It might take a few summers to cycle Quebec’s 4,000-km (2,485-mi) La Route Verte; since we didn’t have that kind of time, we chose one leg, Le P’Tit Train du Nord.
Okay, I admit it, my expectations were . . . well, flat. What else could a spin along an abandoned railway line in Quebec, Le P’tit Train du Nord, be? But I was fine with that—because this 230-km (143-mi) cycle had been designed around our 12-year-old’s stamina (read: lacking) and lusty appetite (read: plenty of gooey poutine).
Well, I was wrong. And now, I’m more than fine with that.
The shift from flat to fun began at the Saint-Jérôme start, a funky caboose/bike shop 45 km (28 mi) north of Montréal, QC, and rolled next to tea-stained rivers all the way to Mont-Laurier. Yes, it was the dead-easy, crushed-gravel pathway I imagined; but here, flat doesn’t translate to boring.
Cycling along such a spur of history comes with flower-potted railway stations decked out in stories—like the station at Labelle, full of tattered letters and faded photos of Father Antoine Labelle, a feisty Catholic curate who opened up the lumber industry in these then-woolly parts.
After decades of lobbying the government, Labelle’s vision came to fruition when the Canadian Pacific line was finished in 1892, and used to transport logs back to Montréal. By the 1920s, Le P’tit Train du Nord was moving Montréal’s upper crust to their ski chalets at Gray Rocks. By the late ‘30s, it was doing the same at Mt. Tremblant—which it served until the train stopped passenger service in 1981.
No need for panniers or camping gear—affordable B&Bs en route and cheap cafés will tickle the wallet of any tightwad.
When we set off on Quebec’s most family-friendly bike tour, I hadn’t banked on the bliss factor—no diesel fumes, no traffic, no noise and time galore. Time to wander among a forest drooping with ceramic cups, bowls and birdhouses at Val-David’s über-cool 1001 Pots ceramic festival (2010 will be its 22nd year). Time to talk while pedalling three abreast on moody rural stretches, like the chunk between La Macaza and Nominingue. And time to slurp down endless bowls of squeaky, soggy poutine.
While easy enough to arrange on your own, we opted for a bike package with Autobus de Parc Lineaire Le P’tit du Nord. Rentals, directions, a tool kit, luggage shuttles, lodging at a variety of B&Bs and return transport meant we arrived without any gear besides our bikes and were on the track within moments. Voilà!
Places to stay en route :
B&B in Ste Adèle - l’Auberge de la gare: www.aubergedelagare.com
B&B in Mont Tremblant - Auberge le Voyageur: www.bbvoyageur.com
B&B in Nominingue: Auberge Chez Ignace: www.ignace.qc.ca
Great places to eat:
Spago in Ste Adèle: (450) 229-0229
Kayak Café in Labelle: www.kayak-cafe.com
La Stazione, near Mt. Tremblant: (819) 421-4000
Avalanche Bistro in Mont Tremblant: www.AvalancheBistro.com