I blame the town of Rigaud in Québec for my passion for hiking. As a child, there was nothing I loved more than hiking to the top of Mont Rigaud. But even though I went back a few times to hike the short trail to the summit over the last few years, I had never hiked the Haut-Lieu Trail, which follows a long course in the forest of Mont Rigaud.
The Haut-Lieu trail is part of the L’Escapade Trails, a network of trails that allows you to explore in depth an area of Mont Rigaud. At a lenght of more than 13 kilometres, the Haut-Lieu Trail is the longest in the network and allows you to fully appreciate the various ecosystems of this small mountain near Montreal.
The trails are open year-round. In summer, you can follow the Haut-Lieu Trail on foot or on horseback. In winter, the trail is groomed for cross-country skiing. As the weather has been varying a lot lately, the trail was not yet groomed for skiing, and was rather covered with a thick layer of ice, I decided I would hike it with my micro-spikes.
I started my hike from the P2 parking lot and started following the trail clockwise, for no particular reason. It was not very cold in the forest, but the ice on the trail slowed my progress a bit.
On the trail map, the Haut-Lieu Trail forms a rectangle which did not seem very inspiring to me. But in the forest, the trail was much less linear than I had imagined. The climbs and descents are rather limited, but the path winds gently between the trees. Mout Rigaud is recognized as having one of the richest arboreal biodiversity in Quebec and I admit that the forest is very pretty there, even in winter.
The climbs and descents are rather limited, except in two places: at the first, between kilometres 5 and 7, the trail climbs rather steeply along large rocks. Nothing extreme (after all, I have hiked to the summits of Pic Johannsen and Mont Saint-Joseph in the last few weeks so I have seen worse), but I imagine this portion must be more difficult to deal with while cross-country skiing.
The second place is just before reaching the first (and only) viewpoint of the trail, between kilometres 10 and 11. At this point, the climb is steady, very steady. This sector is located on the southern side of the small mountain and seems more exposed to the sun. Which meant that the trail there was a nice mix of ice, mud and slush.
I couldn’t wait to get to the point of view, but in the end, I was a little disappointed. I think the scenery must be beautiful in the fall, but it seemed a bit gray and dull in December. It is still possible to see the St. Lawrence River and, in the distance, the Adirondack Mountains (which always make me dream of my next hikes!).
Between these few steep sections and this point of view, the path is very similar over the thirteen kilometres. It goes through a pretty forest, mostly made up of deciduous trees, but that also includes pines and cedars, passes near marshy sections and even near a pond, and runs alongside several private properties.
A few kilometres before arriving at the parking lot, the trail also took me through the Sucrerie de la Montagne property, a sugar shack recognized as a Quebec heritage site. Interestingly, the Sucrerie offers a hiker take-out menu and a few copies are even displayed on trees along the trail. I was tempted to stop at the Sucrerie to buy myself a piece of sugar pie, but at that point I was pretty tired and I couldn’t wait to get back to my car.
Thirteen kilometres is a lot, especially when the trail is not in the best conditions. But I finally came back to the P2 parking lot, just over three hours after starting my hike. The Haut-Lieu Trail might not be the most thrilling hike, but if you fancy a nice, long walk in the forest, not far from Montreal, this is definitely the place!
A quick note in closing: the L’escapade Trails do not lead to the summit of Mont Rigaud. The trail leading to the summit is on the property of the sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes.