After a delicious and extremely filling breakfast of toast with homemade jam, eggs, fruit, a crepe, and coffee at the auberge, we headed back out onto the trail around 8:00 am. Today we were faced with the challenge of walking a very short day and staying in Mont Tremblant, or walking a very long day, and camping in La Belle. Neither option was perfect, and when we set out we hadn't yet decided what to do.
It was another warm, muggy, overcast day, and as soon as we rejoined Le P'tit Train du Nord we were enveloped in a sizeable swam of mosquitos. However, we enjoyed the fresh, sweet smell of the forest air as we made our way through the glowing green tunnel of deciduous trees. In the hills around us we could hear the calls of Ovenbirds, Black-throated Green Warblers, and American Redstarts.
As we approached Mont Tremblant we passed several small lakes, the trees reflected almost perfectly in the dark, still, waters. In the distance we caught glimpses of some of the ski runs on the surrounding hills. Beyond the forested mountains the sky was growing increasingly dark, making us worry it would soon be time to break out the rain gear. Luckily, although it threatened rain all morning, we never got wet.
A little farther along, the trail took on a slightly different feel. We found ourselves walking in a more open area, surrounded by golden brown sand dunes and red pines. We could see ATV tracks weaving up and down the sandy slope, and a tall wooden hunting blind stood watch out in the hydro corridor beside us. Above us a pair of American Crows complained loudly as they made a b-line across the open space.
Half an hour later we found ourselves passing another pair of beautiful small lakes. In one of them a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers were making their stately way along the shoreline, leaving a long wake behind them. On the grassy shoreline beside the path a family of Canada Geese consisting of four small, fuzzy, goslings and their highly protective parents hurried through the shrubs to the safety of the water.
A short while later we passed through a rounded metal bridge under the road and came to the village of Saint-Jovite Station, where we stopped at the 83 Nord café for coffees and croissants, and to try to figure out whether to stop in Mont Tremblant for the night or to go on.
Mont Tremblant is the site of one of Canada's most famous ski resorts, and it is a year-round outdoor recreation vacation destination. On our approach to this area we discovered that there are actually several parts to Mont Tremblant - the downtown city center, the village, the resort, the tiny community of Saint-Jovite Station, which is adjacent to the downtown, and the National Park. The P'tit Train du Nord goes through Saint-Jovite Station and the village, which are about 10 km from the resort.
After sitting and enjoying our coffees but failing to arrive at a decision we headed off again, making our way around a large golf course. We stopped to watch a lovely yellow and orange bee feeding among sweet-smelling honeysuckle blossoms. A lot of work was still being done to clear up fallen trees from the recent storm, both on the shady trail and the golf course, but there were already players out on the course.
When we arrived in the charming and colourful village of Mont Tremblant, which was situated on the shores of Lac Mercier among the forested slopes of the Laurentian mountains, it was full of cyclists. We stopped at the renovated train station, which was being used as an art galley. One or two cafés along the main stretch were open, but most of the restaurants and shops were still closed.
We hadn't yet made a reservation at the hotel, but check-in wasn't for another five hours, and we could see that both the hotel and the adjoining restaurant were closed up tight, even though the dinning area was listed as open. We didn't really want to walk the 5 km up to the resort with our heavy packs, so our choice was to keep walking on, or to sit in the middle of this popular site for 5 hours for check in.
Mont Tremblant not only offers skiing and hiking, but also a suite of other outdoor activities, including horseback riding, falconry, rock climbing, and paragliding in the National Park. This 1,520 km2 park was created in 1895, and it was the first of its kind in Quebec, the third in Canada, and the sixth in North America. With six major rivers and over 400 small lakes it is a canoer's paradise. It also offers more than 84 km of trails for hikers, and is home to more than 40 mammal species, including black bears, wolves, and moose.
We hadn't realized that in order to participate in any of the park activities you have to make a reservation 24-48 hours ahead of time. In addition, the cost for two people to participate in most of the scheduled activities was around $300. We soon realized that the cost of spending two nights in the hotel, buying meals at resort prices, and doing any of the activities would cost close to $1,000, which is far above and beyond our budget. This was not the first time we've come across cost as a barrier to outdoor experiences that many face. It is part of the reason we are out here trying to inspire people to build a connection with nature through Citizen Science, which is freely available to everyone and therefore more realistically accessible to many.
Still feeling very conflicted, we decided to walk on, following the crushed stone dust trail around the edge of a lake lined with large and luxurious cottages. Many boat docks jutted out into the water, and several homes or cottages had small planes floating out in front. The sunny lake, surrounded by forested mountains was a beautiful sight, and it was easy to understand why those with means would choose to spend time there.
The shady, tree lined trail was busy with well-dressed people out for a late morning stroll around the lake, and with cyclists going on longer journeys. After a short walk we came to a treed rest area, and took a break at the shady picnic tables under the tall, old maples. Giving up an opportunity to see a new place or try something new always leaves us feeling a little despondent, but an upscale and world renown tourist destination was likely no place for two long-distance hikers with no resort clothes in any case.
