At the beginning of cycling season, my friend Tanner and I made a plan to bike a long loop of the old railbed. The plan was to follow the old train tracks for three days and to try avoiding the road as much as possible. We were looking forward to feeling the sun on our face and the wind at our back in Frontenac County.
We used the K&P Trail and the Cataraqui Trail to travel through Frontenac County and both trails offered great cycling with amazing landscapes. With water bottles filled, oatmeal consumed, the route uploaded to our GPS units, the trail unrolling out in front of us – we climbed on our bikes and started pedaling.
Fueling Up and Making Friends
I live 16 kilometres west of Sharbot Lake, so we started the day with a slow cruise across the Trans Canada Trail to Cardinal Cafe – a beautiful church-turned-coffee shop with amazing views out to the lake.
While we waited to order, Tanner nudged me. “Hey dude, that girl is waving at you like she knows you!” A girl on a Surly Long Haul Trucker, decked out with bags attached anywhere you could attach a bag, was enthusiastically waving at me from the road. I waved back.
She pulled her bike up and said hello and how excited she was to see other bikepackers. A gleeful way to begin our journey. The cyclist’s name was Tali and she was biking from Toronto to Montreal, taking her time, and wild camping when she found a nice place to lay her head.
Tali had spoiled herself the night before by booking a room at Rockhill B&B in the village, and I was excited to hear about her stay. Rockhill B&B just launched a new Frontenac Trail Tours business last summer and are the perfect cyclist-friendly place to stay if you’re starting out in Sharbot Lake.
Tali gave us some gear pointers and as she set off north, we went south, thinking that maybe we’d cross paths with her again on the last day. This connection at the beginning of our trip really made the trails feel hospitable. We’d meet people for the next three days and the attitude was always the same. Cheerful, encouraging, and kind.
The Route – On the Cataraqui Trail
The Cataraqui Trail enters Frontenac County just west of Harrowsmith and will carry you all the way to Smiths Falls. There is a parking lot located just off Highway 38 south of Harrowsmith and it's a great place to begin your journey north or east. The condition of the trail changes between Harrowsmith and Smiths Falls quite a bit.
There are nice hard-packed sections, grassy parts, and some slightly overgrown rough sections. The trail gets rougher the further east you go on it but I wouldn't let that discourage you if you have a decent size knobby tire. It's not advanced terrain by any means and it's really beautiful and not to be missed.
In the springtime the forests, fields, and marshes come to life and the soundscape can be deafening in a profoundly beautiful way. It's important to stop and take in these sounds and sights. The summer brings hot days that are perfect for long swims in the lakes and rivers the trails cross. The fall brings breathtaking vistas of golden light, no bugs, and cooler temps that are absolutely perfect for cycling, not to mention the stunning fall colours.
*Be advised that ATVs are not allowed on any sections of the Cataraqui Trail so you can ride without the fear of motorized vehicles flying around a corner. In the winter snowmobiles have access to certain portions of the trail though so if you're fat-biking, then be alert.
An Olympic Event
While riding through Chaffey’s Lock, we were passed by a guy heading in the other direction. When he passed us, Tanner and I both agreed that he looked fast. We ended up passing him again while on a bridge way up over the locks, and so we stopped to shoot the breeze for a bit and to see where he was going.
After a bit of trail talk, we asked him what he did. He told us he was a retired speed skater who had won a gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics. It was none other than Olivier Jean! He’s been cottaging in the area all summer and told us that he rides the Cat Trail almost daily, as a way to clear his head and stay in shape.
He offered to lead us east and we rode shoulder to shoulder (with a gold medalist, no big deal) with him for over an hour, picking his brain about the Olympics and the art of speed skating and how, “if you want to be fast on your bike, you need white shoes and your outfits must co-ordinate.”
He was hilarious; a super nice guy, and he kept our pace up as we made the final push to Smiths Falls. He eventually had to branch off to head home and when he did, Tanner and I dropped our speed by about 50 per cent.
The Route – On the K&P Trail
The K&P Trail runs approximately 180-kilometres from Kingston to Renfrew on the old rail line of the Kingston to Pembroke Railway. The condition of the trail changes as it moves through different regions but a big portion of it is crushed limestone and is in very great shape.
It's a mellow ride and you can mostly stay in one gear for long stretches of straight trail. It's great for setting a pace and locking into a groove. A meditative way to bike.
From Kingston all the way to Clarendon the trail is hard-packed and crushed limestone. North of Clarendon it becomes much more rugged and requires more advanced skills and chunkier tires. It's also more prone to flooding.
Before you reach Snow Road Station the trail ends and you have to hit the road for a few kilometres before rejoining the trail west of Snow Road Station. From then on the trail condition stays quite rough but consistent. If you're up for the adventure it's a very rewarding part of the K&P passing past rockcuts, little lakes, and feeling very remote.
The gentle turns, low grades, and hard surface make it rideable for almost all types of bikes. I would avoid super skinny tires but anything over 25-26 mm will suit you fine. Mountain bikes, gravel bikes, or a city cruiser are all you need to enjoy this trail.
*Be advised that portions of the trail are open to ATVs. In the section that runs north of Highway 7 they can be quite fast and blind turns make for some dangerous sections. Keep to the right of the trail as best as you can and your head up to approaching vehicles.