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Local wonders: Naturally spectacular Pontiac awaits discovery

Gatineau Park<br />Photography by Eric Fletcher Image by: Gatineau Park<br />Photography by Eric Fletcher Author: Canadian Living

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Local wonders: Naturally spectacular Pontiac awaits discovery

If you're looking to take a trip where you can truly enjoy nature, visit Pontiac, a vast region of lakes, rivers, undulating farmland and forests in the Outaouias (Ooo-tah-way) region of West Quebec. This natural gem is only an hour's drive northwest of Ottawa, along picturesque Route 148 West.

Here, ecotourism – travel which conserves the environment while supporting local communities – is the real deal.

Here are the top seven reasons to visit Pontiac.

1. Wildlife watching
Summer birders might be lucky enough to spot bald eagles, meadowlarks, catbirds and common loons. Wood ducks, great blue herons and nuthatches are also very common. Looking for mammals? Pontiac boasts moose, deer, otters and more (http://www.ofnc.ca).

2. Gatineau Park

Gatineau Park's 363 square kilometres embrace forests, lakes, campgrounds – and more than 180 km of trails.

In Pontiac, the park's Luskville Falls offers a shady picnic ground, plus a hike up the Eardley Escarpment's 300 metre cliffs. The trail flirts with the falls: sometimes you catch your breath by their cascade, other times you'll sit on outcrops of Canadian Shield, overlooking the Ottawa River and pastoral farmland below. Climbing further connects you to an old forestry tower, then Ridge Road. It leads into the heart of the Park to destinations such as Lusk Caves.

3. Wild rapids and serene flatwater
Villages "up the Ottawa" such as Portage-du-Fort remind us that early explorers portaged around boiling rapids.

Today's thrillseekers embrace whitewater, choosing to shoot rapids in kayaks or rafts. Enter Esprit Rafting, a white- and flat-water outfitter which provides hostel and camping lodgings – and promises exhilarating trips where you'll ride the Ottawa in 14-foot, 7-person rafts.

4. Art happenings (http://artpontiac.com)
Nurturing  culture is central to the concept of sustainable ecotourism and during mid-June's Pontiac Artists' Studio Tour, visit artists in their home studios. In July, take classes at Pontiac School of the Arts (http://www.pontiacschoolofthearts.com) where writers, photographers, and artists teach poetry, watercolour, oil techniques and much more.

Also in July, gardeners and art enthusiasts can take the July 12 Gardens and Gifts Tour, where private homeowners open their gardens for viewing. Meet regional authors, artists, and producers who will be selling their creations at the gardens.

Can't make the events? Studio L'Artizan (http://studio-artizan.com), an artist's co-op in Shawville specializing in regional artisans work such as quilts, beeswax candles, and rustic furniture, it's open year-round.

Page 1 of 2 -- Horse or bike? Learn which travel methods are best to see Pontiac on page 2.

5. Culture of Pontiac
George Bryson was a wealthy lumber baron based in Fort Coulonge whose 1854 mansion, Bryson Hosue, is a museum celebrating Pontiac's early lumber industry. Across from it, stroll the 1898 Marchand Bridge, the longest covered bridge in Quebec. Such bridges were called kissing bridges because their sheltered sides and roofs offered lovers privacy from prying eyes.

Then check out the extraordinary Coulonge Chutes,  where the Coulonge River blasts through a narrow, 800-metre chasm. Here, you can walk the interpreted trails and try the ziplines. And don't even think of missing the site's little museum, where you will see video footage of daring lumberjacks skilfully felled trees with hand-held saws and, with teams of horses, haul logs to frozen rivers

6. Riding about
Who knew the Pontiac is a hotbed of equine enthusiasts? With your own horse, join the Pontiac Wagon Train. Here, draught horses pull covered wagons while outriders ride their mounts for a week of activities and camping.

Biking's popular, too. Cycle the 92 km Pontiac Cycloparc PPJ from Wyman to Waltham, watching for wildlife and pastoral farmland as you pedal the former Pontiac Pacific Junction railway track.

7. Food, camping & inns
Not surprisingly, campgrounds flourish amid Pontiac's woods and quiet lakes. Choose from Base Macrocarpa, overlooking the Ottawa River, or Leslie Lake Campgrounds, where you'll hear the call of the loon and can paddle the lake. Or, rent a log cabin at Les Cabines de la Chute.

Like your comforts? Choose Spruceholme Inn, a bed and breakfast that was originally built for George Bryson Jr. Proprietors Glenn and Marlene Scullion have lovingly restored the heritage stone mansion and delight in showing guests the home's Canadiana antiques.

Dining? Year-round, enjoy delectable cuisine at Cafe 349 in Shawville. During summer, head to Esprit Rafting's international dinner nights and watch the sunset over the Ottawa River.


Page 2 of 2 -- What attraction has 363 square kilometres with over 180 km of trails? Find out on page 1.


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Local wonders: Naturally spectacular Pontiac awaits discovery

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