It’s tempting to wander off the path to get a better view from a ledge or steep secondary paths.
But beware: hikers have been known to slip and fall down the precipitous slope that runs along the Escarpment Path, an often-overlooked 700-metre trail on Mount Royal that offers one of the best cityscape views.
This walk, which combines vistas, forest greenery, rustic paths and a bit of unexpected history, starts at the tall staircase near the Peel St. entrance to Mount Royal Park.
If the 250 or so steps leave you out of breath, pause at one of the landings to enjoy the forest around you or the view of western Montreal through the trees.
The staircase would take you all the way to the Mount Royal Chalet and its lookout, but about two-thirds of the way, turn right at a short secondary set of stairs that will lead you to the Escarpment Path on the right, heading east.
Unfortunately, there’s no sign to mark the path here but this is the only stairway offshoot so it’s hard to miss.
It’s a rugged dirt path with a few wooden bridges and three official lookouts with iron railings. Small city danger signs warn of perilous terrain and falling rocks beyond the fencing.
“It’s rather magical,” Jean-Michel Villanove of Les amis de la montagne says of the path, which starts on the mountain’s south face and ends on the eastern side.
“On a walk that’s only about 20 minutes, there’s a succession of little windows on the city, like works of art, one after another.”
The first lookout offers a view, over the Allan Memorial Institute, of the tops of downtown skyscrapers, with the Champlain and Victoria bridges and the Monteregian Hills in the distance.
The second lookout is partially obstructed by trees. You’re above Molson Stadium and the view includes the Jacques Cartier Bridge and the Biosphere on Île Sainte-Hélène.
We’ll get to the third lookout.
After enjoying the second belvedere, keep walking but look toward the forest up the mountain to take in a vestige of Montreal’s past.
You will see what looks like the foundations of a building. In fact, the low stone walls with steel rods sticking out are remnants of a structure that held up part of the funicular that once ran up the mountain.
Built in 1885, it offered a quick way to the summit from roughly where Park and Duluth Aves. meet. The cost: a nickel for adults and three cents for children. The Mountain Park Funicular Railway stopped running in 1918 and was dismantled.
It’s a reminder that for almost 150 years, Montrealers have been coming up to Mount Royal Park to escape the busy, polluted city.
A postcard, circa 1903, shows the funicular and the observation deck that stood close to where we are now, along with an ode to the mountain.
“When a place I am seeking, Which for comfort is rare, I go up on Mount Royal, Where is balmy the air / In the shadow I linger, Of its inviting trees, On a couch made of grasses, I recline at my ease / With a book as companion, I forget all my care, and throw off all my burdens, In its rich scented air.”
Continuing on, you’ll notice that the low hum of downtown life — traffic, construction — has disappeared. That’s because the path takes you to part of the mountain that overlooks the Plateau Mont-Royal.
Soon, you’ll reach the third and final lookout, which offers perhaps the best view. Looking east along the Rachel St. axis, you see the green oasis of La Fontaine Park, the Big O and the St. Lawrence River making its way around the Boucherville Islands.
You’ve already reached the end of the path.
But carry on, following marked paths that take you to the Camillien-Houde Lookout, about five minutes away. There, you can grab a cold drink at the new Café suspendu, open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Part of the no-through-traffic pilot project on Mount Royal, the café’s temporary structure is built out of scaffolding, with a terrace, chairs, tables and swings from which to take in the view of east end Montreal.
Now you can turn around and re-explore the escarpment path on your way back.
- Vestiges recall Mount Royal’s funicular era
- Rugged path offers some of Mount Royal’s best views
- How to find Mount Royal’s rugged path with the best vistas
IF YOU GO
Difficulty level: Medium
Starts: Near top of steps from Olmsted Rd., near Peel St. entrance.
Ends: Camillien-Houde Lookout
Distance: 1 kilometre, from start of the trail to Camillien-Houde Lookout.
Estimated time: 20 minutes one way
Accessibility: Some slopes and stairs. Not suitable for strollers or people with reduced mobility.
Cycling: Biking not allowed.
Parking: Smith House parking lot