Take a Fall Road Trip Through Quebec Around Montreal
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Take a Fall Road Trip Through Quebec Around Montreal

May 09, 2023

Published on 9/20/2022 at 5:12 PM

In a world of competing fall destinations—with so many adorable small towns vying for the best apple picking, leaf peeping, and pumpkin chuckin—we found the ultimate fall road trip experience. And it's in Quebec. That's right, Canada. Skirting around the countryside surrounding Montreal, even the most experienced autumn aficionados will fall to their knees at the utter amount of beauty, coziness, and adrenaline packed into this northeast province just above New England.

So how did Quebec get the crown? For starters, over half of territory is covered in forest. Time your road trip right and you’ll be swimming in the fiery, amber colors of autumn foliage everywhere you look. But this trip is about so much more than just passively driving through forests of changing leaves. It's about testing your limits, expanding your knowledge, and immersing yourself in all the traditional fall activities—and a few incredible new ones.

As you bop up, down, and around French-speaking Quebec, you just might find yourself cycling through the forest on a suspended bicycle, foraging during an edible mycology lesson, melting away in outdoor thermal spas, and tasting your way through apple-based spirits and traditional, hyper-local Quebecois foods. Along the way you’ll experience fall in full colors from different viewpoints, ranging from the ground level to hundreds of feet high, and through all five of your senses. Don't blame us if nothing quite measures up when you get back home. Here are all the ways to immerse yourself up north.

Sainte-Hélène-de-ChesterLocated 30 minutes from Ottawa International Airport, Nordik Spa-Nature Chelsea is the perfect place to start this fall-focused road trip. Take a dip in the spa's many outdoor thermal pools as you soak in the season's brightest colors in the oh-so-slightly-crisp autumn air.

Nordik Spa-Nature Chelsea is North America's largest nordic-style spa, with 10 pools, nine themed saunas, four restaurants, several melt-worthy spa treatments, and an infinity pool that overlooks the city. It's an easy way to spend the day and evening, or even just a few hours. The surrounding forest, thermal circuits, and sauna rituals are just what the body ordered after a long flight or car ride.

Day passes include access to the hot and cold pools, sensory rooms, themed sauna rituals, and infinity pool. The German Aufguss ritual (available every hour, on the hour) uses dance and wet towels to move snowballs drizzled with essential oils around the room and shouldn't be missed.

You’ll have to pay extra to use the salt floating pool or participate in the Baynä, a four-step, 1,000-year-old Russian exfoliation ritual that involves intense heat and a detoxifying birch-branch whipping that is oddly soothing—and it's totally worth the extra cash.

Saint-Faustin-Lac-CarréLocated about an hour-and-a-half out of the way—but 100% worth the detour through the leafy Quebecois countryside on QC-323—are Gourmet Sauvage and Sentier des Cimes. This is where you feed your mind, body, eyes, and possibly your soul.

On the site of a former fish farm, Sentier des Cimes (or "Trail of the Peaks" in English) is a wooden boardwalk and geometric tower that spirals over 130 feet up into the air. As you make your way up, don't forget to look down and out across the tops of the Laurentian forest. Along the way, you can stop at various information stations, or just race to the top for the stellar views. Walking at a moderate pace, you can expect to spend about two hours on the boardwalk—but leaf-peeping gawkers may take longer.

Next door, Gourmet Sauvage offers edible forest foraging workshops through the very forest you were just admiring. Fair warning, though, these workshops are extremely popular and tend to book up within hours or days of the schedule being released, so make sure to look ahead as soon as you can. Gourmet Sauvage is working on setting up a shortened version of the experience for walk-ins.

If the cards don't align for the wild plant and mycology lesson, stopping in the Wild Grocery is the next best thing. You’re guaranteed to find unique food products such as marinated fiddleheads or sea asparagus, Balsam fir mustard, and wild milkweed salsa—all handmade from wild-picked plants and mushrooms from the different regions of Quebec.

