I hate to break it to you, but summer will inevitably be coming to a screeching halt any day now. Soon, Canadians will solemnly trade in their iced coffees for a regular hot cup of java and start draping themselves in oversized scarves. And while I apologize in advance for the overused Game of Thrones reference (RIP Hodor), we Montrealers can relate all too well to that sinking feeling that winter, is in fact, coming.
But first we have fall. Ah, fall. That all-too-brief interlude between summer’s face-melting heat and winter’s bone-chilling cold. I try as much as possible to take advantage of the season. I usually make a mad dash for my computer and spend hours searching for day trip ideas; places that are close enough so that I don’t have to spend too much time on the road, but also far enough to feel like I’m away from the city. Lucky you, I’m going to save you some screen time and offer up my list of best fall day trips from Montreal. (You’re welcome!)
Val David, Laurentians
For a quaint, small town experience, spend the day in Val David. Nestled in the vast Laurentians region, Val David is a less touristy and less crowded getaway option than neighbouring Mont-Tremblant. Meander through its small but charming downtown core lined with cafés, ice cream shops, jewelry stores, and boutiques selling artisanal products. For lunch, you can’t miss Au Petit Poucet. This Quebec institution has been serving up traditional dishes like tourtière, pea soup and a sticky sweet pudding chômeur for dessert since 1945.
If after you’ve digested your Québécois feast you’re up for a nature hike, check out Val David Regional Park. But reader beware! Plan accordingly for the level of difficulty you want to tackle, or else you might find yourself struggling (as I did) to reach the peak’s lookout.
Maison Lavande, St-Eustache
An olfactory experience awaits you in St-Eustache, just a half hour from Montreal. Maison Lavande is a hot spot during the summer months when the gorgeous lavender flowers are in full bloom. Although the flowers are harvested in August, visitors can stroll through the garden’s rows of plants and crops, which still smell heavenly. Throughout the “low” season until early October, you can access the site for free and stroll through the natural paths, relax on the terraces and enjoy lavender-infused ice cream, lemonade, cookies and other tasty treats.
Bring your little ones and even your canine companions to make it a family affair! The site has a designated family zone that includes structures for kids to climb on, slides and swings. The benefits of lavender are well-documented, so it’s a no-brainer that they also sell a ton of products like rich-scented candles, tea infusions, soaps and skincare items.
Coaticook, Eastern Townships
To many, the word Coaticook is synonymous with ice cream: the old-fashioned made-with-real-cream ice cream parlour began (and still have a shop) there. But there are a ton of other fun things to discover in the town that spawned it. Less than a two-hour drive from Montreal, Coaticook is a cheery town with cute shops, restaurants, a microbrewery, and more. But arguably the biggest draw is the Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook which offers visitors 20 km of trails for hiking and cycling, wildlife observation, a mini-farm and some great panoramic views at the lookout. You can also take in the natural sights of the gorge from up above on the suspended footbridge.
Tip: it’s worth extending your daytrip into an overnighter so that you can experience Foresta Lumina. The park comes alive at night through this mystical and illuminated audio-visual storytelling experience. But, a visit to the town wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the place where the magic happens. Take a tour of the Laiterie de Coaticook— ice cream in hand, of course.
The Wine Route, Eastern Townships
It’s easy to forget just how huge the Eastern Townships are. Widespread enough for vineyards, in fact! Enter The Wine Route where you can turn wine tasting into half day or full day event. Wine lovers can go on a guided tour of the wineries, taste the goods, learn more about how these local vinos are made and chat with the winemakers themselves.
Most tours also include food and wine pairing workshops so you can nibble on delicious Quebec cheeses and other bites while you sip. There’s also the possibility of heading out on a self-guided tour across the Townships if you fancy yourself a real wine swirlin’ and wine sniffin’ aficionado. I detect a hint of a great day trip with a subtle note of lasting memories.
Îles de Boucherville National Park
Admire Quebec’s fall foliage in all its orangey, red and gold glory and head to Îles de Boucherville National Park. Less than an hour away, you can try a medley of different outdoor activities like kayaking, canoeing, hiking, fishing and even stand up paddleboarding. On your hikes, watch out for the adorable white-tailed deer that call the park home—just remember to be respectful of Bambi’s personal space!
Camping is also an option for those who would prefer to sleep comfortably outdoors without the intense heat and humidity Montreal experiences in the summer months. I, myself, am planning to go camping, sit by a cozy fire wrapped in a giant sweater or blanket while crooning to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and live out my favourite cheesy fall stereotype.
Top image: Pedestrian bridge in the Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook (©Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook)