Part of an occasional series exploring North America’s national, provincial and state parks.
MONT ORFORD, Que.—Fresh air cures everything. I truly believe this, so we packed a gourmet picnic supper and set the GPS for Mont Orford provincial park despite my raging sinus infection.
We parked at Stukely Lake’s beach, where we had the thin strip of sand mostly to ourselves on the last Friday before school let out for summer. Melani’s mom, Verna, set up the picnic while Mel rushed Jilly off to the water and I grabbed my camera.
My first shot—perfectly framed with jade evergreens against a backdrop of perfectly blue sky reflected in crystal water toward which Jilly stretched one sweet baby toe—didn’t fire. The camera’s SD card was safely at home in my laptop.
Thank god for the iPhone.
The trail we’d chosen for our after-dinner hike was marked as easy—but then, it was also marked on the map as being quite close to the beach. I guess it’s a stone’s throw, if you’re a professional stone-thrower hopped up on ‘roids. It was also, of course, not clearly marked. We found it by going on faith and frustration and keeping the lake at our backs. We had to park the stroller at the trailhead because it was immediately evident that this path wasn’t made for wheels of any kind.
Melani put a sweater on Jilly. I took it off. She huffed at me and put it back on. “It’s not as warm as you think it is. Mom and I are wearing jackets.”
But standing there in my little tank top, I had sweat leaking down my back and beading at my hairline.
“It’s possible you have a fever,” she muttered, and I responded by heading up the path.
This was our first adventure on the side of a mountain. The twisty paths were veined with tree roots and many of the steeper portions had little wooden stairs built into them. In most places we couldn’t walk two deep, which made conversation slightly more difficult, but since the forest was silent but for a few birdcalls, we were content with that. Plus those of us who were either a grandparent or fevered had to concentrate a little more on where our feet were going.
The cool thing about a mountain path is that you never know what it’s going to do next. You reach a small plateau only to see the path fall away to the right then shinny up again through a muddy patch and across a stream heading toward toward a lake. You think you can’t go up any more and a wooden staircase appears that takes you down, down, down into a valley with sheer rock walls and maple trees canopied above it and you think, “Dear god, I’m tired, but this is almost worth it.”
Verna picked up a branch near the midway point that nature had fashioned into a perfect, mostly smooth walking stick. Jilly found a similar stick and hobbled along behind her. I swiped my hand across my brow, splashing sweat onto the moss at the side of the trail. No one asked, “Are we there yet?” and yet suddenly we were there, at the wooden lookout that was our reward for climbing partway up a mountain.
The small lake was so clear we could see every stone through the water and watch giant turtles lazily push their way onto rocks and into the shade. It was completely silent. My fever broke and the wind sent a chill along my damp spine. It was, right then, completely worth it.
Mont Orford gets three stroller wheels (out of a possible five). It was stunningly beautiful and though we found the categorization of the trails a little sketchy, if we’d been young and healthy the 2.5-kilometre trail would have been a breeze. It took us a while to find the trail, though, and as always we encourage better signage. We saw more wildlife here than at previous parks—several deer (including two that crossed the road right in front of the truck) and turtles as well as ducks and dozens of other birds I can’t name. There were already a lot of campers setting up in mid-June, so it might be quite busy later in the summer.
Mont Orford Park is about 150 kilometres southeast of Montreal. Entrance is $6.50 per adult, $3 for children 6 and up. Or get a yearly pass to all of Quebec’s parks for $58.50 ($117 for a family). Activities, boat rides, bike rentals and camping are extra. Check the Sepaq website for details.