OkaHeading back down on the A15 South toward the Ottawa River, you’ll find the traditions of apple picking and pumpkin-patch roaming hit prime levels at Labonté de la Pomme in Oka. This family-owned farm invites visitors to wander through their orchards and vegetable patches to hand-pick apples, pumpkins, rhubarb, squash, and more. (We made sure this would be one of the earlier stops on the route, in order to give you enough time to eat through all of the food you’ll inevitably pick but can't bring back across the border.)

Looking to labor a bit less? On weekends between September and mid-October, the farm offers tractor rides through the orchards with stops so you can pick as you go. Or just peruse the farm store, where you’ll find a seasonal selection of farm produce along with homemade jams and jellies, fruit butters, and honey and maple products.

The farm's all-season hiking trails lead the way through maple groves, fruit orchards, and sprawling views of the Oka Valley doused in her autumnal best. Those who prefer guided tours or background on where they are visiting can sign up for a behind-the-scenes look. The tour introduces you to the cider house, farm animals, maple kettle, and glass beehive.

Or completely change your perspective with a quick scenic helicopter ride over the property.

RigaudThe folks over at Sucrerie de la Montagne have been tapping trees for maple syrup for over 40 years. The 50-minute drive west on QC-342 to this traditional sugar shack includes a trip on the ferry.

Once you arrive, you’ll be engulfed in the ultimate fall hygge—we’re talking rustic wooden buildings, hearty country fare, and a hot iron kettle warming over a fire pit to top it all off. Those in-the-know can also ask for a tour of the maple syrup processing room and bakery. Here, maple syrup, candies, and butter are made using old-fashioned production techniques, from tree-tapping to vintage, wooden maple-butter molds.

It all works as a visual amuse-bouche for the hearty Quebecois meal and show served up in the dining hall, where menus include maple-glazed ham, meat pies, crusty bread, souffle, sausages, homemade condiments and other fare fit for a Canadian country feast. Booking overnight in a cabin is probably the best course of action (ahead of time, of course), so you can get in some cozy log cabin vibes before the food coma sets in.

In the morning, you’ll wake up surrounded by a gorgeous 120-acre maple forest. Life could be a lot worse. Be sure to hit the gift shop for some seriously addictive maple candies and other products before you head back out on the road.

RougemontA visit to the Cidrerie Michel Jodin will open your eyes to the world of apple spirits beyond cider. The Jodin family has been in the apple business for over a century, starting in 1901 when Jean-Baptiste Jodin bought a humble orchard of 100 or so apple trees. Eighty-seven years and two generations later, Michel Jodin opened the cider house, located right off La Petite Caroline in Rougemont across from an orchard.

Today, it also functions as a tasting room where you can sample uncommon apple spirits like apple whiskey, mistele, and vermouth (to name a few), along with ice cider, apple wine, sparkling wine, and various takes on cider.

You can also tour the facilities to learn more about how they make, bottle, and age their apple-based products.

Spoiler alert: one of the cooler things you’ll learn is that Michel Jodin's rosé products get their rosy hue from deeply red-fleshed Geneva apples. These apples are absolutely stunning to see sliced in half, and impart a red-fruit, slight acidic flavor profile. You’ll definitely want to check your duty free limits before coming here.

Glen SuttonSwap your ground-level car views for a treetop-level tour of the forest on one of Vélo Volant's suspended recumbent bikes—the highest in the world. Hanging 100 feet above the forest floor, you’ll pedal your way along a 3,280-foot circuit strung up through the thick of colorful leaves. It's an entirely different fall foliage experience, and likely to be one of the most memorable activities on this trip.

To get there, take QC-139 South toward Glen Sutton, a township near the border of Vermont, till you reach Au Diable Vert in Chemin Stains.

After a quick safety briefing, you’ll pedal off of the platform, seemingly into thin air. There's no turning back; this is a one-way experience. Don't worry, this ride is 100% pedal powered and you control the speed. You’ll pedal "up" the mountainside and over waterfalls, creeks, and ravines. The every-angle-views mean no matter which way you look, you’ll be surrounded by 100-year-old maple and pine trees bursting with deep orange, bright yellow, and ruby red leaves. It doesn't get more immersive than this.

