P’tit Train du Nord Bike Path
Gentle Jewel of the Laurentians
There are lots of ups and downs in the rugged terrain of the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal, but the picturesque region has one of the best bike paths in Quebec. A very popular part of the Route Verte cycling network, it’s known as the P’tit Train du Nord and, as you can guess, it used to be a railway bed.
Named after the train which brought settlers to the Laurentians in the 19th century and later favoured by skiers heading to the slopes in the rugged area north of Montreal, the P’tit Train du Nord route undulates through the mountains with gentle ascents and descents for over 200 kilometres between Mont Laurier in the north and St. Jerome in the south. It’s perfect for cyclists of all levels.
It takes you past rushing rivers and through forests of tall pines and maples providing cool shade on hot summer days. It circles past lakes in cottage country and through villages with bistros and B and Bs. There are many spots to stop for a cool drink or a coffee.
Cyclists can pedal sections of the route or the whole distance which takes three days or more depending on your pace. You can camp, stay at inns overlooking lakes or at modern motels near the autoroute (Highway 15).
The cyclists converge in their thousands each year and it’s easy to see why. Aside from the outstanding beauty of the countryside and the ease of pedalling, it is one of the safest bike paths with no cars and trucks to worry about making the P’tit Train du Nord, opened in 1996, a perfect trip for families.
From St. Jerome, Route Verte 2 continues south to Montreal where riders can hook up with many other sections of Quebec’s Route Verte cycling network. It covers 5,000 kilometres through the province, much of it along the verdant St. Lawrence River Valley from the Ontario border to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.
This is the itinerary of my trip:
I drive the 45 minutes from my home in Pointe Claire, a suburb of Montreal, to St. Jerome where I catch the shuttle bus at 8 a.m. for the trip of two hours to Mont Laurier.
By 10:20 a.m. I’m on my bike and headed out of Mont Laurier. I soon spot a couple of deer. The path is paved and the riding is easy. It runs beside rivers and creeks, frequently crossing them. The back rack holding my saddlebags gives me problems because it is not properly attached to the frame. I see a CarStar garage in Nominingue and the mechanic drops his work of installing a windshield in a car to tend to my problem – no appointment necessary. He makes the fix in a couple of minutes and shakes his head when I ask him, “How much?” He asks me how far I’m going, wishes me good luck and I’m on my way. You can’t beat small town friendliness.
The view of Lac Nominingue is spectacular and there is an especially good lookout spot on the wooden bridge. Some riders stop here for the night (Chez Ignace is highly rated in web travel guide TripAdvisor and listed in the cycling guide called La Route Verte), but I press on arriving in Rivière Rouge after 78 kilometres. I get a room at the Motel O Charcoal and have supper at Restaurant Legault nearby. There is a steady stream of customers for supper and breakfast the next morning. It’s not exactly a tourist town, more a truck stop. But it does the job.
The temperature rises quickly in the brilliant sunshine as I leave Rivière Rouge so I strip off long pants and fleece. The path takes me alongside the rippling river, sparkling in the bright sun. I roll easily along the asphalt surface and over wooden bridges crossing the winding river. As I come to a road crossing near Labelle, I see an unusual sign announcing a vineyard. It seems to be a very northerly point for making wine. I turn left to find Vignoble Spirit Léonard and meet Chantal Gaudreau who gives me a sample in the tasting room. You can read more here: (https://davestravelsblog.com/2013/06/05/making-wine-in-upper-laurentians/).
I continue riding a few more kilometres arriving at Labelle with its renovated train station housing a restaurant and several rooms for travellers. I stop for an excellent cappuccino and chocolate chip cookie.
The name Labelle is everywhere and it refers to Curé Antoine Labelle, a Catholic priest who was the driving force behind the settling and economic development of the region in the 19th century.
The asphalt ends at Labelle and I continue on a path of stone dust as the landscape becomes flat and farms take over from the trees for a while. The terrain reverts to forest as I approach Lac Mercier and its beautiful cottages. I stop at a park in the town for lunch and then set off past several golf courses serving Mont Tremblant and St. Jovite. I begin the ascent on the longest hill on the path. It seems to go on for about 10 kilometres, but it’s a gentle climb and reaches a summit between two quarries.
After 90 kilometres and six hours I arrive at Ste. Agathe des Monts where I find a room at the Super 8 motel, relax in the hot tub and order a take-out pizza.
I’m in rain gear as I leave Ste. Agathe – the wrong way. I soon realize my error and double back and then I go rolling by the scenic villages of Val David, Val Morin and Ste. Adèle. I am forced to stop at the train station housing a cycling boutique as the rain picks up. I eat a muffin, put on my rain boots and proceed down the path to Piedmont. A sign warns cyclists to take an alternative route because a landslide has taken out the path on the bank of the Rivière du Nord. But I ignore it and continue pedalling to the spot of the landslide which is indeed impassable. I take my bike across a bridge at the scene and continue on the shoulder of Highway 117 to Prévost where I rejoin the bike path and pedal the last few kilometres to St. Jerome.
Good to Go:
Guide book: The official guide for the cycling network is called La Route Verte du Québec (French) and Cycling in Quebec (English). It’s available for $24.95 from
http://www.velomag.com/accueil and contains 200 maps with info on repair shops, accommodations and public transit for you and your bike.
Shuttle bus from St. Jerome to Mont Laurier: Autobus du parc Linéaire Le P’tit Train du Nord 450-569-5596, 1-888-686-1323.
Nominingue: Auberge Chez Ignace, 1455 Chemin de Bellerive-sur-le-lac, 819-278-0689, 1-877-278-0677.
Rivière Rouge: Motel O Charcoal 2004 L’Annonciation Nord, 819-275-1066, 1-877-575-1066.
Labelle: Auberge et Café de la Gare 362 Rue de la Gare, 819-688-6091, 1-888-550-6091.
Sainte-Agathe des Monts: Super 8 Sainte-Agathe, 500 Rue Léonard, 819-324-8880, 1-866-527-9206.