La Mauricie offers Quebecers and visitors to la belle province beautiful and hilly challenges
The beautiful and hilly challenges of la Parc National de la Mauricie, Que.
The Parc National de la Mauricie sits in the Laurentian Highlands between Montreal and Quebec City – an easy two-hour drive from each centre. The 536-square-kilometre park is a favourite spot for club rides and training – a place where the roads are smooth, the cyclist rules and the hills, well, they just don’t stop. “This is the spot to train if you’re a cyclist in Quebec,” says Marie-josée Gervais, the former professional triathlete and cyclist who founded Les Défis du Parc, a gran fondo that attracts thousands of riders to the park every year. “It’s a very demanding route both physically and psychologically.” The main way through the park is along La Route de la Promenade, a 63-km road with roughly 1,000 m of elevation gain on roughly 20 climbs. If you’re planning a trip in 2018, enter on the Saint-mathieu-du-parc side and make the Shewenegan picnic area your starting point. The Route de la Promenade is undergoing a phased resurfacing over the next two years, and the eastern part of the road is closed to traffic in 2018. Roadwork will switch to the west side of the park in 2019, and the road will reopen completely in 2020, just in time for the park’s 50th anniversary.
Even with this year’s road closures, you can still net 100 km and 1,800 m of climbing with a double out-and-back starting from the Shewenegan picnic area and turning back at the Belvédère du Passage. Along the way, you’ll fly by some of the park’s 150 lakes, ride past imposing granite escarpments that were carved by the passing glaciers 12,000 years ago, and glimpse waterfalls and the sandy shores of sinewy Wapizagonke Lake. You might also spot black bears, moose and red foxes.
Guylaine Ricard’s love affair with the park started when she joined Les Roses, the all-women’s cycling club that makes the park its home. She’s been a devotee ever since. “The park has tons of impressive views, but I think the most spectacular spot is the Belvédère du Passage,” says Ricard. “You can see Wapizagonke Lake stretch out before your eyes for more than 10 km. It’s where you’ll find the most challenging climb: the Côte du Passage.”
The history of the park is as captivating as its scenery. Five thousand years ago, the Algonquins, Iroquois, Abenakis, Hurons and Atikamekw travelled through the region on their way between the St. Lawrence River and the boreal forest to the north. The presence of the Atikamekw is immortalized by red ochre rock paintings on the cliff walls above Wapizagonke Lake. In 1634, the French established a trading post in nearby Trois-rivières. For the next few centuries, the park’s forests fed the pulp and paper mills that sprung up along the St. Lawrence, as the region became the world’s biggest producer of newsprint. These days, conservation efforts have focused on re-naturalizing deforested areas and improving aquatic ecosystems, bringing the park back to health, and making it an attraction for canoeists and kayakers, campers, mountain bikers and road cyclists who flock to the park by the tens of thousands each year.
“Cyclists have really become part of the scenery in the park,” says Gervais. “When I used to train here, it was only the crainqués – the real hardcore cyclists – who rode here. But since Les Défis and Les Roses started up, use of the park has become a lot more democratized. Now cyclists of all levels come to challenge themselves at their own pace. Lots of cyclists stay for the weekend and camp. It’s a totally different atmosphere.”
While road cycling continues to be a main attraction for many, the mountain biking community in the area has been growing steadily during the past few years thanks to trails in the Parc Récréoforestier, which sits just on the edge of la Mauricie, and Energiecmb in nearby Trois-rivières, which has 15 km of singletrack and freeride trails, dirt jumps and a pump track. Parc National de la Mauricie itself boasts roughly 30 km of rolling trails, however, they’ll all be closed in 2018 because of the construction and will reopen for the 2019 season.
If you want to cycle past the park’s borders and explore the surrounding area, you have a few options. You can ride Route 351 for 25 km southwest to the quiet village of Saint-élie-de Caxton, birthplace of beloved Québécois singer and artist Fred Pellerin. Tack on another 11 km to the nearby village of Saint-paulin before heading back to the park. Or you can head southeast from Saint-mathieu-duParc along Route 351 to Shawinigan, birthplace of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, and grab some lunch there. Be prepared: English isn’t often spoken here, so if your high school French is a bit rusty, have Google Translate handy. Bonneaventure!
“You can see Wapizagonke Lake stretch out before your eyes for more than 10 km. It’s where you’ll find the most challenging climb: the Côte du Passage.”
How to get there Parc National de la Mauricie is an easy two-hour drive from either Montreal or Quebec City. There’s a $7.80 fee to enter the park. In 2018, enter via the Saint-mathieu-duParc entrance and make your way to Shewenegan picnic area. In 2019, enter via the Saint-jean-de-piles entrance. In 2020, all the roadwork should be complete, allowing you to choose either entrance. Where to stay If you want to camp, you can rent basic campsites and otentiks, which are a blend of a tent and a cabin, through the Parks Canada website ( pc.gc.ca/fr/pn-np/ qc/mauricie/activ/passez-stay/otentik). Otentiks are in high demand, so book early. If indoors is more your speed, stay in the Wabenaki Chalet ( info-nature.ca) or Andrew House, lodges that once belonged to the many private hunting and fishing clubs that dot the area. On the higher end of things, the Auberge Le Baluchon in nearby SaintPaulin, 30 minutes from the park, boasts a restaurant and a spa ( baluchon.com). Where to eat This is Quebec, so there are plenty of tasty spots to refuel. In Shawinigan, try the Trou du Diable brew pub ( troududiable.com). In Sainte-flore, try the quaint café Le Bucolique ( cafebucolique.ca) or the Crêperie de Flore (819-533-2020). In Grandes-piles, Auberge le Bôme is a good spot ( bome-mauricie.com). What to do off the bike Learn about hydroelectric power at Shawinigan’s Cité Énergie, located just across from the impressive Shawinigan Falls ( citedelenergie.com/en/home). The museum has a pavillion devoted to documenting international relations during former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s tenure. Or go the food route and get a taste of local flavours at the public market, open Wednesday to Sunday ( marchepublicshawinigan.com). Where to find support For equipment, repairs or rentals, hit Le Coin du Vélo ( lecoinduvelo.ca) or Le Yéti ( leyeti.quebec) in Shawinigan.
Parc National de la Mauricie Shawinigan Quebec City Trois-rivieres Montreal