As we continued on through the hot sunny afternoon, the loud calls of frogs sounded
from a tiny puddle on the trail side. We spotted a baby Snapping Turtle on
the trail that was scarcely larger than a quarter, and an Eastern Chipmunk
scurried across the pathway so close we nearly stepped on it. Suddenly we
came to another small pond, which was teeming with life, and did much to cheer
We stopped for a few minutes at the picnic table, and watched swarms of colourful and iridescent dragonflies darting about above the water. Long leeches with lines of red spots on their backs squiggled through the shallow water. The frogs Sean was photographing let him get within centimetres before jumping out of reach.
When we finally dragged ourselves away, we spotted a White-tailed Deer on the far side of the pond grazing on underwater vegetation. It put its head under water up to its ears in order to reach the tender grasses at the bottom of the pond.
A short while later we crossed a trestle bridge over a river and then saw a sign for the Tyrolienne Zipline. We could see the ladders climbing up the trees in the surrounding forest, creating a partially finished looking tree-top trekking course. It brought back good memories of doing past courses like this other parts of Canada.
Shortly after this we came to the rest stop at La Conception. There was a large parking lot, a long open green space with several picnic tables, and a covered wooden shelter for cyclists. Having taken quite a few breaks already that day, we decided to keep going in the hot afternoon sun.
The next section of trail was long and straight, and it felt like it took forever to walk. Once again the landscape changed, and we found ourselves walking between open fields and pastures which were dotted with barns. Several small herds of cows were grazing in the lush green valley, beyond which rose forested foothills under a sky that was heavy with clouds. Turkey Vultures circled high overhead, and the loud 'cronk' of Common Ravens echoed throughout the quiet afternoon. Closer by, the hopeful notes of a Song Sparrow rang out from a wooden fence post, and a sudden flash of brilliant blue announced the presence of an Eastern Bluebird.
Not too many other cyclists were still on the trail so late in the afternoon, but one couple cycled past and then circled back, exclaiming 'You've done the Bruce Trail!' They had caught a glimpse of the trail crest on Sean's backpack in passing. It turned out they were from Ontario and had just started the 900 km long Bruce Trail with an organized End-to-End hike, which they really enjoyed. We've walked most of the Bruce Trail, doing day hikes, organized E2E's, and a two-week section hike, and we loved it. Chatting with this friendly couple gave us the energy to make it the last few kilometers into Village de Labelle.
Nothing was listed as being in this particular station on Google maps, and we failed to see the note in our guide indicating that there was a restaurant and B&B in the station. When we spotted a chalkboard menu and patio umbrellas in the distance our spirits lifted, and sure enough, there was a lovely little restaurant in the station with tables on the wooden patio outside. It turned out they had rooms as well, but tonight they were all occupied. After a long day on the trail we decided to stop for a cold pint and a plate of nachos, and to make a reservation at the nearby Iroquois Falls Campground for the night.
After a filling (but rather expensive!) dinner we headed off the trail and into town, which is a small community of just under 3,000 people that is stretched along the Rivière Rouge. A large bridge spans the wide, and fast moving river in the middle of the town, transporting vehicles over a section of rapids. We stopped at the small grocery store, which had a view of the river, and were somewhat surprised to be rather unceremoniously rushed out the door. Apparently, without warning the store was closing several hours early, despite a steady stream of customers pulling up outside. Regardless we were stunned at having paid an outrageous $65 dollars for a loaf of bread, a small jar of jam and two small bottles of ice tea. Clearly the premium resort prices of Mont Tremblant apply to the surrounding region as well!
We continued on through town, making our way to the Iroquois Falls Campground. This turned out to be a very nice place, mostly occupied by seasonal or permanent RVs on shady, treed sites. There seemed to be a strong community of people in the park, many of whom were already gathered in large groups around campfires.
We made our way through the campground to a small sandy island on the edge of the river. It was separated from the mainland by a wooden footbridge over a noisy stream coming down a tall, rocky, waterfall. It was very pretty, and the sound of the waterfall drowned out all other sounds.
We were the only ones on the little island, and we soon had the tent set up with a lovely view down the river. When we went to take a shower, we discovered that like most campgrounds in Quebec, this one charged $1 for the privilege. We had just enough change, so we took our showers and then returned to the front gate, hoping to get more change to do our laundry. We soon discovered that the front gate was also closed, a full 2 hours early. I think they had just been waiting for us to get in, and then figured their business for the day was done. Luckily for us we made that reservation!
Some days things simply don't work out as one expects, and this seemed to be one of them. However, we were grateful to have everything we needed, had found food and had a place to sleep for the night. Now all we can do is hope that the river and/or waterfall don't rise in the night as a result of the rain and flood our little sandy island.