Hiking Solo Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix in Quebec, Canada
When I knew I would be meeting with my friends in Quebec, Canada, I started to look right away for some hiking options. Quite quickly I've realized that I couldn't just google "hiking trails in Quebec" because the size of this land was just beyond understanding for someone from Europe.
What looked doable on a map, proved to be 15h+ train ride just to get to somewhere near the trailhead... I started to focus more on what was available close by - in the vicinity of Montreal and/or Quebec City.
The problem is - there is a lot of great hikes but most of them require a car to get there and back. I was happy that my friend found the perfect trail and I could go hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix - a trail not far to the north from Quebec City and leading a hiker along the St.Laurence River.
I had nine days to use but the trail requires only about four, maybe five - so I decided to just go there and back. There were only two stages that I would backtrack my steps as there are many alternative hikes to choose from at both ends of the main trail.
My friend dropped me at a parking at Reserve Cap Tourmente. This is a nice spot for day hikers and I met a number of them on my first day of hiking.
Most people start their Le Sentier des Caps hiking from Saint-Tite-des-Caps parking and you might do that as well, there is even a bus from Quebec City to bring you there. I used the town as my last stop and got a bus from there back to Quebec City.
In Saint-Tite-des-Caps you can buy your permit and pay for camping and/or huts. You receive a ticket with a description of what you paid for and dates.
No one ever requested showing it, though. I was nervous about having to decide right there about the stops not knowing the trail - I had no idea if the distances were realistic for me (too long or too short).
But don't worry - you can always call (before 4 pm) and let them know you made a change and you move to a different campsite or shelter.
Day 1 of hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix: Réserve Cap Tourmente to Refuge de Faille
As it was the first day of hiking, my backpack was crazy heavy with all the food I needed... the day was hot and humid and the trail steep. It was not an easy beginning of this hiking adventure! Right away you are to walk up to the ridge.
It's good that there is a number of benches you can use to take a break. I was so exhausted and sweating like crazy! You can see that in the photos - all red and veins popping ;-)
Most of the trail leads you through beautiful forests. In the beginning, the path is wide and easy (but steep), later on, it gets narrower and requires more attention.
Throughout the trail, you walk mostly on difficult, rough paths with a lot of rocks, boulders, and roots. Sometimes there are more challenging situations with ropes or chains provided to help a bit.
Because of all that (and some mud/wet areas) I suggest taking hiking boots instead of light trail runners, especially if you are (like I was) carrying a heavy load. I was, as usual, really happy with my Salomon Quest 4d during my hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps.
Every now and then there is an opening to see the glorious beauty of St. Lawrance River. When I was looking at it from Quebec City I just couldn't measure the size of it. Here, more to the north, you can properly see it's beauty and width.
There is very rarely a longer flat walking on this trail - it's almost constant up and down walk. The first day I walked 8 km and conquered 651m of hight, 327 m down.
Refuge de Faille is in an absolutely stunning spot, right on an edge of a rock with a view toward the St. Lawrance River. Magical view! The campsite is above it, with platforms located in the forest.
As I was alone, I could choose whichever I wanted - so obviously I chose the one with the best view. The platforms are not really suited for non-self-standing tents and I had to play around with my new tent to make sure it stands.
I was glad that the Double Rainbow can be made semi self-standing with the help of trekking poles. If your tent is not self-standing, take more paracord so you tie it down around planks, rocks, and trees.
Day 2 of hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix: Refuge de Faille to Refuge Cap Gribane
In this section, there are a few options for alternative paths or making a detour to a viewpoint. I walked along the main trail and took detours whenever I could.
Especially one is well worth it - it says "150 m" on it - I left my backpack at the trail and went up just with my camera. The path is very steep, basically climbing over rocks and then steep stairs. At the top, you reach a platform with a picnic table and jaw-dropping views.
Absolutely worth the climb - but not with a heavy backpack.
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The path itself is challenging - rough, up and down all the time, through roots and stones. The end is very hard before you finally get to the Refuge.
This time I wasn't as lucky as before and could not enjoy solitude... in addition to a few regular hikers, there was a group of camp kids making a crazy amount of noise.
At least we didn't have to worry about bears, right?
I stopped using ViewRanger as I was worried about the battery dying but I walked about 9km.
Day 3 of hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix: Refuge Cap Gribane to Refuge Anse-aux-Vaches
I started the day slowly and late - I wanted to wait for condensation inside the tent to dry a bit on my tent and it was also raining. I didn't have to hurry much - the next stage was only 6km long.
What I really liked about hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps is how often I was just surrounded by the natural beauty, listening to birds and admiring views.
The trail takes you through thick, beautiful forests and does not let you get bored or sleepy - it's changing all the time and you have to pay attention. There was also a number of very difficult mud crossings.
