Biking Le P’tit Train du Nord, Quebec 2015

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To celebrate our 27th anniversary, Beth and I biked along Le P’tit Train du Nord (The Little Train of the North) rail trail, which stretches about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Mont-Laurier to Saint Jerome in the northwest region of Montreal, Quebec. We highly recommend this wonderful trail for couples and families who are looking for beginner-to-intermediate rides of 50-80 km (30-50 miles) per day on asphalt and packed stone trails, with bed and breakfasts (or rustic camping) along the way. Learn about our three-day adventure below and read more about this trail on Wikipedia and the official tourism site.

Download any of these photos from my Flickr Album

The day before our bike trip, we drove to Saint Jerome, a suburb to the north of Montreal, where we parked our van at the 0 km mark and boarded the Autobus shuttle to Mont-Laurier, a town at the opposite end of the trail on the 200km mark. Max and his co-workers kindly loaded and secured our tandem bike to the trailer of their shuttle. Finding our way to the Autobus parking lot in St. Jerome was challenging for us because we could not rely on Google Maps, as we chose not to pay extra international data roaming fees to our smartphone carrier. But Beth navigated “old-school” using paper maps she found in our 1998 minivan, and we also downloaded the Open Street Map for Quebec using the inexpensive Maps.me smartphone app, which we highly recommend.

  • Navigator Beth goes old-school with paper maps in Canada, where we lack phone reception

  • Max loaded our tandem onto the shuttle trailer to take us from St Jerome to the trailhead at Mont-Laurier

  • The 200km Le P'tit Train du Nord rail trail

On Day 1 of our bike trip, we pedaled 55 km (34 miles) from our Mont-Laurier hotel to Nominingue, which led us up a gradual incline through the most rural portion of the trip. This section of the rail trail was paved asphalt and in good condition, with warning signs for bumps or holes. About every 10km along this section of trail were wooden “caboose” shelters and picnic tables, with water faucets less frequently, though we were glad to have brought our own lunch food from the IGA grocery store in Mont-Laurier. We met several friendly riders on the trail this day. Nearly all were Canadian, and most spoke French as their first language. In Nominingue, we arrived at the Auberge Chez Ignance, where Beth had booked us a room at this bed and breakfast, which also fed us an amazing gourmet dinner. Honestly, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, with amazing variety (meat, poultry, fish, and vegetarian options) and outstanding flavors. Beth, my French translator and cultural guide, taught me a new phrase—tourisme gastronomique—or traveling primarily to explore new foods.

  • Fabulous dinner for two at the Auberge Chez Ignance

  • The Canadians write "danger" on the trail next to hazards, big or small

  • Riding along with Stu

  • Riding alongside Jacqueline

  • Riding alongside Hailey

  • Riding alongside Mike

  • The Canadians built these cute "caboose" shelters, plus picnic tables and outhouses, about every 10km along the trail from Mont-Laurier

  • Beth was impressed with the historical placards and interpreted them from French for me.

  • Shared the rail trail with several roller bladed dog walkers

  • We met Stu and Mike (and their spouses) from Toronto on the trail

  • Tandem selfie on the trail

  • Only 200 kilometers to our destination at St Jerome

  • Beginning the bike trail at the Mont-Laurier Station

On Day 2, we rode 63 km (39 miles) from Nominingue to the Mont-Tremblant region, and we stopped for the night at another bed and breakfast in the small town of Saint Jovite. The portion of the trail was relatively flat and shifted from asphalt to packed stone, which also was in good condition (with fewer bumps and holes than the asphalt section). Several of the old train stations here had been renovated into cafes and museums, and our lunch stop at La Belle was one of our favorites. Since Mont-Tremblant is home to a national park and center for tourism, we encountered many more cyclists here, and were pleased to see so many senior citizens and families with young children riding the trail.

Elevation chart of the rail trail, which ranges from about 50 to 450 m (about 150 to 1400 feet). Source: Laurentides.com
Click to enlarge this elevation chart of the rail trail, which ranges from about 50 to 450 m (about 150 to 1400 feet). We travelled from right to left. Source: Laurentides.com
  • Oddly, Beth chose not to join me in this photo

  • We stumbled into a free jazz festival in Mont-Tremblant

  • We were pleasantly surprised to see so many cyclists in Mont-Tremblant, especially senior citizens and families with children

  • After La Belle, the trail shifted from asphalt to hard packed stone, but it's in fabulous condition

  • Fab poster from 1980s about how trains can kill you at LaBelle Station. The train stopped running in 1990s

  • Stopping on the bridge

  • Along the rail trail, old stations have been converted into cafes and museums, like this one in Rivière-Rouge

  • Outside our inn, Auberge Chez Ignance

  • Eli would enjoy this backyard chess set

Based on where we stayed the previous two nights, we had a long third day (82 km, or 51 miles) to finish our journey back to Saint Jerome. To start off the morning, we rode uphill for about 10 km, pedaled along the summit, then glided downhill to the end. Overall, the packed stone dust trail was in good shape, but watch out for some weather-related deterioration near the end, where it turned into sand. Although we rode through a not-so-attractive quarry and lumber mill at the summit, biking through the forest and along the waterfalls during the rest of the day was beautiful.

  • Archway to the Little Train of the North rail trail in Saint Jerome

  • Happy to have finished our 200 km ride at the Saint Jerome station

  • Cycling and cross-country skiing sculpture in Prevost

  • As we rolled closer to Montreal on a Friday afternoon, we encountered many cyclists of all ages

  • Fawn enjoying lunch near the trail

  • One of the many beautifully renovated train stations and cafes in La Belle

  • The ugliest portion of an otherwise beautiful trail was an enormous quarry, lumber mill, and junk pile near the summit

  • You can tell that we don't have many phone booths in the U.S., but they're still common in Quebec

  • Catching some morning sunshine on a bike trail platform overlooking Lac Carre

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Jack Dougherty

Jack Dougherty writes about cycling adventures, advocacy, and his growing appetite at JackBikes.org.

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