Réserve faunique La Vérendrye is a massive wildlife reserve for hunting, fishing, canoeing, and other outdoor pursuits. Northeast of Montreal, and almost straight North of Ottawa, the southern access to the area is about 3.5 hours drive from Montreal, and 2.5 hours from Ottawa.
The reserve is named after the French-Canadian explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye.
La Vérendrye is one of the largest Reserve fauniques in Quebec and it is renowned for its canoe camping possibilities.
The provincial park system - SEPAQ - manages the Reserve, at large, but the canoe camping is managed by Canot-Camping La Verendrye. http://www.canot-camping.ca/home.html
Canot Camping La Verendrye maintains 20 different river and lake canoe camping circuits. These circuits can take only 2 days or 8+ days. You could easily string together weeks-long trips in the wilderness through this area.
Since we are new canoeists (this is our second season on the water) with zero whitewater experience, we opted for a 5 night trip without any whitewater, which means... portages :) We did circuit 33: Nicobyzard.
The trip was amazing. In all our years of backpacking and hiking, mostly in New England, Appalachia and some western mountain ranges, this was the most "wilderness" experience we've ever had. Zero cell service and very little contact with other humans.
We hope/plan to return to the area and are delighted to have such a wonderful wilderness canoe area relatively close to home.
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Leaving our last tiny portage (115m) on Lac au Barrage, still high from our bear sighting.
Our route to the car is through the channel and to the right.
We arrived at the car 2 hours after leaving camp and damien calculated the distance as 9.7 kms. I’ve learned with this trip that the map distance doesn’t match Damien’s gps calculated distances. But the trip was in the ballpark of 80-85 kms. It is marked as a 76km circuit but that only accounts for the circuit part and not the 5 km access through Lac au Barrage. Those are the pesky details but for us, newbie canoe campers but experienced backpackers, the trip was very doable in 5 nights and 5 full day (6 days with 2 half days on either end).
We did a clockwise loop and this was advantageous for us since the days that we had wind, the wind was largely at our backs. I don’t know enough about the prevailing weather patterns in the area to know the usual wind direction, but it worked well for us.
The park recommends either direction so I think we just lucked out.
Summary: amazing trips on many levels. Highly recommend the area for canoe camping enthusiasts who appreciate and seek wilderness experiences.
And then we saw a bear!
We first saw this bear walking/swimming through reeds but we couldn’t positively identify it as a bear. Big muskrat, maybe? we thought. The animal disappeared from our view and we kept paddling.
We went around the bend and we saw this bear swimming across the channel moving from left to right. Its destination was our first night camping site.
More than 1/2 way across the channel it became aware of us, as we paddled closer. And it turned around to go back to the shore it came from.
In this photo the bear becomes aware of us.
After returning to the left hand shore it ran into the woods, spraying water off itself as it went.
But this bear was determined to cross this channel.
We paddled a little further, maybe 200 metres and around another bend and we see her again on the left shore. When she saw us she turned back into the woods.
The channel is quite curvy here and when we reached another bend we saw the bear had finally made it to the right hand shore. She was faster than us and had finished swimming already, the channel was narrower here, so weren’t able to witness her swim across.
We saw her on the far shore about 200 metres ahead of us before we disappeared into the woods.
Seeing the bear was definitely a highlight for me! And also a wake-up call to the importance of proper food storage.
Last night we were camped on an island, 1/4 km from mainland. I figured we didn’t need to hang our food since the only animals that would want it were the rodents and our SealLine bags are very resistant. So we didn’t hang the food, and we left it just feet from our tent!
Wow, lesson learned (the easy way)! Bears can swim to close islands.
I think I probably knew this already but conveniently forgot to save myself hanging food bags. Yikes.
It’s a beautiful morning for our final day of paddling.
Most of our nights out here have been very quiet and still, with no wind. Last night the wind blew through the trees all night. A very comforting sound.
The wind brought clear blue skies with puffy clouds and choppy waters.
With only 10 km to paddle to our car we took it easy this morning and left camp at 10:15.
Early evening view across the channel from our beach.
The end of day 5 and our last camp night.
An easy 8-10 km tomorrow to the car.
I finally learned that my map distances don’t match @toesalad watch numbers so it could be 8 or closer to 10. Not even 2 hours.
Listening to the loons in our tent as I type this.
By 2:10 we arrived our campsite for the night - 30-24 on Lac Grand.
Because it’s Sunday and the campsites/route for circuit 35 along Lac Grand are shared with circuit 30 I thought we might see other canoeists today. Nope not a one.
Not even using the drone.
On this trip each day after we’ve set up camp @toesalad likes to take a drone tour of the area. It’s always such an interesting perspective.
Today I learned how to fly the drone. I went to that island across the channel and back.
The beach here is lovely. Not a swimming beach “beach” but a nice canoeing beach “beach”.
Today’s paddle was our longest of the trip. Approx. 22.75 km, because we had a wee portage of 20 m and mostly the wind at our backs we made great time. And finished the day in 5 hours. Portages and wind direction make all the difference in terms of how long it takes. At one point our pace was 6.5 km/hour.
Today’s one portage. At one time someone built this structure, out in what feels like the middle of nowhere.
Took this photo after paddling Lac Nichotea. That was our biggest lake crossing of this trip and we experienced the biggest waves our trip there. Still no whitecaps like last September’s Rideau Canal trip. Can’t recall the name of the lake now but it was gnarly.
This was mild in comparison.
After paddling Lac Nichotea, just a few kilometres, we were back in another lake channel which brought us here. A great place to have lunch.