It took a lot of strategic planning, smart use of trekking poles and careful stepping not to end up calf-high in the yucky black mud. All that caused this part to be very slow, challenging and annoying at times trek.
On my way back I saw a woman (hiking in trainers) making a wrong step and dipping her toes in the black mud - nothing all that bad, but she panicked and wanted to get out of it fast - going up to her calf in the next step :-/.
The weather was beautiful, with sunshine seeping through the green canopy. I was reminded why I loved forests so much!
I loved the variety of tree species around, with rich undergrowth and many birds singing and flying around.
At the Refuge Anse-aux-Vaches I was joined again by the camp kids but this time I pitched my tent a bit farther from them. The water collecting point was quite a walk from the hut.
Day 4 of hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix: Refuge Anse-aux-Vaches to Refuge Cap du Salut
As this morning there was no condensation whatsoever, I made it out pretty fast (for me). The path again was mainly through forests with some occasional brief windows into St. Lawrance.
One of the detours is 350 m - well worth your time! This time there is no climbing involved so you won't get tired.
This time the viewpoint is not showing the familiar by now St. Lawrance River but the other direction - into mountains, villages, and landscapes on the other side of the massif.
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I reached the shelter pretty early on and it proved a lucky chance - it soon started to rain pretty heavily and the camp kids reached the place soaked.
There was a number of tourists at this Refuge - some staying at the hut, others camping. The view from the terrace was truly wonderful - a great spot to have your dinner.
Even though I was hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps trail, I never was very far from people. This is a pretty popular trail and I was seeing people once in a while, especially closer to the entry points.
When I was at the trail office, I booked my stay at Refuge Liguori but as I realized that it had no access to water, I called and changed to Refuge lac Gauthier.
I am glad I did - carrying enough water for dinner and breakfast with no ways to clean the dishes (or oneself!) was a bit much.
Later I found out that I was the only one who went that way - most people moved on to Refuge l'Abbatis or Liguori to complete the trail in Domaine Liguori (Petite-Riviere-Saint-François).
Another option is (as the camp kids did) to leave the trail on an exit path soon after Refuge Cap du Salut - but you have to have some kind of transport waiting for you (or call a taxi).
By the way - the camp kids were not that bad. I talked with a few of them (the spot by the water collection was a nice meeting point) and in the end, they saved me big time: I received two rolls of toilet paper from them!
Believe me - grab more than you think you need, there is no way to resupply on this crucial piece of equipment! :). Hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps, or any other trail for that matter, means that you have to carry everything you might need with you - you can't always be that lucky to find someone with extra TP ;-).
The water collecting spot is quite a walk from the campsite/shelter - about 100 m on a heavy decline so it's downhill there but a nice uphill walk back.
The water collecting spot is quite a walk from the campsite/shelter - about 100 m on a heavy decline so it's downhill there but a nice uphill walk back.
Day 5 of hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix: Refuge Cap du Salut to Refuge lac Gauthier
First I walked for about 5 km along the main, red trail and then turned left into one marked blue. It's a cross-country ski trail No.5 and leads you to a Relais du Vieux Chemin - a small emergency shelter with a wood stove.
Enough to warm up a bit and move on. There was also a toilet there. At the hut, I turned into a snowshoe trail No.2 and then again left into trail No.6.
The first part of this day's hiking was nice - although it rained a bit in the beginning. The rising fog made the forest look mysterious and beautiful.
But later it got a bit.. boring.
It was a wide track with forest on both sides. But soon that is forgotten when you reach the lake and the most picturesque shelter ever. It was so beautiful!
Thanks to hiking solo Le Sentier des Caps trail, I had the whole shelter to myself (there is no camping anywhere) and I decided to do some washing... I didn't want to use any detergent so just swished it around a bit in the water.
Soon after I started drying them the rain came... so I decided to start the wood stove. It was lovely... then too hot, so had to have every window open (thank goodness for mosquito nets!) and still, it was too hot ;-)
But at least my clothes were drying. I went to sleep right by the only window that opened so I had some cold air coming.
I woke up around 5:30 am (which I never do!) to the most stunning dawn. I run out and took some photos then went back to sleep.
My clothes dried but most of them did not lose any of the funk. Oh, well.
Day 6 on Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix: Refuge lac Gauthier to Refuge Cap du Salut
I was returning to the same shelter so wanted to make sure I walk back on different paths. I started with the same trail No. 6 for cross-country skiing and then turned into "B" trail for snowshoes.
When I reached the main red trail I walked to Refuge l'Abbatis and then back to Refuge Cap du Salut.
What I've learned: the ski trails are generally really wide but the snow-shoeing trails... are not necessarily what we would call "trails".
I guess in winter when there is 2m of snow you don't care what's under, right?
There was no path, no trail or anything of that kind on this "trail". I did feel quite the adventurous hiker fighting for every step and making sure I don't fall or sink into some mud hole. There were broken trees, branches and big trenches filled with water.
