Bike the North Shore of the Saint Lawrence

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Take on the Laurentian Mountains on Québec's scenic River Route along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence. Be ready for hard rainstorms, delicious food, beautiful views and steep, steep grades.

Québec is known across Canada, if not North America, for its high quality Route Verte bicycle route. Your route on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence won't quite be the highest quality of bicycling—you'll be on older highways than other parts of the province—but it will be some of the most enjoyable and challenging riding you'll experience.

There's many route options—you could head out and back from Québec City, for example, or spend a couple days riding in the uplands around Tadoussac—but for the purposes of this guide I'll be describing a route from Forestville southwest to Québec. The ferry from Rimouski on the south shore to Forestville is the fastest ferry across the Saint Lawrence. You can reserve tickets on Québec Maritime, but it's not hard to squeeze a couple bicycles onto a ferry so if you're crossing the river you don't really need to worry about booking in advance. 

Once you arrive on the north shore you'll immediately feel the difference between the south shore and the north. The ferry docks in Forestville are a bit out of town, surrounded by forest and a deserted paved road lined with an abandoned logging track. Once you make it close to Forestville itself, you'll be greeted by your first steep hill of the trek. From Forestville to Les Escoumins, however, you'll be mostly along the coast, riding small hills and watching for whales in the distance.

Your first dive into hill climbing will be in the interior above Tadoussac. The highway detours inland for about 20 kilometres, past some scenic lakes and 200 metre elevation granite hills before the long descent into Tadoussac itself. The town is known as a whale-watching destination, so if you have time take an afternoon to explore the Saint Lawrence from the water. This is also your opportunity to detour northwest along the famous Saguenay fjord. 

Between Tadoussac and Cap-à-l'Aigle you will feel like you are in an old mountain range—because you are. The open horizon of the Saint Lawrence will be a mere memory, with hills and forest surrounding you as far as you can see. But once you get close to La Malbaie, the blue line of the river will return, along with the fresh breeze and some thrilling descents towards the water. 

La Malbaie offers a choice between the new inland route or the old highway right along the coast. I don't fully understand the way Google Maps calculates elevation change, but the coastline route is twice as much up and down. It's steeper, narrower, and it has the better views. Just like Baie-des-Rochers between Tadoussac and Cap-à-l'Aigle felt like an old mountain range, the old highway through Saint-Irénée and Les Éboulements will feel like you're riding the coast. Not all of it is in view of the water, but you'll always feel it nearby, calling you back. Enjoy the fields and the artisans of the Québec countryside. This highway is a tourist destination for good reason.

Oh, and enjoy the descent into Baie-Saint-Paul. It won't last forever. 

After Baie-Saint-Paul you're on the final stretch. But you're not done. Between you and Québec City lies Le Massif de Charlevoix. If you haven't heard of that, it's a ski hill. And the highest point of land between Forestville and Québec City. How hard it is depends on your physical fitness, your bicycle and the wind; but I can tell you that it will be a long ride about 25 km uphill to get to the summit of Le Massif. 

But then, of course, you're headed downhill, with one small uphill around Sept-Chutes, all the way to Beaupré and the small French towns that dot the countryside before you reach Québec City itself. 

The north shore of the Saint Lawrence ranks around the Gaspé Peninsula and the shore of Lake Superior, in my mind. It's a unique destination because it has challenging grades and a sense of adventure without the isolation of the Chic-Chos or Lake Superior, and it offers a longer ride than Cape Breton or the Avalon Peninsula. If you like cycling, pushing yourself, and experiencing some of the best parts of riding in Québec, keep the north shore in mind. It's sort of like the North Rim of the Grand Canyon—less developed, less travelled, but certainly no less special.  

Pack List

  • Touring bicycle
  • Touring saddle
  • Panniers and racks
  • Bike lock
  • Bike shorts and jersey
  • Helmet
  • Bicycle gloves
  • Rain jacket and pants
  • Booties
  • Water bottles
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag and pad
  • Base layers
  • Bear spray
  • First aid kit
  • Stove
  • Cookset
  • Food
  • Water purification
  • Camera
Show More
RT Distance 194.5 Miles
Elevation Gain 2398.3 Feet
Activities Cycling, Camping, Photography
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Point-to-Point
Features
Adult Beverages
Bathrooms
Food Nearby
Picnic Area
River
Scenic

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