Night, inside of huttopia tent, Quebec. Dialogue:
- P: (urgent whispering)There is an animal in the tent!
- Me: (suddenly alert): I haven’t heard anything, an animal like what?
- P: Something big, I am sure! I can feel it running!!
- Me: (more alert). Ok, but we closed the door and there was nothing, it can’t be that big. Could it be outside?
- P. (with confidence) No, it’s inside. It must be a racoon.
- Me: (urgency fading, scepticism kicking in) A racoon?!? A racoon is huge, it can’t possibly be a racoon?! Maybe a chipmunk?
- A few moments of silence, then
- P. Um ok, maybe a chipmunk. And maybe it’s outside. But I can feel it running on the tent
- Me: …. Ok…. so we go back to sleep?
- P: …Yes, but it was a rodent. I am sure it was a rodent.
- Me (condescending): Of course it was
- (see the end of this post for the end of the story)
This was, more or less verbatim, the exchanged that happened between me and my husband during our first and only night camping in Quebec. We were vacationing in Montreal with the children and we had decided to leave the city for one night and experience the famous Canadian wilderness: our destination of choice had been Mont Tremblant, a wonderful national Park a few hours drive from the city.
Stretching over 1510sqkm of wilderness, Mont Tremblant National park is a natural paradise of mountains, valleys and lakes. It is ideal for hikers and camping lovers and it had attracted our attention as it seemed a place where even inexperienced campers like we are could get a taste of the great outdoors.
- Location: North of Montreal, Quebec, in the Laurentides and Lanaudière tourism regions. The distance Montreal to Mont Tremblant is about 80 miles
- Size: well over 1000 sqkm
- Opening time: the park is open all year round but activities available are weather dependent. Camping is possible in the summer only
- La Diable sector: the park is organised in different sectors and the one we chose is called ‘La Diable’. Mont Tremblant activities available at the time of our visit were: Bike, Canoe, rowboat, single or tandem kayak, pedal boat, stand up paddle. In the winter, cross-country skiing and show-shoeing are also possible. For families with little children we also found some easy hikes: with toddlers, we suggest you bring a carrier.
- Facilities in La Diable: General store with ready-to-eat meals, mini-snack bar with ready-to-eat meals and convenience store with also camping essentials. On the lake shore, we also found swings, workshops about local wildlife and plants (in French)
- Accommodation in la Diable: spaces for independent camping, cabins, yurts and huttopia tents
CAMPING IN MONT TREMBLANT WITH KIDS
Arrival and setting up camp
Mont Tremblant is located about 80 miles North of Montreal and can be easily reached by car or shuttle bus from Trudeau airport in a little less than 2 hours, traffic permitting. Since we had the children, bulky bed covers and food facilities with us, we opted for renting a car and the decision proved right: the park is a very big and without a car we would have found even short distances very hard to manage.
We arrived at the park entrance at about 5 pm, much later than we had hoped. Not familiar with the area and with the length of the days, I was a bit concerned by this late arrival, but the organisation of the park and the location of the facilities made it easy for us to set up camp. On arrival, we were given a parking permit, a detailed map of the area and good directions to get to our tent and in a matter of minutes we were ready for our first night in the Canadian forests!
We had gone to Montreal with a home exchange and since we had no camping equipment with us, we opted for a Huttpia tent, a pre-prepared tent that would allow us to camp without having to load up on equipment. Ours was located in a beautiful part of the campsite, surrounded by tall trees and near a stream: it was a lovely location. The campsite is organised to have the tents in clusters, close to each other but at the same time protected from sight by a shield of trees. The tents are built in a wide semicircle with the shared facilities in the centre and this planning makes for an easy and comfortable stay: other tents and campers are close enough to feel you are not alone, but your space is secluded to give you a pleasant sense of isolation and contact with nature.
This was a fantastic base for us and one I would recommend to families with young children: the camping in this area is easy to reach, well served and close to both the lake and the convenience store, striking a perfect balance between a sense of seclusion and proximity to first necessities.