It was a very slow but exciting part. I can't deny - I had a lot of fun going through it all! I don't think people hike this path at all!
Refuge l'Abbatis is tiny but wins in terms of location. I couldn't believe the views! There is a terrace with picnic tables - be careful with every step, the wood is old and rotten.
I actually broke some just stepping harder! I couldn't stay there for very long but had a lovely snack break.
For a while, the trail takes you through high grasses and bushes, then on a regular path through forests. This was definitely the most diverse day of hiking on the whole trail!
I reached Refuge Cap du Salut and was surprised to see no one. Two days ago it was filled with people!
I pitched my tent on the same platform as two days before. Then the clouds started to roll in... Dark and heavy. I made a split-second decision to take the tent down.
It took me maybe 3 min and I was running with it when the first drops fell. Then the whole sky opened and there was the most beautiful outpour.
It was lovely to sit safely in a shelter and watch it all. I decided to stay indoors for the night as there was no one anyway.
I didn't go upstairs but rather put my sleeping mat on the ground by a window. Thanks to which I again woke up at dawn to take photos.
I am not sure exactly what was the distance I walked that day but I figured that about 13km.
Day 7 on Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix: Refuge Cap du Salut to Refuge Cap Gribane
I woke up pretty early thanks to the sharp sun right in my face. I decided to hit the trails early and make two days in one by passing by Refuge Anse-aux-Vaches.
It was about 14 km and proved to be a bit much. The path is difficult and my body was already pretty tired by then. In the evening I decided to cut the whole trip one day short and explore Quebec City for one day longer.
The reason for cutting it all shorter was not just the general exhaustion but also the very strong need for a shower. I think the complete lack of showers was a bit much even for me - as I'm not typically all that fussy about not showering for a few days on the trail.
I tried to do some washing - twice I heated up water in my pot and used a small towel to do a standing bath in a shelter (no one was there of course) or did some baby-wipes cleanup in the tent. But it's just not enough and my head started to itch ;-)
At the shelter, there were other people - a couple of women who kept to themselves and a group of mixed gender folks staying at the hut... who were loud.
Day 8 on Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix: Refuge Cap Gribane to Refuge lac St-Tite
To make things more interesting I chose to walk the Cap Rouge trail (blue marks) on my way back, which provided a nice viewpoint.
I also had a chance to see a few sailing ships on their way back from Quebec City where there was some kind of sailing event organized. Quite a view!
I reached the shelter still pretty early in the day after walking for about 7 km. Both shelters are close to each other and campsites are all around. I decided to walk to the town.
I left my big backpack upstairs and hoped there were no thieves around. I grabbed only my small day pack with a wallet and a charger in hopes to find a plug I could use ;-)
The walk to Saint-Tite-des-Caps was about 4km.. but I am glad I did it as I learned that the bus to Quebec City leaves at 8:25 am.
You have to let the gas station know - they leave a sign in the window for the driver to know there is a client waiting. I sat at the trail office to recharge my phone a bit - enough to buy the bus ticket online.
I talked to the lady at the trail office about the weird obstacle on my way there - a huge gate (almost like to a prison, seriously) leading to the "Parking 2" - there was no way to go around it on foot and it opened on my side only to cars (weight) and on the other side by a token.
I was able to go through it only b/c there was a car coming (incidentally with the ladies I met at the Gribane). They were not used to hikers who came by foot/bus! The lady gave me a token to go by the gate that day but when I asked about the next morning she had no advice.
I mean, she had - that I could take a trail to walk around it... about 8 km off! So I was nervous I had to wait there for a car or somehow try and climb the whole thing (which I ended up doing - I had to throw my heavy backpack over the gate and then climb it).
There is not much around there - a small store (chips!) by the gas station and a diner a bit up the road where I went and got myself a simple dinner which tasted like a high-end gourmet meal after a week of powder-soup meals :D.
And that's it. I loved walking this trail as it was challenging and provided some great views. The forests are so beautiful! If you need constant wide views it will be a bit too overgrown though...
I can highly recommend it for female solo hikers - it was safe and I felt great hiking it by myself.
Tips for hiking Le Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix:
bring a high-capacity power bank. There is no way to recharge anywhere. I hated how I had to limit the number of photos I took b/c my camera's battery was dying. Of course, I also found that one of the batteries was dead even though I was sure they were all fully charged!
bring all food and toilet paper you need - no way to resupply.
If you hate being stinky - bring more clothes. Otherwise - accept the funk.
have a water filtration system - all the water available is natural, you have to treat it.
trekking poles are a must - there is a lot of difficult passages and crossing mud fields.
If you want, you can only stay at the shelters with no need for carrying a tent.
check out the official page for Le Sentier des Caps for more information.
I spent about 120CAD for the whole trip (8 campsites + 1 refuge). The campsite is about 10CAD and shelter about 30CAD.