Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie: Hiking Guide

Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie is a bit of a mouthful. Like really. Where did you go this weekend? Oh, you know parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. I started saying simply Malbaie. I think that works non?!?

How ever you refer to it, parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie is hands down gorgeous. Stunning. Like get-to-the-summit-and-squeal-in-pure-joy kind of stunning.

Have you ever been? Or even ever heard of it?! The summit of mont des erables in the park sits at a respectable 1043m (3422feet).

In 2018 we  managed to take full advantage of the park by hiking a good four trails (including the famed ‘l’acropole des draveurs’ leading up to summit 1,2, and 3) and staying at a ‘ready-to-camp’ site.  And this time we hiked three trails, again including l’acropole des draveurs. Ready for some awesome views? Here we go…

The Low Down

  • Distance from Ottawa: 605 kms (roughly 6hrs) via highways 50/15/40/138. That said, I much more enjoy taking the 417 and then 30 around the south of Montreal and then the trans Canada Hwy up to Quebec City.
  • GPS Coordinates: 47° 51′ 15” N 70° 25′ 47” W
  • Address: 500 Rue Principale, Saint-Aimé-des-Lacs, QC G0T 1S0
  • Directions: It absolutely depends on what time of day you’re traveling. If it’s anywhere near rush hour I’d avoid driving through Montreal at all costs by taking the 30. Otherwise though 50/15/40/138 works great.
  • Entrance Fee: Less than 9$ per adult for a day access pass. Best to purchase to unsure availability (the park has a max capacity) prior to arrival. If staying onsite camping or otherwise overnight, the access is added your accommodation bill automatically.
  • Parking: Available at the park centres and campgrounds.
  • Trailhead: Trailheads are clearly marked, pick up a discovery guide at the park centre for more information. L’acropole 
  • Number of Trails: 7
  • Total Distance of Trails: over 40kms of trails.
  • Elevation Gain: L’acropole des draveurs is an 800m elevation gain, other trails like the rivierian are 140m, while the sentier des rapids is a flat trail along the water.
  • Washrooms: Common area washrooms for the campsites have showers, sinks, and flush toilets. There’s a community sink outside the building for washing dishes. Along with washrooms at the park centres and port-a-potty’s at parking lots/trailheads.  All water from taps in the park is drinkable.
  • Cell Reception: One little bar at best. There is free wifi at both parc centres and a cell booster on your way to Le Cran campground just before the recycle bins. It’s a small white box attached to a brown service shed.
  • Season: All seasons.
  • Features: Two park centres with basic needs, clothing, washrooms, firewood, and information. A equipment rental centre is located behind the Centre de Services du Draveur.
  • Activities:Hiking, canoeing, kayaking, SUP, river rides, biking, fishing, snowshoeing.
  • Dogs: Only service dogs are permitted in the parc.
  • Suggested Stops: To break down the 6-7 hours of driving, we left after work and drove until just before Quebec City. We thankfully found the Econo Lodge. It’s friendly, clean, and modern. The breakfast isn’t much but it’s free (along with the wifi).
  • Nearby Hikes: There are three major national parks in this area; parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie, parc naitonale du Grand Jardin, and parc nationale de la Jacques-Cartier.
  • More Information: The parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie website.

The parks office is fully bilingual and well equipped with camping extras, basic food, ice, firewood, and all the park memorabilia that you could want. We bought shirts even before the climb much to the staff’s amusement that we were “getting the medal before the race”.  The staff were super lovely and helpful, giving us plenty of information and tips.

There are two park offices, one at the main entrance and another large center located at the dam (that one includes at cafeteria).

Tip: Note the shuttle bus schedule prior to coming to the park. While the shuttle operates, no personal vehicles are allow on the main road during the weekends/holidays. The shuttle stops at every trail head and camp site entrance making it super convenient.

What to Bring

Besides the 10 essentials and what I would normally suggest for hikes, here are the highlights for this particular hike:

 

  • Bug hat/gear: Typical Ontario with the abundance of mosquitoes in the late spring especially. So if there’s no wind, you might want to think about bug gear, or at the very least, bug spray.
  • Waste bag: What you hike in with, you hike out with. That’s the golden rule, and if you see anything that’s not part of nature (like food wrappers) kindly pick it up to throw out later.

L'acropole des draveurs Trail

The trail break down is like this:

  • 0 to 1.5km: Hiking along the river, rocks steps, dirt switchbacks, more rock steps.
  • 2.5km: Around there is the massive first aid box.
  • 3km: The washrooms (only one on trail) and a lookout.
  • 3-4.5kms: Slight decline, stream crossing, then elevation again through the woods. 
  • 4.5kms Tree line begins to break.
  • 4.8kms Welcome to summit 1!
  • It is an added 1-15kms for summit 2 &3 which give you views of mountain top lakes.

