“I can’t believe I’ve never been here”, is pretty much all I kept saying for the whole week Erica and I spent in Quebec’s Eastern Townships last week. Stunning scenery, ski hills all over the place, cross country and snowshoe trails criss crossing the hills – all just a few hours’ drive from Ottawa.
One of the jewels of this crown is tiny little Mont Orford Provincial Park. Orford might be just 60 km2 but this little park is packed with fun stuff to do, and Erica and I were here to check it out for the first time.
Credit where credit is due: Erica found, planned and booked this whole adventure, beginning with our woodland home for the next few days: the Mont Orford EXPerience Cabins on the west side of the park.
These private little made-for-2 cabins are ultra-modern looking inside and out, with a combination of panel and wood construction outside, and lacquered-wood-everything on the inside. The kitchen boasts dishes for 2 and cookware, a modern 2-element stove, microwave, coffee maker, and running, potable water; the washroom is a flush toilet and – get this – a shower! Two single beds are tucked around a wood screen from the living area and kitchen, and they push together nicely 😉
There are 5 EXP cabins dotting the shore of Lac Stukely – close together, but not too close – and all face the lake, with a screened in porch, fire pit and picnic for your lounging needs. Our cabin was in the middle, but closest to the lake, and the views at sunset and in the morning were of nothing but nature and shades of orange rising and falling on the Mont Chauvre across the lake. Not too shabby.
On top of everything else, the EXP cabins have baseboard heating with an easy-to-use digital thermometre. So, on the one hand, How camping has changed, eh? But on the other, Hey that’s kinda convenient after a long cross country ski or a day on the mountain.
Instead of sitting back and doing nothing our first night, we decided to take the relaxation up a level and hit the nearby Spa Nordic Station for some thermal treatments (read more about our Eastern Townships spa tour here!). This, in turn, left us famished, so rather than heading back to the cabin we drove into Magog and found a nice little spot for dinner: le Bistro Chez Sirano. This place was full of charm and character, spearheaded by the owners who originate from Montreal. Good food and a great environment, we really liked this place.
Needless to say, upon returning to our winter camping cabin our first night was super cozy – climate controlled, showered up, devices charging, and surrounded by nature.
Fun Day #2
Erica and I had just come from two days skiing at Bromont, plus it it was a chilly day and everything had frozen over after some rain the day before, so we decided to hit the cross country trails for our first day in Mont Orford.
Trail #1, which runs through most of the southern half of the park, starts at the nearby Bonnallie Visitors centre (which sells snacks, coffee and rents gear). We skied down here for a few kilometres along the lake, admiring the gorgeous natural setting around each corner – a marsh, a mountain, a snowy maple forest – until pulling over for break and a narrow peninsula jutting into the frozen lake.
After a sip and a snack we broke from the main trail and set out into the woods to loop back to our neck of the park. The signage was a little inconsistent but between what we found and the map we managed to make it back to the visitor’s centre – legs and lungs burning with the satisfaction of going just a bit further than we had planned 😉
We only scratched the surface of the 50km of cross country trails (classic, 26km of skate), not to mention the showshoe, fatbike, and hiking trails we didn’t even get to. The main ski trail actually snakes all the way around to the backside of the Mount Orford ski resport… but that’s an adventure for another day.
Fun Day #3
Sadly, the next morning it was time to pack it up. Our stay in the EXP cabin has come to an end and we have to be out by mid-day, so time to clean, pack, and load up the car. As consolation we decided to drive into Magog to find some good breakfast. After scoping out the main strip we saw there there was no shortage of breakfast places, so we decided on my first pick, the Café Crêperie 4.0, right on Rue Principale as you drive in. A delicious breakfast and friendly atmosphere made this place a great way to start the day.
And though we were done with our cabin, we weren’t quite done with the Mont Orford park… time to check out the main attraction: Ski Orford!
Orford is a world apart from nearby Bromont, which Erica and I had just skied for two days. Taller but with way less terrain, the resort’s location inside the Mont Orford provincial park has really limited the growth at the base to zero, which was a pleasant, peaceful reprise after the hustle and bustle of huge crowds at Bromont.
No condos, no shopping (ok, there’s a small boutique), healthy food in a small base lodge, and a much different approach to cutting runs on the mountain give this hill a real “small hill” feel, despite the 1900′ vertical drop on the main peak. Combined with the other two peaks, Orford offers almost 250 acres of skiable terrain.
And thanks to the shape of mountain and the line of the runs, there’s a lot of steep challenging stuff: 27% of the hill is considered double black diamond! But fear not for the ski newbie, there is ample beginner and intermediate ski terrain, and no fewer than 3 magic carpets for your choice of beginner runs.
Unfortunately the conditions were pretty awful – it had rained the day before and today it was below 0. Nonetheless, the groomers had been through and if you stuck to the edges you could easily find enough snow to make it enjoyable.
Overall I really liked the Orford mountain experience; I kind of felt like it was the Eastern Township’s Mont Ste Marie: bigger and steeper than nearby mountains, but a little out of the way and thus underused.
And that was it – our ski day done, it was boots off, shoes on, and then we hit the road for home! I can’t wait to get back to this neck of the woods; gorgeous scenery and so much to do!