Mount Royal: Urban Hiking in Downtown Montreal

Given my love of green spaces, I was intrigued by Montreal’s namesake mountain–Mount Royal.  You can see Mount Royal from every part of Montreal–you just have to look up.  In below-sea-level New Orleans, Audubon Park is accessible to all.  Even in uber-hilly San Francisco, Golden Gate Park covers a large stretch of surprisingly level ground.  But in Montreal, if you want some nature, you’re going to have to work for it.

This is one of those instances where guide books lie.  Almost every Montreal travel book outlines some sort of Mount Royal walk that allows you to hit the highlights of the mountain and the park that it contains.  None of these walks are possible in a day, nor should you even consider attempting them unless you have the physical endurance of a marathon runner.  Sadly, I do not.

I also did not have the following things required to make this trek:

  •  A pair of supportive shoes or hiking boots.
  • A bottle of water.
  • An umbrella or even a hood for the steadily-increasing rain.
  • A sherpa.

I once believed that one only needed two pairs of shoes for travel in all climates; a pair of tall black boots for cold climates and a good pair of sandals for warm ones; both need to be comfortable enough to walk in but nice enough to pair with a dress for more formal occasions.  And that’s usually correct.  But not on this day.  Halfway up the mountain and sweating like crazy, I unzipped my boots and folded them over like some sort of hobo pirate.  The shuffle-scuff sound followed me the remainder of the way up and to this day my beloved boots still bear the scars of my morning on Mount Royal.

When I emerged from the Peel Street metro, it was drizzling; as I made my way up the steep hill towards the even steeper sets of stairs, that drizzle turned to a light rain.  By the time I’d reach the top, I was half soaked with sweat and half just plain soaked.  My husband put my camera under his raincoat to protect it from the weather.  Do you know what a man with a dSLR under his rain coat looks like?  Yeah.  That’s how he looked.

Of course, the view from the top was spectacular and well worth the effort.  But sadly, because of the rain and the exhaustion and the poor wardrobe choices I’d made, I decided to scrap the whole ‘explore the entire park’ plan for the day and instead switch to ‘use the restrooms in the building at the lookout and then head back down the hill to the relative comfort of a museum, restaurant, or cafe’.  And so, I bring to you my top five tips for visiting Mount Royal:

5.  Choose a good weather day.  I’m not sure why the rain bothered me here more than anywhere else.  Perhaps it was the knowledge that when I returned from my little hike, I’d be in a city where how you look still matters.  Not, say, in the middle of the Nova Scotia wilderness where waterlogged and exhausted is an acceptable fashion statement.

4.  For the love of god, wear sensible shoes.  I mean, it’s not like I was trying to hike up here in heels or flip flops (though I did see people doing both) but still; you’re not going for a walk in the park.  Oh wait–I guess you are.  But it’s a park with one hell of an incline.

3.  Bring a camera.  Yes, it is worth carrying it all the way up.

2.   Consider training for the event.  Take the stairs at work.  Start walking on a treadmill.  Or have a friend hit you on the backs of your legs with a metal pipe to prepare for how you will feel the next day.

1. Listen to the part of the guide book that tells you how to combine the metro with a bus and have them haul your lazy ass to the top.  If you use this tip you can ignore the previous four.

Would I suggest making a visit to Mount Royal a part of your Montreal visit?  Of course.  Just don’t expect it to be a walk in the park.


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