Following the route of an old railway through the Laurentian Mountains, past farms, lakes and quaint villages, Le P’tit Train du Nord is a cycler’s dream. This linear park offers a guilt-free vacation, allowing you to indulge in rich foods to help fuel your calorie-burning odyssey through Quebec’s countryside.
Total distance covered: 200.4 km
Total calories burned: 6,817
What to know before you go
To ensure comfort, and save your back and legs, travel light. Send your luggage ahead to each overnight location, and invest in a basket or rack pack (you will feel that backpack after 10 km).
Here is what you should bring:
- Sunglasses and a map
- Cycling jerseys or breathable shirts
- Waterproof—and breathable—jacket and rain pants
- Balm for saddle sores
- Cycling shoes or stiff-soled, light hiking boots
- A helmet, with a rain cover
- Cycling jacket and tights for chilly mornings
- Padded cycling gloves and bike shorts
- A water bottle and high-energy snacks
- Basic tool kit and tire pump (may be provided by bike rental company)
There’s no charge to ride Le P’tit Train du Nord, which is open to cyclists from May to October. Autobus Le Petit Train Du Nord rents bikes and both it and Cyclo-Gîtes arrange multi-day trips with lodgings and meals.
Distance covered: 55 km
Calories burned: 2,000
Saint-Jérôme, a bustling town located less than an hour’s drive northwest of Montreal, is the gateway to the Laurentian Mountains. It’s also Kilometre Zero, where my husband and I begin—and end—our bike trek along Le P’tit Train du Nord. The “Little Train of the North” ceased all rail service in 1989 and was reborn as a multi-use trail (well, bikes and pedestrians only) in 1996.
We opt for the most popular route among cyclists: hopping on a shuttle bus north to Mont-Laurier, and then cycling the 200 km back to Saint-Jérôme over four days, taking advantage of the geography—it’s mostly downhill biking south—while still burning calories.
When the shuttle bus delivers us and our bikes in the town of Mont-Laurier after our two-and-a-half-hour drive, there is a chill in the air and the late-August grey sky threatens rain. We quickly hop on our bikes and ride the trail into the forest. The day brightens and there’s a lazy, end-of-summer sweetness in the air. The leaves are already starting to turn, hinting at the spectacular show to come.
While 50 or 60 km seems like an epic ride, it’s not when you have an entire, carefree day to complete it. Before we know it, we arrive at our first inn for the night, Auberge l’Île de France in the village of Nominingue. We kick-stand our bikes and unwind in our room before dinner.
Torontonians Heiko Dechau, a German-born chef, and Nancy Pilote, a former nurse, bought the place in 2015 to fulfill their dream of running an inn and restaurant.
After trail food—sandwiches, apples and granola bars—we are ravenous. We devour an amuse-bouche of bread, garden-fresh bruschetta and garlicky hummus, spoon up the herb-scented broccoli and cauliflower soup and polish off tender sirloin steaks with pepper sauce and vegetables.
Distance covered: 63 km
Calories burned: 2,176
Breakfast at the Auberge l’Île de France is a carb-loading delight: eggs Benny with fruit, rösti, toast and jam. The lobby has pitchers of ice water, so we can fill our canteens for the trek ahead.
Heading south toward the famed resort area of Mont-Tremblant, we encounter more cyclists along the trail; a mix of young families out for fun and locals commuting to work. Cycling is part of the culture in the communities along Le P’tit Train du Nord. Drivers courteously stop and let us cross the road, even when they have the right of way.
We pedal through gorgeous farmland, pausing to admire pastures full of content “Oreo” cows—brownish-black beef cattle with white bands around their middles. We fly along a section of trail just before the village of Labelle, braking at the popular La Gare de Labelle.
At this former train station—now a rustic-cozy inn, bar and café—we tuck into a full-fat cream of celery soup, followed by juicy burgers and duck-fat fries. We toast our good fortune with that very Québécois expression, La grosse vie sale.
Along with carbs, we’ve already gobbled up 38 km with just 25 km to go. Our post-lunch pedalling is more leisurely. From Labelle to just before Mont-Tremblant, the paved path turns to crushed stone, a country-lane experience easily navigated by our bikes.
Too soon, we roll into downtown Mont-Tremblant and check into Auberge le Voyageur B&B. The bright and airy inn doesn’t serve dinner, so it’s a quick walk—a perfect stretch for our aching quads—to Crêperie Catherine. There we enjoy the savoury and sweet, such as the Poire William, a whisper-thin crêpe with pears, ice cream and chocolate sauce.
[Crêperie Catherine has closed since the publication of this story.]
Distance covered: 55 km
Calories burned: 1,800
Over a breakfast of feta-and-spinach omelettes and cretons du maison—a house-made minced veal and pork pâté—we chat with our hosts, Jean-Claude and Linda Poirier. The Poiriers are part of Cyclo-Gîtes, a group of three of the area’s B&Bs that book bicycle tours along Le P’tit Train du Nord. Cycling is an economic driver for the region, says Jean-Claude, who hosts up to 1,000 pedallers a year.
By the time we finish breakfast, the sun has burned away the morning fog, illuminating the lush green grass and causing the goldenrod and eupatoire maculée, a wildflower growing along the trail, to gleam. The trail begins a gentle uphill climb before we coast downhill into the village of Val-David. This is as tough as the P’tit Train gets.
Le Baril Roulant, an inn and restaurant, is a magnet for thirsty cyclists. We relax on the balcony overlooking the Rivière du Nord, each sipping a flight of five beers. I balance the brew with the delicious—and messy—Shiva burger. It’s all vegan, bursting with tofu, coconut, almonds, carrots and zucchini and Indian spices and served on beer bread with mango-pink-peppercorn chutney.
Our afternoon ride parallels the river as it flows into lake country. We pause to feed ducks near a set of rapids, bask in the sun and gawk at the mansion-like “cottages.” The sun is setting when we pedal our bikes to the Auberge de la Gare in Saint-Adèle for our last night of the trip.
Hostess Ginette Blais serves a hot broth fondue feast in the rustic dining room. We start with chilled, zesty gazpacho, then dunk copious quantities of vegetables in our choice of beef, lobster or vegetable broth. The coup de grâce: apple pie and a divine chocolate cake.
Distance covered: 27.4 km
Calories burned: 841
The last day of our trip is pur plaisir—pure pleasure. It begins with the inn’s Belgian waffles topped with blueberries and bananas, slathered with maple syrup.
There are fewer than 28 km left and it’s mostly downhill, with the Rivière du Nord languidly winding in and out of view. We savour every moment of the final leg of our glorious ride before it starts to get increasingly busy.
We are joined by cycling families, groups of picnickers, and serious weekend warriors, a.k.a. MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra), who blast by the rest of us.
Back near Saint-Jérôme, Le P’tit Train du Nord transforms into a city bike path. We pedal under the arch marking Kilometre Zero and ride into Place de la Gare, a big, festive square with departing and arriving cyclists taking photos and resting weary legs at outdoor cafés. We join the café crowd and indulge on greasy-but-great burgers with thick-cut, high-calorie fries—and a side of carrot sticks—before reluctantly returning our bicycle rentals.
[This story appears in the August 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]
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