If you’re afraid of heights, take it from personal experience that it's worth fighting through the fear for this truly breathtaking experience. Even the scariest parts of the ride—when you’re forced to come to a dead stop as you wait for the line of people ahead of you to get moving—are completely supported by the rigging system. Plan for about an hour on the bikes, and keep your eyes peeled for the green mountains of Vermont in the distance.

OrfordAn hour north up QC-243 and off of QC-245 North, you can further elevate your fall foliage experience with a scenic lift ride up Mont Orford. Available weekends from mid-September through mid-October, La Flambée des Couleurs escorts you over a half-mile above the trees of Mont Orford National Park in either a gondola or six-seater ski life. At the top, several lookout vistas provide a stunning palette of warm fall colors spread out as far as the eye can see.

You’ll have to plan ahead for this adventure, as tickets are sold for specific time slots (so be sure to arrive with plenty of time to park, grab a coffee or beverage of choice*, and get to the lift on time).

*Pro tip: You can grab a hot, boozy drink for the ride up.

Saint-Louis-de-BlandfordGive the humble and tart cranberry some love as you pass through Saint-Louis-de-Blandford. Believe it or not, Quebec has a bonafide Cranberry Interpretation Center, En Fête Canneberge, where you can tour the local cranberry bogs via land or helicopter.

Land tours last about 60-90 minutes and take you out to the working bogs where, from the back of a wooden cart pulled by a tractor, you’ll get to see the swampy red berries bobbing up and down on the surface of the water as they wait for harvest—if you’re lucky you might even witness farmers corralling the small air-filled berries during a harvest.

You may not be able to jump out of the cart and into the bog (which is full of small wolf spiders, if you need a deterrent), but there's still something gorgeous and giddy about seeing this fruit in its truest form.

Back at the center, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the cranberry via displays and video presentations—and indulge in a few tastings, if you so desire.

Sainte-Élizabeth-de-WarwickA bronzed Jesus welcomes you as you pull up to the Fromagerie de Presbytére. No need to check the GPS, you’re in the right place. Originally built in 1936, this Catholic church rectory fell into disuse until 2005. That's when the Mordin family acquired the building with the idea to turn it into a fromagerie. Two years later, Fromagerie du Presbytére released their first cheese.

The Mortin family believes great cheese starts from happy cows, and considering many of their cheeses are multi-award winners, they just might be onto something. The fourth-generation-cheesemakers' Louis d’Or has been named best cheese in Canada more than once, and the tangy Elizabeth's Blue and creamy Country Brie have been crowning them the best cheese in Quebec.

One of the coolest things about this fromagerie is that you can tour inside the old rectory and spy on the aging cheeses—and the resident robot, Pat, who tirelessly works to wash the rinds and turn the cheese wheels as they ripen—through a large glass panel.

The very back of the building actually still functions as a small church. Next door to the rectory lies the fromagerie general store where experts behind the counter will happily pair your palate to the best cheeses on offer—whether to wash them down with water or wine is up to you.

Saint-PaulinAn overnight (or two) at La Baluchon Eco Village will give you the closure you need to finish up this epic fall road trip. Consider it one last night with nature.

Covering over 6,500 square feet of outdoor area, La Balchon is packed with different ways to immerse yourself in the season. This resort is designed for you to connect with the outdoors whether that's having an archery competition, joining a foraging excursion, or bellying up to a seasonal 13-course meal.

Fancy a horseback ride through the fall-leaved forest? What about a serene morning kayak down the river? Perhaps you’re ready to come full circle and end your road trip with a steamy soak in the Nordic spa pools? You’ll have your pick of ways to end your ultimate autumnal experience, even if it's just enjoying the sound of crunching fall leaves on the boardwalk through the property.

From here, it's just over an hour and 30 minutes to Montreal-Pierre Trudeau International Airport or three-and-a-half hours back to Ottawa International Airport.

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