Val-Jalbert Ghost Town: Family Exploration
My love for abandoned buildings and ghost towns always brings me to the most beautiful places to explore. There is just something about the history, the feeling of adventure and exploration, and the photo ops (see the photo gallery below for what I`m talking about!)
Val-Jalbert had been on my urbex radar for years. Located about 249km/155 miles north of Quebec City, I had seen it online on a few urbex databases for being a really cool place to explore.
To my delight, in 2010, they turned it into a historical park. They preserved some buildings, refurbished others, and added a 4D movie experience in the mill, a cable car up the mountain side. To complete the atmosphere, they have actors in period garb walking around and acting just like the real civilians that did back in the 1920s. One of my favorite parts, of course, was the railroad still visible in the camp grounds - at one point with a giant tree growing right in the middle of it!
While some houses are not structurally sound, there are others that have been preserved for tourists to wander through with some antique and vintage relics still on site to see.
We traveled there when our little ones were 6 and 22 months. The trails were well maintained with some boardwalk so it was so easy to get around by foot and with a wagon that we were able to rent at the main entrance. There is also a trolley car that travels from one end of the park to the other - from the main entrance to the mill at the back of the town.
Since this ghost town is pretty much in the sticks in the middle of nowhere, there are various quaint locations to stay the night on site.
Being campers, we made it a family affair and camped out in Val-Jalpert's park with Grandma and Grandpa in their trailer. Tent sites are also available here, as well as mini cottages to rent if you don't have camping gear.
Looking to immerse yourself into this experience even more?
My disappointing quality family time vacation (as described in this post) was saved by this place right here.
Every summer we try to go camping at least once, and we try to book at a camp ground that we haven't been to yet.
We have a love affair with provincial parks. So when we heard about the new railway exhibit in Brockville, Ontario, I immediately searched for the surrounding Ontario Provincial Parks. That led me to Charleston Lake.
As we were camping in a tent in the middle of a heat wave, this beach was a lovely solace. It was perfect: the water temperature was just enough to keep us cool in the heat and the surrounding trees offered a lot of shade for people to park themselves in the sand. And would you just look at the view!?
The campgoers were very friendly, and the kids made several friends as we spent the most part of the days on the beach.
Charleston Lake Beach Tips:
The day use beach has a lot more sand, and allows for swimmers to wade out almost halfway across to the other side before stepping into any seaweed. The sand at the campground beach is a bit muddier.
Northern Watersnakes are common in the area and there were several sightings at both beaches, and some of the islands when we were there, including one sighting by our daughter who followed behind it and pointed it out to all the swimmers on the beach. Other wildlife sightings included minnows, sunfish, and someone caught a large mouth bass when we were there.
Hemlock Ridge Trail
The only hike we made time to do was on the Hemlock Ridge Trail and I`m so happy that's the one we chose - it was beautiful and offered a lot of shade. We made sure to go first thing in the morning as it was cooler. This trail offered a guide to read about various species of trees along the path, passes by a beaver pond, and a section of it weaves through rock crevices. Along the way we spotted a great blue heron and lots of frogs in the water.
It was easy enough for our toddler to climb up the rocks, and the whole trail took us about an hour and a half.
Our daughter came across a poster of activities hosted by the park's Discovery Centre when we went to one of the park's washrooms the first day. She excitedly pointed out a beaver information centre and so we took the kids to the park's amphitheater. That was our first encounter with Shania, one of the park's Naturalists. Shania hosted the whole beaver information session (complete with videos and slide shows) without flash cards or notes or anything! She wasn't even phased when her microphone kept cutting out. This girl knows her stuff! You can tell she loves her job and is genuinely interested in what she does. I watched some of the children at the end of her presentation ask her random questions for their booklets and she knew the answer to every thing, and you could tell it wasn't just memorization - it was just knowledge she has soaked up by working at the park.
That's where we learned about the Discovery Guide and Photo Challenge. (I guess we were too concerned with cooling off at the beach to find out about these activities!) I loved the complimentary Discovery Guide concept which really seemed to have the older children engaged with what they saw in the park. So if you're headed to Charleston Lake, don't forget to pick some up for your kids right when you get there so they can start right away! If you get 12 or more of the photos or achievements in the guide, you get to be an official explorer and receive a button and your name on the Wall of Fame in the Discovery Center!
The following day, we visited the Discovery Center and stayed for a few hours! (And no it wasn't just because it is the only building with air conditioning in the park!)
Inside the discovery center there are many hands on activities for the kiddos, and for adults too!
This is also where the resident Black Rat Snake, Pi, hangs out. He was rescued a few years ago and has lived at the Discovery Centre ever since. He’s super friendly and followed the kids around the glass of his enclosure.
One of my favorite parts was the Wildlife Sightings interactive map - we added the Great Blue Heron to it.
Behind the Discovery Centre, Shania hosted an "Animal Babies" workshop, and again, her nature knowledge didn't cease to amaze. Our seven year old was captivated with the presentation and both of the kids had a lot of fun making the baby bird nest craft at the end.
The park's campsites were really nice, and offered a lot of privacy and shade. Beware of the many sites that have an abundance of poison ivy surrounding them. Our site was okay, but there was an abundance of poison ivy patches along the road on the way to the washrooms from our site. We are also very lucky that our kids don't wander into the brush and mostly stay to roads and paths.
Another bummer was that at the end of the day, we had to keep a fire going (yes, even in the heat wave) to keep the maniacal bugs away. The mosquitoes weren't the worst we had ever seen, but as soon as we walked out of our campsite, we were literally swarmed by deer flies. If you're headed here, bring a good bug repellent and keep a small fire going with the wood sold by the park - the smoke will keep the deer flies away.
Melissa is a mom, wife, and early childhood educator who blogs about her journey looking for new experiences for family time.