Gravel cycling is all the rage these days and it’s no wonder – ideal for novice to experienced cyclists, gravel biking has just the right balance of challenge and accessibility. At the heart of gravel biking are the rail trails, defunct railways that have been converted for recreational purposes. With minimal exposure to traffic, these trails are the key to a relaxing and enjoyable ride.
Be responsible: Before heading out on the trail make sure you are using the appropriate bike for gravel trails. Be courteous of other riders and the wildlife you will encounter en route.
Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer ready to set off on a limitless biking adventure or looking for a pre-curated tour from the experts, one of these routes is for you.
In the Haliburton Highlands, a portion of the IB&O railway has been converted to a multiuse rail trail that welcomes hikers, cyclists, and ATVs. A parking lot in the tiny hamlet of Tory Hill allows you to jump on the rail trail and ride either direction.
Towns: Tory Hill, Gooderham
Fuel: Lumberjack’s Diner in Gooderham is ideal for a post-ride meal.
Tours: Yours Outdoors offers a cycle series called Pedal Your Arts. On their Gears and Glass program you can learn how to blow glass and create beautiful art in the morning and then hit the Prospector Trail Loop the IB&O rail trail to grind some gravel after a delicious catered lunch.
Further Reading: Cycling the K&P: 100 Kilometers from Calabogie to Sharbot Lake
K&P Trail (180 km)
The K&P Trail is a converted rail trail that once connected Kingston to Pembroke. Nowadays it serves as a gravel cycling route. South of Sharbot Lake, the trail surface is more consistent and predictable. Tackle the northern portion towards Calabogie and Renfrew if you have wider tires and a sense of adventure.
Towns: Sharbot Lake, Calabogie, Renfrew
Fuel: Donut ice cream sandwiches from Cardinal Café. Need we say more?
Make it a Tour: Not exactly a tour, but the folks at Sharbot Lake Country Inn can guide you on how to get where you need to go. At the end of a day on the trail a meal at the on-site Crossing Pub will refuel you for your next adventure.
Further Reading: 2-Day Cycling Staycation #InFrontenac
OVRT (300 km)
Find the mother of all rail trails in the Ottawa Valley and Lanark County: the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail (OVRT). This chunky gravel and stone dust trail spans 296-kilometres from Smiths Falls to Petawawa. Make it a multi-day trip to cover as much ground as possible, as there are lots of small towns to explore enroute.
Towns: Smiths Falls, Carleton Place, Almonte, Pakenham, Arnprior, Renfrew, Pembroke, Petawawa
Fuel: Braumeister Brewing Co.’s taproom backs right on to the OVRT, an enroute thirst quenching pit stop.
Make it a Tour: Valley Cycle Tours, just off trail in Beachburg, can provide rentals, guidance, and a place to rest your head at the Whitewater Inn. Their Valley Signature Tour is a five-day exploration of the valley’s best hidden gems, perfect for adventure seekers.
Further Reading: Cycling the K&P From Sharbot Lake to Calabogie
Haliburton County Rail Trail (35 km)
Start in the village of Haliburton at Head Lake Park and ride south through the Haliburton Highlands to Kinmount. This is a scenic trail with nice spots to enjoy a picnic or a hike, like Ritchie Falls or Barnum Creek Nature Reserve.
Towns: Haliburton, Kinmount
Fuel: Get to The Little Tart in Donald early before they sell out.
Make it a Tour: Make it a bit easier on yourself by booking a custom e-bike tour or rental with FR Bike. You can also take a curated bike tour with Humdinger Tours - their 3-day Independent Tour is a fantastic route for those looking for a little bit of gravel and a little bit of pavement, and uses Bonnie View Inn as a launchpad to cycle the region. Humdinger also rents bikes that are gravel appropriate and can take on even the worst of Haliburton's terrain.
Further Reading: Beer, Butter Tarts & Burritos Bikepacking Route
Trans Canada Trail
This trail spanning the entire country strings together a series of existing trails to create the ultimate adventure. Ride across Ontario’s Highlands using the Hastings County Trail, the Municipality of Kaladar trail, and the Central Frontenac Trailway. Warning: this section is for true adventurers who don’t mind getting their feet wet!
Towns: Tweed, Kaladar, Sharbot Lake
Fuel: Enjoy a hard-earned poutine from Gala’s Pit Stop in Kaladar.