I would not be tackling Le P’tit Train du Nord cycling route alone as our club was featuring this ride as an introduction to bicycle touring so there would be a group of 17 of us.
Located north of Montreal this route is perfect for the task as it is only 201 km long and can easily be covered in 3 or 4 days. However our group leader had decided to have mercy on us and we had 5 days. Many cyclists on the route had purchased a package which included motel or B & B accommodation, some meals and baggage transfers but not our group as we were going with loaded panniers for a camping experience.
Built from 1891 to 1909 Le P’tit Train du Nord was built to take people from Montreal to the Laurentians resort area. In 1996 this linear park build over the old railway line opened and has been popular with cyclists ever since.
Starting in St Jerome
We had arrangements for a bus with bicycle trailer to transfer us to Mont Laurier at the start of the route. It is a popular service at this time of the year and the first bus was for another group but ours soon arrived and we were on our 2 ½ hour journey north
We gathered in St. Jerome, a town located just north of Montreal which on this sunny Sunday was crowded with cyclists, as parking is free on weekends. For those with extended stays like ourselves it would cost $6 a day to park here during the week. As we waited for our transportation some went to a parked rail car, now a snack bar; the outdoor bar/restaurant or the former rail station which contained washrooms and the tourist information office.
Originally we were to camp the first night as well but considering there was rain in the forecast and the long drive getting to St. Jerome the trip leader wanting to start the trip off with us in good spirts opted for the Complex 80 motel. After dinner in the motel restaurant we headed nearby for grocery items for our next day lunch.
Mont Laurier to Nominique
Our motel was close to the route so after the complimentary continental breakfast and briefing we headed off. It can be difficult to get a group of 17 going on loaded bicycles which they are not used to but we were able to start from the 201 km marker along the paved cycling path quite quickly.
Soon we reached a paved road and where the route took us up a small incline along the road (the only road section on the route) and to our surprise a police officer there turned on their flashing lights and escorted us stopping the oncoming traffic. When we reached another road crossing a few kilometers along the same police officer was there halting traffic for us and some other cyclists to cross in safety.
Today’s distance was to be about 60 km through a forested landscape but this being a rail trail meant that the hills tended to be long and gradual and proved not much of a challenge. There were numerous small lakes and river crossings as well.
We stopped at one of these picnic shelters beside a lake for our lunch. Riding in mid-June meant there were plenty of bugs so some of the group put on their bug jackets that each of us had been encouraged to pack.
What I liked about this route is that there are distance markers every km so you know exactly where you are plus picnic shelters and outhouses at convenient distances.
The entrance to Camping Au Boise Du Village near Nominique was located right along Le P’tit Train du Nord route and the owner climbed on a golf cart to lead us to the group camping area. After setting up camp we cycled the short distance into town to pick up food items for dinner and the next day. Most of the other cyclists we meet were from other parts of Canada but there were a few from the U.S. as well.
Nominque to Labelle
Like other towns the former Nominque train station now contained a tourist office and washrooms for cyclists. Our ride this morning was along the shores of Lake Nominque before heading into forested areas again. Also like the previous day there were plenty of picnic shelters and washrooms along the route but we never stopped long as the insects were out in force.
We did stop is Riviere Rouge at the tourist office in the train station where we were advised there was an excellent café just off the trail. Also many of the train stations feature a station with air pump and bike tools. Soon after arriving at the café two other cycling groups arrived so it was quite busy as we sat on the outdoor patio.
One exception was our lunch stop on a bridge over some rapids where the breeze kept the bugs at bay. The trail was paved with minor climbs so easy going.
After about 50 km we reached the Labelle and headed down a steep hill to the river and the Chutes-aux-Iroquois campground. The river here has a major waterfall and downstream kayak and canoe trips are a popular activity but with a strong current the operators pick you up 12 km downstream. We headed to the local grocery store for dinner, breakfast and lunch items and also checked out a smaller waterfall right in the campground. Lots of bugs so many in the group put on their bug jackets.
Labelle to Domaine Lausanne
The first half of today’s ride was through the forest with several river crossings and we even spotted a wild turkey on the trail ahead of us. This part was on a hard packed surface easy to ride even with my loaded road bicycle.
We reached a large lake and the popular ski resort town of Mont-Tremblant the trail had a new paved surface. Stopped by a café for coffee and could not resist the fresh pastry and watched plenty of kids swimming at a nearby beach.
Leaving Mont-Tremblant the trail again became hard packed but this time we had a 12 km uphill climb although being a rail trail it was a gentle slope. Along the way were the usual picnic shelters and washrooms.
As there would be no grocery store at the campground tonight we stopped and loaded our panniers even more with dinner, breakfast and lunch provisions, a tight squeeze. But still had not reached the top of the hill which took another 2 km. The route then curved running parallel to Hwy 117, the main highway in the area. It was fairly flat as it took us past lumber yards, an open pit mine until we reached Camping Domaine Lausanne.
This is a large campground and the group area was near a lake and large recreation centre. The highlight was a ground hog carrying their young out of the way as we camped on their home turf. The campground offers cabins on the lake which one person in the group elected to take. For the rest of us we put on bug jackets as swarms of insects came to visit us.
Domaine Lausanne to Val David
At 6 a.m. our group leader came around the camp urging us to get up and packed as rain was forecast for 7 a.m. and nothing is worse than setting up or packing in the rain. The good thing was this only a short 27 km ride today and although it did start raining by the time we reached the resort town of Val David.
It was raining quite hard at this time so we headed for Rotisserie Au Petit Poucet, a traditional Quebec restaurant in a large wooden cabin for a late breakfast. Well, we still didn’t avoid setting up our tents in the rain at the nearby Camping Laurentien.
A 2 km walk to the center of Val David to check out the pubs and shops. We cheated tonight and went to Restaurant le Villageois located near the campground rather than using our camp stoves although it had stopped raining.
Val David to St. Jerome
This last section was only about 50 km long but at least it was sunny. We soon were following a raging river and could view the rapids while riding along. There were plenty of train stations with washrooms and cafes and a lot more cyclists. While there was a slight uphill at the start most of the latter half of the ride was downhill until we reached the 0 km marker in St. Jerome.
We drove to Montreal for a few days cycling around the city, however the cycling route has a connector trail so you can ride to the center of the city if you wish. You may also wish to check out Quebec City cycling.
Le P’tit Train du Nord over 201 km offers an amazing bicycle touring route with awesome scenery, resort towns, and numerous facilities for cyclists.