Camping in Gatineau: Caves, ruins and other adventures

Saying goodbye to summer is never easy even if fall promises cooler temperatures, bug-free hikes and a magical display of colours. For our last long weekend of the summer, we headed to Gatineau Park, just outside of Ottawa. We fell in love with Gatineau during our New Year’s trip and decided to check it out in other seasons as well.

Lac Philippe in Gatineau Park

Philippe Lake in Gatineau Park

The park was definitely busier than the last time we came here. Philippe Lake campground was full. And since privacy didn’t seem to be much of a priority to whomever designed the campground, I was glad we booked one of the walk-in campsites. We could still see and hear our neighbours but at least no cars and very few people passed by. Plus the lake was close by, peaking through the trees, an ever patient photo model radiant in any light. Yes, we had to carry our food back and forth all the time but there wasn’t much of a walk and a handy cart was provided to transport stuff.

Campsite D11 at Lake Philippe Campground in Gatineau

Our campsite in Gatineau Park: yes, those are our neighbours up the hill

view from Campsite D11 at Lake Philippe Campground in Gatineau    Lake Philippe in Gatineau Park

Our campsite had great access to Philippe Lake

Lake Philippe in Gatineau

The lake was moody at times but still beautiful

We planned to leave Thursday night to make our long weekend just a little bit longer. But then we realized we were nowhere near ready so departure got postponed till Friday morning. With traffic and construction delays, the drive to the park took much longer than expected and we didn’t arrive until 6 p.m. By the time we finished setting up and making dinner, it was already dark. Early sunset, a sure sign the fall is slowly taking over.

after sunset over Lake Philippe in Gatineau

Early sunset, harbinger of fall

Caving Adventures

The night was cool with lower than normal temperatures for this time of year. But it quickly warmed up in the morning. So after we finished breakfast and packed some snacks and water, we were ready to hit the trail. Our goal was Lusk Cave about a four-kilometre hike away. The trail took us along Lake Philippe before it swerved to the right and started climbing up a bit.

Lusk Cave Trail in Gatineau Park  Lusk Cave Trail in Gatineau Park

On our way to Lusk Cave

Lusk Cave Trail in Gatineau Park  Lusk Cave Trail in Gatineau Park

Caves don’t often form in the Canadian Shield. They are more of a softer rock type feature, like limestone. Which makes this beautiful marble cave a bit of a rarity.

Lusk Cave in Gatineau Park  Lusk Cave in Gatineau Park

Lusk Cave, a rare Canadian Shield cave in Gatineau

The best part about Lusk Cave was the fact that you could get inside and explore it. So no wonder the place was buzzing with people. We knew there’d be some wading through water and brought extra shoes. What we didn’t realize was that the water was almost waist deep in some places, especially for shorter people, so bringing swimwear would have been a good idea. It was also freezing so the cave was echoing with “Cold! Cold! C’est froid!”

view from Lusk Cave in Gatineau

Contrary to what you may think, I didn’t flip this photo. It was  an actual view from the cave because you can only see the reflection and not the person above.
Quite an unsettling experience. 

All these obstacles didn’t dissuade us. After some probing, we got through the first section of the cave without any problems, bypassing the deepest parts by squeezing through a hole in the wall.

Lusk cave in Gatineau park   Lusk Cave in Gatineau Park

Exploring Lusk Cave

The other half of the cave didn’t have an obvious detour route so at first we thought we’d leave it for the moment and return the next day more prepared for deep water exploration. Our son, however, is not the one to give up easily. After carefully studying the map, he concluded there was a tunnel allowing to bypass the deepest water. Back into the cave we went. We located an opening to the right and sure enough, after some climbing and wiggling through, we got to the other side. We still had to walk through some water and got a bit wet, but only about mid-thigh for me. Luckily the day was warm and my pants were dry by the time we got back to our campsite.

Lusk Cave in Gatineau Park   Lusk Cave in Gatineau Park

Lusk Cave in Gatineau Park   Lusk Cave in Gatineau Park

We should have brought more than one flashlight

Rainy Day Adventures

The second night brought some warmer weather and lots of rain. It took us a long time to leave the comfort of our tent in the morning. Eventually we did, and after about half an hour of tying and retying the ropes, we had a tarp over our heads. With the fire going, we were all set for a cozy morning with coffee, pancakes and some of our Newfoundland jam.

