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If you haven’t heard the rumors, Québec’s mountain biking scene has kind of been blowing up. As a Vermonter (although I don’t really live in Vermont), I feel a bit embarrassed that I haven’t made my way across the border to check out any of the trail networks that I’ve heard so much about.
But that changed this past weekend. My dad and I headed up to Vallée Bras-du-Nord Secteur Shannahan outside of Québec City to see if the trails live up to the hype.
They sure did!
We had an awesome time exploring the Shannahan network from the easy, flowy trails on the south end to the technically challenging and stunning Nielson Loops in the north and everything in between.
This place – and I’m guessing Québec as a whole – has really embraced mountain biking and it shows. With excellent trail building, decent trail maintenance, lots of amenities, and a really cool vibe, Vallée Bras-du-Nord Accueil Shannahan is definitely worth a visit.
Keep reading to learn which trails to ride, route recommendations, camping info, and more!
Where is Vallée Bras-du-Nord, Shannahan?
Vallée Bras-du-Nord Secteur Shannahan is located about 1 hr 30 mins west of Québec City and 30 mins north of the town of St-Raymond.
The roads to Shannahan are rural and remote with intermittent cell service. Have your route downloaded before you set off.
The road into Vallée Bras-du-Nord Secteur Shannahan is dirt/gravel but well-maintained.
What about Vallée Bras-du-Nord Secteur St. Raymond? VBN has two different sectors: Shannahan and St. Raymond, which is located just outside of the town of St. Raymond, 30 minutes south of Shannahan.
I haven’t ridden Vallée Bras-du-Nord Secteur St. Raymond, so I can’t speak to how the trails compare. From what I can gather, it looks like these trails are shorter and meant to be lapped with maybe more bike park-like features.
Important things to know
Every mountain bike destination is different, so here are a few things to know before you head out to Vallée Bras-du-Nord:
There is a trail fee. You must check in at registration and pay a daily trail fee to ride at Shannahan (camping fees are separate). The daily fee is $22.25 Canadian. You can also book online, but for some reason, you can’t select multiple dates, so if you’re planning to ride for several days it’s easier to do in-person.
Trails are one-way. All the trails at Shannahan are directional, meaning they can only be ridden in one direction. Don’t enter a trail if you see a red circle with a white line through it.
There is no cell service at Shannahan. There is free wifi at the registration/check-in building.
E-bikes are allowed and thriving.
There is no running water. However, there is a water tower at registration and there are porta-a-potties.
Everything is in French. Most of the staff speak English, but all of the trail signs are exclusively in French.
It gets busy! I visited VBN on a weekend in late September and I couldn’t believe how many people rolled in. Keep in mind that Shannahan is only a little over an hour from Québec City, which is a pretty big metropolis. Expect to share the trails with lots of mountain bikers, especially if you visit during the height of summer.
Best Trails to Ride
I rode pretty much every trail at Vallée Bras-du-Nord Secteur Shannahan and I thought most of them were pretty awesome.
Here’s a little breakdown of the trails. For route recommendations, head to the next sections.
The southern ‘blue’ trails (Sucre d’Orge, Tire d’érable, and Buerre d’érable) are flow trails with not much tech. They’re great for newer riders or families, but I’d skip them if you only have a day or two at Shannahan and want to hit the techier stuff.
Coulée Douce & Barbe á Gendron. If you need a ‘warm-up’ I recommend doing these two trails over the other blue network. Coulée Douce is really beautiful and Barbe á Gendron has a fun, mellow downhill that ends at a little skills park.
Godzilla and Octopus are the ‘new school’ trails at VBN. Godzilla is a black-rated jump line with big features. Octopus is a blue-rated machine-built flow trail that I thought was pretty fun and worth doing once. The climbing trail up Nielson Est is long, but very well-switchbacked to make for an easier ascent.
The Nielson trails were my favorite trails. They’re definitely old-school technical and have some hike-a-bike sections, but the routing is amazing and there are some really cool features – natural and manmade. The sections that parallel the river are epic!
Légende & La Boréale were both awesome as well and definitely solid blacks with some technical parts. The climb up L’Aurore is steep, but well-routed and worth the two descents. Probably the coolest part of all of VBN is the waterfall section at the end of Légende!
Grand Ourse was the only trail I didn’t get to ride. It’s blue-rated, so it’s probably a good option for beginner/intermediate riders who aren’t ready to tackle the bigger Nielson loops.
