Following the Foliage in Gatineau Park
It's that time of year again when the air is cooler and the days are getting shorter. Autumn has arrived in Quebec's Gatineau Hills.
As a nature photographer, it is the best time of year to get out and photograph the beautiful colours that nature has blessed us with. I am lucky to live in a place that is so abundant with trees that produce leaves of bright reds, oranges and yellows. Among the first leaves to change are those of red maple trees. This begins in September, and the spectacular progression of changing colours continues right through October.
I wait until the leaves are ready to peak to their fullest colour, then I plan my route around the area, starting with a drive along Quebec’s Gatineau Parkway.
I head out early in the morning, trying to beat the crowds, as it gets rather busy by the afternoon. I start my day trip from Chelsea, Quebec, which is the gateway to Gatineau Park. From there I can drive the complete loop that accesses all the spots I want to visit.
A Gatineau Park Fall Photography Tour
The first stop on my tour is Pink Lake, one of the most popular sites in the park, which means that the parking lot fills up quickly. But I patiently wait for someone to leave; it doesn’t take too long, as there are many more areas to visit. The wait pays off, as I capture some beautiful images. A meromictic lake, which means that the water at the bottom doesn’t mix with the water at the top, Pink Lake is one of the park’s most unique features. In the fall, it is surrounded by vibrant colours that make it a must-stop for photographers like me. The lake has a trail that allows you to walk around its edge, and there are platforms situated at various spots for you to capture that perfect image of the entire lake, with its cliffs covered in colourful foliage.
My next stop is Mulvihill Lake, which is named after my ancestors, and Black Lake, which lies at the base of King Mountain. These lakes are smaller but still offer the opportunity to photograph gorgeous views of the colourful trees that surround them. Every year, these trees seem to produce lots of bright-red and orange leaves, which is why I always make sure to include them on my Gatineau Park fall photography tour. During this day trip, I am able to spend more time at these lakes, as there are fewer people; even though I usually try to keep to a schedule, I like to take some time to enjoy the peace and quiet by the edge of the water.
I also always keep an eye out for wildlife. I don’t see much on this day, probably because the area can get very busy, but there are plenty of squirrels working hard to collect supplies for the coming winter.
Next up are the scenic lookouts located at the top of the Champlain Parkway. My first stop is Etienne Brûlé Lookout, which offers a gorgeous view of the Ottawa River. Then I move on to the popular Champlain Lookout. Located at the end of the Champlain Parkway, it provides views of both the Ottawa River and miles and miles of Quebec farmland. I make a quick stop at both lookouts to capture some panoramic shots, but by the time I arrive, the afternoon sun makes it more difficult to get really good photos. Although there is a haze over the valley, I manage to take some decent images. Because the lookout offers its best, most open views towards the west, visiting at sunset would result in some stunning pics, but that will have to wait for another day.
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My next stop is probably one of my favourite areas to visit in Gatineau Park, the Mackenzie King Estate. It is one place I cannot pass up on a trip to take fall photos. The beautiful grounds, with its historic ruins, manicured gardens and huge maple trees, make the estate a photographer’s dream and the perfect place to capture autumn at its best. I love walking around the grounds, snapping photos; the area is so picturesque. I can spend all day here, but there are more places to visit, so after a little while, I’m on my way.
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It’s now time to visit some lesser-known but just as stunning spots, to take in the autumn scenes in all their glory. Creeks and waterfalls are among my favourite fall landscapes to photograph. One such place is Dunlop Park, a small but beautiful area nestled in the forest that, happily for me, boasts both a creek and a waterfall. Although I visit this park at other times of the year as well, in the fall, the huge pine trees lose their needles, which creates a blanket of orange covering the ground that surrounds the creek.
Another stunning spot is Old Chelsea Picnic Area, which has a creek that runs through it. Both places are perfect to capture images of fallen leaves on rocks with silky water flowing around them, which together convey a moody autumn feel. I like to get up-close to the creeks, and both of these stops allow me to do that fairly easily.
By this point, the hour is getting late, so I’m ready to wrap up my Gatineau Park fall tour—but there is plenty of time left in the season to photograph the stunning autumn colours in my neck of the woods.
I’ve learned that one of the best ways to enjoy the fall scenery is to drive the less-crowded back roads in and around this area. You never know what gem might be hidden around the next corner or what colourful landscapes you might discover. From covered bridges and farmland to tranquil lakes and streams, autumn provides a colourful backdrop to an already beautiful countryside.
Now that you’ve added Gatineau Park in fall to your bucket list, check out these inspired day trips from Ottawa.