My husband and I did a lot of camping when we were kids. As a tween, he spent summer holidays canoeing and portaging across the interior of Algonquin Park and tent camping with his mom and sister across the northern states. My parents packed me and my brother into our giant maroon station wagon for a sweaty couple of weeks driving across Canada from campsite to campsite. And now with two kids of our own, we’ve made sure they’ve also experienced rustic camping in the woods and along lakes and rivers.
And as much as we all like camping — leaky mattresses and dripping tents included — a few summers ago I started looking for something different for our short two-night summer vacations. My criteria wasn’t too complex; I wanted locations that were a max of 90 minutes from Montreal, budget-friendly, near a lake or water, and out-of-the-ordinary. So I opened up the laptop, typed “weird places to stay in Quebec”, and the search results that came up were just about perfect.
It’s taken a few summers, but we’ve managed to visit each of the four locations listed below. From a treehouse and a fire lookout to a Flintstone house and a shipping container — they all proved to be unique and the kids had so much fun they’re still talking about them. Hooray for summer vacation.
Les Refuges Perchés
5000 du Lac-Caribou Rd., Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré, J0T 1J2
Open year-round, the 20 treehouses in the secluded and protected 1770-hectare Parc éco Laurentides are just the thing if you’re looking for a quiet and relaxing time in nature. The four-season cabins are each unique and nestled in the woods just steps from Cordon Lake. There are 36 kms of trails where you can choose from hikes of varying distances and difficulty that range from .5 to 6 kms long. Read the information panels and walk the one km boardwalk, and we even found a trail with cute little signs with riddles to read and solve.
Cars aren’t allowed past the reception building, so make sure you’ve got sturdy shoes and strong arms for the hike to your treehouse. Two carts will help you ferry your belongings and the 33 pounds of fresh drinking water that’s waiting for you, but the path can be difficult depending on the distance to your cabin. They range from a walk of 10 to 22 minutes from the parking lot/reception. If you’ve reserved a canoe — which I highly recommend you do — you can pick that up right away and bring in some of your baggage over the water as the docks on Cordon Lake are reserved just for treehouse guests.
While the treehouses aren’t equipped with electricity or running water, dry toilets are located next to the access path and you can rent a power pack to charge phones (though you probably won’t have any reception) and to run a light in the treehouse.
During our two-night stay we canoed, relaxed, swam around the dock, explored the woods, found swings along the trail, hiked, canoed some more, fished, and just enjoyed the quiet nights and beautiful scenery. The kids actually liked it so much that we’re revisiting again this summer. Can’t wait!
Activities on site: Canoeing, kayaks, fishing on three lakes, exploring, hiking, winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Services: Reception building with showers, bathrooms, and internet service. Parking lot, canoe rental, firewood and kindling to purchase, ready-to-camp kits for rent, trolleys for bringing gear to your treehouse. A small store at the park entrance. Dogs are allowed in the treehouses and on the trails as long as they are leashed.
Pricing: There is a two-night minimum to reserve a treehouse. Rates vary by season but from July 16 to September 5, 2021, the price per night is $206. Off-season rates can go down to $109. Canoe rental is $37 for the duration of your stay. You also need to pay the park’s daily access fee at the entrance gate to the Parc éco Laurentides. See the website for full details.
To reserve: You can visit the website to view each treehouse, an FAQ section, maps, availability, and to reserve your desired house. refugesperches.com
Au Diable Vert
169 Staines Rd., Glen Sutton, J0E 2K0
This four-season outdoor centre located in the Eastern Townships is about 90 minutes from Montreal and has stunning views of the Green Mountains in Vermont and the Missisquoi River Valley.
You can choose from a wide variety of lodgings on the private site such as treehouses with jaw-dropping mountain scenery (including the Paradis Perché replica park fire tower where we stayed), pod cabins for couples and families, rustic cabins in the woods, cliff-hugging cabins, or classic tent camping with a view.
Cars are not allowed past the parking lot at reception, so borrow a trolley for the hike to your site, which range from 100 metres to one kilometre from the reception, or for $10 each way have your gear (and yourself) ferried by a Kubota vehicle.
During the summer, you can enjoy soaring through the treetops on a suspended recumbent bicycle with VéloVolant, choose short or long hikes on the 22 kms of marked trails in the forest, and visit the Highland cattle of the working farm. You can also rent single and double kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, or tubes to travel along the Missisquoi River. My kids loved their tubing excursion and happily floated along, stopped on the shores for snacks, and swam in the shallow water.
