No two winters are the same. At some point in your riding career, you’ll inevitably find yourself looking outside to grass and rain while you sip your morning coffee. If you think that’s painful, now imagine taking a sip of said coffee, scrolling Facebook, and you see other riders in different regions, enjoying great trails and fresh white gold. We’re willing to bet that at least one of the posts you saw came from the Saint-Raymond and the surrounding areas.
Saint-Raymond’s parking areas and easy access via roadways make it an ideal starting point for rides of any nature. For truly dedicated enthusiasts, the mountainous terrain provides superb snow coverage, meaning you can start your season earlier and end your season later than in most places. They even have the historical stats to prove it, as they’ve remained at the top of the list for snow coverage in terms of regions in Quebec.
When we saw the first blades of grass poking through the snowpack outside the HQ, it wasn’t hard to twist our throttle thumbs and get the trailer loaded for a 4-day excursion. With the promise of big miles and interstate like trail width, we looked around the shop for the most fun sleds in the fleet and hit the road. The XCR8 would be our benchmark, and those who have been flipping our pages before, know we’re a fan of the Axys chassis. This seemed like the ideal testing ground to put Cat’s new 800 mill through its paces yet again, so the ZR8000 was the next horse in the stable, and that’s when things got interesting. We all remember how fun the 80s and 90s were on mid-bore 2 strokes, so why couldn’t we recreate that magic with a couple of 600s? The Indy 600SP and ZR6000RR made the cut. Now to round out our sampling, we thought, why not showcase the fact you can enjoy this region on just about anything on snow? On that note, we loaded up our refreshed 2008, (not a typo, yes we loaded up a decade old stead) Yamaha APEX GT. If you’re interested in learning more about the refinements we made to our APEX, check out the 2018 season of SnowmobilerTV, available free online at snowmobilertv.com
Trailer loaded, and no snow in sight, we set out on our journey. Our launch point would be Au Chalet En Bois Rond, located about 800km from our backyard. A real gem of the Portneuf region, Au Chalet en Bois Rond is the perfect place to experience a memorable stay, and to be quite honest, it’s tough to ride away in the morning. If you really wanted to, it would take you over 50 tries to get the same experience twice, because this place is comprised of over 50 unique cottages spread throughout 4km. Located about 45 minutes from Quebec City, the lodging options are seemingly endless. Sleeping capacities vary from 2 to 40 people, depending on the festivities you have in mind. Au Chalet En Bois Rond was even ranked one of the 10 most beautiful tourism accommodation destinations in all of Quebec. So if you’re looking to combine seemingly endless white gold with a landscape ranked beautiful by people with more credentials than us in the décor department, you’ve found the spot.
“Silently waiting for the four days of smooth wide trails”
“The unique luxury wood cabin interiors provide top tier snowmobiling accomodations”
“We stayed in the mustang cabin, each cabin features a unique design meaning there’s always a new experience to come back to”
Day 1 – Sainte-Christine-d’Auvergne to Saguenay (243km)
We started our first day on minimal sleep, because quite frankly, how are you supposed to sleep when one day, you thought winter was over, and the next day, you find yourself about to embark on a 4 day 800km sled trip? Waking up in our private cottage, we cooked breakfast to our liking, and we kept the coffee maker running for as many pots as we could consume. Au Chalet en Bois Rond really provides you with that feeling you get when you’re about to embark on a trip from your own back door.
As we hit the trails, it took about three corners before we all took a look down at our fuel tanks, and realized in the excitement that we forgot to fill the buggies during our drive up. Not to worry, we know we won’t be the only ones to lose focus in the excitement of getting more riding in and that’s why it’s incredibly convenient that the town of Saint-Raymond is only a short ride from the cottages. Setting a brisk pace, the well-signed trails blurred by in a matter of minutes, and we were able to refuel, regroup and get our day started again, on the right foot.
“Even though we arrived later in the season, snow depth was certainly no issue”
With just shy of 250km ahead of us, we were looking at arguably the perfect amount of riding for a new region. Yes, we know most of you will brag about spinning out 300+ km of lugs in a day before the sun rises, but the fact is, when you’re visiting somewhere new, it’s great to be able to stop and appreciate all this region has to offer. Alternatively, if you’re not a scenery guy/gal, don’t worry, we promise that some of the trail sections we traveled through on this trip had us smiling so large that we couldn’t do anything but turn around and ride them again.
Winding through peaks and valleys, straights and crests, the trails served up by Saint-Raymond and North towards Saguenay were nothing short of spectacular. Not only the views, but also the uniqueness of the landscape. The same mountainous terrain that offers up incredible snow coverage, provides a feeling of non-stop adventure. At no point do you feel like you’re riding the same trail twice. You’ll always know what’s coming up because of the great signage, but you definitely won’t have any idea what three or four corners ahead looks like.
“The signage team out here certainly isn’t messing around”
You didn’t come here to constantly be glancing at your fuel gauge, you came to squeeze your right flipper later into the Spring than your buddies that weren’t allowed to come. On that note, gas is also spaced perfectly, and is plentiful throughout this entire loop. Signage letting you know there’s a gas pump ahead and the exact distance remaining, really puts your mind at ease.
The epitome of our mountainous trail experience really came to life as we arrived at the Auberge Eva. Emerging from the wooded forest, we found ourselves at the edge of a cliff, overlooking the lake, and we slowly descended into town. We’d recommend fueling up just before you hit the lake, and arrive at the lodge for the night, so you’ll skip the need to double back in the morning.
