Over the years, I’ve visited many different snowmobiling destinations. It’s hard to surprise me anymore. But the Bas-Saint-Laurent and western Gaspésie regions of Quebec certainly tickled my fancy last winter. We snowmobiled over 1,700 kilometres on terrific trails. They took us from ice riding on the mighty St. Lawrence River to breathtaking peaks in the high backcountry. Our Snow Goer Crew - Don Webb, Craig Irwin, Johnny Biasi, Jim Heintzman, plus Marsha and I –agreed that every rider should experience this appealing, accessible and oft-overlooked snowmobiling destination.

Where It’s At Translated as “below St. Lawrence”, Bas-Saint-Laurent is located on the south side of that river. Rivière-du- Loup, Rimouski and Mont-Joli are its major shoreline towns. As indicated on the accompanying sketch map, Bas- Saint-Laurent extends south to New Brunswick and also abuts the State of Maine. It’s sandwiched between the adjacent Quebec regions of Chaudière- Appalaches to the west and Gaspésie to the east. Like these neighbours, Bas-Saint-Laurent comprises flat farmland along the St. Lawrence shore. In the interior, farms are characterized by rolling hills where the high country is part of the Appalachian Mountain range.

The Bas-Saint-Laurent and western Gaspésie regions really have their snowmobiling act together. The trails are well groomed and uncrowded. Accessible lodgings, restaurants and gas stations are plentiful enough for worry-free riding. Best of all, the regions can usually count on abundant snowfall throughout the winter. But pick your day to ride along St. Lawrence shore because prevailing winds can sometimes leave these exposed trails drifted over or with skimpy snow.

About Our Tour For this tour, we rode three days in the Bas-Saint-Laurent and three more in western Gaspésie. Both are part of the larger tourism region known as Le Quebec Maritime. Most snowmobilers have heard of Gaspésie. Many have made the popular trek to ride around its famous peninsula, but the name Bas-Saint-Laurent may not be as familiar. Yet when riders start their Gaspésie tours at Rivière-du-Loup, they’re actually in Bas-Saint-Laurent. And that’s where we stayed for three nights, staging out of the very snowmobilefriendly Hotel Universel. But instead of deadheading east on Trans Quebec 5 for Gaspésie, we had other explorations in mind…

Three Loops I’d noticed previously that the Bas- Saint-Laurent snowmobile trail map shows three loops anchored by Rivière- du-Loup – Circuit du Kamouraska (224 km), Circuit du Témiscouata (267 km) and Circuit Monts-Notre Dame (427). Our plan was to do the first two as day rides out of the Hotel Universel. Then we would ride the Circuit Monts-Notre-Dame as part of a four-day saddlebag ride. We would extend this loop by swinging into western Gaspésie and south almost to New Brunswick.

You’ll notice that our day ride distances for the Circuit du Kamouraska (300 km) and the Circuit du Témiscouata (330 km) are higher than those listed above as shown on their map, for reasons explained below. Interestingly, each loop is highlighted on their   map face. But there are no signs for any of the loops on the trails. Instead, we found our way around by trail number signs. In case you’re wondering, many of the trails we rode on this tour were old logging roads or utility corridors, where we well and truly tested Quebec’s 70-kph speed limit.



Circuit du Kamouraska: The Circuit du Kamouraska runs west from Rivière- du-Loup on Trans Quebec 5. We rode this loop counter-clockwise. Along the way, we side-tripped on Regional Trail 559. Here, we discovered two scenic outlooks with views of the St. Lawrence lowlands and the river itself. At the west end of the Circuit as highlighted on the map, we journeyed farther west to circle back via Trans Quebec 50 and 35. This detour ex- tended the length of our trip by an extra 66 kilometres, which better suited our riding pace.



You can extend your Circuit du Kamouraska ride even more by using Regional Trail 557. But watch your gas, because stations along this south side of the Circuit are few and far between. The return trail, Trans Quebec 35, is also known as “Le Monk”. It’s an abandoned rail line, so we made really good time heading back towards Rivière-du-Loup and the Hotel Universel’s hot tub.



