Le Petit Train du Nord: An Introduction to Bike Touring

Last summer, my sister-in-law and I (Sylvie) said goodbye to our families to embark on a three-day mini biking adventure on le Petit Train du Nord – a bike trail built on an old railway linking Mont Laurier to St-Jérôme. This trip was not part of an organized tour; my sister-in-law and I organized this trip by ourselves and set our own pace, choosing how far we would ride daily based on the places we wanted to stay at. Our goal: discover the joys of bike touring by doing an easy three-day bike trip.

Le Petit Train du Nord can be cycled in either direction from St-Jérôme to Mont-Laurier, which is uphill, or from Mont-Laurier to St-Jérôme. The good news is that either way you do it, a shuttle service is available to take you back to your car and transport your luggage from one hotel/B&B to the next.

The trail takes cyclists through terrain accentuated by lakes, rivers, waterfalls, fields, and northern pine forests, as well as the lovely little towns of the Laurentians (i.e., the Mont-Tremblant area). This area is known for skiing in the winter (cross country and downhill), golfing, climbing, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking…in other words, all outdoor sports. Le Petit Train du Nord is part of La Route Verte, 4300 kilometers of bicycle paths across the province of Québec in Canada, which is north of New York state.

The 200 km biking trail is paved with asphalt on the northern half and finely crushed stone on the southern half and features kilometer markers and well-marked exits for B&Bs, hotels, and restaurants. Having lived in Chicago for 17 years now, the urban part of me expected snack bars, patrols, and lots of people on this trail, but no, you are mostly on your own. While there were picnic areas, outhouses, and old train stations that have water, restrooms, and sometimes ice cream, local art exhibits, and kiosks with tourist information, the trail is completely immersed in pristine nature. We rode along lakes, passed deer, and saw cyclists stopping to pick wild raspberries.

The entire trip was very low-key, at a slow pace, and the very opposite of sensory overload. Surrounded by untouched nature (except around St-Jérôme), one can only relax, get in the zone, and practice mindfulness. Being in the moment makes this short bike trip such a perfect way to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and restore.

In fact, I enjoyed this trip so much that I’m already planning my next trip to La Route des Bleuets around the Lac St-Jean. Ask my husband Todd where the best blueberries are from, and he will tell you Lac St-Jean – they’re in season in August.

Another biking trip featured in Bicycling Magazine is La Route des Saveurs in Charlevoix, Quebec, also called Quebec’s Flavor Trail.  Read Bicycling Magazine’s article.

TRAVEL JOURNAL

Arrival in St-Jérôme and the Shuttle to Mont-Laurier
We arrived in St-Jérôme the night before and stayed at the Comfort Inn to leave at 7:30 am on a shuttle, the Autobus du Parc Lineaire, to Mont-Laurier. The shuttle is equipped with a special trailer to carry about 40 bikes. It is strongly recommended to reserve your spot and make sure it is paid for before you go as it gets full fast, and follow up with a call the day before to confirm that your name is on the list.

DAY 1 – 104 km of riding from Mont-Laurier to La Conception
(but we could have stopped after 55 km)
7:30 am – We’re at the shuttle to Mont-Laurier, departing at 8:30 am to arrive between 10:30 am and 11 am at the start of the bike path. Our luggage was transported to our first B&B. The shuttle took about three hours to get to Mont-Laurier. We arrived there at lunchtime and picked up something to eat at the IGA grocery store.

12:30 pm – The trail starts at kilometer 200 in Mont-Laurier and ends at kilometer 0 in St-Jérôme. All inns and restaurants are identified by their kilometer marker on the bike path.

Started biking from Mont-Laurier (kilometer 200) to La Conception (kilometer 97.5). Like most people, we could have stopped in Nomingue for the night at kilometer 145 (after riding 55 km). Riders that we met along the way really enjoyed staying at L’Auberge Chez Ignace – a quaint inn by the Lac Nomingue with a wonderful table.

After riding almost alone in the forest and along beautiful lakes, we arrived at L’Achillée Millefeuille. Named after a local wildflower, this little corner of heaven in the Laurentians is tastefully landscaped with wild flowerbeds and lovingly cared for by incredibly friendly owners Monique and Claude. Monique cultivates medicinal plants and prepares delicious breakfast dishes. L’Achillée Millefeuille has five rooms, including a big one with a kitchen. They also have tipi cottages (tipi tents) and an open outdoor kitchen. A truly beautiful place that magically appears on the bicycle path…with a sign on the trail so humble that we almost missed it.

At 6:30 pm – We made it just in time! The owner of the Kayak-Café took us to his restaurant by the river for dinner. The view was stunning, flamenco guitarists were playing, and the food was delicious. A glorious way to end a long, relaxing day.

The Kayak-Café offers several kayaking adventures. We wished we would have stayed an extra day to go kayaking on the Petite Riviere Rouge.

