Lou Maxime Massie, 4, pets one of more than 70 dogs at Chiens Traineaux de la Petite-Nation in Quebec. (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)
Québec has a wild wintery side that many visitors miss. Located just across the Ottawa River from Canada’s capital, the Outaouais region on the western side of Québec is a flurry of fun for families who want to share outdoor adventures beyond the standard ski vacation.
Outaouais (the French name for both the Ottawa native peoples and the Ottawa River) is known as one of the most bilingual areas of this French-speaking province, making it an easy destination for Francophones and English-speakers alike.
Dog-sled at Chiens Traineaux de la Petite-Nation
Kids will brag to school friends for years about their dog-sledding adventure at Chiens Traineaux de la Petite-Nation. Upon arrival, visitors are serenaded by a pack of more than 70 canines, which howl with delight at the prospect of a romp through the snow. Children can sit in a sleigh driven by an experienced musher (kids ages 1 to 5 should sit in an adult rider’s lap, while children 6-plus can sit alone). For a heart-pumping thrill, older kids can even drive their own sleds (age 12 to 14-plus, depending on size and athleticism). Trainer Sébastien Ruiz says, “The dogs don’t want money or anything else. All they want is [for you] to pet them for a good job.”
Tube slide at Edelweiss
Children (and adults!) can't help but scream with a blend of thrill and laughter as they zoom down snowy hills in rubber inner tubes at Edelweiss. A ski lift deposits riders at the top of their choice of six tubing runs (from mellow to more thrilling options). Children should be able to sit in the tubes by themselves (around 3-plus years) but families can link tubes into a sliding train of sorts to descend the hills together. Eighteen downhill skiing trails are also available for wintry pleasure.
Pet wildlife at Parc Oméga
The stated mission of this wildlife park is “to share a bit of paradise and sensitize people to the beauty of nature and animals,” according to Océane Godde, the park's marketing manager. Parc Oméga draws more than 2,000 visitors on an average summer day, but in winter a family can have the park practically to themselves, with only 50 or so individuals entering daily. Purchase bags of carrots at the visitor center to feed the animals before driving through the trails. Keep windows at half-mast to avoid a herd of red deer or elk cramming their heads into your vehicle -- much to the nervous giggles and shrieks of passengers. You can also spot wild boar, buffalo (not to be fed because their humongous bodies can damage cars), and shy reindeer. In large enclosures, you can spy wolves, coyotes, arctic foxes and, if you're lucky, a groggy black bear up to stretch from winter slumber. Park the car to wander along designated walking trails where children can come nose-to-nose with the diminutive and gentle fallow deer.
Snowshoe or cross-country ski at Gatineau Park
Encompassing nearly 90,000 acres of wilderness, Gatineau Park is heaven for nature lovers, with more than 31 miles of maintained snowshoe trails and 124 miles of cross-country ski trails laced with pine, cedar and more than 50 other species of trees. As soon as children can walk steadily (at about age 3), they can explore the park via snowshoes or skis. Yurts, cabins and outdoor winter campsites are available for rent to those wishing to awaken in this real-life snow globe.
Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor of TravelMamas.com, a site for anyone who wants to travel with children … and stay sane!
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