“Squirrel! Incoming!” I yelled up at my friend Rachel who called dibs on the loft bed of our tree house.
Our cozy cabin perched or hung, or however it magically stayed 20 feet up in the forest’s canopy, impaled on a 40-foot birch (or pine?) tree. Having a squirrel inside your room is a new thing for me, but a night in a tree house forces you to confront your place in nature rather quickly.
At first look, the clear plastic sheath encasing the tree cutting through the center of our tree house perplexed me. Was it there to keep us from getting splinters or maybe carving our initials inside an adorable heart? I didn’t know. We’re city girls, figuring our way through a night in the great outdoors.
When I was planning the trip, and came across the possibility of staying in a tree house – I was elated! It’s the kind of novelty lodging dream that sticks with you from childhood, especially if your parents never built you a cool clubhouse to hang out in with your friends. The closest I ever got to that was the cardboard box our washing machine came in.
I loved the IDEA of staying in a tree house in the wild Canadian forest. No electricity, no running water – just us girls and two flights of stairs up to our cabin in the sky. It was an opportunity to slow down and relax in the profound silence of nature, something us city dwellers find wholly unfamiliar. What could go wrong?
Parc Adventures Cap Jaseux, the park where we stayed in Canada’s Québec Province, sits on the banks of the Saguenay River. Our little house has large windows that face the fjord, something I didn’t expect to see outside of Norway. It’s especially beautiful at sunset. We stepped onto our balcony, leaning far away from the propane tank and cooking burner, and watched the cliff walls turn gradient pinks and glow purple out onto the water.
For dinner, we bought local cheeses, wine and other picky bits at a nearby store, and then visited the folks at La Vieille Ferme market (which I absolutely recommend) for vacuum packed salmon and salads and fresh baguettes. We sat around our kitchen table, enjoying dinner amongst the foliage much like the Swiss Family Robinson must have.
Having no electricity or running water presented a couple of considerations. On the one hand, eating by the battery-operated glow of the provided lanterns is some genius attractive lighting. On the other hand, just how much water and wine should I drink with dinner? The outhouse is close, but it is Blair Witch dark at night and that multi-level staircase swayed without the help of a second glass of merlot.
Rachel and I carefully wrapped all of our leftover food up in case bears are enticed by triple crème Brie and those crackers with the little dried cranberries baked in. They can climb 20 feet up a pine (birch?) tree, right? I guess they could also use the stairs if they have no inner ear issues with the rocking motion.
Executive decisions were made for a bathroom run to the well-lit, large, plumbing and electricity-endowed facility down the road. We donned headlamps (part of the camping gear I always bring with me) and headed out. Did I mention it’s dark out there? It’s so quiet it made me suspicious.
We made it to the restrooms with our toiletry bags, bathing in the blue glow of the LED lights. I got ready for bed, flossing for good karma. Taking collective deep breaths, we headed back out into the thicket. I tried to get a handle on my surroundings. There were just so many hiding places…
The silence of the park at night is overwhelming. My brain shifted into overdrive, presenting me with at least 17 different ways things could go wrong, zombies and barely-covered mineshafts being two of them. I realize some people love this kind of connection to the great outdoors. I’m still working on being composed and positive when faced with abject sensory deprivation.
Running seemed like a good idea.
I hit the stairs at a fast pace, which is a bad idea being that they give in unexpected directions when approached with the footfalls of fear.
Locking the door behind us, we relaxed back into our tree house. “We’re sleeping in a tree house!” Rachel exclaims. We’re giddy again. It really is pretty cool, once you get used to the nature part.
Cloaked in darkness, we took advantage of the Wi-Fi that wafted in sporadically. We watched Pete’s Dragon clips on YouTube and sang along, the blue glow casting flickering shadows against the log wall. It was only creepy when I forgot it was my own shadow. We fell asleep humming “Candle on the Water.”
BOOM!! RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE! Our shelter shuddered several times.
“Rachel? What are you doing up there?!?” I called up to the loft above.
“I was about to ask you what you were doing down there!”
“It wasn’t me!”
“I was asleep!” she called back.
“Car accident?” As city people, we have a limited frame of reference for these occurrences.
We yelled back and forth to each other until we mutually agree on the wind as the culprit, something one doesn’t experience when staying at your typical brick and mortar hotel. I stared into the blackness, eyes open. I pulled my sleeping bag around me tighter.
A scratching sound started up. I saw movement on the balcony. There are not even outside stairs to the balcony. Why do campground stalkers always take the impossible routes? How do people in tents make it out alive??
Then I reminded myself that I’m in Canada amongst some of the nicest people in the world. Anyone that IS here is here to enjoy the gorgeous outdoors, not terrorize tourists unfamiliar with camping. I practiced breathing exercises until I fell asleep.
The next morning I again heard the scratching that gave me mild panic at 2am. Bleary-eyed I looked at the hygienically sealed tree at the end of my bed and saw a scramble of gray fur climb up the trunk. Of course. This is the squirrel’s world and we’re just sleeping in it.
Morning in a tree house can reveal so much. I realized the jazz hands of last night’s balcony-dwelling serial killer are really just leaves on a branch. Also, it was definitely the wind shaking our little tree hut, not a band of angry White Walkers running up our floating staircase.
I also realized that a stay in a tree house could be FUN, if only you give into the movement of nature. I’m not in control, and maybe staying in a big, fancy hotel gives me that illusion. Here, with nothing but the earth’s magnificence (and a suspended wood cabin) surrounding me, I realized worst-case scenario doesn’t have to be my go-to impulse.
Still sleepy, I laid back down and watched more squirrel TV, not ready to shimmy out of my sleeping bag and face the outhouse yet. I remembered that I have to learn how to light the propane burner outside to make coffee. How often do those blow up spontaneously?
How to Prepare for a Blissfully Unparanoid Tree House Stay in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean:
A tray of fruit, muffins and other items are included for breakfast
Utensils, plates, cups and a wine opener provided, you can wash it all at the tap nearby
Bring your own:
Snacks and alcohol
There are several markets along route 172 on your way east towards Cap Jaseux
Fresh prepared lunches and dinners in conveniently vacuum-packed pouches can be purchased at La Vieille Ferme, very near to the entrance of the park.
There are also two other restaurants listed on the park’s website.
Parc du Cap Jaseux has a variety of fun lodging:
Tiny House suspended spheres
Activities in and around Cap Jaseux:
Kayaking on the lake, via farrata, tree obstacle course, zip lining. Check out their site for more information on seasonal activities and rates.
My favorite: Visit Ferme 5 Etoiles, a sanctuary for wild animals
- The park provides lanterns, flashlights, a mechanical lighter for the propane burner and sleeping bags to add to the beds if it gets cold at night. There is no heat inside the cabins.
- The store at the front of the park sells additional camping sundries and insect repellent.
- Showers and flushing toilets are a short drive from the tree houses.
- There is a screened-in clubhouse if you want to eat in a larger space or with a group.
- You definitely need bug spray, mosquitos love a good forest near water. Consider an insect repellent shirt or jacket for additional protection.
For this segment of the trip I was a guest of the Tourism board of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, but all opinions are my own since this is my blog. 🙂