The Great Trail: Montreal
Winding across Canada from the Atlantic to Pacific to Arctic Oceans, The Great Trail is an ambitious, 15,000-mile (24,000-km) cross-country community effort to connect a vast expanse of diverse landscapes and cultures. Its series of wilderness, rural, and urban paths and waterways span the entire breadth of the world’s second largest country, offering walking, hiking, biking, and paddling routes for adventure seekers of all ages and enthusiasms.
We at Clif love the way The Great Trail promotes outdoor adventures and helps protect the places we play. So, in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, we funded a 150-kilometre (93.2-mile) stretch of The Great Trail. We’re looking forward to an ongoing relationship, raising awareness of this epic adventure opportunity, helping bring the trail to life, and inspiring people to get out there—whether it’s on a 10-day wilderness trek or a jog on a downtown footpath.
Maghalie Rochette literally lives on The Great Trail. It runs right past her back door in Montreal’s North Shore suburb of Saint-Jérôme, the southernmost stretch of a 146-mile (235-km) 1890s rail trail called the P’tit Train du Nord–the Little Train of the North–that is now a gravel pathway.
“I’m on it every day,” says Maghalie, a Clif-sponsored professional cyclo-cross racer who won her first national title at the 2016 Canadian National Cyclo-Cross Championships. “I do my daily intervals and training on the trail, which is my warm-up route before I sneak off-piste onto a cool network of mountain bike trails,” she says. “And, of course, I cycle The Great Trail to my local bakery to buy fresh bread.”
Winding gently through quaint villages with tall silver church steeples and old rail stations converted to cafés in the Laurentian Mountains, the P’tit Train is a delightful rural route passing streams, lakes, and forests that paint the landscape gold and red in autumn. It’s just one of many heritage waypoints on The Great Trail’s urban arteries that run through the historic heart of Montreal, set in Quebec, a predominantly French-speaking province.
Canada’s second biggest metropolis is charming and European-flavored. It proudly celebrated its 375th anniversary in 2017, and remains an alluring blend of centuries-old architecture, hip neighborhoods with a fun-fueled joie de vivre, and vibrant, legendary nightlife—especially in summer when jazz spills onto the hot city sidewalks.
What doesn’t run straight in this table-top landscape are rivers. Grinding winding paths down into the plains, they have, over eons, created scenic, snaking gorges that loop and meander—ideal terrain for paddling and hiking.
One such stretch on The Great Trail near Krumm Farm is Wascana Valley Trails, a popular park for kayaking with 9.3 miles (15 km) of hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing trails for every skill level.
Just 8.5 miles (14 km) to the north, Wascana Creek flows into the Qu’Appelle River near Lumsden on The Great Trail. There’s a walking tour here that takes visitors through 51 historical sites and buildings in the classic prairie town, including the 1904 Canadian National Railway station.
Lumsden is also the transition point where The Great Trail becomes a waterway, a canoe and kayak launching point into a 97-mile (155.67-km) oxbow-riddled route of the Qu’Appelle River. The spectacular Qu’Appelle Valley Waterway winds in a leisurely current through a chain of four lakes alongside prairie grass-covered slopes or steep clay banks between Lumsden and the historic town of Fort Qu’Appelle.
Paddle through Indian reserves, past small communities set in a gentle landscape of birch groves, where purple crocuses grow wild and you can toss a line into the water and reel in a walleye, northern pike, or whitefish. It’s one of the Prairies’ best kept paddling secrets.
First Nations once travelled this route in search of buffalo who sheltered in the wooded coulees (ravines) during winter. Then in 1864, the Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Qu'Appelle as a bustling fur trading post, a vital trail hub between far-flung forts for hunters, traders, pioneers, and missionaries.
These days, the HBC’s original fort houses the small town's museum, and the valley is lakeside cottage country for Regina residents. In summer, it’s a busy beach destination with local walking and cycling trails. In winter, hardy Saskatchewan residents morph the frozen lake landscape into a snowy playground dotted with mini-villages of ice fishing huts and a cross-country ski and snowshoe haven beneath the trademark Prairie blue skies.
“Designating The Great Trail through remote rural areas like this makes people look more closely at places they might not have thought to visit. It helps them learn more about the country,” says Brian Krumm, “and it helps bind people together.”