A Walk Around Freshwater Lake in Dominica’s Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Dominica’s Freshwater Lake is found in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. This protected area became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Eastern Caribbean in 1997. The Visitor Reception Centre and parking lot can be seen in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

There are several weeks to go this hurricane/rainy season, so my hiking forays throughout Dominica are still on hold. In the mean time, I do like to reflect on my favourite  hikes on the Nature Island.  One of them is the well maintained trail which goes completely around Freshwater Lake, and is located near the village of Laudat in Dominica’s interior. This body of water forms part of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s the largest lake on the island, and the second deepest after nearby Boeri Lake.  Of course, you can also trek to Boeri Lake from  the trail-head on the northeastern side of Freshwater Lake (look for the signs on the road). It takes about 45 minutes (one way) and  can be a bit challenging as it crosses a section of Morne Macaque, also called Micotrin, the highest mountain in the Roseau Valley.

However, the circuitous groomed track around Freshwater  Lake takes an hour on average, or more if you wish to admire the circumferential views and/or catch your breath!  I’ve been up there (meaning at the very top of the Roseau Valley!) a number of times over the past 15 years.  I could never be bored with this morning or afternoon outing because the weather conditions have been vastly different every time!  I do confess I only ever came upon Boeri Lake on a clear fine day one time many years ago. It’s the highest lake in the country at 2,800 feet.  I actually took a dip in the deep, cool, clear waters.  I hadn’t been in Dominica very long, so I could tolerate it.  I assure you that I couldn’t do it now!

Freshwater Lake seems to be shrouded in mystery as low clouds create an eerie aura. Maybe a monster really lurks in its depths! Photo by Edwin Whitford

 To get to these inland lakes, it’s an easy  half hour drive up the Roseau Valley on a newly rebuilt road from Roseau. After having left the intense heat of the town and arriving at the parking lot near the shore of Freshwater Lake, the change in climate, terrain and atmosphere can be very dramatic: low lying clouds; a chilly and penetrating mist; a bracing breeze; and poor visibility around the large lake make it easy to imagine why there is a myth about a monster  there!

Before I head off on the trail, I like to have a cup of cocoa tea in the snackette at the Reception Centre to energize and (sometimes) warm myself before the initial uphill climb.  The friendly staff at Caldera’s Dining and Aquatic Sports (tablatie@hotmail.com; 245-7061) offer hearty snacks and sandwiches most days (9 am – 5 pm) during the tourist season (October to April) and most weekends during the other months of the year.  You can also rent a kayak or rowboat from them if you’d like to spend a little time on the water searching for that monster!

Majestic Morne Watt can be seen by looking in a southerly direction a short distance from the Reception Centre. It is named after one of the men who trekked to the Boiling Lake in the late 19th century and then told the world about his experiences.

After my refreshment, I wend my way towards the path by the hydro-electric building (to the right of the Reception Centre when facing the lake).  I take a few moments to wander in a southerly direction to admire Majestic Morne Watt and realize that the famous Boiling Lake is over that way too.  A few minutes further along, I  plant my feet on carefully constructed steps as I make my way to the top of the ridge on the eastern side of the lake. I am usually soaking wet fairly soon – but whether it’s from my exertions or the persistent mist, I am never sure.  Most likely, it’s the result of both!

The track can be a bit slippery in the persistent moist conditions. I always recommend a walking stick and keeping close to the ground whenever necessary! Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Gwendominica stops to catch her breath and patiently waits for a break in the clouds. Photo by Edwin Whitford

As I make my way along the ridge, I admire the views of the lake, abundant wildflowers, verdant precipices and the mighty Atlantic in the distance, whenever there is a break in the clouds.

When the clouds lift, the reward is this sensational view to Rosalie Bay on the Atlantic coast and the village of Grand Fond above it. The Chemin Letang trail passes through these mountains from Freshwater Lake to Grand Fond. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

I especially adore the vistas of Rosalie Bay and the village of Grand Fond.  There is a wonderful inland trail, called Chemin Letang which traverses the mountains between Freshwater Lake and Grand Fond.  It’s about 2 1/2 hours to hike it one way or five hours plus for a return trip.  There is a trailhead maker on the eastern side of the Freshwater Lake trail.  On the Grand Fond side, a villager, or  a certified guide can direct you to its starting point and give you some fascinating details about this historic track.  I’ve done it twice from both sides.  While I am slipping and sliding on the often slick track, I am in awe of the many Dominicans who used this well worn path before there were roads to the southeastern side of the island.  They would carry their produce and wares from the east coast to Laudat on one day, and then continue on to the Roseau market to sell their goods the next day, and then do the return journey after that!  No wonder there are so many centenarians and  physically fit seniors on this island!

Freshwater Lake as viewed from a northeasterly point above it. Morne Nicholls (left) and Morne Watt (right) feature in the distance. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

As I continue along in a northerly direction,  the path begins to descend and soon I am surrounded in forest before emerging along the western shoreline of the lake. In the pristine air and lush surroundings, I have definitely worked up an appetite during my hour-long vigorous foray on the Freshwater Lake track.  I head back to Caldera’s Dining kiosk and partake of a hearty cheese, tomato and lettuce sandwich on a whole wheat bun.  Of course, I can’t resist another cup of cocoa tea.  I deserve it, I think.

Stunning views of the Roseau Valley down to Roseau are plentiful on the road to/from Freshwater Lake, just beyond the junction to the village of Laudat. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Before departing this lovely locale, I take some time to view the room of exhibits of the geological formations in this area, which add greatly to my understanding of this abundantly volcanic Nature Island.  As  I drive out of the parking lot, I content myself with the knowledge that I’ll be exploring more of Dominica’s unique Morne Trois Pitons National Park  very soon.