DAY 2 – 55 km from La Conception to Val-David
After a delicious breakfast and a Swedish massage, we got back on the road for 55 km to Val-David. On the way, we stopped for lunch at kilometer 77’s La Stazione for a delicious little pizza on a sunny terrace by the bike path in the middle of a hilly part of the trail right before Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, the heart of the Mont-Tremblant area. We were told not to miss La Stazione, because after there is nothing on the trail until Val-David. This part of the trail was shorter, paved with crushed stoned, and slightly uphill (4%).

Finally, we arrived in Val-David, a community of artists, to stay at La Maison de Bavière, a small B&B with a Bavarian-inspired style. Our room (the Beethoven suite – the largest and nicest room) had a calming view of the river and waterfall. The hosts Agathe and Yves were so friendly and helpful – Yves actually helped make all the reservations for me when I planned the itinerary. Their breakfast was delicious, and the coffee strong and good. The B&B was close to the path and village center.

We ate a gourmet meal at Les Zebres. The local trout tartare is not to miss. Les Zebres is a hip bistro in this mountain town offering a variety of Asian and local flavors. You can even get your meal to go and eat it back at the B&B.

Another favorite place to stay is Le Creux du Vent, known for its great table right there in the B&B.

Val-David is an interesting little town. Its big summer event is called 1001 Pots – an art fair featuring ceramics. This beautiful city sponsors artists workshops, so artists come from all over the province to establish themselves here.

If we had more time, we would have planned to stay in La Conception for a few days more to go kayaking, hiking, and golfing. And then we would have also stayed in Val-David to go to 1001 Pots.

DAY 3 – 50 km from Val-David to St-Jérôme
Our last leg was from Val-David to St-Jérôme. Yves from La Maison de la Bavière recommended that we stop at the Café de la Gare and the Espresso Sport shop in St-Adele for lunch. We had to taste their famous Tourte aux Pommes, which was indeed incredible – a delicious pie with espresso-flavored cream cheese and grilled almonds. Adjacent to the café is a great bike/triathlon/ski shop – a cool place with great brands.

Again, we wished we could have stayed in St-Adele to just discover a little more of the area. But off we went and entered the more urban area of St-Jérôme and got back to our car.

RECOMMENDATIONS

This trip was wonderful for a variety of reasons, from breaking away from everyday life to ride in the gorgeous outdoors to enjoying wonderful food and lovely accommodations. In fact, staying in B&Bs is great, because everyone you meet at breakfast is cycling the trail, too, and sharing tips on where to stay and what to do. They’re also relaxed, because they’re on vacation with nowhere else to be other than their next stop.

That’s why I would recommend this trip for couples, even if you have different biking personalities. For example, if you want to put in the miles but your partner doesn’t, you can get up early and go for a ride while your spouse is shopping, getting a massage, or just meeting other travelers on the trail.

I would also recommend this trip for families of teens, as you can do this trip slowly at 30 km a day. And at L’Achillee Millefeuille, you can stay in a family suite or in tipis, which could be a lot of fun.

TIPS FOR CREATING YOUR OWN BIKE TOUR

Since St-Jérôme is about one hour from Montreal (it’s practically a suburb), the ideal way to do it is to arrive in St-Jérôme midday and take the afternoon shuttle to Mont-Laurier. Spend the night in Mont-Laurier and start the trip the next morning. In addition, I would recommend the following:

  • Make a reservation on the shuttle early (1–2 months before your trip, if you can, and verify the week before to make sure everything is still ok).
  • Ask if the navette (shuttle bus) leaves at 4 pm from St-Jérôme to Mont-Laurier – you could spend a night on Mont-Laurier and leave at a leisurely pace in the morning.
  • Bring a lunch if you take the morning shuttle, or plan to get some sandwiches at the grocery store (IGA).
  • Bring snacks/bars to take with you if you like to eat often, and have at least two water bottles – the stops along the way don’t always offer food.
  • Carry cash – ATMs are not on the trail.
  • Learn how to maintain your bike before the trip. You’ll be in nature, so you need to know how to change a flat and fix your bike. If you’d like to learn how, Higher Gear can teach you as we offer bike maintenance classes.
  • Don’t leave without a multi-tool, flat kit, and spare tube.

Other Articles & Photos:
www.gobiking.ca/p-tit-train
www.gonomad.com/transports/0609/Québec-biking

Places to Stay & Eat:
St-Jérôme | Comfort Inn: www.comfortinn.com/hotel-saintjerome-canada-CN416
Nominingue | L’Auberge Chez Ignace: www.ignace.qc.ca
La Conception | L’Achillée Millefeuille: www.millefeuille.ca
La Conception | Le Kayak-Café: www.kayak-cafe.com
Mont-Tremblant | La Stazione: www.lastazione.ca
Val-David | La Maison de Bavière: www.maisondebaviere.com
St-Adele | Café de la Gare: www.espressosports.net

Resources:
The Laurentians tourist office can make all the reservations for you: www.laurentians.com
Autobus Le Petit Train du Nord – Transportation and Luggage Transfers from St-Jérôme or Montreal to Mont-Laurier (beginning of the path): www.autobuslepetittraindunord.com
Other bicycle trails in Québec: www.bonjourQuebec.com

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