Is it possible that too much of the exceptional can render things ordinary? Our Quebec mountain bike adventure continues, day ten, destination number four; but as we make our way to perhaps the most anticipated stop of the trip our level of excitement does not match the anticipation. Circuits Frontières, Mont-Sainte-Anne, Sentiers du Moulin all delivered must come back experiences, so are we spoiled, perhaps. As we round the next bend we feast our eyes on a postcard landscape of mountain ridges stretching to the horizon. Our first glimpse of our destination, still in the distance, makes the heart skip a beat, there are trails in them hills, damn how much further? The road narrows, pavement turn to gravel, time ticks away to the point I start to doubt the GPS and my own navigational abilities. Just as we are about to pull the trigger on a U-turn we are here, welcome to Vallée Bras-du-Nord.
Based on social media buzz if I had to pick the current crown jewel of Quebec mountain biking it would have to be Vallée Bras-du-Nord and the sparkliest point on the jewel (and the reason we are here) is the already famous Neilson trail. Why the Neilson? Location, location, location. This is definitely a place where a photo is worth a thousand words and from what is circulating on world wide web the riverside location is beyond spectacular. Add to that a promise of a 10 km trail with a downward bias, it's like nothing else this side of Canada.
“It starts here and then it’s 10 K to the end.”
Our helpful informant from behind the desk points to a spot on the map that seems to be a distance from where are standing.
“How far from here to the start? "
The ten kilometer Neilson just turned into a twenty-kilometre loop.
So is the Neilson deserving of the hype? Absolutely. The gravel road climb to the start was a piece of cake, an opinion that is surely due to the fact that we spent the last ten days working on our climbing prowess. The trail kicks off with a definite downhill flavor but it soon levels out to qualify more as a solid rocks, roots and a few ups kinda trail ride. As for the scenery, unsurprisingly spectacular the rushing river is never far away. Now if I may let the cat out of the bag here, for the start of the 2017 season the Neilson’s length will double to 20 km and in the future, it will be stretched to an epic 32+ km.
With the Neilson ticked off the must do list we are happy to learn that there is way more to Vallée Bras-du-Nord than the Neilson, in fact, there is more to the area than just Vallée Bras-du-Nord. While in the Vallée you will find 80 some km of classic mountain biking, just down the road on the outskirts of Saint-Raymond you will find Secteur Saint-Raymond a compact network of trails loaded with jumps, berms, and manmade features. Giving the area an old school, new school vibe.
The access point in Saint-Raymond might just be the ultimate, everything you need, mountain biking destination. Hotel, restaurant, bike shop, a microbrewery with an IPA named Singletrack, a mini pump track and of course trails at your door. As they say, if we knew then what we know now this would be home away from home but with our accommodations hooked up to the trailer hitch, hmmm next time.
There are a couple camping options in the Vallée Bras-du-Nord area but if you leave it to chance, as we did, chances are nothing will be available. We ended up setting up at an RV park in Saint-Raymond. With a blue lagoon pool, a par three golf course and golf cart cruising clientele it did not have the same atmosphere as the pine forest in the Vallée. But as so often happens, looks can be deceiving and we had a very pleasant stay at Campin Claire Fontaine, that blue lagoon pool, sure was a treat after a day on the trail.
As with all trips, you can't avoid the end. Visiting Quebec has always been a pleasure; history, culture, language, food and a vast outdoor playground were reasons enough to return. Even a few years ago quality mountain biking was limited to a hand full of locations but now Circuits Frontières, Mont-Sainte-Anne, Sentiers du Moulin, Vallée Bras-du-Nord all have new trail plans for 2017 warranting a revisit and new trails are popping up all over the province. What's it all mean? Planning a mountain biking vacation in Quebec is becoming complicated in the best possible way, now we have more trail choices than vacation time.
For more info visit - Vallée Bras-du-Nord