Parc Omega is one family outing that parents might enjoy even more than the kids.
It’s a drive-through park where you can see animals including deer, bison, bears, wild boars (and adorable boar-lets), wolves, foxes and caribou hanging out in their natural environment all year round. Bringing carrots (or buying them at the park) is a must – you feed the deer from your car windows. The tranquil 1,500-acre park has lakes, meadows, valleys and hills, and isn’t too crowded at this time of year. It’s a good place to keep in mind for chilly/rainy November days when many major family attractions are closed.
First stop: The Park Lodge
You’ll probably want to stretch your legs after the almost 2-hour drive from downtown Montreal. This is the only drawback to this outing with kids – you drive a long way to the park, then spend a lot of your visit sitting in the car. The log-cabin-style lodge has a small cafeteria, where you can buy wrapped sandwiches and some hot meals (burgers, hot dogs, etc.). Be sure to go downstairs in the lodge or out on the balcony to get a beautiful view of arctic and red foxes in their lakefront enclosure. It has the kind of treehouse most kids dream about. “Can we live in a house like that, mom?” asked my 3-year-old. We bought a bag of carrots (should have bought two!) at the gift shop.
The deer are in the driver’s seat
On the 10-km driving route, the kids were excited to watch dad feed the deer (and to be released from their car seat belts so they could roam the back seat freely). The 3-year-old tried feeding the deer, but his older brother preferred not to. Perhaps he was intimidated by the fact that these animals toss back carrots like french fries, then linger with their heads inside your vehicle – even when you start moving forward. In what seems to be a carrot-jacking strategy they’ve developed, one deer typically stands in front of your car until the one with its head still inside the window gets more carrots. Street smart as they are, it’s incredible to see them and their antlers up close.
Trotting around among the deer are families of wild boars. Just as we were oohing and aahing about the cute babies, and the parents’ comical grunts, we got a taste of their more piggish behaviour. The parent boars were jabbing their snouts into piles of dung and enthusiastically rooting around in it. Gross! But for our two little goofballs, who welcome any new material for their poo-poo/ca-ca repertoire, what could be better?
There are two foot trails on the circuit, where you can get out for a walk and have a picnic. At both walking circuits, deer are wandering freely, and you can feed them by hand. The first walking circuit goes around a glassy trout lake – the kids were impressed to see the spotted fish gathered just under the water’s surface. At the second, there’s a mini log cabin and forest area to explore.
Bison, wolves and beastly behaviour
Continuing along the scenic driving circuit and learning about the animals from Radio Parc Omega, the bison and wolves were highlights. The bison, with their woolly heads and viking-style horns, look like prehistoric beasts with serious attitude. Two that were standing in the middle of the road absolutely would not budge as we inched the car between them. Again, it seemed the joke was on us.
The wolves were more lighthearted – some play fighting was happening as we passed their enclosure. By the time we got to the bears (stop 17 of 20 along the route) the kids were more interested in acting like animals in the back seat than looking at them. Though the grownups would have loved to stay longer, it was time to go. We stopped at the lodge to stretch our legs and watch the foxes again, then headed home.
Parc Omega is a good destination for kids age 3 and up, keeping in mind that they might not make it the whole way around the park before they’re tired of being cooped up in the car. Although the animals and scenery at the park are beautiful, the subtleties are harder for children to appreciate than adults. Some of the animals – like caribou – were not particularly active, so the kids lost interest in them. For adults and older kids (age 6 and up) who want to learn about and observe the animals, it’s a great day trip.
- Bring carrots. Lots of carrots.
- Wear boots, or other dung-resistant footwear.
- Bring a picnic lunch (or buy sandwiches at the park lodge).
- Bring binoculars.
- Keep in mind that West Islanders and off-islanders will have a shorter drive to the park to the park than we did.
- In the summer, there are more activities – you can rent golf carts to ride on the walking trails, there’s a mini farm, and a birds of prey show. There is also a sugar shack.
Location: 399 Highway 323 North, Montebello (Quebec) (View map)
Schedule: Open year round, but schedule varies depending on season. Hours from Oct. 31 to May 31: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Rates: Adults: $14, age 6 to 15, $10, age 2 to 5, $5.
Telephone: (819) 423-5487