Mountain Biking Quebec: Vallee Bras-du-Nord

After a rough day of riding at Mont Sainte Anne, I was a bit worried that I would be embarking on more rocky trails for my second day of mountain biking in Qubec. The 1 hour, 15 minute drive from Qubec City through small towns, corn fields, and eventually gravel roads was actually quite nice. We arrived at the newly built reception office of Secteur Shannahan surrounded by trees and a parking lot full of bikers and other adventurers where I stepped out of the van giddy as a school girl. I met Gilles Morneau, my guide for the day. Gilles is responsible for laying out the 35k (and growing!) network of mountain bike trails at Valle Bras-du-Nord.

Accueil Shannahan Start

Photo by: Gilles Morneau

I was stoked to see the Rocky Mountain Element 30 being loaned to me was actually the right size! Even better, I think it was a bit lighter than my Santa Cruz back home so I was hoping for some sweet singletrack. We sped down the road to the trailhead where we had to cross the Bras-du-Nord river via a narrow bridge. I was advised the best way to cross the bridge was to walk the bike in front of me with the front wheel up. The bridge swayed with my every step and my pedals kept getting caught up in the netting. When I stopped to get my bearings the bridge continued to sway and I remembered, knees shaking, how freaking scared of heights I am. Fortunately, the Canadians are gentlemen so a kind rider by the name of Franois took my bike across for me while I scurried towards a laughing Gilles at the end of the bridge. Thank goodness we didnt have to ride back that way!

MTB Bridge Crossing

Glad to be back on my bike, and on the ground for that matter, we started on a fairly easy trail called Beurre d’rable, or Maple Butter. Like the name implies, it was smooth like butter – swooping singletrack with dozens of banked turns. The trail name also references the maple trees that are tapped with miles of Camelbak-like hoses for collecting maple sap. The Provence of Qubec is the worlds largest maple syrup producer. At Valle Bras-du-Nord youll only find these hoses on the mountain bike trails – they are thought to ruin the view and overall experience for hiking trails.

Maple Tubing

While riding Beurre drable I learned that many of the mountain bike and hiking trails (over 70km total) at Valle Bras-du-Nord were built with the assistance of local youth. Gilles designs and plans the bike trails following IMBA’s trailbuilding techniques and then empowers youth delinquents or those that may have had problems with drugs to perform the arduous manual labor. Along the way, these troubled youth learn their contributions are significant and appreciated and many eventually return to school or the job market, so their hard work has paid off in more ways than one.

There was a lot more singletrack to be ridden so we cruised towards another main trail intersection. The Barbe Gendron trail, translated as beard of Gendron, a mountain biking legend in Qubec, was windy singletrack along a stream. On the short extension trail, Coule Douce, we caught a glimpse of the Typhon trail which is a steep downhill descent. From here, there is an alternate route to climb to the top of the mountain to Lac de la Hauteur, but that was way too much climbing for this city girl!

Beard of Gendron Trail

Photo by: Gilles Morneau

Exiting Barbe Gendron trail I noticed yurts and cottages through the trees. This Village of Yurts is quite popular in the winter. Just a short trek from the main parking area, each yurt can accommodate 2-4 people. Even a southern gal like myself would appreciate this kind of cozy winter weekend getaway. The yurts have a rustic feel, but are much nicer and roomier than a tent. Like camping theres no running water or electricity, but there is a stove for melting snow and firewood to keep it warm – after all it can get down to -10C or colder in Qubec! Valle Bras-du-Nord also has many nice cabins and cottages, even hotels throughout the property.

Next we pedaled to perhaps my favorite trail of the day, Chute Gilles. Proudly named after my guide, this trail is a must-do! The terrain changes to slightly rocky singletrack and the trail opens onto a beautiful chute – a waterfall to us English speakers. The rock outcroppings make a perfect spot to take a break and listen to the gentle sounds of the falls. Unfortunately we skipped the rest of this trail in a rush to get back for an afternoon canoe trip–just one of the many other activities offered at Valle Bras-du-Nord.

Chute a Gilles MTB Trail

Photo by: Gilles Morneau

We crossed the river and got some nice views of the mountains with their fall colors just starting to appear. The Grande Ourse, Big Dipper, trail was another smooth, fairly easy ride back toward our starting point. At times the trail would spit out onto a fireroad or along the river bank.

Grande Ourse Bridge

I was a little sad that our ride was coming to an end, but Gilles said they are looking to build over 100k of new mountain bike trails here in the next few years, so there is definitely reason to come back! One of the current trail projects is an epic, scenic trail along the Neilson river (splits from the main Bras-du-Nord river at the northside of the Shannahan area). Here is a preliminary shot of the trail that will be on the rocks directly beside the river.

New Trail

Photo by: Gilles Morneau

I know what I described thus far probably sounds like an easy, scenic day in the mountains, but Valle Bras-du-Nord also has a handful of more advanced trails to offer. Just 10 miles south of the Shannahan area is another major recreational hub called Secteur Saint-Raymond. There is another 15 km of more technical trail there with even more climbing and descending. Once a year the famous Raid Extreme Bras du Nord race connects the two areas by trail. This challenging event has options for a 70k race, 40k race or a 2-day stage race (80k-140k total) covering the most beautiful trails and landscapes in the area, plus a river crossing.

With so much to offer the beginner to advanced rider, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Valle Bras-du-Nord trails bagging an IMBA Epic designation one day. And if you love the outdoors, stay a while and try some of the other activities in the area–overnight canoe trips, hiking and canyoning or snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice climbing in the winter. Vlo de montagne!

Leah & Gilles

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