to lodge from two to four guests). These perfect homes away from home, accessible throughout the year, allows visitors to explore the entire mountain park with its many spectacular viewpoints.
During the week end of December 8 and 9, we noticed that winter had truly settled in the far east section of the Eastern Townships. At Mont-Mégantic’s national park, it really felt as if we were in January. A good amount of snow covered the landscape and the streams and ponds were already well covered with ice. It was like Christmas, before Christmas!
Our base camp for two days was the Terre chalet, and our biggest challenge was to leave it! Inside, the decor resembled something you would find in a magazine! Its walls and ceilings covered with Russian birch panels as well as its many windows welcoming so much natural light, eliminated the boundaries between us and our forest surroundings. It also contained customized, functional furniture, two cozy sofas and a fireplace we’d feed with ecological logs. All the comforts of home in the heart of this natural setting with wild turkeys and white tail deer as our only neighbours. True peace and quiet!
Luckily, the snowman built by the previous renters conjured us to go outside. It convinced our girls to face the cold and gave us adults the motivation we needed for our first excursion: to dare hike on the Escarpments trail and explore the rocky cliffs of Sugar Loaf Mountain, a small hill with an elevation of 650 metres. Starting out directly from our izba, it’s about a 7 km return hike, at an easy pace, along a cascading mountain stream. A very smooth way to begin our trek.
Everything was going well when the trail took an abrupt upwards turn. Our girls started complaining as they pushed onward, one step at a time.
“My muscles are hurting me, Dad!” Romane’s face cringed like that of a marathon runner arriving at the end of a race.
“Are we there yet? OHHH! I’ m so tired.” Marion exclaimed, as if she was having a tooth pulled!
But, in the end, with a lot of encouragement and cookies—did they really have a choice? —they were back at the chalet, after putting in an effort of 3 hours and thirty minutes. The mugs of hot cocoa and crêpes were well deserved as they went inside. What did they like the most? The walls of ice clinging to the cliffs. As for my fiancée and myself, we loved each metre of this trail, offering such a diversity of landscapes and viewpoints. To be repeated, for sure! We spent the evening playing board games (happiness with no Wi-Fi).
We left our wonderful chalet (snif!) Sunday morning and headed out to explore the Observatory sector, where the ASTROLab is located. This time of the year, when there are fewer visitors, the interpretation centre was closed for renovations (it will reopen by the Holidays). However, the entire network of cross-country ski trails was accessible, and the conditions were perfect. We weren’t going to let this opportunity pass. We took advantage of the free equipment loan for kids, offered in all the SEPAQ parks, and started out on a new adventure.
The attendant warned us, there are no easy trails here, as he looked directly at our kids. Perfect for us! Our girls hate cross-country skiing on flat trails. They love uneven terrains and slopes. They’ll be well served! We took on the 5,6 km Cassiopée loop. It begins with a good ascent, allowing us to reconnect with our skies and to warm up a bit, then we attacked a series of smooth descents which pleased kids and parents alike. The girls loved it, especially since they didn’t fall once! They decided without any hesitation that this exploit deserved a reward! We’ll see what Santa Claus has to say about that!