Forget the ’Dacks. Keep it local in the LaurentiansWhen Montrealers say they're planning to get out of the city for a little randonnée (hiking) or other aventure en plein air, it often means getting the hell out of the province-or even right out of the country. Big mistake. Within a few hours of Montreal, the ancient Laurentian mountains still have plenty of secrets to reveal. Here are three one-day adventures that will open up parts of these venerable hills most Montrealers never knew existed.
Fly-fish the Diable
It's practically impossible to find a peaceful, wild stream that actually has fish near most big cities. Which is what makes the fly-fishing-only section of the Diable River, 90 minutes north of Montreal, so special. The five kilometres of river, where the Diable bends behind Mont Tremblant, has been lovingly cared for, restored and stocked by a local group, Les Moucheurs Endiablés. And fish? Don't take our word for it-there are enough brown and speckled trout to have convinced the organizers of the Canadian Fly-fishing Championships to host the 2008 event there. Access to the river is easy and free, but you'll need a valid Quebec fishing permit.
Length: Four to five hours.
Directions: Follow Highway 15 north for 130 km to exit 119 at Mont Tremblant, then follow the signs to Mont Tremblant Village. Access to the fly-fishing section of the Diable is from Duplessis Road, which connects Tremblant's north and south sides. Access and parking areas are clearly marked P-1 to P-5.
Resources: Les Moucheurs Endiablés has info on the stream, and if you become a member your money helps conserve the fishery. Denis Landreville's NaturAventur (819-425-4216) offers guiding service.
Hike les Falaises
The last time the planet went through some serious global warming, the retreating ice really did a number in Comté Portneuf, near the quaint town of St. Raymond, carving out the Vallée de Bras du Nord. A line of cliffs up to 2,100 feet high runs for more than eight kilometres, ending at the Cap Bédard, also known as Mont Gibraltar. The Sentier des Falaises quickly climbs to the heights of this massif and then follows the cliff line for six kilometres, opening up onto wide, treeless granite faces no fewer than 15 times. At Cap Bédard, the cliff protrudes out into the valley, offering a panoramic view of the region all the way to the St. Lawrence and the Appalachian hills beyond.
Length: Full day.
Directions: Take Highway 40 east to exit 281. Follow Route 365 into St. Raymond and pass through town turning left on Rang Saguenay and on to the Acceuil Shannahan. The $5 trail access fee includes parking.
Resources: You can get trail condition info and make hut or camping reservations at valleebrasdunord.com (1-800-321-4992).
Paddle the Simon
Sure, the Rouge River has the goods, but so many rafting and kayak companies have set up shop there that even parking has become an issue. No such problem on the Simon River. It's so unknown that on most any day you can paddle the six-kilometre section between Morin Heights and St. Sauveur without seeing another human being. From the put-in just outside Morin Heights to Christieville, the river meanders through forest and field. A washed-out earthen dam signals the beginning of rougher water, and here the river drops through a steep valley, where a few class II and III rapids are rough but negotiable at high water (in low water, an aller-retour on the upper section is advisable). By the time the water slows at the takeout at the Boyer Street bridge, you're ready to run the two-hour section again.
Length: Two hours.
Directions: From Highway 15 North, take exit 60 to St. Sauveur/Morin Heights and drive 10 km along Route 364 toward Morin Heights. Just before the town you'll cross the Simon. Take the next left on Meadowbrook; the put-in is at the wooden bridge. You could park two cars, but the trip back by road is only a few kilometres, so walking (or hitchhiking) is a viable option.
Resources: Get water levels and rent canoes or kayaks at Simon River Sports (450-226-7821).