Three Route Recommendations
The cool thing about VBN Shannahan is that there is something for everyone – truly. Want easy, fast flow? Hit the lower blue trails. Like rowdy old-school tech? The Nielson Trails and Légende & La Boréale are for you. Prefer new-school fun? Spend your time on Godzilla and Octopus.
Whatever tickles your fancy, there’s something for you.
I like a little bit of everything, so here are two routes I recommend doing:
1. La Terrasse
This route hits most of the flowy blue trails at VBN. It’s a good warm-up loop if you have a few days of riding at Shannahan or a good option for newer mountain bikers or families.
Route directions: Main Parking > Sentier Delaney > Sucre d’Orge > Tire d’érable > Buerre d’érable > Sentier Delaney > Boulevard à Gérald > Coulée Doulce > Barbe á Gendron > Grande Évasion > Sentier Delaney
Route notes: There are a lot of twists and turns to this route, but since the trails are all one-way it’s pretty easy to follow. I still recommend having TrailForks downloaded to your phone.
Make longer: You can add Chutes à Gilles (a pretty easy black aside from the initial rocky tech at the waterfall) and either return via Tomahawk or head over to Grand Ourse on the other side of the river (which will make for a pretty big day of pedaling).
2. Légende and L’Boréale
Légende and L’Boréale are two of the most popular ‘enduro’ downhill trails at VBN Shannahan. I loved them! They’re chunky, technical, and have great flow in places. The waterfall finish to Légende is… legendary. If you’re a pretty confident rider, these two trails are a must. If you’re a very confident rider, try your skills out on Grande Légende.
Route directions: Main Parking > Sentier Delaney > Grande Évasion > L’Aurore > Légende > Back up L’Aurore > La Boréale
Route notes: There’s kind of a brutal climb in the middle of Légende.
Do less: If you only have one climb in you, it’s worth doing Légende over La Boréale for the waterfall finish and views.
3. The Nielson Trails
The Nielson Trails were my favorite out of all the VBN trails. They are old-school, technical, and tiring, but all in a good way (at least I thought so). Not everyone will love this loop, but if you enjoy a challenge with some really cool trail features – natural and manmade – you’ll love this ride. The views are also epic!
Route directions: Nielson Est Parking (or pedal from registration) > Nielson Est > Nielson Nord > Nielson Sud > Le Connecteur
Route notes: The section of Nielson Est from Godzilla to where it meets Nielson Nord closes every year around mid-September for hunting season. If you visit during this time, you’ll need to pedal up the Rang Saguenay road to Nielson Nord – essentially skipping all of Nielson Est. It’s still worth doing the Nielson Est climb up to Godzilla or Octopus, though.
Make it easier/do less: Ride each loop separately. Doing both loops together is a pretty big day with lots of technical riding and some hike-a-biking.
What to Pack
For a complete list of what to pack, head over to my Mountain Bike Trip Checklist.
Here are some suggestions specific to riding at Vallée Bras-du-Nord Secteur Shannahan:
There isn’t any water on the trails (except for the river) and you can get yourself into some pretty big days. I recommend bringing a hydration pack (which is also essential for carrying your tools and spares) with at least a 2.5 L reservoir.
My go-to hydration pack for mountain biking is the Osprey Raven 10L (men’s). It’s a great mid-size pack that can fit all my riding essentials plus it comes with a 2.5 L reservoir. There’s a removable tool roll in the bottom and several pockets for organization.
Shop the Osprey Raptor/Raven at:
Shop the Osprey Raven/Raport Packs at:
I typically always ride with knee pads, but I was especially grateful to have them on a Vallée Bras-du-Nord Shannahan. There are some chunky, technical rock sections that may catch you off guard. I went down hard on my left knee on L’Boréale and if I hadn’t been wearing knee pads I probably would have had to get stitches.
My go-to knee pads have been the Fox Enduro Sleeves for the last few years. They’re lightweight, easy to pedal in, and relatively breathable.
Shop the Fox Enduro Sleeves at:
Bring more mountain biking snacks than you think you’ll need! The miles here are tough won and you’ll be working hard for most of your ride – up, down, and across the trails. If you’re heading out for a longer ride (like the Nielson Loops) I recommend you pack something more substantial like a sandwich.
Bike Shop & Rentals
There is a small bike shop that has mountain bike rentals. It’s located at the main parking area next to the registration building. They have a full line-up of Rocky Mountain bikes including e-bikes and kid’s bikes. Online booking is required.
