It was raining cats and dogs, nay – bison, elk, and moose, when we, a family of 5 humans, and our dog K2, a Hungarian Kuvasz, reached Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. For a second, we thought of first checking into our RV campsite, but then the daredevil among us made us drive all the way to the river Malbaie. There, the huge parking lot, Le Draveur Visitors Centre, and the dam located on the east side, were dwarfed by the high Laurentian mountains on either side of the River.
It was a site that I will never forget. The sound of the gushing river, mountains wearing a thick cloak of clouds, the tininess of man-made structures, the loneliness of the site beaconing us – it was a sight to behold.
The Park name suggests that its is a national park, but in actuality it is equivalent of a provincial parks of other provinces. This is because Quebec calls itself a province, as well as a nation. The Park is managed by by Société des Établissements de Plein Air du Québec (or Society of outdoor recreation establishments of Quebec – Sepaq for short)
River cruise with a lot of information by Park Ranger
The clouds cleared the next morning and it turned out to be mildly cold, but a pleasant sunny day. We headed for the Visitor Centre again, where our river cruise was due to begin by noon.
The cruise turned out to be very informative. Since Quebec is a French speaking province, the official guide, whose name was Julie, took turns in talking to the passengers in French and English. Although we were the only English-speaking people, she devoted as much time to us as she did to all other French-speaking tourists.
Noticing our surprise at canoeists, kayakers, and even boarders, paddling upstream with ease, Julie told us that it was because of the dam on the river that we saw by the Visitor Centre (ref: picture at the top), which turned the waters calmer for all water-based activities.
Julie said that that the valley was actually a fjord, not riverine. It made sense to me as it was ‘U’ shaped valley with many waterfalls. Glacier carved valleys are of this characteristic. Valleys carved by rivers are ‘V’ shaped and give rise to streams rather than waterfalls.
Wildlife of the park
Julie also informed us of the wildlife of the Park – porcupines, black bears that she ran into even that morning, and wolves further north. The Malbaie river, she told us, flows for over 150 kms in total wilderness before entering the Park.
We noticed that the calmer section of the River was a favorite fishing spot of the northern loons and cormorants.
Hiking at dusk under drizzle
As the light was fading, we decided to drive back and check in to the RV campsite. We parked our RV at a beautiful site, which offered privacy provided by rows of trees and bush on the 3 sides. We had a quick supper and decided to hike on 7.6 km long Les Rapides trail. The trail offered the opportunity to start at Le Cran campground where we had camped in our RV to reach Le Draveur Visitors Centre via the Pin-Blanc campground.
When we started the hike, it was raining that turned into a pleasant drizzle soon.
We felt the noise from the rapids, where it gets its name from, at many places. This trail allows many exit points on the park main road. For return, we had planned to either return by Le Riverain trail or take the shuttle bus. However, the trail was closed and the bus was not operational due to the pandemic requirements. We had to resort to retracing our steps.
We were hiking on a lonely trail with bush and wildflowers all around. We marveled at what we did not know at that time – the reindeer lichens and the mountain walls covered by moss, lichens, and fungus. The torrential rain soaked our rain dress thoroughly.
Truth be told, hiking under a drizzle has its own thrill.
Hiking up the mountain
The much sought 11.2 km long L’Acropole-des-Draveurs trail was crowded with hundreds of hikers, who were being lined up by the friendly park rangers, probably because of the pandemic requirements. It turned out to be so crowded that we changed our plans.
We hiked on a moderately difficult Le Belvédère trail instead. The trail went up the mountain from the Visitor Centre to a lookout from where we had a dazzling look of the valley below.
From the lookout we could see the canoe and bike rental place down in the valley, which was supposed to be our next stop.
The canoeing experience turned out to be fantastic. At the time of renting our canoe from the outfitter close to the Visitor Centre, we met two hikers who were renting canoes for a canoe camping trip farther up north in the backcountry. They packed their canoes up with backcountry hiking paraphernalia and paddled off.
However, we just paddled on a long stretch of the river and observed several ‘ribbon’ waterfalls. The touristic damming of the river has turned the wild mountain river into a calm lake of the planes for a considerable stretch that one can easily navigate. Downstream of the dam, the river picks up its wild mountain nature immediately.
Where to stay
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we found the experience of renting out an RV safer and the RV campsite experience very good. There are normal campgrounds in the park. In addition, we could see a number of BnBs, inns, and motels in the municipality of Notre-Dame-des-Monts, about 30 minutes away.