Circuit du Témiscouata:
Trans Quebec 85 runs on an abandoned rail line. It goes south from Rivière-du-Loup 150 kilometres to Edmunston, New Brunswick. It was also the trail access for our second day-trip to the Circuit du Témiscouata, so called because it circumnavigates a 45-kilometre long lake by the same name. At the north end of this loop, there are several trail options for extending your riding distance. This is convenient if you ride the Circuit du Témiscouata counter-clock- wise as we did. Doing so delays the choice of adding extra distance or not into the afternoon, when you have a better sense of remaining time and energy level. Just remember that the Circuit du Témiscouata starts about 30 kilometres south of Rivière-du-Loup, so that the 60 klicks to and from Rivière-du-Loup (2 X 30 km) isn’t included in the 267-kilometre loop total shown on the map. That’s why our ride came out to 332 km without extending the loop anymore. The ride back to Rivière-du-Loup and the Hotel Universel is on that same Trans Quebec 85 rail line, making for a quick and easy return.



Circuit Monts-Notre-Dame and Beyond: With two day trips under our belts, saddle bagging was next. After stopping at a stellar lookout over Rivière-du-Loup and the St. Lawrence, accessed via a local trail off of Trans Quebec 85, we caught Regional Trail 567 eastbound. This route led us down to the St. Lawrence River. Along its frozen shore we passed the Village of L’Isle Verte, scene of a deadly nursing home fire that made the news last year. From there, we swung south, upwards into the highlands on Regional Trail 571 to ride part of the Circuit Monts- Notre-Dame. Then we headed toward Rimouski, where another panoramic view of the St. Lawrence awaited, zbefore crossing into the western side of the Gaspésie Region.

Into Western Gaspésie That night we stayed at Domaine Valga on Regional Trail 579. This northsouth trail is officially the eastern most route and turnaround point for those doing the Circuit Monts-Notre-Dame. However, our plan was to snowmobile an extended southern loop into western Gaspésie. We wanted to ride through the beautiful Matapédia Val- ley to the region’s most southerly town of Pointe-à-la-Croix and our lodgings at the Restaurant-Motel Interprovincial. When doing this western Gaspésie ride, it’s an absolute must to take Regional Trail 579 south from Domaine Valga to 587n and 587s. These stellar trails provide some incredibly breathtaking views. We checked out the mountain windmills and lookout tower near Saint-Irene. The overlook of the Restigouche River above Pointe-àla- Croix, with Campbellton, NB spread in the background was also pretty awesome.



Our last two days, we rode Trans Quebec 5, familiar to many as the main trail around the Gaspé Peninsula. First we travelled north to Matane and the recently renovated Hotel Riotel. Here, gale force winds off the St. Lawrence treated us like punching bags and froze our butts getting to the outdoor hot tub – brrrr! On our final riding day, we rode west on Trans Quebec 5 on lots more hydro corridors and logging roads. We also crossed several major rivers, some by bridge and some by ice, before returning to our Hotel Universel home-away-from-home in Rivière-du-Loup.

Only after completing this tour did I realized how relaxing it had been. Even on the longer distance days, the sledding was easy and comfortable. I was quickly acclimatized into sitting back and watching the changing scenery. No concerns about trail quality, finding gas or which way to go. We just rolled on the kilometres, enjoying the variety of terrain, and looking forward to some of La Belle Province’s finest meals and lodgings every night. No surprises. No hassles. Isn’t that what a sledding vacation’s supposed to be all about? So tickle your fancy this winter by visiting Bas-Saint-Laurent and western Gaspésie… 



Special thanks to Magalie Boutin, Gillian Hall, Suzie Loiselle and Marie- Pier Mercier for assistance with this tour. Craig’s tours are made possible by BRP (Ski-Doo), Gateway Powersport, FXR Racing, Triton Trailers, and Woody’s Traction Products.
 

Craig Nicholson is the author of “Canada’s Best Snowmobiling — Your Ultimate Ride Guide”. His snowmobile writing also appears in many newspapers, magazines and websites. He also hosts “The Intrepid Snowmobiler on Radio” and appears on Snowmobile Television. For more info, visit www.intrepidsnowmobiler.com


 


This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of Snow Goer Canada Magazine. Be sure to get all the latest snowmobile news in your hands by subscribing today. If you missed an issue on the stands, or would like a copy of the issue this article was featured in, back issues are also available. Snow Goer Canada Magazine gift subscriptions are also available.

 

 

 

 

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