In terms of equipment, the tent had all we wanted and more: high enough for a tall adult to stand comfortably, the tent is built on raised wooden floors and contained beds for 4, a large table and chairs, crockery, a fridge, electric light, an electric stove and hobs, the latter just outside the front door on the porch. Facilities are communal and just a short walk away from the tent. The tent also had a wide space outside to park the car and numerous notes around the tent advise to use your vehicle to store food that doesn’t need refrigeration, to avoid the risk of hungry animals entering the tent at night.
We had brought with us food from home and heavy covers for the beds (needed, it was August and at night it was freezing!) and soon we set out to make dinner.
An eventful evening
After a warming dinner, the days was still bright and so we decided to take a walk and familiarise with our surroundings. We had come to the park hoping for a relaxing break but relaxation wasn’t meant to be: soon after leaving our tent, our daughter tripped and fell face forward on the path! It wasn’t a bad fall (she wasn’t even running when it happened), but the gravel on the ground did break her skin and the sight of blood upset her beyond all expectations. She is known for being a bit of a drama queen at times, and we are well used to reassure her and minimise incidents, but this time she got us worried:
Stupidly, we hadn’t brought a proper first aid kit with us and had no idea how to deal with emergencies while camping, so our relaxing evening walk became a mad rush to the rangers HQ, where we were hoping to find an on-call doctor.
Lost in translation
The wait for the ranger in charge of first aid wasn’t long, but we spent those few minutes rocking our still upset daughter and practicing our French: confident that out two years working in Brussels had equipped us with a sufficient vocabulary to tackle an emergency, we launched ourselves into an explanation of what had happened and listened carefully to the doctor’s advice, but we soon had to give in to the obvious: we had no idea what this kind man was telling us!
I don’t know it if was the nerves, the Quebecoise accent or a mixture of both, but our French completely failed us on this occasion and we had to revert to gesticulating and pointing – we hadn’ had a breakdown in communication so severe since the time we were in China and tried to get an upgrade on the train!! But on this occasion, like is that last one, smiles and gestures went a long way: our daughter was soon patched up and sent back playing – relief set it.
Exhausted after the eventful day and evening, the kids conked out on the bed. I would like to say that we adults had a restful and relaxing night, but I am afraid this wouldn’t be quite true. The night was very cold and worries kept us away: was our little girl ok after the fall? Did we understand the instructions about keeping her scratch clear? Were the kids warm enough, should we keep the heating on while we sleep? And most of all… were we sharing a tent with a racoon?!
It was a long night but all of our questions found an answer in the morning light: our kids were ok, the heating didn’t set the tent on fire, but truly, we were not alone in the tent. Despite my scepticism, my husband was right about the rodent and we woke up to see our sealed box of Weetabix chewed up at the corners by ver small teeth! A chipmunk, not a racoon, had paid us a visit during the night and had feasted on our cereals. My husband felt vindicated and my kids thought the chipmunk that came for breakfast was the funniest thing in the world.
Starting our day with giggles and empty stomachs, we knew in that moment that this is what family vacation memories are made of and that we had made the right decision in coming to Mont Tremblant. The beautiful scenery we saw around us while exploring the park during the day kept proving us right until the evening when, exhausted but happy, we returned to our home in Montreal.
Mont Tremblant is a fabulous place for an outdoorsy break with kids and the choice of sector La Diable and the Huttopia tent was perfect for first-time campers or people with little equipment. In terms of activities, we found the visitors centre along the lake a great place to gather information about the several options available: the personnel at the info point were able to point us towards short walks that were suitable for children and gave us the timetable for the nature workshop (the one we attended was about bears). The small pedal boats were a great hit with the children (a little less with us: Have you ever tried pedalling with a toddler on your knees? Don’t.) and the playground equipment made everybody happy. For the best break, I suggest to stay in the camping for a few days, bring a first aid kit and warm clothes but must of all: do what you are told and lock away your food!
Do you want to read more about our camping adventures? Have a look at our first camping trip at the Silver Strand, Wicklow, Ireland or read about out stay at the eco-camping Inch Hideaway, Cork, Ireland