MONTREAL – Having no car at the height of summer vacation time can be frustrating.
Half the people you know are away and the inescapable heat can make you feel trapped – but it doesn’t have to be that way.
There’s a buffet of destinations within a few hours of the city that make for a great outdoorsy day out, or even an overnight trip – and they’re all accessible even if you don’t have a car.
Here are 5 great car-free day trips to try from Montreal:
It’s cottage country – for people who don’t own a cottage or a car to get to it.
Sainte-Agathe is a cute gateway town to the more heavily touristed parts of the Laurentian mountains, surrounded by some of the most picturesque scenery in the province – rivers, lakes, trails and forests abound.
There are two spacious beaches, Plages Major and Tessier, both on the crystal-clear waters of Lac des Sables.
There is also plenty of great French cuisine served up in quaint, vintage restaurants right downtown.
If you’re looking for something a little more active, Sainte-Agathe is right in the middle of the P’tit Train du Nord park, a 200 kilometre long disused railway line converted into a trail that makes for a good hike and an even better bike ride.
For the really active, there’s the newly opened Tyroparc that allows you to zipline about 300 feet above rivers and forests.
It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it guarantees both exhilaration and spectacular views.
It’ll take a couple of hours on the bus to get there but the schedule is flexible enough for a same-day trip to and from Montreal.
Cap-Saint-Jacques nature park
This is one of the few places in Montreal that’ll make you feel like you’ve gone off-island.
It’s three square kilometres of green space tucked away beyond the West Island’s many acres of housing developments.
The beach is the number one draw-card and it’s easily the largest one in Montreal.
There are many other activities to do too – beach volleyball, kayaking, and windsurfing are all offered onsite.
A handful of food trucks often make the trek to the park on weekends, so you need not resign yourself to lugging a picnic around or eating from vending machines.
Warning: on busy days, the beach area can resemble a sardine can, but if you take a few minutes to explore the numerous trails and bike paths in the park, it’s easy to stake out a secluded waterfront spot far away from the masses.
The best option to get there is to take the Deux-Montagnes train to Pierrefonds-Roxboro station then the 68 bus all the way to the park.
It’s also a pleasantly flat, though somewhat long bike ride along the north shore of the island all the way to the park – allow a couple of hours each way, but you can always take your bike on an AMT train for part of the way if you get tired.
Îles de Boucherville national park
Even more nature-packed than Cap-Saint-Jacques, this national park is made up of five islands just off the east end of Montreal.
There’s no beach there, but there are a host of outdoor activities – perfectly flat bike paths, canoeing trails through tranquil wetlands and even fishing.
If you don’t have the muscle to lug your canoe to the park, don’t worry – the park has most of the equipment available for rent onsite.
The park is also an oasis for wildlife, just 500 metres away from the ‘burbs of Boucherville and the industrial Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.
There are white-tailed deer, hundreds of bird species and a handful of threatened reptiles.
It’ll take you a metro and boat to get there (as long as you go on the weekend), but it’s only an hour-long trip all up: metro to Honoré-Beaugrand station, then take a quick ferry to the island.
It might seem like just another suburb located somewhere in between Montreal and Quebec City, but there’s a surprising amount of activities to fill the day.
The town’s titular mountain – Mont-Saint-Hilaire – is a huge nature park.
The mountain and Gault Nature Reserve have an excellent set of hiking trails, which will give you stunning views over the surrounding plains as well as of Lake Hertel, which is tucked away in the middle of the mountain.
On the ground there’s also a small, but excellent art museum, focused on twentieth century and contemporary art and a great spa with hot baths and a beautiful view.
It’s also apple territory, so you can stop by the Petit et Fils Orchard for cider samples, tasty crepes or apple picking if you head out in the fall.
Mont-Saint-Hilaire is a ridiculously straightforward day trip: hop on an AMT train to the end of the line and you’re there.
Going to the States definitely makes for a long day trip – but Burlington is positively adorable and worth the effort – or consider making it an overnight stay.
It’s a compact city that’s easily walkable without a car, located right on Lake Champlain.
You could just eat and drink your way around town for a day – in peak season, regular food and beer tours run at affordable prices, showcasing Burlington’s enthusiasm for locally made, organic food.
It’s also the birthplace of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream – and though their factory has moved about half an hour down the road, there’s a couple of excellent microbreweries, a chocolate factory and numerous restaurants serving up affordable and tasty local produce, especially if you’re in the mood for cheese, apples or beer.
If that’s a little too heavy for you, the hyper-pretty waterfront is a great place to just relax and stroll around – or you rent a Segway,if you’re not ashamed!
There’s also a decent aquarium and science museum all in one building, a range of galleries and even the world’s tallest filing cabinet if it’s old-fashioned tourist attractions you’re after.
Several buses a day run between Burlington and Montreal, taking about two and a half hours each way – just cross your fingers you don’t hit any major line-ups at the border.
If you wait another year or two, you might even be lucky enough to hop on a direct train from Montreal.