Soaked to the bone and legs fatigued, we ducked into the cozy Restaurant De La Place near the village of St. Faustin along Quebec’s rail-trail named for the historic train that once carried skiers to mountain retreats.
Cycling Le P’tit Train du Nord
A few other cyclists, also dodging the rain, nodded empathetically as we peeled off our dripping parkas. Soon we were sipping a warm, frothy cappuccino with a heartfelt “merci” for the unplanned coffee break.
My husband and I were on a three-day cycling trip in Quebec and had just pedaled 13 kilometers (about 8 miles) in a downpour, steadily climbing through evergreen forest. At the top of the hill, this homey café was a happy find, and fellow cyclists told us it was downhill from here.
Le P’tit Train du Nord Linear Park
Hailing back to its former glory, the Parc Linéaire Le P’tit Train du Nord (Little Train of the North) is a mluti-use rail-trail that runs 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) from Mont Laurier to St.-Jerome through wilderness terrain in the Rivière du Nord valley.
Canadian Pacific Railway built the rail line between 1891 and 1909, and later introduced “snow trains” to carry weekend passengers from Montreal to the Laurentian Mountains for outdoor recreation.
But passenger and freight service came to a halt during the 1980s, and the rail bed was converted to a linear park in 1996, partly paved with sections that are covered in crushed stone. Former depots were renovated and converted into cafés, pubs, galleries, bike rental shops and inns.
The recreational trail is mostly flat or gently sloping, except for the aforementioned uphill stretch, which climbs at a 2-3 percent grade from the famous ski town Mont-Tremblant.
Popular with cyclists, walkers and joggers, the pathway is also used by cross-country skiers and snowmobilers in winter. Cyclists generally choose to ride from north to south, and markers at every kilometer indicate distance to St.-Jerome (kilometer 0).
In recent years, the trail has been extended another 32 kilometers (almost 20 miles) south toward Montreal, although the original end point at St.-Jerome is still marked as km 0.
Quebec’s Bike-Friendly Culture
Among Quebec’s 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles) of bike paths throughout the province, Le P’tit Train du Nord is part of the Trans Canada Trail and La Route Verte.
The rail-trail is a favorite for relatively carefree cycling and an easy-to-plan multi-day trip. Autobus Le P’tit Train du Nord, the official carrier on the trail, offers a turn-key service for bike rental, lodging packages, luggage delivery and transportation to your starting point.
As many cyclists do, we left our car at the train station parking lot in St.-Jerome and immediately spotted the red railcar where we were to pick up bikes. We met “Mama Aline,” as she is affectionately called, who had our bikes and helmets ready. (She will even adjust your chinstrap if you need help.)
There is a tiny shop in the railcar with water bottles, padded seats, cycling jerseys and other items. Our bikes were loaded in a trailer as we boarded the bus with other cyclists. While most were headed to Mont-Laurier to ride the entire distance, we started at Nominingue (kilometer 145), allowing three days of cycling of approximately 50 km (about 31 miles) per day, and returning to St.-Jerome.
Nominingue to Mont-Tremblant to St.-Adele to St.-Jerome
The small village beside Lac Nominingue caters to cyclists, offering several trailside inns and a gallery and rest stop at the former rail depot, which dates to 1904. We began our journey southward peddling through canopied forest and scenic meadows with lovely aromas of sweet grass, pine and spruce.
By lunchtime, we had reached the village of Labelle, where the historic depot restaurant, La Gare, is known for craft beers and a fresh take on local cuisine including the French-Canadian classic, poutine.
Like the little train that once chugged along the route, we weaved around tranquil lakes and rattled across quaking wooden trestles above gushing streams. The corridor along Riviere-Rouge and the lakeside approach to Mont-Tremblant are among the most scenic areas of the route, with well-placed benches that invite one to linger.
Auberge Le Voyageur
But we didn’t rest for long, as we encountered the notorious black fly, which appears seasonally (usually in June) and can sneak up on you and leave a bloody bite. We continued on the trail for another few kilometers into town to our lodging for the night, Auberge Le Voyageur.
After the rainy start from Mont-Tremblant on Day 2, the skies began to clear as we rolled into Val-David, a riverside village and wonderful lunch stop. With charming inns, a microbrasserie (craft brewery), numerous shops, galleries and restaurants, this is a popular overnight stop, according to trail comrades who stayed here.
We were booked farther down the trail near St.-Adele at Auberge de la Gare, an antique-furnished historic inn that serves guests fondue dinners and whopping French toast breakfasts.
Our last day cycling was a shorter ride and we lingered in glorious sunshine at scenic riverside nooks before coming into the busy outskirts of St.-Jerome. At last we arrived at km 0, rolled under the welcoming arch and returned our bikes at Aline’s red caboose. Next stop: the town’s favorite microbrasserie, Dieu du Ciel, for a celebratory brew.
Travel to Quebec: Canada’s French-speaking province is easily accessible for many U.S. travelers who can enjoy outdoor recreation as well as the vibrant French-Canadian culture, language and cuisine. The Laurentian (Laurentides) region is one of 21 tourist regions in Quebec. From Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport, take a rental car one hour north to St.-Jerome, where you can rent a bike and catch the Autobus Le P’tit Train du Nord. www.laurentians.com, www.quebecoriginal.com
Author Bio: Ann N. Yungmeyer lives in Tennessee and is a member of Society of American Travel Writers. She contributes to regional print and online travel publications. Hiking, biking, and cultural quests are usually on her agenda, and always in search of postcard vistas, her mantra is, “On a clear day, get to the top!”