The sun rises late in the Vallée des Glaces, tucked between some of the highest walls east of the Rocky Mountains, in the heart of Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. But at 10 a.m., when its rays finally reach the frozen surface of the river, it’s as if the whole scene lights up. A wonderful invitation to enjoy the joys of winter.

The “ice shuttle” leaves Le Draveur Visitors Center at 9:30 a.m. There are only three passengers on board on this Monday morning in February. As the tracked vehicle slowly advances towards the Équerre refuge, where the Malbaie River makes a 90 degree turn, the light slides over the snow and the peaks of the west bank, revealing a landscape steep mountains such as you rarely see on this side of the continent.

After about forty minutes, everyone descends. Passengers pick up their cross-country skis to explore the surroundings… after enjoying a few minutes of the enveloping warmth of the large wood stove in the brand new refuge built at the end of the aptly named Vallée des Glaces.

The Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park, open during the cold season only since 2019, has about fifty kilometers of marked trails. From the Équerre refuge, going up to the Blanc stream fall represents a walk of barely one kilometer. But it turns out to be more difficult than expected in cross-country skiing. The route is steep, winding, narrow.

Fortunately, snowshoers have already hit the trail. Once the skis and poles are planted in the snow, the short course continues on foot until the completely frozen falls. Approaching a few meters from the gigantic ice cubes, you can hear the water flowing behind the white wall. And turning around, the view gives the taste of landing for a long time, in full sun and in silence.

Less tamed and partially covered in snow, the William-Hume-Blake trail, which leads to the Writer’s Viewpoint, is impassable in cross-country ski boots. Too bad. Below, the sun-drenched valley awaits us.

With the sun in front and the wind in the back, the weather is ideal. The sliding conditions, a little less. We wonder for a moment if we wouldn’t have done better to rent a bike…

Already, the track is not traced, which slows down our progress in skiing. In bits, the snow has also been swept away by the gusts, and the surface is icy. But the weather is so beautiful… So we take the opportunity to let our gaze get lost in the cliffs which sometimes give the impression of throwing ourselves directly into the river. Here, a stream threads its way between two mountains. There, a wall of ice, called the Golden Apple, sparkles and seems to challenge the best climbers…

Halfway, at the tip of the inukshuks, the park staff has heated the stove of a cabin to white heat where you can stop to bite into a granola bar. A little past noon, after barely passing a handful of other visitors and a pretty open ice rink on the river, we are back at the services centre, which seems tiny at the foot of the 1048 m high Acropole des Draveurs. . You can’t climb it in winter, the trail is too dangerous. No problem, it will be an excellent reason to come back to this corner of Charlevoix in the summer.

Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie is located in the heart of nature just over 400 km from Montreal, 160 km from Quebec and 40 km from La Malbaie. Better to plan your stay. There are 10 Écho chalets with mountain views, fully equipped and very comfortable for four people… and which are often fully booked. However, at the time of writing these lines, there was still availability for the end of winter (end of March, beginning of April). Allow at least $157 per night (access to the park and taxes not included). Until the end of March, the Équerre refuge, accessible by shuttle, snowshoes, skis or bike, but not by car, offers four rooms with two beds (from $42.50 per person). You must reserve your place by phone. Winter camping is also possible ($25.75 per site).