Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lac Philippe (Gatineau Park) - "And The Livin' Is Easy..."

I'm updating this post from last year because, with City beaches closed periodically, this is the perfect nearby beach to get you out and feeling Summer!  It's in Gatineau Park, is about a 45 minute drive, and is a lovely alternative when the e-coli levels are high in town!

We beat the crowds, had the best parking spot and were home before the heat of the day got us down.  I really enjoy Lac Philippe with the kids....though I do avoid the crowds - here's how....along with directions, service details and other practical tips to make your day a real treat.

For me, Lac Philippe is best in the morning (eg. arrival by 9:00 am), in the evening (arrival around 5:30) or during the week.  At those times it's neither super hot nor super busy.  Days that are partly cloudy or have lower temperatures are also great.  And, particularly if you time it right, this is a beautiful beach (or beaches).   There is always someone for the kids to play with, they never find the water too cold (even if I do) and staff / lifeguards are friendly and helpful.


A car day pass is $10 and a season pass is $70. Somewhat inconveniently (and new this year) the season pass can not be purchased at the entrance to Lac Phillippe, but only at the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre at 33 Scott Road in Chelsea.  It is worth getting an all season pass if you think you will visit several times.The season pass covers access to all beaches (there are 5) as well as Mackenzie King Estate. The Estate requires a pass from mid-May till mid-October whereas passes are only needed for the beaches between mid-June and mid-September. 

If you want to stay overnight the cost is $37 plus an $8.50 reservation fee. If you call for reservations and they're all full don't worry too much. Especially if you live in Ottawa (close enough to go home if you have no luck) try driving up around 2:00 when campground staff know of no-shows.  There are also group camping sites at Gatineau Park for $250 a night or $125 for non-profit groups.
Beaches are lifeguarded from 10 to 6 pm, mid-June through Labour Day.  Breton beach, the one that we usually stop at, is large with a sandy beach and plenty of nearby shade, picnic tables and barbeques.  There are (what a treat!) brand new bathrooms and change areas as of last year.

A short walk past Breton beach (take the path) is a canoe, kayak and paddle boat rental spot.  They have a reasonable number of boats, are open from 9: am to 8:00 pm daily and line-ups are usually manageable.  Rates begin at $16 for 1.5 hrs, $20 for 2 hrs, $28 for 3 hrs and so on up to $60 for a 24 hour period.  Life jackets are included in the rental price.  (Note: these rates are actually from last year.  If they've changed please let me know!)


Best of all, last year the NCC installed brand new bathrooms and change rooms! They are much nicer than the previous ones and include family washrooms, separate change rooms, baby change tables, flushable toilets and plumbed sinks as well as electric hand dryers. Taking a picture seemed strange and possibly something that could get me in trouble with Park security (!) - you will have to go and see them for yourself!


The NCC tests water quality every two weeks and any beach closures can be found at:  Parent beach is currently closed for the season because of the huge rains near the end of June that led to high water levels.  Otherwise the beaches at Lac Phillippe are very infrequently closed in my experience.

The beach is cleaned once a week, usually on Thursday I'm told.  And poop is scooped daily (thank you!)  There is a "clapper" for want of a better word, to keep away the seagulls but do clean up food waste quickly and place it in the bear proof bins.


To get there from west Ottawa cross the river using the Portage bridge and continue on to the ramp for highway 5.  Take highway 5 to the very end and turn left on the 105 north.  You'll pass an IGA, a SAQ, the Great Canadian Bungee site and Jean Burger (keep it in mind if you need a bite to eat later - it includes play structures in the back).  Just past the highway to Wakefield (where you'll also find a Subway and a Giant Tiger) the two lane 105 will temporarily turn into a divided highway.  That's where you turn left following the Gatineau Park signs.  . 

Turn left into Gatineau Park just after you pass La Patate et le Pizza a Carlo on your right.  You'll see the sign and the road with the 1958 covered bridge but it can still be easy to miss.  If you pass the Desjardins bank on your left, you've passed it (but see tip below!)


A big reminder - you need CASH to pay for your park pass.  No credit, no debit.  Fortunately there is a bank machine at the Desjardins Bank just past the entrance to the park.

The other big reminder - you do have to bring your own food.  There are no food outlets at the park (though there is an epicerie near the entrance as well as the various food outlets mentioned above that you passed on the drive).  This is, after all, a camping experience. And I love watching the families who have the wonderful food rather than my usual repertoire of peanut butter sandwiches!
You will find water fountains and several Pepsi machines that sell soft drinks, water, aquafina and gatorade but that is it.  (If you really need change for the machines check with the boat rental shop).)