Sentier l’acropole des draveur is a challenging 11.2km (return) trail with 800m of elevation. On average the park states that it takes 4-6 hrs. In 2018’s hike however we left at 9am and return at 5:30pm (with 3 hrs at summit one while friends explored summit 2 and 3).  In 2020 it was a PB for myself! Managed the 10km round trip to Summit 1 in 4hrs 15mins and still feeling great. The long at short of it is that if the weather is good, make sure to allow yourself extra time to enjoy the views on this trail.

 

This is one of the few hikes that rewards you at almost every turn. In the first few kms you hike along the waterfalls, something that made us all instantly smile.

 

Then every so often at the edge of a switchback there will be a look out over the valley and with each 500m the view just gets better and better.  It was a good motivational boost to have as the trail becomes steep! Personally I find the rock steps hard (burns the quads!) with my short legs, ha ha, but it’s certainly not impossible. Poles are forever my hiking saviours.

 

At the first official lookout there is a dry washroom and perfect spot for a break/snack. It’s pretty motivating and by the time you see the 4.5 km marker you know you are on the final push to summit 1.

Summit 1, 2, & 3

Holy views batman! I think I  spent the entire time smiling ear to ear, for an east coast hike this view certainly does the trick. Reaching summit 1 is great, but it’s also windy AF so make sure your wind/rain gear and puffy are packed in your day pack. And a toque. Maybe gloves. Yes, it’s that cold/windy!

On summit 1 most will take pictures around to the right (east) as the trail leads to summit 2 and 3.  But don’t forget to swing around to the left (west) side of summit one for a large clearing and great cliff views.

Most said that summit 1 had the best views, but a friend went on to summit 2 and 3 and thoroughly enjoyed them as well.  Summit 3, which is the summit of Mont des erables, offers a 360′ view and lakes to go chill next to.

In 2018, I enjoyed a blissful 3 hrs on summit 1  simply enjoying the moment of joy and gratitude. In my mind there’s nothing better than feeling small among the mountains and respecting their grandeur. These are the moments I love most!

In 2020, we were the second on the summit and only stayed long enough to take a few pictures. The wind gusts were 100kms/hr and not exactly safe to explore large cliff. The bursts were so strong that we got knocked off our feet a few times.

Sentier des Rapids

Sentier des rapids is a wonderfully easy trail along the river that offers up views of the raging rapids. It is a mostly flat and well groomed 7.6km trail. The beauty is that there’s a shuttle bus that runs during the weekend so you can start the trail at one end, and then take the shuttle back.

Sentier L'Erabliere

A shorter 2.5km trail through the forest that has a wonderful view of the cliffs. We ended up hiking this one on Sunday morning after completing l’acropole de draveurs – it was the perfect way to finish up our camping trip!

Sentier de Belvedere

Sentier de belverdere is a fun and short 400m trail form the draveurs centre that’s ideal for the whole family. There is a little lookout at the end giving you a wonderful view of the valley.

 

Sentier La Riverian

La Riverian is a great alternative to L’acropole des draveurs. It is a 10km trailwith 170m elevation gain that offers views of the valley. There are picnic spots along the pathway. You can hike from Le Cran to Centre de Service de Draveurs 9then take the shuttle back), although check with the parks staff first as in 202 a section of the trail was closed.

Wildlife

Where are all our birds at?!?! It was a little weird that we saw so little birds but we did see a monster porcupine enjoying his lunch at the top of a birch tree (pictured below…not a bear…but a porcupine). We also saw an overly friendly fox (coming right up to our legs to check things out) and there was a bear sighting. The park is also known for having moose.

The overly friendly squirrels, chipmunks, and fox are a good reminder to not feed the wildlife and to never leave food or fragrant body care products unattended. 

Accommodations

We rented a ‘ready-to-camp’ site within La Cran which was ideal. It was our first time and woah am I ever tempted to use them again! Not only is there plenty of room (two ‘rooms’ and eating area inside the tent) but it also comes with everything you could possibly need. There is a mini fridge, hot plate, and heater all fueled by propane.

Oh, and did I mention there were flush toilet and showers??? Definitely a little more luxurious than I’m used to in the woods.

We were pretty spoiled.

Wrapping Up

Calling all hikers – explore your surroundings! It’s utterly baffling to me that there are so many trails near (within a 6 hr drive is reasonable in my books) my hometown of Ottawa that aren’t as well known. I would have never have discovered them if it wasn’t for originally being pushed to hike more with Women Who Hike and the 52 Hike Challenge. At least that’s how it started, and now it’s a regular necessity…getting outside is great for the soul and well-being.