Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mont Megantic - The highest road in Quebec

Where is the highest road in Quebec? Is it some mysterious Gaspe mining road, or is it something hidden in the North Shore somewhere? Maybe it's in the Laurentians?

Nope, none of these.

The highest paved road is Quebec goes up to the top of Mont Megantic in the Eastern Townships, 55 minutes east of Sherbrooke (take the Rt 108 east from Lennoxville, then take the 212 at Cookshire) until you arrive at Notre Dame des Bois.

To get to Parc Nationale de Mont Megantic, drive north from the intersection in the middle of the village, to the first left turn, the road is marked "entrance observatoire" and in a couple of kilometres, you can park your car in the parking lot, pay your $3.50 park entrance fee at the Accueil (welcome centre), and prepare to ride.

The road has a gate, anyone can drive up as long as they pay the fee. Happily, this includes bicycles and their riders.

The road winds up between the main summit of Mont Megantic and the subsidiary peak of Mont St-Joseph. Mont St-Joseph has great views to the east, it's own chapel (!), and is accessible by a side road off the main Summit roadway.

The road turns and aims next for the top of Mont Megantic. Once near the top you will see the public observatory, and a bit further, the scientic observatory. Megantic is remote, and light pollution is at a minimum. This means lots of stars are visible, they say that you can see 2000 stars here with the naked eye. Compare that with Montreal, where you can see about three with the naked eye. Light pollution at night has removed the mysterious beauty of the night sky from our lives. There is an effort today to reduce light pollution both near the Megantic observatory and in urban areas. This basically means installing lights that aim the light down at the ground, not wasted light shooting up into the sky. But if you look around, you will see some new light installations that aim their light towards the ground, a big improvement on the past.

Getting back to the Mont Megantic Bike Climb, there is only one race that goes up this ride, and I think you have to be a pro rider to do it, because it is the annual multi day stage race, the Tour de Beauce. Although Megantic is not part of the Beauce region, it is just south of it. Race organisers knew a good thing when they saw it, and included the climb up Mont Megantic toll road as a great way to end a stage.

In my travels around Quebec discovering the best hills for cycling, I had never seen anything quite like Mont Megantic before. I knew that the Tour de Beauce finished on top, but I had not realized it was a public road. Now that I know it, I'll be back every year to take in the local scenic beauty, do some hiking and biking, and add this to my list of the jewels of Quebec.

If you want to stay overnight, there are numerous campgrounds and B&Bs in the area. the Parc Mont Megantic website has links to these facilities. There are two restaurants and a small grocery store and SAQ in the town of Notre Dame de Bois, The nearby town of La Patrie (on the way) is a bit larger and has a few more services. The ride south from la Patrie to Colebrooke and back crosses a big hill. Thisis cntained in a new Velo Quebec book on multiday rides, they suggest a three day ride starting in Chartierville, going around Mont megantic, to maine, and back across Northern maine, New hampshire, a bit of Vermont. it looks good, and I'll try it one day when multiday rides are in vogue.

Tourist Tip: The covered bridge 500 metres down a side road between La Patrie and Cookshire has a swimming hole. There's a sign on the highway 212 identifying this covered bridge.


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