One of my greatest joys when cross-country skiing is encountering wildlife. After all, I am a biologist by training. As my guide, Camil, and I glide down a riverside trail in Quebec’s Bic National Park, where dappled light filters through stands of towering spruce trees, I notice the tracks of a fox, then a snowshoe hare, briefly worried that the two might cross paths. Fortunately, my worries are allayed: there is movement in a thick drift of snow; it’s the rabbit jumping contentedly. Further on, a white-tailed deer scurries through the thick snow. Later, as we pass a vast landscape of empty snow – old agricultural fields – Camil informs me that he recently spotted a falcon sweeping overhead. (My concern for the hare resurfaces.)
With a network of 20 kilometers of mostly flat cross-country ski trails and consistent snow cover, this park on the St. Lawrence River is a delight for Nordic skiers. I chose to ski here (and elsewhere in the maritime regions of Quebec) for the easy access to charming towns, pristine forests, a variety of ski spots and stellar coastal scenery where the river often resembles the sea. .
At Bic, I encounter many more animal tracks than human ones. In fact, Camil and I don’t meet anyone else for hours. As we parallel the vast Ha! Ha! Bay, I see signs depicting a weasel, another local creature. We stop near the water to admire a sculpture representing a trio of seals. Camil tells me that depending on the tide, even in winter seals can be found perched on a nearby rock half submerged.
We continue towards the end of Moose Cape, a rugged, wooded area that juts out into the turbulent estuary, when suddenly the silence is pierced by the sound of crashing waves. Piles of snow cover our path and we fight fierce winds as we approach the dizzying edge. There, I contemplate the breathtaking cliffs, enjoying the panoramic views of the St. Lawrence, with the waves pounding the rocks far below.
This site and other picturesque cross-country ski sites await you in Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie, two vast regions of eastern Quebec.
Ski Located along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, the Chalet des sports de Notre-Dame-du-Portage rents ski equipment and offers evening skiing. Bring a headlamp if you plan to be on the trails after sunset. tourismeriviereduloup.ca
To stay The Hôtel Universel, conveniently located just off the highway, has a heated swimming pool and a spa with its myriad of treatments and sauna, so don’t forget to pack a bathing suit. hoteluniverselrdl.com
To do Along rue Lafontaine in downtown Rivière-du-Loup, the snow sculpture contest is being held from January 28 to 30. Or head inside the Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent, where the permanent exhibition Faces and Landscapes shares historic photographs of the region and members of its community. villerdl.ca; mbsl.qc.ca
Ski: The Matane Cross Country Ski Club is cut up by a series of mostly loop trails that cater to different skill levels. With scattered bird feeders, you may spot fluttering goldfinches. facebook.com/skidefondmatane
To stay: The contemporary Riôtel Matane offers sunny rooms with river views and phenomenal sunsets. Plan to relax on the second floor, where you’ll find swimming pools, a Jacuzzi, and spa facilities. riotel.com
To do: Soothe aching muscles at Spa Oblivio with a hot stone or aromatherapy massage. If you’re looking for something creative, Espaces F is an artist-run center focused on visual and digital arts. The photography exhibition Memorabilia by Brussels artist David Delruelle runs from February 25 to April 2. obliviospa.com; spacesf.org
Ski: Near the start of the Sentier du Littoral, an easy linear route parallel to the St. Lawrence, two contemporary abstract sculptures stand in homage to shipwrecks. At the end of the trail, walk to Rocher-Blanc, a sand and pebble beach at the edge of a calm cove. In Beauséjour Park, the Draveur trail runs along the Rimouski River and reveals figurative sculptures made by a local artist. Another section, L’Éboulis, seems more remote, with densely wooded trails and a covered bridge. Parc Beauséjour rents ski equipment. Skiing in Parc national du Bic couldn’t be more scenic, as the trails, perfect for novice skiers, combine spectacular views of the offshore islands with those of the woodlands. tourismrimouski.com; sepaq.com
To stay: At Refuge du Vieux Loup de Mer, five unique one- to three-bedroom cabins are open in winter, nestled in wooded areas on the edge of Parc national du Bic. Each is individually named with everything from a lynx fur pelt to colorful fishing flies displayed under glass. oldloupdemer.com
To do: The four-kilometre-long boardwalk that runs along the St. Lawrence River is a popular year-round walking route for visitors and locals alike. Many stop to inspect a tidal tower displaying tidal activity in real time. Or visit the historic maritime site of Pointe-au-Père, where you can explore a 90-meter-long Royal Canadian Navy submarine and one of the tallest lighthouses in Canada, and discover the details of one of the Worst Maritime Disasters in Canada at the Empress of Ireland Museum. quebecmaritime.ca
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