Campsite D11 in Gatineau

All our neighbours were gone on day 2, chased away by the rain

cup of coffee by the campfire   pancakes and jam at the campsite

Cozy rainy morning with campfire, coffee and pancakes

The rain didn’t show any signs of stopping so after a long breakfast that slowly merged into lunch, we piled into our car to explore the southern part of the park. Our first stop was the visitor centre, quite big with lots of information about the natural and human history of the park. Our son fancied himself a dj and used bits of animal sounds to create music  tracks.

visitor Centre in Gatineau Park

Visitor Centre in Gatineau Park

We then drove to the famous Pink Lake, which is not really pink but turquoise. Although we couldn’t see the turquoise either, because it was so overcast. So we just had to trust the information panels. The panels also informed us that Pink Lake is a meromictic lake, just like Crawford Lake closer to home. In meromictic lakes, different layers of water don’t mix resulting in no oxygen at the bottom. They are also rare. Only about 1 in 1,000 lakes is meromictic. This information gave our son an idea to find and visit them all.

Pink Lake in Gatineau Park

Pink Lake, which is supposed to be turquoise, but is neither in this picture

boardwalk near Pink Lake in Gatineau Park  boardwalk near Pink Lake in Gatineau Park

Boardwalk near Pink Lake, also a great slide after the rain

We then proceeded to the Mackenzie King Estate. William Lyon Mackenzie King was the 10th Prime Minister of Canada and the longest serving one to date. He was also a nature lover and spent a lot time in Gatineau Park. His estate estate is now a museum with quite a few buildings to explore, which was perfect on a rainy day.

Mackenzie estate in Gatineau park   Mackenzie estate in Gatineau park

Mackenzie estate in Gatineau park   Mackenzie estate in Gatineau park

Mackenzie King Estate, a place to learn and a place to hide from the rain

Mackenzie King was also into ruins, which he pieced together from remnants of other buildings. The Abbey Ruins, for instance, contain bits and pieces of the Parliament Buildings salvaged from the fire of 1916, as well as fragments the British House of Parliament that he somehow obtained after the renovation.

ruins at Mackenzie Estate in Gatineau Park

Abbey Ruins at Mackenzie King Estate

ruins at Mackenzie Estate in Gatineau Park  ruins at Mackenzie Estate in Gatineau Park

ruins at Mackenzie Estate in Gatineau Park

The ruins contain bits and pieces of historic buildings, like remnants of of the Parliament Buildings salvaged from the fire of 1916

ruins at Mackenzie Estate in Gatineau Park  ruins at Mackenzie Estate in Gatineau Park

Our son was convinced this was a portal to Narnia

Our final stop was the Champlain lookout. The rain stopped by then so we were looking forward to a sweeping view of Ottawa valley. What we got instead was even more breathtaking. Eerie, magical landscape floating underneath with the shimmering strip of Ottawa River making an occasional breakthrough.

view from Champlain lookout in Gatineau park

Magical view from the Champlain Lookout

The smell of fall was already in the air. And even though summer made a spectacular comeback later in the month, signs of upcoming season change were all around us.

red foliage    yellow maple leaf on a blue tarp

yellow leaves   red berries

Signs of fall all around us

8 thoughts on “Camping in Gatineau: Caves, ruins and other adventures

    • Yes, the cave was a lot of fun to explore. There was so much beauty in the lines and the light, where there was light because some parts of the cave were pitch dark. And yes, rain can be a bit of a downer on a camping trip but there is always something fun to do. Thank you for stopping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hello, dear Oleksandra. I have been following your blog for quite a long while now. I do not even remember how I stumbled on it, I guess it just happened randomly as I was looking for inspiration in the vast forest of the internets. And I have remained pretty loyal ever since I discovered your beautiful combination of writing and photos from your trips. And.. guess what.. this Thanksgiving weekend we sort of…met.. haha 🙂 It happened this past Monday, in Algonquin, as we were putting our canoe in the water after the short portage that took us to Canoe Lake. We had a red canoe, our son was in a blue kayak and we were also accompanied by another family, very good friends of ours. I wanted to find a way to start a conversation, as you caught up on the water, but I did not want it to feel awkward or intrude in your family’s time. You guys then stopped at the Tom Thomson cairn and I no longer had the chance to come and actually talk to you. Anyway, I just wanted to say Hello and to thank you for the emotion you convey through your posts. We seem to resonate in very similar ways and to align ourselves with similar curiosity to wilderness and waterways. Enjoy life as you’ve been doing so far! To many more posts 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Elena,
      It is so great to hear from you and thank you so much for your kind words! Your comment really made my day. It warms my heart to hear that my words and photos don’t just just get lost in “the vast forest of the internet” as you so poetically put it.
      I do remember you and your family and friends on the portage. I wish we could talk. It is always fun to meet fellow adventurers and nature lovers face to face and not just online. I hope you enjoyed your trip in Algonquin and I also hope our paths will cross again in the vast Ontario wilderness along one of its spectacular waterways. To great adventuring!


  2. Pingback: The Best of 2017 | Gone Camping

  3. Pingback: About our trip to Gatineau, inspiration and reasons for getting outside (with video) | Gone Camping

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