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Home Adventure Travel Ideas Activities Cultural Canada's Gatineau Park - Family Favorite

Canada's Gatineau Park - Family Favorite

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Gatineau Park: A Favorite Family Getaway in Canada 
A father and daughter adventure in Ottawa’s nature reserve

    My daughter Leila and I were some 15 minutes from Canada’s Parliament Buildings in Ottawa when I turned to our taxi driver and asked, “How long will it take us to reach Gatineau Park?”  The driver remarked surprisingly “We are driving through the Park now.”    

    Indeed, she was right!  A lush green forest surrounded us and overshadowed the road.  It was unbelievable.  Only a few minutes drive from the heart of the capital of Canada was the Gatineau Park, a forest, which encompasses some 361 sq km /140 Pink Lake is one of the Park's favorite sights. Find out why it's called Pink Lake. sq mi. The Park was founded by Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest reigning Prime Minister. 

    In 1903 Mackenzie King fell in love and bought a small piece of land edging Kingsmere Lake. In the ensuing years, he purchased more land in the area and finally came to own 231 ha (570 ac). To the south of the lake he built a simple four-room summer cottage, which he called Kingswood.  Later, he moved to another cottage, Moorside, which he made into an elegant year-round residence with elaborate flowerbeds and a collections of art. When he died, he bequeathed his property to the Canadians as Gatineau Park.

     The Park encompasses 35,600 ha (88,000 acres) of forest and 40 crystal-clear lakes. The forests contain 1,000 species of plants and 40 species of trees - 90% of which are maple. It is home to 230 species of birds and 54 species of mammals - from bats and deer to bears and wolverines.  Across its wooded hills are 185 km (115 mi) of hiking and biking trails and 15 picnic sites. The Park offers cross-country and downhill skiing facilities, snowshoeing trails, beaches and campgrounds.  Stroll through the gardens at Mackenzie King Estate.

    Today, this protected nature reserve provides some 1.5 million annual visitors with year-round serenity of its natural environment and a multitude of outdoor activities. 

    Leila and I were excited to see the popular Pink Lake.  As we looked down at the turquoise waters, we commented, “But it’s not pink!”  Our guide smiled, “It was named after the ‘Pinks’, an Irish family who first settled here.”

    After a fine lunch at the Moorside Tearoom, part of the Mackenzie King Estate we toured the former Prime Minister’s estate, spending sometime at the Kingswood Residence, which had much of Mackenzie King’s personal belongings on exhibit.  Our guide commented, “He was frugal and some say eccentric, but he was a great Prime Minister.”

    We then drove to the Champlain lookout, the highest point in the Park, which overlooks the Ottawa Valley. The view below was spectacular. The forest stretched for miles, before turning into checkered farmlands and disappearing into the Ottawa River

    The shores oThe Ottawa Valley from the Champlain lookout.f Meech Lake offer visitors swimming and hiking trails and plenty of views of the forest.

    From this charming spot, we made our way to the edge of the Park and past a historic covered bridge to the rustic village of Wakefield. Canada’s last authentic steam-powered train runs a round trip route from Wakefield to Gatineau. This picturesque town, Wakefield  is nestled along side the Gatineau River, which meanders through Gatineau Park. Wakefield has become a sanctuary for artists with its chic shops and gourmet dining places. It is also a year-round ‘jumping off town’ for the outdoor lovers.  

     “It’s a place from the movies!” my daughter remarked about the town’s gem, Wakefield Mill Inn,  a converted heritage, designated 1838 stone mill, straddling what many consider the most picturesque waterfall in Gatineau Park.

    The Wakefield Mill Inn is the only accommodation located in the Gatineau Park and offers skiing, hiking and cycling activities.  A charming country chalet with 27 rooms, many with fireplaces and views of the cascading waterfall, provides a relaxed and comfy stay.  “It fits well into the aura of this picture postcard village.”

    Back in town, waiting for the train, we witnessed the spectacular pivoting of the Hull-Chelse-Wakefield Train, a 93-ton steam locomotive on Canada's only operating manual turntable before boarding the train for Ottawa. 

    ‘Clickety clack’!  ‘Clickety clack’! The train began to move and we relaxed in comfort as the train carried us back to the by-gone era of my youth when steam trains were the choice method of travel. The train moved slowly through a charming landscape along the banks of the Gatineau River and edging the Gatineau hills.  As the train chugged along its way, the bilingual tour guide/conductor eagerly chatted with the passengers. My daughter told him that she appreciated his jovial mannWakefield train station and its historical steam-driven, he smiled and commented, “I love my job!”  

    As the train gently chugged on down the track, I could hear the train’s singing minstrels, strolling from car to car - until they finally reached our car. The other passengers and my daughter and I joined the minstrels  jubilantly singing the traditional festive songs “Alouette, gentille louette, Alouette je te plumerai”, and “Et la tête, et la tête, Alouette, Alouette, O-o-o-o-oh, Alouette, gentille Alouette”.

    After traveling some 40 miles on the train from Wakefield, my daughter and I ended back in Gatineau. The tunes of the minstrels resonated in our heads, as did the rumbling sound of the train track. This adventure filled with exploration and pleasure will be forever a father and daughter day to remember.

The Gatineau Park is a favorite family travel destination with many adventure activities for the family. NOTE: The Wakefield train is temporally under repair. Check the website for current information.

More Information:

Ottawa Tourism -;;
Gatineau Park Visitor Centre - 33 Scott Road, OldChelsea, Quebec, J9B 1R5; 1-800-4651867.  E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Mackenzie King Estate -
Wakefield Mill Inn -
The Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train -

~Habeeb Salloum is a Canadian freelance writer and author who specializes in writing food, history and travel articles. Besides 7 books and 19 chapters in other books he has hundreds of articles published relating to these subjects.  He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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