Finally, FINALLY, after three years of having this on our summer to-do list, we made it out to Oka National Park.
Last summer: ran out of time.
The year before: We (I) lost our list and we (I) completely forgot about it.
So, at the beginning of the season, and on a holiday Monday with nothing to do, we were on the ferry at 8am, and at the park by 8:15. Bam. Done!
Except I underestimated just how much there is to DO at the park, so we’ll be making a return visit. Hopefully it doesn’t take another three years.
If you’ve never taken the ferry from Hudson to Oka, that’s an event unto itself. It took a LOT of explaining to the toddler to get him to understand that we were going on a boat, with the car, and not riding the tooth-fairy across the river. His worried/confused look was priceless.
The ferry crosses from each shore every 15 minutes, so even if you miss one there’s not much waiting around, and if you get MIGHTY motion sick like I do, the crossing is only about 5 minutes long. Make sure the driver stays in your car until you pay otherwise they’ll have to search the boat for you and you’ll get a stern talking to. (I read the signs, I stayed in the car!)
You can get out and walk around (carefully) but hold onto your hats because it gets very windy. There were only 2 cars on board in the morning, but on the way home it was full so we stayed put. Herding children between cars on a moving boat didn’t seem like a good idea.
The schedules and rates are in the link above.
Once ashore in Oka (which is a super cute town), we zipped along the 344 and then turned up Chemin du Calvaire. I wanted to try to hike up to the summit of Mont Oka before it was too hot, and while it was still quiet out.
There was no one at the gate, so we stopped, grabbed the honour system ticket and then tried to decipher what the heck to do with it. It you’re coming up early, bring exact change because you have to calculate how much you owe for your entrance fee and then drop it in the box. It was confusing. And of course we had no change so we ended up overpaying. It might be easier to go to THIS LINK and prepay your entry fee.
Sooooooo, apparently it’s way longer to the summit than I remembered, and combined with the 37,000 mosquitos following us, it was a pretty quick hike. “There’s no stopping!” my husband yelled back over his shoulder when I asked him to pause for a picture.
So, um, it’s pretty, there are trillions of mosquitos, and the hike up is long when you’re 3 years old and only 4 apples tall.
We’ll wait a few years and try again. If you DO want to do the hike right to the top, (it’s very nice, I’ve done it pre-kids), you can see the trail map HERE. And the history of this area is very interesting, you can read all about it on the park’s website.
A quick bathroom break at the station near the parking lot and we were back in the car to go across the street to the rest of the park.
On the south side of the 344 is where there’s camping, 10 km of bike trails (bikes are available to rent), walking trails, marsh walks and lookouts, an AMAZING playground and of course, the beach. It cost us another 9$ for parking on this side, which seems to only be in effect when the beach is open. Follow the signs and there’s a huge parking lot beside the Littoral Visitors’ Centre.
THE BEACH! The last time I was here was during a Girl Guide’s camping trip and my only memory is of draping seaweed over my head in a beautiful “wig”. It looks a bit different now, and I was pretty surprised at JUST HOW NICE IT IS. You’ll feel like you’ve driven hours away from Montreal (or at least I did).
Open from mid-May to Sept. 4, 2017, the beach is LONG and wide and has tons of space. There were people playing beach volleyball, soccer, frisbee, tanning, and swimming. The lifeguard chairs have signs that announce which sections are under supervision and some areas are geared more towards families (in that there’s a sign that says “family area”).
It was nice to not see any goose poop, and the sand was clean and soft and there’s a gradual slope into the water. The are hundreds of picnic tables all along the treeline and on both sides of the beach are bbq areas, bathrooms, indoor and outdoor showers. Right in the middle is the Visitors’ Centre where you can get information about discovery activities, grab a snack, or peruse the park’s store. You can read about more family activities at the park HERE.
Stand up paddle boards, pedal boats, canoes and kayaks, and fat bikes are available for rent (rates here), and there were tons of families and little ones enjoying the calm waters.
Near the western edge of the beach is a new playground by Jambette that features pirate and nautical-themed play equipment. I don’t usually expect much from a camp/beach playground except for maybe some squeaky swings and an archaic spinner, but this new playground is impressive. Lots of room for kids of all ages to climb, crawl, swing, and slide. Ground level activities including steering wheels, telescopes, dials, and knobs. There is also an accessible sand digger, seesaws, and a rope spinner. Climb up the tail of the whale, scale the Baobab “tree”, or cross the swinging pods. I love that there are details all over with lots to see and explore.
We thought this playground was it, and it was great, but then…what amazingness is this? Behind the ice cream shop and closer to the road is a toddler playground! Score!
And what a toddler’s paradise. A ship’s bow (that’s the front right?), stairs and ladders, portholes and binoculars and a steering wheel. Putter around underneath or up top. “Land ho!”
In the sand are a couple of spring riders, baby swings, and the creative Whale Iris climber.
After playing for a while, walking the whole length of the beach, making sand castles, and coming back for a second time to the playground, the boys were just about out of steam. We didn’t do our planned marsh walk, but we enjoyed ourselves so much that I think we’re going to come back to camp some time this summer!
If you plan to visit the park, look over their website beforehand and make a mini plan, because there’s so much to do. Also note that there is currently a pilot project allowing dogs in SOME parts of the park. You can read about it HERE.
p.s. on our way back to the ferry we stopped for a takeout picnic lunch and a short play at Optimiste Park. A great way to end our morning!