There are numerous family vacation destinations around the world that are synonymous with adventure. Families trek around volcanoes in Costa Rica, go on safari in Africa and snorkel along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Would it surprise you if I added the Outaouais Region of Canada to the list? It surprised me.
If I asked you to show me the Outaouais Region on a map, could you find it? No Google allowed. Do you have any idea where it is?
Let me give you a second chance. How about Quebec? Outaouais, pronounced, ewe-tah-wee, is located in the southwestern Quebec province, just steps from Canada’s capital, Ottawa. Find it on the map sooner as opposed to later, and plan a trip with the kids. It’s one of those vacations that will stick with them and you for a very long time.
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Although the thought of temperatures that can hit 40 below in the winter makes me cringe, the summer in the Outaouais Region is a typically sunny experience. Getting outside to soak up some vitamin D in these parts also will likely raise your family’s adrenaline level.
Located at an old Catholic Church in Gatineau, Altitude Gym is best described as a mostly indoor climbing theme park. For serious climbers, there’s more than 17,000 square feet of climbing surfaces plus climbs up to 45 feet, but the Clip ‘n Climb section is where most kids and parents reach new heights. It’s best for kids age 5 and older.
Imagine more than two dozen vibrantly colored climbing walls and obstacles in one very large room about the size of a high school gymnasium. After some important safety instructions and being fitted with a harness, families move at their own pace from one climbing wall to the next without needing a belayer, or someone to hold the safety rope while you or the kids are sky-high. You still clip into a safety line, but the automated system is responsible for all the rappelling and catching work. Employees are on the move, watching and lending a hand when needed.
Don’t leave without testing your skills in the outdoor area at Altitude Gym. Along with a small climbing area, there are numerous slack lines (think thick tightropes) stretched along what used to be the church side yard. You’ll leave with new respect for circus performers and quite possibly pondering how to install one in your own backyard.
Using adventure and nature, Aventure Laflèche delivers an action-packed day for families. Start by flying through the air on one of their many zipline and aerial obstacle courses. Your soaring session starts with a harness fitting, a safety lesson and a practice session before a quick climb up to fly down.
The Adventure Aerial Park at Aventure Laflèche is different from other zipline parks I’ve been to in that you are responsible for attaching all of your equipment to the zipline and in many cases your guide is not on the platform with you. It caught me off guard, and I had some initial nervousness. But after practicing and gliding across the first zip, it just became a part of the routine.
Although the guides are not always on the platform, they are always within view and have eyes like a hawk. I never had any concern for myself or my tween daughter. There isn’t an age minimum to participate; however, kids must be 5 feet tall and have the maturity and motor skills to handle the responsibility for their safety.
For little ones who still need to grow, or just aren’t quite ready for such a high-flying adventure, Aventure Laflèche has a kids’ park. The course lasts about an hour and has 18 suspended bridges and two ziplines, with a maximum height of just over 13 feet. Just as in the adult course, kids must learn how to clip themselves safely. They must be 4 feet tall, but there is no maximum height, so parents and older siblings can take part as well.
After flying high, don a helmet with headlamp and go underground to explore the largest cave on the Canadian Shield. My family’s visited other caves in places like China and France, but this guided tour was like no other we’ve experienced. The temperature drops to about 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celcius) when you enter, so any layers you shed during ziplining you’ll want to put back on.
There is no light in the tunnel, so the headlamps will illuminate the amazing but cold, wet world around you. Be prepared to twist up and down stairs and through natural passageways. For the most part, there’s ample headroom, but there are a few spots where parents will most likely need to duck. If your family’s the adventurous type, there are even instances where you can explore tunnels so small that you need to be on your hands and knees. It’s a once in a lifetime activity, but not something I’d recommend for anyone who isn’t fond of close quarters. Kids must be 5 years old to participate.
We were starving when we emerged from our underground trek through the cave. Dinner on vacation can be a tricky thing. One kid likes Chinese, another prefers Italian, while Mom and Dad were thinking Mexican. Le Buffet des Continents in Gatineau has all of the above. Yes, it’s a buffet, but the food was better than I’ve had at many sit-down restaurants and it’s fun. Bright and colorful, each room has a different theme from around the world. Eat sushi in Greece, or egg rolls under the eyes of a smiling tiki.
It was all my daughter could do to stay awake during the drive back to the Ramada Plaza Le Manoir du Casino Hotel. Instead of the planned dip in the pool, she plunged into a pillow.
Editor’s Note: Dana and her daughter’s trip to Canada’s Outaouais Region was hosted by Tourisme Outaouais and Tourisme Québec. As always, our thoughts and opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
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