Rain and a Change of route Just adds to the adventure!
I’ve hiked all of the trails at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park many times over the years. There are seven trails in total in the park and they range from a fairly easy 1km to a rugged 9km. I love them all, but the Etienne Trail System History Loop is by far my favourite!
A few years ago, when I was starting to take on longer and more difficult trails, I hiked the entire length of the History Loop for the first time. It was amazing! From it’s spectacular lookouts over lakes and rivers, it’s rugged and challenging terrain, and the variety of landscapes and nature along the way. I’ve hiked it at least once every year since.
One weekend a few weeks ago I finally had the chance to hike the History Loop this year. A friend would join me on the hike, and we would head out on a Saturday afternoon.
We were all packed up and ready to go, it was a beautiful hot sunny day, when we noticed a change in the weather forecast. The weekend’s weather hadn’t looked good to begin with, with Sunday calling for thunderstorms, now all of a sudden rain was in the forecast for later Saturday afternoon.
We decided to take on the trail anyway and go prepared with rain gear and an alternative route idea should the weather change for the worse.
The Etienne Trail System consists of four different loops ranging from 3km to 9km in length. The Red Pine Loop is 3km long and branches off on it’s own, while the 5.5km Geology Loop, the 8km Nature Loop, and the 9km History Loop, follow each other, branch off on their own for a section, and then meet back together on the other side.
The different loops, depending which one is choosen, can take hikers around Long Lake, to one of the highest points in the south side of the park, past a kettle lake, through a beaver meadow, along the Mattawa River, and to The Gut at the far east end of the park.
This loop system is great as it allows the hiker a few different options to decide where they want to go. They can shorten their hike if they wish part way along by branching off on one of the shorter loops, or they can make their hike longer by continuing on, and they can even decide to go one way for a while then turn around and go back the same way they came.
We started off from the trailhead in the early afternoon. I was really happy to be back out on a trail and hiking again finally! The first section of the Etienne Trail System is fairly rocky, there’s a lot of rock hopping to be done! After passing where the Red Pine Loop branches off and getting past the rocky section, the trail begins to go uphill, and leads to the side of a cliff. The trail follows the top of the cliff for a short section where there are spectacular views across Long Lake down below.
While at the lookout I noticed a big bird flying overhead. It turned out to be a Broad-Winged Hawk!
I highly recommend paddling a canoe across Long Lake sometime and getting the chance to look up at these high rocky cliffs from down below!
After leaving the lookout we continued on a short ways until we reached what is probably my favourite section of trail in the entire park! The Trench! The trail takes a sudden turn towards the right, up a steep rocky ridge like feature. There is an almost natural staircase at the bottom, and as the trail gets steeper it leads to one section where you pretty much need to use both feet and hands to pull yourself up over the last rock to the top. I nicknamed this section ‘The Trench’ after the first time I hiked it, as you can see in the photos, the trail goes up between the two halves of this ridge.
I always enjoy hiking this short section of the trail because it’s much different than any other section of trail in the park, the rocks are interesting to look at on the way up, and it’s a bit of a challenge!
After reaching the top of The Trench, the trail becomes a lot more easier again and a short distance along we found ourselves at the spot where the History Loop branches off on it’s own to the left. There’s a lot of downhill along the next section as the trail makes it’s way back down the hill we had just climbed up, and down towards the Mattawa River.
As the trail reached the Mattawa River, we were now hiking along a section of the History Loop that both my friend and I really enjoy! Definitely another favourite section of trail in the park for me!
From here to The Gut, the trail follows along the top of rock cliffs high above the Mattawa River, with several awesome lookouts along the way. For the most part this section isn’t too difficult, but has a few climbs.
As the trail followed along the cliff tops and began to descend, we arrived at The Gut!
The Gut is a body of water connected to the Mattawa River, somewhat of an inlet. There is a walking bridge at the far east end that connects the Etienne Trail System north and south trail loops. Looking at The Gut from the walking bridge or trail, or if you were to paddle into The Gut, you would notice that it looks very similar to both the landscape of the Mattawa River and Long Lake.
Another short paddling day trip I would recommend would be to paddle down the Mattawa River from Campion Rapids within the park and down into The Gut and back. There is also a portage that can take paddlers between Long Lake, another small body of water, and The Gut. Although this is a very short portage, it is not maintained often, so the current condition of the portage is unknown.
We spent some time looking around the end of The Gut on each side of the walking bridge and walked down to the river to cool off a bit. It was still very hot out, but we had noticed some clouds slowly starting to cover the sky.
We had been out on the trail for a few hours now, and were at about the midway point, so we decided that we would stop to have an early supper at The Gut before continuing along the other half of the trail. It was nice to sit by the river while we ate and was quite peaceful besides the odd speedboat that would pass by. This section of the Mattawa River opens up to a wider section on it’s way downstream and becomes Chant Plein Lake. This wider section of river and lake was formed many years ago with the building of the Huardman Dam further downstream towards the Town of Mattawa. There are many cottages and homes around the lake so the area can be busy with boat traffic, especially during summer weekends.
We had spent a good amount of time at The Gut, and with the darkening of the sky, we had a decision to make. Should we continue along the History Loop, or choose a somewhat shorter option? The shorter option would be to hike back out following a section of the Nature Loop on the north side of The Gut. It would be slightly shorter, and possibly a little easier. This was also the only section of trail in the entire park that I had never actually hiked before! I had completed the History Loop a few times, and the shorter Geology Loop, but the just over 1km section of the Nature Loop from where it branches off from the Geology and meets back up with the History, I had never done before.
We decided to go with this option, and just as we began to head back across the walking bridge it started to rain.
It was steady, but not a heavy rain, so we were able to continue hiking with ease. My friend put on their raincoat, but as it was still very hot out, and we had a dry vehicle to go to at the end of the hike, I decided to just get a little wet and cool off. I did put the rain cover over my hiking pack though. I had never actually had to use the rain cover before and was very impressed in how dry it kept my pack, and my back, dry throughout the rest of the hike. I’ve been using an Osprey Hikelite 26L day pack for the past couple years, I really like this little pack, and the rain cover I was using was the one that came with it.
I was really glad that we had chosen to hike back this section of the Nature Loop instead of continuing along the History. It allowed us to explore a area of the park we had never been to before, and I could now say that I hiked all of the trails in the park. This section was fairly similar to the trail on the south side of The Gut. Although there was some views through the trees to The Gut, I was a little disappointed that there was no spot where the trail came out to a lookout as it did on the other side. Perhaps this side of The Gut had a more rugged shoreline and cliffs. We were happy though to be able to get a glimpse through the trees of the small waterfall in The Gut, and we also passed under a very cool Red Pine Tree that was bent to the left and then upwards about half way up it’s trunk!
Due to the rain, we had not stopped as often along this section and quickly found ourselves at the spot where the Nature and Geology Loops branch off from each other if going clockwise, or if going counter clockwise as we were, where the two loops met back up. We were now back on a familiar section of trail.
We made our way along the trail as it climbed back up the hill onto the high point again. We stopped on a rocky outcrop that gave us a view over the far east end of Long Lake.
One thing I had noticed during this hike was the many different species of fungi along the trail. The species that stood out in particular was some very small red/orange coloured ones that I believed were some sort of a Waxcap. They were a beautiful little fungi!
The trail joined back up with the History Loop again and we found our selves back at the top of The Trench and carefully made our way back down. It was a little tricker going down this time as the rocks were now wet from the rain so they were a bit slippery.
After The Trench we were back at the lookout over Long Lake. We took some time to enjoy another view across the lake before we started heading back out the last section of trail.
Back out at the trailhead we had completed the History/Nature Loop! Even though it had started to rain and we changed our original route plan we still had a really great day, in fact probably an even better day getting to explore that new area. The entire trail had taken us roughly three hours of actual moving time, and about five and a half hours in total from all the times we had stopped and supper at The Gut.
The Etienne Trail System History Loop is a trail that gives you a good challenging hike, rugged and beautiful terrain, spectacular views and landscapes, quiet spots to enjoy, interesting flora and fauna, and it never disappoints. There will always be something new to see that you never noticed before!