This article is over 5 years old and may contain outdated information.


Quebec’s newest provincial park is stunning in the winter

An early look at Parc national d’Opémican, the latest park to join Quebec’s extensive network of protected places

  • Jan 24, 2019
  • 890 words
  • 4 minutes
Steam rises from the Kipawa River in Quebec’s Parc national d’Opémican on a frigid winter morning.
Expand Image

Its name is an Algonquin word that loosely translates to “along the path followed by the tribes” — a reference, perhaps, to the Ottawa River. For nearly a century, it was a major staging area for logging operations in the Upper Ottawa Valley. This summer, it will be a hub for a different kind of activity when Quebec’s newest provincial park opens on June 21.

Parc national d’Opémican, which protects 252 square kilometres of forested land between Lac Témiscamingue on the Ontario-Quebec border and Lac Kipawa, is located about a four and a half-hour drive from both Toronto and Ottawa. The park is the realization of a nearly 40-year dream for people in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region who wanted to see the remains of the timber rafting relay station at Pointe Opémican preserved. In the 1880s and 90s, squared logs of white and red pine bound for Britain or America were assembled here into enormous rafts, sometimes consisting of as many as 3,000 individual logs, before being driven down the Ottawa to Montreal or Quebec City.

“Pointe Opémican was a unique place at that time,” says Dany Gareau, the park’s director. “It’s the only place where things were organized like that, and people there were even developing techniques and tools to improve the job,” including larger-than-normal booms capable of handling the frequent high waves on the lake.


The Auberge Jodoin, one of several historic buildings at the heart of Parc National d’Opemican. Built in 1883, it served as temporary accommodation and an outfitter for the raftsmen who floated logs down the Ottawa River.
Expand Image

Today, Pointe Opémican forms the heart of the park, which is divided into three sectors. Several structures dating back to the late 1800s, including a blacksmith’s workshop and the “Auberge Jodoin,” which served as temporary accommodation for the raftsmen, are being restored and will house interactive museum displays about the history of logging on the Upper Ottawa. A visitor centre and campsites are also being constructed around the point. 

The northern part of the park, accessed via the hamlet of Laniel, is called the Rivière Kipawa sector. It was there that I met Gareau on a frigid morning in January for an early — and decidedly wintery — look at some of the natural wonders waiting to be explored in Parc national d’Opémican.

Conventional campsites are available in the Rivière Kipawa sector, as well as four Étoile ready-to-camp units that sleep up to six people in comparative luxury (think Parks Canada’s oTENTiks). 


One of four Étoile ready-to-camp units in the Rivière Kipawa sector of Parc national d’Opémican.
Expand Image

Our first stop was the Grande-Chute hiking trail. In the summer, this is an easy one-kilometre round-trip walk with several scenic lookouts onto the Kipawa River, culminating at a thunderous waterfall. In the winter, the sight of the steam rising from the rushing water to frost the branches of the pine trees above is enough to take your breath away. 

This stretch of river will be familiar to whitewater enthusiasts: over the course of its last 16 kilometres, the river drops 90 metres, creating several class II and III rapids. For one weekend each June, canoeists and kayakers gather here by the hundreds for the Kipawa River Rally, a race from Laniel to the river’s mouth at Lac Témiscamingue.

The view from one of the lookouts on the Grande-Chute Trail, which follows the Kipawa River.
Expand Image
The “Grande-Chute,” a waterfall with a 15-metre drop near the mouth of the Kipawa River.
Expand Image

It’s important to note that while the park is open year-round for recreation, during the off-season from mid-October to mid-June, it is not staffed, so visitors must be self-reliant and register online or at the self-serve kiosk at the Kipawa River Road entrance prior to setting out. Snowmobiles and ATVs are strictly prohibited, but snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and other non-motorized activities are permitted. 

Closer to the mouth of the Kipawa River is the 1.1-kilometre Inukshuk Trail, which leads to a lookout atop steep cliffs over Lac Témiscamingue. As a snowshoeing neophyte, I found the occasionally steep path challenging, but fortunately a moose had already done some of the hard work of breaking in the trail for us. 

The late afternoon sun casts long shadows across the deep snow on the Inukshuk Trail.
Expand Image
Steam rises from the surface of Lac Temiscamingue as it freezes on a -27 C afternoon.
Expand Image

The road to the official opening of the park has been a long one.

Community groups first approached the Quebec ministry for forests, wildlife and parks in 2002 with a proposal to save Pointe Opémican by integrating it into a provincial park, but it took more than a decade of study and public consultation for the ministry to finalize the boundaries for the park. In 2013, responsibility for the development of the park was transferred to the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (SÉPAQ), a crown corporation that manages the province’s 23 parks and 15 wildlife reserves. As construction began on the roads, campsites and visitor centre, SÉPAQ struck a roundtable made up of representatives from the local municipalities, including the Wolf Lake and Kebaowek First Nations, to keep them updated on the progress.

At first there were a lot of questions, says Patricia Noël, president of Laniel’s municipal council. Laniel, an unorganized territory within the larger regional municipality of Témiscamingue, has just 80 year-round residents. “A lot of people were scared that with the park, they would lose the tranquility and the wilderness they found here,” she says. “We want to develop tourism, but in a way that respects nature.”

Now, she says, with the park’s opening imminent, uncertainty has given way to excitement at the possibilities for showcasing the region to a national and international audience.

“It’s not just the beautiful views,” she says. “I can’t explain it, but we have ‘wow’ here.”

Dany Gareau, director of Parc national d’Opémican, snowshoes on the Grande-Chute Trail.
Expand Image

Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

Andy McKinnon


Canada’s first national urban park

It’s an ambitious plan: take the traditional Parks Canada wilderness concept and plunk it in the country’s largest city. But can Toronto’s Rouge National Urban Park help balance city life with wildlife?

  • 3601 words
  • 15 minutes
A crowd of tourist swarm on a lakeside beach in Banff National Park


Smother Nature: The struggle to protect Banff National Park

In Banff National Park, Alberta, as in protected areas across the country, managers find it difficult to balance the desire of people to experience wilderness with an imperative to conserve it

  • 3507 words
  • 15 minutes
Mist rises from the Kipawa River, framed by frosty trees


A sneak peek at Quebec’s newest provincial park

Opening to the public in June, Parc national d’Opémican near Temiscaming, Que. preserves a unique chapter of Ottawa River history

  • 812 words
  • 4 minutes


Go with the fleuve: 5 days in La Belle Province

Following the St. Lawrence’s winding course through Quebec delivers a feast of history, culture and food

  • 2137 words
  • 9 minutes