In my humble opinion, there is no better time than fall to hop on my bike and hit the roads, gravel, and trails of Ontario’s Highlands. I don’t have to worry about overheating, nor will I find myself pushed to my limit while trying to outrun a swarm of deer flies for 20 kilometres (true story). But best of all, I love to marvel in the spectacle of the vibrant colours that take my breath away, if there’s anything left to take after that last hill.
Ontario’s Highlands is a cyclist’s paradise, with your choice of gravel trails, winding roads, plus cross-country or downhill mountain biking too. If you’re not a seasoned cyclist but are hoping to take in the fall colours in an active way, give it a try and you might find yourself hooked.
If you’re keen to bike your way through fall, here are some ideas to get you started.
Hit the Road, Jack
Here’s an easy place to start. Pick a county, any county. Have a look at the maps produced for cyclists that identify their bicycling routes. Load your bike onto your car and get going; it’s seriously that easy. Lanark County and the Ottawa Valley are both short drives from Ottawa with tons of road routes ranging from shorter town-hopping out-and-backs (foodies, take note), to long loops through the Madawaska Highlands. Routes in Lennox and Addington include their 100 kilometre Buckshot Lake route that takes you through the Addington Highlands and neighbouring Frontenac County too. In the Haliburton Highlands, local cyclist group Cycle Haliburton has mapped their preferred routes, with added tips to making the most of your ride.
You may have noticed a common word thrown around quite a bit so far: “Highlands”. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: some of these routes have serious climbs. However, as they say, what comes up must come down – have fun out there!
Grind that Gravel
If your thing is gravel, you’ve got many options in the region. Casual cyclists and families will appreciate that the former railways now converted to gravel trails keep you isolated from roads and vehicles.
Have you heard about the Great Trail – aka the Trans Canada Trail? It’s 24,000 kilometres of multi-use trails that will take a user all the way across Canada. In Ontario’s Highlands this trail piggybacks on several existing trails – Hastings County Trail, Central Frontenac Trailway, the K&P Trail, and the Lanark Link. Only a portion of these trails are part of the Great Trail, so you can explore any of them beyond that too!
The Ottawa Valley Rail Trail runs between Smiths Falls and Renfrew, and will eventually connect to Pembroke. Hop on at Smiths Falls and bike to Carleton Place – or vice versa – a roughly 60 kilometre out-and-back ride completely free of road riding. The Haliburton Rail Trail is a similar option connecting the towns of Haliburton and Kinmount.
Go Off Roading
You could enjoy the fall colours from the road, or you could get up close and personal as you dash through the trees on a mountain bike. Both downhill and cross country trails (plus an awesome pump track) can be found at Sir Sam’s Ski and Ride, which also offers rentals and lift service on the weekends. Nearby, the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Centre has 300 kilometres of backcountry routes to carve through.
The Pines is a new spot in Lennox and Addington where bikers can rip along six moderately easy trails. Ottawa area cyclists love hidden gems like Forest Lea, and its 30 kilometres of single track trails, or Beachburg Off Road Cycling Association’s (BORCA) trails to name a few. Gearheads in Petawawa can hook you up with a bike rental to get you ready for the trails.
Join a Tour or Event
Join a cycling tour or special event with your friends, or treat it as a way to meet new people with a shared interest. Humdinger Bicycle Tours has a 3-day Pedal, Pints, and Pubs tour of the Haliburton Highlands, built for novice or intermediate riders who enjoy ending their day with a beer. Meals and accommodations are included on their tours, the next of which departs September 22.
To step it up a notch, sign up for Madawaska Kanu Centre’s Fall Colours Cycling Retreat over Thanksgiving weekend. Choose from road or mountain biking and you’ll be set up with maps and route instructions each day. MKC is your base camp, where you can return to a delicious meal and a comfortable room or cabana.
If you’re really tough, try out the Hastings Highlands Hilly Hundred, Ontario’s Toughest Century Ride. Whether you choose the 100 or 160 kilometre ride, you’ll face nearly 1000 metres of elevation gain.
For more information on all types of cycling, and ideas of cycle-friendly businesses like hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, and rental or bike shops, check out Ontario by Bike’s website. Happy riding!