Northwest Quebec Explorer Light

Northwest Quebec was once a part of Canada where only the hardiest of men went. They went to work as miners, lumberjacks, log drivers and more. Fast forward a couple hundred years and it is now bikepackers that are the tough men and women taking on the challenges of Quebec by riding the Northwest Quebec Explorer.

The Northwest Quebec Explorer Light was designed to cut out the roughest sections of the Northwest Quebec Explorer while still maintaining the most of the sights. The NWQE Light removes the sections that run through the Papineau-Labelle Nature Reserve, the tough single-track and ATV trails of Devil’s Mountain and the multi-use trails of the Lake of Cedars.

  • Parc régional du Poisson Blanc: Whitefish Regional Park is a huge area filled with lakes between Gracefield and Papineau-Labelle. This park provides lots of beautiful swim spots, camping and opportunities for pictures.
  • Montagne du Diable Regional Park: Devils Mountain is a regional park with a great area of single and double track, as well as ATV trails, hiking trails and more. There is a daily user fee that should be paid to ride the trails.
  • Covered Bridges: This regions has many covered bridges that are historically significant and make for great photo opportunities.
  • Lac des Cèdres: A beautiful area full of trails between the big and small lake. A great little break from the gravel roads and hills you are riding in the are
  • Preparedness: Be sure to stock up before leaving Gracefield. Depending on the time when you pass through some of the little villages, stores may be closed and you wouldn’t want to run out of food.
  • 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 before leaving Ferme Neuve as you will have a 100km section without a chance to get food.
Since the route cuts out the Papineau-Labelle Nature Reserve, it is definitely much easier on the body and can therefore be ridden with a fast bike such as a gravel bike with drop bars.
  • Minimum tire size: At a minimum I would recommend riding a cyclecross bike with 38C tires. It might get tiring on the body, but if speed is the goal, it will achieve it.
  • Recommended tire size: I’d recommend a gravel bike with 45C tires for a more comfortable ride and speed, or a mountain bike for a bit slower ride but even greater comfort.
  • Heading out of Gracefield, you cross the Gatineau River slowly wind your way east, passing by countless lakes in the Whitefish Regional Park and go through the idyllic little town of Notre-Dame-du-Laus. Leaving town you have 15km of paved roads before things get much more remote and turn to gravel. Skirting the edge of the Papineau-Labelle Nature Reserve, you slowly wind your way north towards Mont Laurier where you will have all your favourite conveniences, such as fast food, grocery stores and hotels.

  • Heading out from Mont Laurier you will use a mix of paved and gravel roads to make your way up and around Devil’s Mountain Regional Park, to within a stone’s throw to the Baskatong water reserve. Making your way south, you will cross a really cool covered bridge that is still used for vehicular traffic, before following the Gatineau River south to Maniwaki.

  • Having arrived in Maniwaki, you once again have the chance to stock up on supplies, before jumping onto the Véloroute des Draveurs for 10km before leaving it to go around the south end of the Petit Lac des Cedres. From there you will start riding south through cottage country as you make your way back to Gracefield, passing through Lac Cayamant 25km from the end point. If you are hungry or really in need of a beer, this is the place, providing you with a Casse Croûte and even an SAQ (Quebec liquor store). Arriving back in Gracefield, you have finally made it all the way around and completed the Northwest Quebec Explorer Light.
  • Hotels: Gracefield, Mont Laurier, Ferme Neuve, Maniwak
  • Campgrounds: There are several campgrounds in Whitefish Regional Park and another along the route near Lac des Cedres.
  • Wild camping: Pretty much the entire route provides excellent places to wild camp. Follow leave no trace practices.
  • Fresh water everywhere: Lots of lakes and creeks to fill up your water bottles. There are also water taps near the areas with camping where you can fill up.
  • Restaurants/Cafes/Bars: Most important things regarding food is to stock up before entering Papineau-Labelle just before taking on the Montagne du Diable Regional Park. These are large regions with minimal chances of resupply.

Average Physical Difficulty – 4

From easy rail trail to rolling gravel roads to rugged and unrelenting terrain with steep climbs, the Northwest Quebec Explorer Lite provides some amazing riding opportunities. Many of the more physically demanding sections are absent in this “Lite”er version of the Northwest Quebec Explorer. Instead, you have tons of gravel roads and a bit more paved road mixed in.

Average Technical Difficulty – 4

The Northwest Quebec Explorer Lite takes you on the same epic journey as the NW Quebec Explorer, but without the more technically challenging roads of Papineau Labelle and the singletrack of Montagne du Diable Regional Park.

This route was created by:

Chris Panasky, host of the Bikepack Adventures Podcast.

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