“Nothing like a thin blanket of fresh snow to start the morning”
Pulling into our lodge for the night, we were greeted by private cabins and more importantly, an on-site restaurant. With the sleds parked for the night, the Auberge Eva provides the perfect opportunity to relax and bench race on the adventure to this point.
Day 2 – Saguenay to La Malbaie (323km)
Waking up on day 2, we knew we had a big day ahead of us from a mileage perspective. Little did we know just how applicable the term “big” would be metaphorically. Travelling from Saugenay to La Malbaie showcased everything about this region that makes it bigger and better than most of the trails you ride on a daily basis.
Shortly after departing Auberge Eva, we found ourselves the foot of Lac Saint-Jean. A relatively shallow lake in the Laurentian highlands, it provides the fuel for the Saguenay River. Although fairly shallow, it spans a whopping 1,053 square kilometers, so needless to say, if you’re going to go out and explore, we’d recommend following the stake line and proceeding with extreme caution.
After we enjoyed the views offered by a 1000k squared sheet of ice, we continued down the 83 trail towards Saguenay, where the big metaphor continued to hold true. As we spent the afternoon weaving up, down and between the alpine ranges provided by the Laurentian Mountains, the uniqueness of this trail riding experience became ever more apparent.
“The views when you reach the summit of these climbs was worth stopping for”
These amazing views continued all the way until we made our final descent towards the Fairmont le Manoir Richelieu. Not only was the trail groomed and snow covered all the way to the parking lot, the parking lot itself was a secure access, underground heated garage that had been exclusively zoned off for a snowmobile parking. Talk about catering to your customer!
“Snowmobiles Only” – talk about catering to your audience”
This might just be the pinnacle of snowmobile vacationing from a luxury standpoint. This historic hotel was first built in 1899, but then burned down in 1928. The present hotel was rebuilt in 1929, and was designed by Canadian architect John Smit Archibald, in the style of a French castle, and even hosted the 44th G7 Summit in 2018. That’s about as close to politics as you’ll see us get, but it still makes a great story when you’re talking to your riding pals that couldn’t make this incredible trip. Again – it’s worth mentioning of course that the onsite food and taps mean the sleds can safely stay parked for the night. To put the Fairmont even more over the top? There’s an onsite Casino if you’re really looking to test your luck.
Day 3 – La Malbaie to Quebec City (174km)
Depending on the type of evening festivities you and your riding buddies get into, it’s not hard to see a late start possible for day 3 of this trip. Regardless of when you get rolling, you’ll be greeted by another day of incredible riding as you make your way through the Charlevoix region. The mountain ranges that the trails had a tendency to weave between the day before were still prevalent. However, this region tended to prefer the straight up and down approach, as opposed to going the long way around, and with plenty of disposable ponies at our right thumb’s, we weren’t complaining one bit.
“Sweeping flat turns were the standard out here… and we found out why”
Essentially running parallel to the St Lawrence River, we made our way to about as close as you can get to Quebec City by snowmobile, again another fun fact to share with the pals who couldn’t make it. We rounded out this day at the Hotel Signature Quebec. (Note: at the time of our travels, this hotel was the Four Points by Sheraton, but the establishment has since changed names). We were greeted once again by enclosed, secure parking, and onsite dining right on the trail. All great things this region continues to offer up on a consistent basis.
Day 4 – Quebec City to Sainte-Christine-d’Auvergne (80km)
On our final day, we completed a short run back across into the Saint-Raymond region where we once started to Au Chalet En Bois Rond. From there, we loaded our steeds into the trailer and began the drive back to the office. With a long drive in the truck ahead, we had plenty of time to reflect on what incredible trails, scenery, and accommodations these regions of Quebec have to offer.
One note in regard to the drive home, is to never trust the distance to empty reading provided by modern vehicles, particularly when you’re pulling a fully loaded, enclosed 4-place snowmobile trailer, along with a sled in the bed, and five full grown adults in the truck. Why you might ask? Well, at one point we passed a fuel sign that said 17km to next fuel, and the truck said 53km to empty. Now none of us claim to be math wizards, but we’re pretty sure that 53 is greater than 17. Well sure enough, about 2 km later, on a slight incline, we lost power and coasted to a stop on the side of the highway. Needless to say, we’re glad that some modern Diesels at least have the ability prime with a few flips of the key. Safe driving, and safe sledding.
Toronto, ON – 760km – 7.5 hours
Buffalo, NY – 860km – 8.5 hours
Montreal, QC – 230km – 2.5 hours
Detroit, MI – 1150km – 11 hours
“The signage was impressive to say the least, good luck catching all of this info at speed… but we’re not complaining, great signage makes life easy”
Travelers Note: For access to any of the trails mentioned in this piece, you will need an FCMQ permit. FCMQ permits are available in 1 day, 3 day, 7 day, or Season Long permits from a long list of retailers in the Saint-Raymond region. The closest retail location to our starting destination was Dion Moto Inc, located about 10 minutes from Au Chalet en Bois Rond. Riding without a permit is trespassing.
Travel Reference Guide: If you don’t have access to a smartphone, or prefer a paper map, all trails for this trip can be found on the FCMQ provincial trail map, and will be available wherever you decide to purchase your permit.
Au Chalet en Bois Rond
325 Rang Saint Jacques
Sainte-Christine-d’Auvergne, QC, G0A 1A0
160 Chermin de la Montagne
Lac-Bouchette, QC, G0W 1V0
Fairmont le Manoir Richelieu
181 Rue Richelieu
La Malbaie, QC, G5A 1X7
Hôtel Signature Québec
7900 Rue du Marigot
Québec, QC, G1G 6T8