Downtown Coaticook is like Disneylandâ€™s Main Street, except no-oneâ€™s hawking $28 Goofy hats. (And, unlike Disneyland, there are a lot of great mountain biking trails nearby.) With its two-story brick buildings, narrow laneways and quaint store fronts, Coaticook looks like your quintessential little American townâ€¦in Quebec. Itâ€™s only 30 miles north of Norton, VT, and itâ€™s definitely worth the drive â€“ both for its biking and its food.
Coaticook is located in the heart of farm country in Southern Quebec and it boasts some of the best local fare this side of France. The Laiterie de Coaticook has been in business since 1940 and is responsible for those delicious cheese curds youâ€™ll find in the famous Quebecois dish poutine. They also makes amazing ice cream and cheddar there.
Thereâ€™s no shortage of local beer too. Drop in to the Ailleurs Resto-Bar (aka â€œthe Other Placeâ€), sit at one of the old sewing tables and swill La Gorgee, the only venue where you can find this delicious brew. Or visit a local depanneur and grab some of the offerings from microbrewery Boquebiere; their beers incorporate everything from locally grown apples to lavender.
When you head to the trails, take along some croustipom by Verger le Gros Pierre in nearby Compton. These snacks are like combining apples and potato chips â€“ addictive but healthy.
The Parc de la Gorge is just a few minutes from downtown and it has 12 miles of trails in three loops: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Youâ€™re not going to find a lot of hard technical riding here but there is one new school trail with berms, gaps and tabletops that kids will probably be pushing up all summer long called â€œ1km Descent.â€
Most of the trails here are your typical eastern cross-country style (tight, twisty, lots of roots) and even the â€œdownhillsâ€ involve short, steep ascents. Our guides for the day were David Lauzon, president of the Quebec Trails Association and Francis Harvey, owner of the local bike shop Le Foyer du Sport and it was evident by their massive lung capacity theyâ€™re used to long, fast rides.
We rode the majority of trails and our favorites included â€œNico,â€ a new, fast and flowy ride thatâ€™s named for Francisâ€™s son Nicholas and â€œThe Archer,â€ which takes you through some beautiful fern glades and past an old-school ropes course. (The â€œArcherâ€ is so named because there used to be an archery range located there. Once Francis came up behind a bullâ€™s-eye, looked to his right and saw a guy with a bow and arrow cocked directly at him. Thankfully the guy didnâ€™t fire.)
Another favorite trail is the â€œMarmot,â€ which, Francis said, â€œwas probably the first bench cut in Quebec.â€ This sparked a discussion about the rich, 25-year history of mountain biking in this area and when I ask Francis about this trail in particular he said he and local legend Jean Dâ€™Avignon created it back in the early 90s. â€œItâ€™s called the Marmot because we had to fight a marmot for it â€“ weâ€™d make the trail and then every night it would come out and dig it all up again. Finally it gave up â€“ it probably moved to Vermont.â€
When I ask how many Americans come to visit the area both David and Francis are unsure. Fact is, probably not that many â€“ which will definitely change once word gets out that Coaticook is the perfect family-friendly bike destination just north of the border. In addition to great biking, the Parc de la Gorge offers camping, horseback riding and hiking and boasts every type of amenity from indoor showers to bike washing stands. Plus the world-class East Hereford bike trails are only 20 miles to the east.
Trail fees at the Parc de la Gorge are $7.50/day or $30/year. To reach the trailhead from Norton, VT, drive about 30 miles north on Hwy 147 then turn right on Rue Michaud. The visitorâ€™s center is located at 137 Rue Michaud. (See map below.)