This is part of a series of posts for the benefit of Montrealers who want to make interesting day trips without needing a car. Montreal suffers from a transit deficit once you stray too far from the core of the island, but despair not! There’s plenty of trips you can make in a day with a little planning, such as this one.
Today we’re going to be walking a short section of the scenic P’tit train du Nord trail, popular with walkers and cyclists alike and conveniently accessible with a little planning. It’s a gentle hike within the Laurentides region of Québec between the towns of Blainville and Saint-Jérôme, all the way to the foot of the Laurentian Mountains. It’s far from the city yet it’s fully reachable by train.
You can walk the route in either direction as both Blainville and Saint-Jérôme are on exo’s Saint-Jérôme line. The best way to get there is to take the Metro’s Orange line to De La Concorde for easy interchange with the exo line. Other connections are possible at Parc (for the Blue Line), Vendôme and Lucien-L’Allier (Orange Line) depending on the day of the week and the time, but De La Concorde is the most reliable and efficient place to make the connection.
From there, you can take an exo train northbound towards your ultimate destination for a surprisingly scenic rail journey, but check the timetable beforehand, as unlike the Metro which runs every few minutes, the exo lines tend to run roughly once an hour, and often even less frequently than that, so this is where the planning comes in.
I wanted to demonstrate how straight forward it can be to get there as I think more people could consider alternatives to driving when heading out of the city, so I made a short video showing the journey from Laurier Metro in Montreal to Blainville where our walk will begin. Given Québec’s aversion to regional rail, you’re travelling 35 kilometres from downtown Montreal and that’s an impressive distance you can make by train in the province!
Thanks to Greater Montreal’s new fare zones, you should be able to buy a return ticket between Zones A and C from downtown Montreal. Just remember to validate your ticket at the exo station before boarding the train.
(disclaimer: I’ve not had a chance to try traversing the new fare zones, so I’ll update the article if I discover any bumps in the road)
First of all, keep in mind there aren’t really any grocery or convenience stores along the route. It’s generally a good idea to pack a backpack with an ample supply of food and water for your trip, although you’ll not have a problem finding a supermarket near either Blainville and Saint-Jérôme. If you need to cut your walk short, Mirabel station is mid-way along the route.
You will be going outside of Montreal, so expect all signage, etc, to be in French. But don’t let this put you off if you’re not fluent; You will find most people will speak enough English to help you out if you get stuck so don’t let that dissuade you approaching anyone if you need assistance.
The P’tit train du Nord was a railway which stretched from Montreal all the way up into the Laurentian Mountains to Mont-Laurier. Cut back to Saint-Jérôme in the 1990s, parts north of that town were dismantled. Thankfully, the alignment was preserved and became one of Canada’s so-called “rail trails”.
The part we’re walking today is south of the current day terminus, and so the entirety of the route parallels the exo rail line making it easy to reach without a car. Like the rest of the route, it’s also very well signposted so you’re highly unlikely to get lost along the way.
There’s probably not much which can be said about the starting point which isn’t mentioned in the Blainville Wikipedia article. It’s a commuter town, and so you’re just as well to hit the trail heading north from the moment you jump off the train, unless you need to make a diversion to a supermarket to pick up some supplies.
The half way point to this journey is the new Mirabel station. Take a moment when you arrive to admire the panorama from the nearby road.
Eventually you’ll reach the town of Saint-Jérôme, ending right by the railway station in the town centre. If you’re early for your train, you can enjoy exploring the town which sits on the Rivière du Nord (North River).
The P’tit train du Nord trail continues onwards from the existing station, where it takes over the railway alignment itself in light of the train no longer going beyond. But that’s an adventure for another time.
The long trail of the P’tit train du Nord whilst not exactly a well kept secret, it is perhaps unknown how straight forward it can be to reach parts of the route for a day’s hiking. If like me you’re someone who doesn’t own a car, or someone who doesn’t drive, Montreal can sometimes feel like a bit of a cage.
Public and active transit in the city is not bad, but getting out can be a challenge. Québec doesn’t have a regional rail network as it should, but the exo line up to Saint-Jérôme whilst technically a commuter railway in fact fills in nicely for the role of a regional rail line by virtue of the fact it runs just enough trains in both directions outside of rush hour and on weekends to be useful, and also due to the fact it stretches far into the countryside.
In future posts, we’ll look at other day trips around Montreal which can be made without a car.
Some related reading keeping with the theme of the car-free exploration of Greater Montreal, and perhaps some trips you didn’t know about:
- Exploring the Saint-Jacques Escarpment – A short Montreal walking and cycling trail easily accessible yet a bit off the beaten track.
- Montreal’s Fastest Transit? – Take a boat up the river and explore the Eastern end of the Island of Montreal.
- The Montreal Lowline – An urban railway trail, through the heart of Montreal’s east-end.
- Parc Frederic-Back – Explore a giant reclaimed quarry turned eco-park in Montreal’s north.
- From River to Mountain – Take a ramble from Montreal’s Old Port all the way to the top of its “Mountain”.
- The Fifth Lookout – Perhaps the lesser known lookout of Montreal’s mountain with amazing views to the north.