Canadian Shield Bikepacking Route

The Canadian Shield Bikepacking Route is part of the Bikepack Adventures Grand Depart routes. This route combines both the Canadian Shield 400 and the Northwest Quebec Explorer, giving the rider a total distance of 900km and 10,850 metres of elevation gain.

This route will take you through, over and across some of the most rugged and beautiful parts of Western Quebec. With the vast majority of the route being unpaved, this route takes you over hills and mountains, around beautiful hard to reach lakes, on some of the best rail trail in the region and along backcountry roads that are for the most part free of traffic.

Within close proximity of Ottawa and Montreal, the CSBR isn’t very far from a big city. Featuring national and provincial parks, ski hills, nature reserves and rail trail, the route will take you through forests that were once the building block of this country.

This route takes you through some difficult terrain that will reward you with epic scenery, amazing riding and an adventure you will never forget.

  • Provincial and Regional Parks: Riding through Gatineau Park is always a pleasure. Being in a provincial park so close to the nation’s capital is a great way to explore the national capital region. The Montagne du Diable Regional Park will provide you with lots of remote riding through Northwest Quebec on every type of surface imaginable.
  • Nature Reserve: The Papineau Labelle Nature Reserve is an epic area of lakes and wilderness that will challenge your bike handling abilities as you ride on roads littered with loose gravel and fist-sized rocks, cross country ski trails and unmaintained roads that require 4-wheel drive.
  • Single-track/double-track: Getting off the bigger trails and onto some of the single-track will challenge every mountain biker out there. Some great sections can be found in Gatineau Park, Mont Ste. Marie and Montagne du Diable. Steep double-track climbs and flowing descents take the rider on some of the best trails in the parks.
  • Rail-trails: The Veloroute des Draveurs, Chelsea Community Trail and Petit Train du Nord give you a chance to cover some ground while enjoying the views.
  • Viewpoints: Check out the Champlain and Étienne-Brûlé lookouts in the Gatineau Park, for some fantastic views of the mighty Ottawa River and all the farmland that grows along it’s banks. The radio tower in Mont Ste. Marie will give you amazing views of the ski resort before descending some epic trails. Crossing the historically important Gatineau River, the Paugan Dam was built nearly 100 years ago and provides epic views of the Gatineau River and Outaouais region.
  • Lac Cayamant: This 10km long lake takes you through some beautiful cottage country. But be prepared for the challenge that will come shortly after you pass the lake. You will reach an unserviced road that puts other unserviced roads to shame.
  • Covered Bridges: The CS1000 route crosses many covered bridges that were of vital importance to the development of the area. They also make for great photo opportunities along the way.
  • Remote hiking trails: Some parts of this route take you onto hiking trails which may require you to hike-a-bike if it is too steep, rocky, swampy, etc.
  • Swim: Quebec is covered in lakes that make for a great stop-over, whether a chance to cool down with a swim, a spot to cook a meal or a place to throw your tent for the night.
  • Single-track: Some of the single-track on this route will challenge your abilities. This is particularly true of the trails coming down from the radio tower in Mont Ste. Marie. If you are not very confident with single-track descents, I recommend you ride back down the service road you climbed up to the tower. If you want to take on the descent, take your time and don’t be scared to walk sections that you feel uncomfortable with.
  • Photos: Take the time to snap some pictures along the way. There are some amazing views to take advantage of, including the Étienne-Brûlé Lookout and Champlain Lookout in Gatineau Park, the ski resort in Mont Ste. Marie, the various covered bridges along the way, and more.
  • Papineau-Labelle: Make sure you pack lots of food for the section through the Papineau-Labelle Nature Reserve as it doesn’t have many places to stock up on supplies. It is also important to pack extra water and to have either a water filter or purification tablets as you will most definitely need to fill up your bottles in lakes and rivers.
  • Montagne du Diable: Devil Mountain’s single-track will challenge you, especially with a fully loaded bicycle. Take it easy on the descents through the enduro park and feel free to skip sections you feel are out of you level of experience.
  • Resupply: Resupply is important on such a long adventure. Some of the most important places to resupply before tackling the upcoming sections are:
  • Notre-Dame-du-Laus before reaching Papineau Labelle Nature Reserve.
  • Ferme Neuve before taking on the Montagne du Diable Regional Park.
  • Lac des Loups before entering the Gatineau Park for the final stretch.
  • Prepare accordingly: When going off the grid, ensure that you tell your loved ones where you are going and how long you plan to be gone. It may also be prudent to have some form of satellite communication device.

The Canadian Shield Bikepacking Route is not by any means an easy bikepacking adventure. Every day will challenge you with a plethora of differing surfaces and climbs. Riding on a gravel bike is not recommended unless you have a bike that can accommodate 2″ or larger tires.

