We love where we live and work, but once in a while it’s good to get away. This fall we ventured into new territory: Quebec. To be more specific, the Petit Trail du Nord (Little Train of the North), a rail trail north of Montreal.
This was our first experience with riding a rail trail from end to end; at home we tend to focus on either trail riding or road riding. Rail trails are somewhere in between, and we were intrigued with this 200-kilometer “linear park” established in 1986 that runs north to south through the Laurentian Mountains from Mont Laurier to Saint-Jerome.
Lunch stop at Labelle in a restored train station.
Making arrangements for the trip was easy. The shuttle company, L’Autobus Le Petit Train du Nord, also rents hybrid bikes for the trip. We parked our car at the southern terminus and took the shuttle’s 3-hour ride to the northern end, getting on the trail at about 11:30 am the first day. For an additional fee the shuttle will also transfer luggage for riders to each night’s lodging , but we found this unnecessary as it was easy to carry all we needed in our bike panniers. Most people who ride the Petit Train du Nord log about 50 km per day for 4 days of mostly flat riding, although the third day includes a long gentle uphill.
The first day begins in decidedly non-touristy territory through an almost uninterrupted tunnel of green. For lunch you can either buy a sandwich at the grocery store at the start or stop at a local diner along the way as we did. Cheese curds on French fries topped with vegetable gravy make poutine, a Quebecois specialty, and it was delicious!
Our three nights on the trail were spent at comfortable bed and breakfast inns, easy to book ahead. Two of them served the evening meal as well as breakfast, and they did it in spectacular French style. Indeed, after the first night it was clear food would become a highlight of our trip.
Auberge Le Lupin is in Mont Tremblant
Two of our B&Bs also had lake access, and we loved taking a bracing dip before supper. Our favorite restaurant? La Petit Cachee in beautiful Mont Tremblant, recommended by our host Pierre at Auberge Le Lupin, a cyclist himself who had ridden extensively in the United States and loved talking American politics.
On our second day the views opened up to take in lakes, wetlands, and wildlife. Along the way we stopped at restored train stations for information, crafts shopping, or lunch. While the riding was not at all difficult, we still spent about 5 hours a day on the bikes, and we slept well every night. The surface began with pavement, turned to fine packed gravel, and then briefly back to asphalt near the finish.
The weather? In early September it was nearly perfect—low humidity, sunny skies, and warm temps. We had no rain until our short and final all-down-hill day, when it showered from the time we pulled our bikes out of the shed until we reached our car a few hours later. But as we handed off our muddy bikes at the rental office in Saint-Jerome, that only served to make us appreciate our sunny days that much more.