The Train de Charlevoix connects Quebec City to the town of La Malbaie along one of the most scenic rail journeys in eastern Canada.
Winding along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, the Train de Charlevoix explores some of Quebec’s most spectacular and often inaccessible viewpoints.
The 125-kilometre journey, which bridges the towns of Montmorency, Baie-St.-Paul, and La Malbaie with a stop at Le Massif Ski Resort, has become one of the most sought-after experiences along the St. Lawrence shores.
My family boarded the Train de Charlevoix at Montmorency Station near Quebec City amongst the mist of the towering Montmorency Falls. It’s hard to imagine that a train journey along the St. Lawrence waterway could offer more mesmerizing views than the 83-metre-high waterfall that dominates the landscape across from ile d’Orleans.
While we’ve driven the roads and highways of Charlevoix many times, passing through tiny villages and skirting rural farms, on our way to Quebec destinations such as Tadoussac, Mingan, and the Gaspesie shores, the Train de Charlevoix offers a completely unique experience that we had never had the pleasure of journeying before.
What Is The Train de Charlevoix?
While the Quebec region of Charlevoix is known for its world-class food scene that specializes in dairy, specifically artisanal cheeses and the curds that help fuel the province’s signature dish, poutine, the true feast of the Train de Charlevoix is for your eyes.
The Quebec train route follows original trestles that were first laid in 1919. During the four-hour journey, the Train de Charlevoix makes seven brief stops in coastal towns between Montmorency Falls and La Malbaie.
Travellers can choose to stop and explore the towns, enjoying a multi-day journey, or make the journey in one day that includes a four-hour stopover in either La Malbaie or Baie-St.-Paul. I highly recommend taking the time to enjoy yourself, though this train ride is worth it.
The train itself is simple, with basic beverage service available. However, guests have the chance to order locally-made, artisanal foods in advance. Those taking the journey can choose between river views and mountain views.
The mountain views are nice, with beautiful views of the forests, waterfalls, and towns of the Charlevoix landscape. But, the best views come from the river views let us drink in the vibrant views of the tides.
The Train de Charlevoix Journey
Our journey began at Montmorency Falls, where we boarded the Train de Charlevoix at Montmorency Station, adjacent to one of Quebec’s most spectacular waterfalls. For those with a little extra time, it’s worth spending some time at Montmorency Falls to enjoy the ziplines, the Via Ferrata, or the horse-drawn carriage rides, among other amazing experiences.
We had booked our trip to take us directly out to La Malbaie. La Malbaie is the furthest point along the Train de Charlevoix route. We would enjoy two nights at the fabulous Fairmont Manoir Richelieu in town before embarking on our journey back to Montmorency with a four-hour stop to explore to art town of Baie-St.-Paul on the return journey.
Along the four-hour journey to La Malbaie, we passed several incredible sites. And even from our mountainside seats, we still had time to gaze at the magnificent towers of the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre. The route also treated us to the scenery from the small villages and towns along the way and a few small waterfalls.
On the far side of the car, we experience the magical views of the St. Lawrence River, including the sprawling ile d’Orleans, which is known for its wineries and berry farms.
Along the Train de Charlevoix route, the landscape rose and fell through maple forests and farmer’s fields. We came to a brief stop at the base of Le Massif, one of the top ski resorts in Quebec that offers the highest vertical drop east of the Canadian Rockies.
Interestingly, the Train de Charlevoix was originally designed as a shuttle to help skiers from the city of Quebec reach the Le Massif ski resort. And it’s still an important part of the train’s journey during the winter months.
Shortly after Le Massif we dropped sightseers off in the town of Baie-St.-Paul, which we would visit on our return journey.
When we finally arrived in La Malbaie, we were refreshed, relaxed, and ready for the next part of the adventure.
La Malbaie is one of the earliest resort destinations in Canada. It’s said that the town received its odd name when Samuel de Champlain was attempting to set sail after visiting the city, his ship became stuck in the mud of low tide, and he exclaimed “La Mal Baie!” which translates to “The bad bay.” I guess the name just stuck!
The town welcomed wealthy Americans and Europeans in search of epic winter activities. And the historic and beautiful Fairmont Manoir Richelieu catered to their needs.
The five-star resort, perched upon the cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River, now welcomes visitors from across Canada and worldwide to its fabulous halls and attached casino. In fact, it was here that the G7 meeting of world leaders occurred in 2018,
We spent two days hiking the trails near the resort, dining on fabulous food, and exploring the scenic and historic town before our time in La Malbaie was up. We loved the quaint towns, museums, public art displays, and especially the food. But we had to drag ourselves away as it was time for us to continue our journey back to Quebec City.
We had timed our return journey on the Train de Charlevoix to allow us four hours to explore the town of Baie-St.-Paul. Although I wish we had given ourselves several days.
Baie-St.-Paul began as an artist’s community in the 1800s. The creative flare of the residents has led to the town becoming one of the most important cultural centre’s in Canada. It was here, in 1984, that street performers Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix founded Cirque du Soleil, which would go on to become one of the largest and most influential entertainment enterprises in the world.
The town is incredibly easy to explore on foot. That is if you get past the train station and the attached Hôtel Le Germain Charlevoix, which houses a nordic spa, an alpaca farm, high-end and casual restaurants, and a scenic lavender field.
We strolled through town, enjoying magnificent food, the Eglise de Baie-St-Paul views, and the art galleries along rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
The return journey to Montmorency gave us more time to enjoy the beautiful river-side views of the St. Lawrence River, where we kept an eye open for seals and whales as we passed by picturesque beaches and quaint waterfront houses.
Are You Ready To Enjoy Your Train de Charlevoix Adventure?
With stunning scenery, adorable small towns, vibrant cultural experiences, and luxury resorts, the Train de Charlevoix is, without a doubt, one of the signature experiences of Quebec. Yet fewer than 8% of those who take this journey are from places in Canada outside of Quebec.
Canada is missing out on an amazing chance to leave the car behind and embark on one of Canada’s most beautiful rail journeys. You can book your tickets here.
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Disclosure: My family was invited to experience the Train de Charlevoix. All opinions remain my own.
Kevin Wagar is a founder and editor of We Explore Canada. He has been working in the travel media industry since 2015 when he founded his family travel website Wandering Wagars – Adventure Family Travel.
Over the years Kevin has developed a deep love for his home country and aims to showcase the incredible experiences and amazing small businesses found within it.