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We were on a winter vacation in the Cantons-de-L'Est (Eastern Townships), Quebec, Canada. It was February and we wanted to learn how to snowshoe, but we didn't have snowshoe equipment.

People follow park trail.
People follow park trail.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"No problem," said our friend, Jocelyn, who lives in Magog-Orford, a 75-minute drive east of Montreal. "Let's go to Mont Orford. Parc National du Mont Orford has snowshoe rentals and 40 kilometers (25 miles) of snowshoe trails."

Snowshoe rentals

Our worries of walking bow-legged with wooden snowshoes were needless. The aluminum snowshoes we rented were modern and lightweight. And we didn't have to buy snowshoes until we knew if we liked snowshoeing.

We didn't need snowshoe boots. "Your cross-country ski boots are fine," said Jocelyn as he showed us how to attach the bindings.

Snowshoe packages

Mont Orford Park offers snowshoe packages, which include one night in Le Bowen cabin in the Lac Stukely region of the Quebec national park. Because this would be our first time on snowshoes, we decided to start with an afternoon of snowshoeing.

"If you can walk, you can go snowshoe hiking," said our friend. "I've gone snowshoeing with kids, as young as six, and active seniors, in their 70s."

The snowshoe binding clamps gripped the toes of our boots, leaving our heels free to move. Practically weightless, the snowshoe gear lifted easily. As we walked, cleats below our toes bit the snow giving us traction.

Tying snowshoe binding
Tying snowshoe binding
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Snowshoe trails

Mont Orford National Park has ten snowshoeing trails, between 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) and 16 kilometers (10 miles) long. Four snowshoe trails are intermediate, four are difficult and the rest are easy.

We crunched up one hill and down another. Snow skidded off the slippery polyurethane decks of our snowshoes, except when we hit deep powder. Then we sank mid-calf deep in snow. "If we weren't wearing snowshoes, we'd sink to our hips," said Jocelyn.

Animal footprints

A domino pattern of rabbit tracks distracted us. "How can you tell that deer like this area?" he asked. We looked down, but saw no hoof prints.

"There are no lower branches," answered Jocelyn, pointing at the base of several evergreens. "Deer like cedar as much as we like chocolate cake. They even stand on their hind feet to eat branches over their heads."

Later, we did see deer tracks, heading toward a trickle of unfrozen water in Cherry River.

We quickly learned our first rule of snowshoeing. You can't reverse. Instead, we made U-turns through the forest and past a glacial erratic the size of a log cabin.

A tapping sound ricocheted from tree to tree around us. Looking up, we spotted a red-headed woodpecker powdered with self-created sawdust. "A flood killed these trees when a beaver built a dam in the river," explained our friend, as we followed him like chicks after a mother hen.

Snowshoe hiking

After interminable figure-eights around the trunks, we suddenly realized that Jocelyn was playing a game with us. Just how long would we follow him in circles?

Laughing, we headed off in a different direction below evergreen limbs, heavy with snow. Jocelyn tapped a tree and continued walking as the snow dumped from the branches on us.

He turned around and grinned at the sight of his entourage frosted with white powder like long sugar-coated donuts. We grinned too, when we saw each other.

Log cabin warming hut in Mont Orford Park
Log cabin warming hut in Mont Orford Park
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Log cabin

Past a stand of sugar maples, we found an inviting log cabin, one of several warming huts in Mont Orford Park. We removed our snowshoes and went inside to snack on granola bars and juice.

As we put on our snowshoes and reluctantly headed back, Jocelyn pointed out the ridge of Mont Orford. "After Mont Tremblant and Mont St. Anne, Mont Orford is the third largest summit in Quebec," he said.

Group snowshoes through Mont Orford Park.
Group snowshoes through Mont Orford Park.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"I've gone on snowshoe trips along the ridge. It can be windy, but the views of the U.S.A. on one side, and Quebec's Eastern Townships on the other, are spectacular on a clear day."

Snowshoe vacation

After making a trail of big Sasquatch steps in the cotton candy snow, we stopped for some unfinished business. We asked Jocelyn to identify some tiny footprints. As he bent down to examine them, we tapped the tree beside him and continued walking.

In seconds, our friend looked like Casper the friendly ghost — with a grin. Snowshoeing sure is fun.

The next time we go on a winter getaway to Magog and the Eastern Townships, Quebec, we'll make it a snowshoe vacation.


Tourism Eastern Townships: www.easterntownships.org

Mont Orford National Park: www.sepaq.com/pq/mor/en/

Tourism Quebec: www.quebecoriginal.com

More things to see and do in the Quebec Eastern Townships:

Bombardier Snowmobile Museum - Valcourt Quebec

Old Mansion House Vacation Rental