  • Mountain Bike: For mountain bikes, it is recommended to use tires on the bigger end of the spectrum, in order to provide as much comfort as possible. 3″ tires would be overkill, but something in the 2.25″ to 2.6″ range would be ideal. A full-suspension bike would be overkill.
  • Gravel Bike: A cyclocross bike is not recommended for this route. That does not mean it is impossible to complete it on 38C tires, it just means that it would be overly difficult and possibly dangerous. If using a gravel bike with 700 wheels, you’ll want to have a newer style gravel bike that can accommodate tires in the 2″ or larger range. Many parts of the route can be ridden on smaller tires such as 45C, but some parts would be too difficult and risk injury. Only ride a gravel bike if you have a lot of experience riding singletrack on drop bars or you may find yourself walking more than you like.
  • Setup: Run tubeless if possible. You can use bikepacking style bags or a hybrid setup with small panniers. A lighter set-up allows of easier riding, especially in the hillier and more technical sections. You are also going to want to have a wide range of gear options for climbing the bigger and tougher hills.
  • Chelsea to Mont Ste. Marie: The stretch from Chelsea to Mont Ste. Marie covers predominantly gravel roads with a bit of rail-trail and doubletrack mixed in, getting your first taste of the Gatineau Park, going through the idyllic town of Wakefield and its covered bridge, and crossing over the Paugan Dam.
  • Mont Ste. Marie:  Mont Ste. Marie will give you your first big taste of singletrack as you ride the trails around Lac Fournier and then make a massive climb to the radio tower before making your way back down some intense singletrack. Heading out of Mont Ste. Marie you have a bit of paved road before getting back onto gravel and making your way into the Parc Régional du Poisson Blanc.
  • Notre-Dame-du-Laus to Papineau Labelle: Leaving town you will make your way towards the Papineau Labelle Nature Reserve by following ski-doo trails for 35km. Reaching the Nature Reserve, the roads become more like wide trails that 4×4 vehicles will barely fit in. Be careful for oncoming vehicles or ATVs. The roads in the region are rough and often covered in fist-sized stones, meaning much of the time it will be slow-going.
  • Le Petit Train du Nord: After finally completing the Trouble in Tremblant route, you are ready to start crushing some gravel on some rail-trail for most of the next 100km. Along the way you will have a chance to ride some wonderful trails near Lac Nominingue. When you reach Val Barrette you will leave the trail and take some back roads up to Lac-des-Écorces and then start winding your way north on a mix of paved and gravel roads until reaching your northern most town of Mont-Saint-Michel.
  • La Montagne du Diable Regional Park: A chance to get off the gravel once again and ride some sweet singletrack, including a really fun enduro park, which can be skipped if necessary. Leaving the bike park, you are about to take some ATV trails towards the Windigo Waterfalls and Beach. There is camping here, and this would be a great place to find a place for the night. Leaving southwards through the park, you will be able to resupply in the small town of Ducharme near km 878.
  • Grand Remous: Reaching Grand Remous there are restaurants and grocery stores for you to make the most of before heading south on Hwy 105, crossing the Savoyard covered bridge a few kilometres later and getting off the busy roads. Making your way towards Maniwaki, you will be taking a mix of gravel and paved roads, following the Gatineau River until you reach the city.
  • Maniwaki: The last city along the way, time to resupply and rest up before getting on the Veloroute des Draveurs for about 10km before leaving the route for some gravel roads that take you into the Grand lac des Cèdres trail network. After a bit of riding around through their trails and exploring the region, you continue your south-westward loop and eventually get back on the Veloroute des Draveurs and heading south towards Kazabazua.
  • Gatineau Park: The Gatineau Park will take you through rivers, across beaver dams, over fallen trees and along splendid doubletrack at which point you will reach Lac Phillippe, an amazing lake with a beautiful beach and lots of camping. Leaving Lac Phillippe you ride the TCT and through the rough trail 36 at which point you will reach Meech Lake. After a short reprieve on paved road, you are climbing up, up and up to the Champlain and Huron lookouts, before coming down some sweet trails until you reach the finish point of Chelsea Pub and celebrate your success with an amazing micro-brew.

This route goes through some of the best parts of the Outaouais region, the Papineau Labelle Nature Reserve, various Provincial and Regional Parks, and ski resorts. Passing through many small towns there are ample opportunities to find a hotel for the night. Campgrounds are located sporadically and there is always the option to wild camp.

  • Campgrounds: Check the POI’s for camping locations and use your diligence to look over the maps beforehand.
  • Cabins/Glamping: Gatineau Park has several locations where you can rent beds in a cabin, yurt, etc. They book out early in the season, so it is recommended to book early.
  • Wild camping: When wild camping, do your best to leave no trace. Find a quiet spot near a lake, in a field, etc. Quebec is not like Ontario, where maps of Crown land indicate where camping may be possible. In my judgement, I would just stealthily avoid being seen.
  • Fresh water everywhere: This part of Quebec is liberally covered in lakes and rivers. These are all great locations to fill up water bottles. Be sure to always use a water filter or purification tablets to avoid getting sick. There are also water taps near the areas with camping where you can fill up.
  • Spring water: There are spring water taps in both Wakefield and Gracefield that run 24/7. Both springs are within 5 min of the route and are indicated as a POI on the map.
  • Restaurants/Cafes/Bars: Throughout the Canadian Shield Bikepacking Sojourn, there are lots of towns to get food and snacks, be it restaurants, cafes, food trucks, convenience stores or gas stations. Make sure to pay close attention to which sections of the route lack resupply options and make sure to stock provisions.

Average Physical Difficulty – 8

The physical difficulty of the route is very much determined on the average amount of days and speed at which a person rides. Overall, I would grade this route as difficulty level 8, as the route is liberally peppered with tough climbs, gnarly trails and chunky 4×4 roads. climbs throughout the route, some of which are very steep and challenging. Many of the gravel back roads are difficulty 3-4, and there are definitely sections of rugged terrain with steep sections. However, as a whole, the amount of difficulty 7-8 terrain will take its toll on you.

Average Technical Difficulty – 6

Although the average technical difficulty of this route may be a category 5, particularly due to the portion of route in Papineau Labelle as well as some of the epic climbs throughout the route, there are many sections of back gravel roads that are category 3-4. Many sections such as the Gatineau Park, Mont Ste. Marie and Montagne du Diable are definitely to be considered as category 7-8.

This route was created by:

Chris Panasky, host of the Bikepack Adventures Podcast.

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