Summer Travel Rule #1: If it’s a long weekend, book early.
One of my friends dropped the ball on reserving at our usual (super commercial) camping spot in Quebec’s Monteregie region, so I ended up in charge of scrambling to find a last-minute campground with room for 5 adults, 1 kid, 3 tents, and 3 cars. No easy feat, considering most sites were either a)full or b)requiring 3 night minimum stays.
I work in Oka. I’ve driven by the provincial park here twice a day, 5 days a week, since late August. And I’ve never set foot inside. So I decided: why not camp next to work? (Which turned out to be super practical, since I had to leave for a few hours on the Friday night to chaperone a high school prom).
Reserving: A heads up: use Parcs Quebec’s online reservation system. It’s all sorts of awesome. You can pick your campsite, see where the bathrooms, water, and beach are vis-a-vis your spot. You can also read through and find a site that has a bit less poison ivy. Long weekends require a 2-night minimum stay, contrary to most other Laurentians’ campgrounds that I contacted who required 3 nights. Just remember: you’re paying the access fees to the parc, in addition to the (super cheap!) camping rate.
The Campground: There’s poison ivy. There’s A LOT of poison ivy. Even the campsites with less poison ivy have a lot of poison ivy. As someone with a biologist background, I’m suggesting you figure out what the plant looks like before heading to the park. Leaves of 3, leave it be. That being said, the sites for tenting are on sand, so as long as you don’t wander off into the woods and plants around the cleared-out tenting spots, you’ll be fine. (If you’re going on a drinking type of camping trip, maybe tether yourself to a tree or something to stay out of the ivy?) Only one section of the campground has electricity. If you require electricity, it’s time you ask yourself the question: WHY AM I CAMPING? (I digress….). The sites were completely shaded by huge pine trees in the section we camped in (l’Anse), and had some quasi-privacy.
Beach: The beach is gorgeous. As someone who grew up swimming in the frigid waters off the coast of Maine, I found it to be almost tropical in temperature. Very few aquatic plants, the supervised part of the beach is sandy, and great for kids, as it stays shallow for quite some distance. It also, however, was PACKED with people. There are, farther along, parts of the beach with fewer people. However, a word of warning: the unsupervised part of the beach has warning signs posted for a reason. Oka Park has had more than its share of drowings over the past decade. The reason? The water goes from maybe 3 feet deep to about 30 feet deep in an instant drop off, and certain times of the year, the currents make the lake’s floor kinda like quicksand. Lake of Two Mountains is a big, deep, natural lake with currents running through it. If you don’t know how to swim, stick to the part of the beach with lifeguards. Also…. this part of the beach just happens to be the clothing-optional beach. Just saying.
Note: If you are camping on a long weekend/high season, you can’t take your car to the beach; that privilege is reserved for day visitors. You can park about a 5-10 minute walk away, or take a schoolbus to and from your campsite. The beach has an ice cream parlor, cantine, first -aid post, canoe and pedal boat rentals, and clean bathrooms.
Raccoons: Dear god. I grew up in the country, I know wildlife. I’ve seen raccoons, I’ve chased off raccoons, I’ve done hundreds of dollars of damage to my car hitting raccoons, I’ve witnessed a raccoon get shot on my grandmother’s balcony with a hunting rifle (you might be a redneck if….). THESE ARE NO ORDINARY RACCOONS. They are not, in any way shape or form, afraid of humans. One afternoon we were 5 adults chasing a raccoon off our site, and he actually turned around and threatened us and stood his ground. They are used to people, they are used to people leaving food around. They will come repeatedly to your campsite if there is any trace of food, garbage, etc lying around. Throw it out, stick it in your car, don’t leave it lying around. Because these big guys can open coolers, I witnessed it. (For all I know they know how to open car doors, and snatch babies and trade them on some sort of underground raccoon market. )
Hiking: We didn’t get around to this, watch for a subsequent follow-up post in a week or two after my roommate and I hike the park. But, there are hiking trails. Pictures also to follow, as my camera was missing in action and my iPhone off for the weekend.
How to get there: the park is located off of Route 344. From Montreal, take either the 14 or 13 North to the 640 East. Follow the 640 until it ends in a giant traffic circle. You can either go straight and enter the park directly, or turn right and follow the 344 for 8 minutes to the entrance to the park located right before the village of Oka (Follow the brown signs!).
Daily access fees are 6$ per person. A campsite with no services (water is always nearby) for the night was in the neighbourhood of 27$, for up to 6 people. Most sites can easily fit two cars and two tents, despite the information listed in the online reservation system.
Images from Parcs Quebec’s website.