In 2020, my friend Tanner and I set off on an epic bike trip travelling from Sharbot Lake to Calabogie on the K&P and Ottawa Valley Rail Trail (OVRT). This was a 330-kilometre counter-clockwise loop that we planned to tackle in three days.
The Choo Choo Loop started in Sharbot Lake and followed the K&P Trail south to Harrowsmith, where it intersects with the Cataraquai Trail, which runs east and west. We hopped on it there and rode it all the way to Smiths Falls on night one.
The next day, we joined the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail which runs from Smiths Falls to Mattawa. We hopped off of it at Renfrew and headed south on the K&P again to Calabogie for our second night. On the last day of riding, we stayed on the K&P until Sharbot Lake. Save for a few kilometres here and there, we rode almost exclusively on old rail beds.
The End of Day Two: Pakenham to Calabogie
Day two had been spent travelling from Smiths Falls through Almonte and Pakenham. We coasted through Pakenham and landed in Arnprior. We detoured off the trail into Gillies Grove, a forest in town that hosts the tallest (47m) white pine tree in Ontario! It was beautiful to spin through the cool, shady forest amongst these giants and felt like being in coastal British Columbia.
We then continued north, alongside the Ottawa River, starting to feel these longer days in the legs and getting a bit quieter on the bike, snacking away on the leftovers from lunch, and starting to think about dinner and the bed that was ahead of us in Calabogie.
Renfrew came next and we took a quick spin down the main drag for reconnaissance. We started to realize that we’d been cramming too many things in at this point and it would’ve been nice to spend an afternoon in all of the towns we were blazing through. If you had more time to spare, then I’d recommend doing the trip in four or five days so you could really explore some of these great Eastern Ontario towns.
Leaving Renfrew, we rejoined the K&P Trail and sailed the last 30km to our home for the night: the Calabogie Peaks Resort. Normally, when you’re about 20 to 30 kilometres from your stopping point, all conversations turn to food. This case was no different.
I’d eyed the menu at Canthooks, the hotel restaurant, earlier that day and it was running through my mind as we made a strong push to beat the dusk into Calabogie. After a quick check-in and some super hot showers, we hit the restaurant with carbohydrates in our eyes.
Burger time it was, and we split a plate of käsespätzle just to make sure we were good and full. What better beer to wash it all down with than a pint of local Whitewater Brewery‘s Farmer’s Daughter Blonde Ale. This is arguably my favourite brewery in Ontario right now, and I had high hopes of making a detour off the trail to visit the brewery on this trip, but just couldn’t make it work with the kilometres we had to make each day.
Once we got back to our rooms it was lights out and a deep sleep, resting up for the 100-kilometres return home.
100-kilometres on Day Three
We knew that day three was going to be, mostly, just biking. The maps showed it as 100-kilometres of almost entirely trail, not a lot of villages to pass through, and some remote riding.
We biked over to Redneck Bistro in the town of Calabogie to fuel up for the day. The place was hopping on this Saturday – the parking lot loaded with motorcycles, and the food quickly proved why it was so popular. Tanner and I both ordered flatbreads to eat and then wraps to take with us on the trail, knowing that there wouldn’t be a food stop until Sharbot Lake, about 80 kilometres later.
Full of delicious flatbread, we lifted our sore bodies back on our trusty steeds and slowly started to roll out our legs for the day. I found a note on my voice recorder after I got home about the subtle pain and how my legs, “probably wouldn’t feel much worse than now, but it would be whether my mind would make the day difficult”.
By the end of this trip, I felt like I could ride 100-kilometres-plus every day, forever, but it was whether my ambition would want to keep up with my legs.
On the K&P
The ride begins as a detour on Barryvale Road around Calabogie Lake to where the K&P trail starts again. It was fun to roll on some smooth pavement for awhile, to be honest, but once we coasted down a big hill to the trailhead, with a golf course on both sides of us, and saw the trailhead, it was like coming home. I mean, we were heading home, technically, so…this is a magical little part of the K&P.
Again, it felt very coastal BC to me. The trail was in great shape, and it was quiet in the woods on this gorgeous Saturday. We passed by Mile Lake, just below Calabogie, and it was glassy calm with the bluest sky above it. We found a few supreme places to pitch a tent for the night if wild camping was your jam.
This section of trail felt so removed from civilization, yet wasn’t so far off the beaten path and the last section above Snow Road Station was arguably the most beautiful: an almost dried up creek running along both sides of the rail bed, with intermittent rock cuts and deep deciduous forests.
I often found myself dreaming about how beautiful that train trip must have been, back when the K&P Railroad had actual trains on it – a face pressed against the glass as the train rocked back and forth along the tracks, through the winter woods, with lakes around the bend and deer scattering up and over the hills.
The K&P kicks and pushes you back out onto paved roads until you get south of Mississippi Station, where you can get off the clean and simple roads and back onto the soul-fortifying, gravel-grinding trail to glory. We ran into a group of four guys heading north, loaded down with gear, just when we got back on the trail.
We shared some stories about where we were coming from and where we were going and Eric, one of the riders from that pack, had recently finished a loop called the Log Driver’s Waltz that he’s been spreading the word about. It’s an 800-kilometre trip through the Ottawa Valley and now on the bucket list for us.
Like the first day, it was nice and comforting to see other folks out riding these trails. The trail south of here gets quite rocky, with some significant water holes. I stubbornly wanted to ride as much of the trail as we possibly could so it meant some wet feet but it was fun. It was important to choose the right line on some parts of the trail to avoid wet rocks and some deeper water holes.
The County Of Frontenac is currently in the process of updating parts of the trail here, and when we hit Clarendon Station it was freshly graded and in wonderful shape. I loved all the rough and rocky sections of the last three days as it was nice to mix it up. We made one last stop in Sharbot Lake before the last leg home.
A quick drink and a swim at the beach as the sun was setting was a glorious way to cap this loop off. The water perked me up for the Trans Canada Trail back to Mountain Grove and we took it all in at a mellow cadence, reminiscing about all of the things we’d seen over the last few days, munching some snacks, and starting to daydream about the next adventure.
Of course, we ended the trip with a high five and a cold beer in the driveway and that was that. A successful run of the Choo Choo Loop. If you’re looking for a fun way to see some of this section of Ontario, then I highly recommend this trip.
It’s an easy ride and you can choose how many kilometres to go each day, customizing it for how you’re feeling. I’d also think about doing it clockwise, instead, as you could pack a nice lunch for day one and aim for Calabogie, which would give you more lodging options on the subsequent days.