The area is also fantastic for star gazing and Au Diable Vert was recently certified as a Canadian Dark Sky Preserve. If you’d like to learn more about the skies above, visit the multilevel mountainside amphitheatre, specially designed for National Geographic’s ObservÉtoiles, the world’s first open-air augmented reality planetarium.
Activities on site: VéloVolant, hiking, farm visit, kayaking, SUP, tubing, swimming pond, star gazing.
Pricing: From $48.60 per night for a campsite, $119 to $179 per night for treehouses, and $109 to $149 per night for rustic cabins. Check the website for full pricing and details.
Services: The shower building is about one minute from the reception and parking lot (and about a 10-15 minute walk from most of the overnight sites) and features showers and toilets. Playground near reception, parking lot. Trolleys and shuttle service. Dogs are welcome.
To reserve: To check availability and reserve an overnight stay or any of the activities visit audiablevert.checkfront.com/reserve/
Entre Cîmes et Racines
80 Simard St., Bolton-Est, J0E 1G0
The 14 ecolodges that dot this 175-acres private estate are definitely different. We didn’t tell our kids beforehand where we were staying, and when they saw the “Flinstone House” that we’d booked for two nights their eyes grew mighty wide. “Cooooool!”
Located about 90-minutes from Montreal and about a 10-minute drive from the town of Eastman, this relaxing escape offers 15 kms of forest paths and trails, secluded and distinctive lodges as well as six rustic campsites.
Choose from a lodge equipped with electricity, an indoor dry toilet, an outdoor toilet, or unplug completely (and literally) and opt for no electricity.
The lodges also come equipped with a wood stove, mattresses and pillows, an outdoor fire pit, water for the kitchen hand pump, all your kitchen supplies, cleaning products, and a picnic table. Don’t forget a visit to the SAQ before you leave home, because there are even wine glasses.
With clues and riddles hidden throughout the woods and along the trails, the scavenger hunt is a fun way to explore the grounds as is the labyrinth in the woods. The trails are not stroller-friendly, so if you have a little one make sure to bring a baby carrier.
The lodges rent out very early for summer stays — sometimes up to a year in advance — but the site is open year-round. Check the website for cancellations, or book during the off-season. Autumn in the woods sounds divine.
Activities on site: 12 kms of paths and trails, an outdoor maze, three streams, bridges, a scavenger hunt through the woods, small playhouse, a climbing wall for children, trails accessible for mountain bikes, winter activities. While there is no lake or river directly on site, we did punctuate our trip there and home with visits to the beaches at Lac Brome and Cowansville.
Pricing: Campgrounds are $40 per night, rates are different for each lodge but vary from $120 to $180 per night.
Services: The reception building houses showers and toilets, a small shop, internet access, ice and firewood for sale, and you can also rent some supplies. Dogs are not allowed.
To reserve: Reservations are made by phone at 1-866-297-0770 daily between 9am and 4:30pm and Friday until 9pm. If they are not available, leave a message or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can check the availability schedule online before calling.
5340 Marie-Victorin Blvd., Ste. Catherine, J5C 1L9
Located on the shores of the St. Lawrence River just across the water from Montreal, this park is a quick trip from the city and great for first-time campers as it’s less “rustic” than most. While they have 44 platform sites ready for tents, we opted to stay in one of their ready-to-camp selections. Choose from a retrofitted shipping container (that’s what we went with), a transparent dome through which you can watch the stars, a wooden cabin, or a small circus tent.
While there are no fire pits allowed at the sites, there are common areas for visitors where you’ll find porta-potties, a large gazebo, drinking water, picnic tables, and a central fire pit with wood. Bring along your own linens and food and most everything else that you’ll need is already on site. Cars are not allowed past the main parking lot, so pack lightly as you’ll need to carry in all your gear or use the trolleys available to borrow at the reception pavilion.
Activities on site: Bird-watching is popular and you can see herons and a variety of birds and wildlife through the park. Follow the flat waterfront trails on foot or by bike to access the lookouts and observation decks and view the Lachine rapids below. Don’t forget bathing suits for an afternoon at the man-made lake and beach, or try your hand at fishing.
Pricing: Platform camping is $37 a night and ready-to-camp is $114 a night.
(Residents and organizations of Ste. Catherine receive a 20 per cent discount).
Access fees: There are additional fees to use the beach. See the website for full details.
Services: Parking, reception pavilion with showers and toilets, facility rental, café, lookouts, outdoor obstacle course, picnic tables, swimming, fishing, beach canteen.
To reserve: The camping season opens June 11, 2021, but reservations can be made any time at recreoparc.org/les-secteurs/camping-urbain/
Camping FAQ and regulations: recreoparc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/2021-Guide-du-campeur.pdf (available in French only).
All photos by Christine Latreille