Monts-Valin National Park is tucked away in the Saguenay Fjord region of Quebec and is absolutely a must-do when visiting in the winter. The park is best known for its Valley of the Ghosts (Vallée des Fantômes) trail where snowy sentinels stand still atop as guardians to the panoramic jaw-dropper at edge of the cliff.
Plug into nature up here where it's really just you, the crisp winter air and the snowy pine trees. The only sounds you hear are your own breath and the crunching of your snowshoes.
All abord Le Fantôme Express shuttle
After meeting our guide at the visitor center, we were greeted with the most unusual vehicle you've ever seen. Le Fantôme Express Snowcat is like a Frankenstein operation gone horribly right. Take one of those standard 14 passenger white Ford vans, strip the wheels out and replace them with caterpillar tank treads and you have the Snowcat. It's brilliant because you stay nice, cosy, warm inside as the shuttle rumbles upwards on the snow. This is not the case for the giant Snowcats I've been on in the past.
Snowshoeing with ghosts
After 45 minutes chugging up the mountain in our Snowcat, we were dropped off right at the trailhead for Valley of the Ghosts. Strapped in our rental gear including snowshoe and poles, we started making it onwards and upwards.
Along the way up, I was surrounded by sullen pine trees that ghoulishly stare back. Snowshoe long enough and the disfigured trees encapsulated with snow start to look like different animals. We joked that it was like playing a game of “what does that cloud look like”, but instead of that, the puffs of white were all around and on the trees. I was able to call out everything from owls, vultures, bunnies, and by default little minion aliens.
Rest and recharge
2 kilometers up, my growling stomach's prayers were answered with the sight of a wooden cabin rising up from the snow. This was a welcome resting point as we had a chance to dry off our sweat-soaked clothes, recharge my cold depleted batteries, and chow down on our lunch boxes brought up by snowmobile.
Majestic views at the edge of the valley
The best part of the hike is definitely past the resting station. Hiking another 800 meters up, you eventually get to the part where the horizon's expanse lifts up from the trail and the rest of Mont-Valin National Park says hello. Beyond the cliff the giant but gentle mountains roll on for miles and if you squint hard enough you can see the St. Lawrence all the way out as you trace your eyes along the fjord.
What makes the valley unique is that its a microclimate of sorts and gets much heavier snowfall than in other areas. While snowshoeing, what you don't realize is that you're actually hiking on top of 150 cm (59 inches) of snow. So the trees you see in my photos are literally just the other half of the tree sticking up.
Unfortunately, the whole area had been bombarded by hurricane strength winds in days leading up to our trip and so a lot of that snow had been blown off and scattered. While not quite ghastly as promised, it was still an incredible sight to behold. It's other worldly when you see the pine trees transformed into puff figurines.
Not so gracious fall
Along the well-travelled trail, snowshoeing is more or less resistance-free but once at trail's end where we got to roam around a bit, the deceptively solid snow is nothing more than soft powder.
On one misstep, I was moving up to grab an awesome abstract shot of the wavy pattern in the snow when all of a sudden the snow collapsed underneath me. With my legs dug deep in the snow, I was helpless to get up. The more I tried to move the deeper I was entrenched.
Despite all that, it was totally more hilarious than it was dangerous. I called out to my buddy Marouan who was right behind me but instead of giving me his arm, he told me to “wait a second” and pulled out his cell phone to snap this shot. So much for being a good friend right? Haha!
Going off the path
For the last portion of our full day snowshoeing trek, I went off-trail with our park ranger guide Robert, where the way was neither marked nor groomed. Going off trail was a work out and a half because the unpacked snow meant that my snowshoes were sinking into the powder with each step. The key was to take feather like steps and it also helped that Robert was ahead of me packing in the snow with his skis.
It all paid off in the end when we came out of our ascent and grabbed this awesome view from the top of the valley.
Need to know before you go
- Address – 360, rang Saint-Louis, Saint-Fulgence, Québec, G0V 1S0
- Phone – 1-800-665-6527
- E-mail – [email protected]
- Incredibly impressed with how well the park is maintained and run. There are many added services and lodgings provided that make the park a prime destination for your winter vacation.
Note that the pricing changes from year to year so make sure you check the updated pricing charts.
- Park entry fee – $8.50 for adults, $3.75 for children, $12.25 for one adult and children, $17 for two adults and children
- Fantôme Express Shuttle round trip – $55.25 for adults, $41.50 for children, $152.00 for two adults and two children. You must reserve this in advance (book by calling the 1-800 number)
- The park has partnered with a local restaurant, Happy Yak to provide packed meal services that can be delivered to the lunch cabin we stayed at or dinner if you're staying in a hut for the night.
- Snowshoe rentals – $17.25/day for adults, $11.00/day for children, $35.75/day for two adults and two children
- Pole rentals – $11.75/day
- Baggage transport to Valley of Ghosts hut – $25 each way
- Hut rental – $27.25/night for adults and $20.44/night for children. You must reserve this in advance
- It may be -20C outside but you'll learn quickly enough that you're going to get hot as you start snowshoeing up. my recommendation is to dress in layers that you can unzip one at a time or put away completely.
- While the trail is groomed well, I would still recommend wearing water proof boots so there's no chance of your feet getting wet.
- Your feet will get coldest so have good boots and the right moisture wicking socks.
Valley of the Ghosts Trail
- Difficulty – Honestly it's not that bad. While it is a consistent upward gradient, the main trail is well groomed and packed in so it's nothing more than doing a normal mountain trail hike. The snowshoes provide excellent grip and the poles are great for balancing.
- Time – Non-stop it should take 2.5 hours
- Length – 6 km (3.7 mi). 2 km to the huts and cabins and another km to the top.
- Guide – A park warden naturalist is available for guided tours several times a week. This is a great opportunity to be able to go off trails and explore more of the periphery of the peak. Call in to find out when.