I don’t think the shop really does fixes or maintenance, but if you have a small problem they’ll most likely help you out.
Food & Drink
There is very limited food and drink (including water) at VBN Shannahan. The registration building has a cooler with a few drinks – alcoholic and non. There’s also a small selection of snacks and trail food like bars and blocks.
The closest place to get groceries and a meal, though, is in the town of St. Raymond about 30 minutes south of Shannahan. We didn’t eat there, but the La Croquée Restaurant was super busy when we passed it on our way out.
Camping & Lodging
There are a lot of different options for camping and lodging at VBN Shannahan. Here’s what’s available:
VBN tent camping: The VBN campsite is located just a short pedal away from the main ‘hub’ and parking areas at Shannahan. There are 18 sites, each with a picnic table and fire pit. There is no running water or showers, but there are pit toilets. Firewood is available for purchase at registration.
ETSANHA Campground: This is a private campground located south of VBN. It’s NOT within pedaling distance of the trails, but it does have hot showers (for an extra fee). There are also several cabin rentals and space for RVs (no hook-ups).
VBN Van life: The ‘van life’ lot is across from the tent campground. I wasn’t very impressed with it and I actually changed my first night’s reservation to be over in the tent camping area, which is much nicer (my 21 ft van was fine). I’d only choose the Van Life camping if you have a larger rig or you’re caravanning with other vans.
Yurts/refuges: There are a number of hike-in/bike-in yurts and refuges available for rent and they look really cool. However, it’s important to know a few things before you book these:
- There is no electricity or running water. You can get water at the river, but you’ll need to bring a water filter and a collapsable jug to carry it back to your cabin/yurt.
- It’s a 0.7 mile/1.2 KM hike or bike ride to these shelters. Carts are available at registration to transport gear.
- You must bring your own bedding, cooking essentials, and lighting
- Dogs are allowed
Chalets & cottages: There are some really cool chalets and rentals spread throughout the VBN trail network. Some of them are bomb! They’re pretty pricy, but most of them can sleep 8-10 people, so they could be worth it for large groups.
Best Time to Visit
Vallée Bras-du-Nord Secteur Shannahan is actually a year-round destination. In the winter, it’s super popular with Nordic skiers.
But if you’re looking to mountain bike, obviously you’ll want to go when it’s not blanketed in snow.
Spring is an okay time to visit, but conditions can be hit or miss. The trails may be pretty muddy and you may not be able to access the higher trails if the snow hasn’t melted yet.
Summer is the busiest time of year, but also brings the best weather. That being said, temps can get hot and humid so be sure to bring in plenty of water (remember, there is no potable water). There is a river to go swimming in, though.
Fall is my favorite time to visit. The crowds have thinned a bit and the temps are cooler. You might even get treated with some beautiful fall colors!
Other Things to Do at Shannahan
Vallée Bras-du-Nord is an all-around outdoor playground for everyone. If you’re traveling with non-mountain bikers or you want a day off the bike, here are a few other activities to check out:
Hiking – I saw a ton of people gearing up for a hike in the main parking area. The nice thing about VBN is that the hiking trails and mountain bike trails are completely separate. You still need to purchase a day-use pass for hiking. Check out some of the VBN hiking trails.
Via Ferrata & zip line – There is a Via Ferrata at Shannahan. We saw some of the climbers traversing a cliff face. I’m not a fan of heights, but if that’s your thing, go for it! You can choose to end your climb on a zip line.
Canoeing & kayaking – VBN Shannahan sits on the banks of the Bras do Nord River and they have kayaks and canoes to rent. You’ll get shuttled several miles up river and then you can float downstream back to VBN.
Explore the dirt roads – The wilderness around VBN Shannahan is vast and remote, but there are well-maintained roads throughout that lead to lakes and trailheads. If you head out to explore, I highly recommend you have a paper map or one downloaded to your phone.
I really enjoyed the riding at Vallée Bras-du-Nord Shannahan. There’s truly riding for everyone from flowy cross-country trails to new-school jump lines to big old-school techy loops.
I also appreciated that each trail is directional (you can only ride them one way), so there wasn’t any confusion about the best way to ride a route and it kept the trail traffic to a minimum.
VBN does get very busy and the day-use fee is kind of steep, but I thought it was absolutely worth it.
I haven’t explored a ton of Québec, but here are a few posts on mountain biking in the northeast: