While you’re probably familiar with Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, you might not know as much about Outaouais, the part of Québec directly across the river. But if you’re into outdoor adventure and rich culture, it’s time to fix that. Known as “the playground of Canada’s capital,” the Outaouais region offers a complete experience: cross-country skiing, ice fishing, luxury hotels, and delicious meals are all on tap. Here are some of our favorite wintertime adventures.
Cross-Country Ski Gatineau Park’s Winding Trails
From downtown Ottawa, it takes only a few minutes to reach one of the region’s premier outdoor playgrounds, Parc de la Gatineau. In the winter, this 140-square-mile wedge of sugar maple, American beech, yellow birch, and black spruce forest is crisscrossed by seemingly endless ski trails: 125 miles for classic cross-country skiing, over 70 miles for skate skiing, and 30 miles for backcountry skiing. For a nice cross-country loop (skate or classic) with a city-view payoff, park at the P7 lot and follow trails 30, 1, and 2 to Champlain Overlook. Be sure to pop into one of the four warming huts along the route to thaw out by a woodstove.
Ice Fish at Kenauk Nature Center
A short drive from Montebello is Kenauk Nature Center, the largest privately owned nature reserve in Québec, where you can do everything from snowshoeing to dogsledding. But if you have time for just one, book a guide for an ice-fishing adventure. You’ll reach the fishing hole in the middle of a frozen lake, which your guide will have bored through the thick ice, by “skihawking”—a winter travel technique somewhere between ski-touring and snowshoeing. There, the winter-starved fish will be drawn to your bait like magnets to steel. The chances of netting several fish? 100 percent. Then bask in the warmth of winter while your rainbow trout sears in lemon juice, salt, and pepper over the open fire.
Curl, Dogsled, and Dine at Fairmont Le Château Montebello
The only thing cooler than staying in a spectacular century-old grand lodge is staying in one that’s been converted into a luxurious hotel and resort. Swim a few laps in Fairmont Le Château Montebello’s heated Olympic-size pool, try your hand at the oh-so-Canadian sport of curling, book a dogsledding tour, or ski out the door on the hotel’s vast network of cross-country trails after a decadent breakfast. Whichever adventure you choose, finish it next to the Château’s gigantic fireplace (the largest in North America) in the grand atrium. Then dine in the Château’s Aux Chantignoles (winner of the 2019 Open Table Diner’s Choice Award for best view), which serves locally farmed rainbow trout prepared in the traditional French way and served over a bed of risotto and with seasonal grilled vegetables on the side.
Get Above and Below Ground at Arbraska
Ziplining and caving might not come to mind as typical wintertime activities, but you can do both in one day at Arbraska Laflèche, an adventure park 30 minutes north of Ottawa. Thanks to the insulating properties of the Earth’s crust, chances are good that the inside of the Laflèche Cave will actually be warmer than the air above—the Canadian Shield's largest visited cavern is a consistent 40 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Your expert guide will lead you through the labyrinth, where you’ll pay a visit to hibernating bats, discover formations of stalactite-like ice, and listen to the echo of water droplets falling into reflecting pools. Back outside, bundle up and head for Arbraska’s network of high ropes and ziplines.
From skating on Brewery Creek or the Rideau Canal, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park, gliding through the forest on a dog sled, tubing down a snow-covered hill, exploring the backcountry on horseback, or warming up in a wilderness yurt or a downtown museum, Outaouais is the perfect playground to start your discovery of Québec's winter.