Last week, we spent some time with my Dutch family in the Eastern Townships in Quebec to cycle the Estriade. It had been about 20 years ago that we visited the townships, roughly between Montreal and Sherbrooke, across the border north from Vermont and around 300 km east from Ottawa.
Fall colours along the Estriade
We had invited the family to come over end of September, to enjoy the fall colours. The Eastern Townships is a very attractive area with small towns, quiet roads, pictoresque farms and, somewhat to our surprise, several really nice cycling networks. We should have known better, it is Quebec afterall.
E-bikes in Waterloo
For one of the days, with excellent mid 20s Celsius weather by the way, we chose for a 52 km round trip. As my mother (who cycles regularly in the Netherlands on her e-bike) is in her mid 80’s, we decided to rent e-bikes. We stayed in a tiny place not far from Waterloo, QC and fortunately Waterloo has a fairly new bike store, called Tandem, run and owned by Gino Bilodeau. We called in advance to secure our bikes and the next day, four shiny YULBIKE e-bikes were waiting for us, fully charged at the store on Rue Foster.
A loop around Mont Shefford
We discovered there is a really nice route, more or less around Mont Shefford, passing Lake Waterloo towards Granby (population 70,000), then back via Yamaska National Park and back to Waterloo. Yamaska is actually a provincial park, but the Quebecers call their parks National Parks. That might be a bit confusing if you have a National Park pas from Parks Canada (federal) and expect to get into the park (provincial) with that pass. I saw a military spouse complaining about that confusion on a review somewhere: they couldn’t use their free Parks Canada pass.
We left our car at the bicycle store but if you are not renting, you can easily leave your car at the small parking lot at the tourist office.
A bit of history on the Estriade
On December 7, 1984, the Lake Waterloo Beautification and Protection Committee launched the idea of developing a multipurpose path. After obtaining the approval of the municipalities of Bromont, Granby, Shefford and Waterloo, the process to acquire the Canadian National Railway (CN) right-of-way began in 1985. The potential of the project has a unifying effect and leads municipalities to take concrete action on its long-term development. They created a working group to conduct a feasibility study for the multipurpose path project. In April 1990, the group presented the results of its study to municipalities. The results of the study demonstrate the many advantages that the project represents for the region, including active transportation, recreation and tourism. Work began with the aim of preserving the heritage aspect of the track and recalling the region’s industrial past. The designers salvaged the old railway equipment to develop different sites along the track. More…
Separate bike infrastructure on the Estriade
The route is entirely on separate bike infrastructure, the southern part of the route, called the Estriade, is on a former rail track which is paved and has picnic tables at regular intervals. It is a lovely stretch with several reminders of the railway history such as the kaboose near the beginning at the Waterloo end, posts that appear to me former places without a station but where people still had the option to flag down the train. There were wayfinding signs and stylised railroad signs at road crossings. The picnic tables along the Estriade and the route to Yamaska are generously set back from the pathways, something we could learn from in Ottawa.
Spacious pedestrian and cycling bridge
Arriving in Granby, we saw a nice place for drinks across a somewhat busy bridge, not unlike our Billings bridge, but much shorter. But Granby also built a spacious (floating?) 100 meter bridge 175 meters away for pedestrians and cyclists only.
After drinks, we continued on the north side of Lac Boivin. It was nice to see that the pedestrians and cyclists were separated from eachother, something we also badly need in several places in Ottawa. Eventually we were crossing the lake via a very narrow strip of land. After another right and a left turn we were on our way to Yamaska with the Réservoir Choinière. The reservoir is human made and a large dam holds back the water. The dam is actually part of the bike network.
Yamaska National Park
To enter the park, you’ll need to buy a day pass, but fortunately there is an exception for those who just want to cross it. You have to stick to the direct pathway leading out of the park though, marked with a blue line on the asphalt. The pathway after the dam becomes narrower and consists of stone dust only. You’ll be cycling under a thick canopy of trees most of the stretch along the reservoir. There are excellent viewpoints along the way where you can admire the quiet lake and the colourful leaves across the lake in the Fall.
Several high speed crossings to be aware of
Leaving the reservoir area, you’ll be gradually turning south east and south back to Waterloo. The pathways are excellent but a note of caution: you’ll be crossing several roads and actually the same road twice where speeds are in the 70-90 kph range. Often drivers stop for you if they see you waiting, but not always. Take your time as there are enough gaps in traffic. Never try to run across with your bike, it may not end well. Just wait.
Route through Waterloo
Back in Waterloo, you’ll arrive somewhat through the back door. Getting back to the bike shop or tourist office requires cycling on the main road, which we didn’t. We walked our bikes for the last 50 meters as there was a traffic back up. There are also some serious 18 wheelers going through the main street. Looking on a map afterwards, you can get back to the tourist office in a roundabout way, but hindsight is 20/20. Turn left on Rue Allan, then right on Rue Eastern and then right again on Rue Taylor and finally right again on Rue de la Cour, which ends in front of the Tourist Office.
The Estriade is a ‘busy’ route
The soutern part, the Estriade, is fairly busy: we counted a few hundred cyclists during the hour and a half we spent there. I would guess 80% was over 60 years old and riding an e-bike; in fact, over a million people cycle de Estriade annually. The northern stretch to the park, and definitely after Lac Boivin, is very quiet; we didn’t see many cyclists anymore. The Estriade is actually also an art route, but we didn’t stop to see the art, other than admiring it from the corner of our eyes while cycling by.
If you ever go that direction, I highly recommend doing this very nice route. It will take you the better part of a day. Don’t feel like going all the way to the Eastern Townships from Ottawa? Here are other routes in Quebec.
We took our car but there are other ways to get there. Without going into details, you should be able to get there by transit too. There are bus services from Sherbrooke and Montreal. However, be a bit careful when you pick your accomodation as not every village is connected by transit. Look at Limocar with connections between Montreal and Sherbrooke and stops along the way.
More on the history of the route and how it came to be here
Map from the very professional and useful booklet “Cycling Routes – Eastern Townships”
Photos by @HansontheBike and@PhysioKaren except image of map.