As I was about to nod off to sleep, I heard it. “Owwoooooo”. A howl that made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up at attention. Soon after, I heard another howl join in, and then another. It was a howling chorus – and it was happening right outside my window. In fact, the wolves were so close I could hear the snow crunch beneath their paws as they paced back and forth.
Don’t worry, the wolves were supposed to be there; I was sleeping with the wolves on this cold winter night on purpose. The purpose was to have a real close encounter with a wolf pack to learn more about them and have a unique travel experience. So far, the night was proving pretty successful.
I was excited as I loaded my suitcase in a red plastic sled pulling the sled through the deep snow into the wolf compound at Aventuraid. I had heard about the park for years, but now I was finally here for my own wolf experience. The park is open year around, but winter is one of the best times to see them as there are fewer places for them to hide with bare trees and bushes.
As I walked my sled by the first fenced wolfpack they all stopped what they were doing and watched me – they were completely silent, eyes glued to my every move. This was my first indication that these were not just cute, fluffy dogs; these were wild animals.
Aventuraid is a tour company that specialized in dog sledding, snow shoeing, canoeing, and wolf encounters. You might find this combination strange, but as the owner, Gilles, explained to us “When you do dog sledding, you are fascinated by wolves.”
Some people are bird lovers, Gilles is a wolf lover. His objective with the park is to show wildlife in their natural state. “It’s not a zoo, it’s an observation center,” he states.
His main source of funding is the profit he makes with his other activities – dogsledding, snowshoeing, etc.; he isn’t in this to make money. He doesn’t want to be big; he’d rather have people who really want to be here and spend time with wolves. Because of that he keeps his prices low so that it’s available to all, but there is a limited number of people he can handle. Overall, it’s a really simple and genuine operation.
Gilles does an educational talk on wolves and tells the story of how he got the park started with two puppies and how it has grown. All of the wolves at Aventuraid were born in captivity, and they are separated into three packs with very large enclosures. Due to the size of the enclosure, Gilles refers to the wolves as being semi-free.
In addition, he leaves the wolves as if they are in the wild, he doesn’t feed them regularly – sometimes he will wait days before they get fed – just as a pack in the wild might have to do. He also leaves them fend for themselves and work out their disagreements and injuries among the pack. I saw a few wolves with injuries due to fighting; they fought among themselves and ostracized certain wolves, it was fascinating to observe. “The pack is like a family…there’s always a crazy uncle,” Gilles remarked when I asked about the wolf that the others seem to be giving a hard time.
Sleep with Wolves in a Simple Winter Chalet
My little A-frame chalet was toasty warm when I went inside; the wood stove bellowing out heat in a welcoming way. The cabin was simple and cute. A little sink (no plumbing), hot plate, bed downstairs, table, and then a ladder that led up to the loft where there was another bed. The lighting was by solar and there was a shared kitchen, bathroom, and shower space in a building about 30 feet away. The windows all looked out on the wolf pack enclosures.
The night I arrived, Marie, Gilles’ wife, got us settled into our cabin and then we went for a walk around the large wolf compounds. As I walked around the fence-line of the Arctic wolves furry blobs would lurk behind you and stop when you stopped. They wouldn’t get close, and many times they would disappear, but you always felt like you were being watched – in a slightly creepy way.
Breakfast is available in the shared building and as part of the overnight ‘sleep with wolves’ package you can have a dinner catered to you. Marie brought us a home cooked meal to the shared kitchen; maple glazed chicken, baby potatoes and salad with cranberries – and then a sugar pie. Yes – there is such a thing as sugar pie…and it tastes just as you would expect – sweet and delicious.
A Full Moon Wolf Experience
After my belly was full, I settled back down in the little chalet’s lofted bed. My cynical side didn’t really expect much when it came to sleeping near the wolves, but as I lay there in my bed trying to sleep, I realized I could hear them walking around. I had cracked the window open a bit because the loft was really warm, but that also meant that I could hear the pack outside. I sat up in the dark and looked out the window above my bed. Thanks to the full moon, the white snow was lit up as if there was a light on in the forest. I could easily see some of the wolves outside my window. I watched as they ran around together, played, ate, and howled. Before I knew it, I had been sitting there watching for over an hour, mesmerized by their every move and interaction.
I was watching them, or were they watching me? I wondered if they could smell, hear, or feel my presence. Eventually I did fall asleep, but all night I heard the chorus of howls. Sleeping with the packs surrounding our cabin was more exciting than I ever imagined it would be. However, it was the morning contact activity that took the cake.
Wolf Contact – Am I Crazy?
“We don’t have the wolves to do a contact activity. We have the contact activity for the wolves. We call it ‘human activity’” Gilles said in his thick French accent.
One of the three packs have been imprinted; this is the pack that you can have contact with. However, contact is never guaranteed, Gilles makes the decision based on the wolves’ moods. The day I was there he was pretty unsure if we would go into the enclosure or not since they wolves had been quite irritable and in heat. We stood behind the fence and just observed them as they came up and paced back and forth near us. At times they would snarl, growl, and bite among themselves, upset with one another. This was about the time when I started getting a bit nervous about this endeavor. When a wolf bears its teeth near you, it’s a pretty intimidating experience, even if there is a fence between you.
I watched wide eyed as Gilles suddenly walked to the gate and slowly went inside. The wolves immediately surrounded him and one jumped up and gave him a big lick on his face. My fear started subsiding as the group let out a collective ‘Awwwww’. Then he motioned for us to come in. I was startled as I really didn’t think we’d be able to do it. But I dutifully followed his every command. He had us come into the enclosure and stand with our backs against the fence and not touch the wolves at all. This allowed the wolves to pace around us and get used to us.
After a while, he told us we could pet them. I put my hand down onto one of their backs and my hand sunk into the thick, soft fur. It was as if I had put my hand in a mitten! Their fur was incredible – I now understood why they weren’t cold in these below freezing temperatures. The wolves were big, sturdy, and imposing. They would still fight among themselves, but never once did they lash out at us.
Next we moved to the final step, we moved away from the fence and into the open. Gilles even had us sit on the ground. This was an incredible perspective to respect their size and get an even better look at them, and them at us. Gilles doesn’t have a set duration for the contact experience, we simply stay in the enclosure as long as the wolves are interested in us. After all, the experience is for the wolves, not us. After a while I even got a wolf kiss, a highlight of my love life for the month!
Eventually the wolves went off to other areas and forgot about us completely satiated with their human activity for the week. We left the enclosure full of fur and smiles.
As I packed my suitcase on the red sled and pulled it back out to my car, I noticed this time the wolves didn’t even flinch as I walked by. It was if their curiosity had been fulfilled and they really no longer cared about me moving about. It was so different than my entrance the night before. I came as stranger and left less of one…after all, I doubt I will ever be the wolf pack’s friend.
How to Have Your Own Wolf Experience in Quebec
Gilles doesn’t heavily promote the wolf contact experience because he doesn’t want it to o become big this is one if the few people laces where you simply go to observe nature. The wolves only have minimal contact in a week. However, if it is something you want to do, then you just need to contact him here.
The pricing is also pretty reasonable at $65 CAD for a contact experience.
I was a guest of Quebec during my trip, however all opinions expressed here are my own!