48 Hours

La Mauricie of­fers Que­be­cers and vis­i­tors to la belle prov­ince beau­ti­ful and hilly chal­lenges

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Christina Palas­sio

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.”

De­tails

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

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