Travel on Two Wheels: The Best Ontario Trails for All Cyclist Levels

Last updated on August 9th, 2021

Featured image: A group of women cyclists heading down a path

Mature women cyclists weigh in on Ontario’s best bike trails

By Amanda Burgess, Editor, JourneyWoman

(This is a sponsored post)

When is the last time you were on a bike of any kind? I’ve mountain biked, e-biked and cycled my way through cities and countryside on my global travels, but hadn’t owned a bike since I was in university. I bought a city bike last summer and recaptured the flying-haired freedom of my youth. Heady stuff.

I’m not alone in rekindling this passion. Biking is a low-impact, low-barrier, accessible form of exercise for almost anyone – even those with mobility issues find cycling easier than walking. The pandemic transformed the way North Americans approach exercise and getting from A to B.

Bike sales in the US spiked by 75% in 2020 versus 2019, and for the first two months of 2021, the year-over-year increase was 130 per cent. E-bike sales in the US grew 145 per cent from 2019 to 2020. Market research firm NPD Group doesn’t track Canadian numbers, but Eco-Counter, which manufactures products that count pedestrians and bikes reported that cycling rates during Canadian cold-weather months in 2020 rose by 28%. Anecdotally, bike shops across the country have been selling out of bikes since mid-2020, causing industry pundits to predict that the unprecedented level of bike sales and shortages could stretch into 2023.

The bike boom is putting a lot of rusty riders out on the roads and trails. I haven’t ventured beyond the Toronto section of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail, as I’m not completely comfortable with road biking yet. Now I’m considering some training and participating in a ride by Ontario by Bike – a network that offers cycling information and ride events with a goal to inspire Ontario visitors and residents to explore more of the province by bike.

Whether you’re a novice, intermediate or seasoned cyclist, you’ll find a treasure trove of route suggestions and maps for planning a day trip or multi-day cycling itinerary with stops at certified bike-friendly businesses on ontariobybike.ca.

Louisa Mursell is Executive Director, Ontario By Bike, a non-profit dedicated to creating sustainable transportation and tourism solutions in Ontario.

“We first started with the Bike Train, working with VIA Rail, and then GO Transit, to help increase bike transportation and make it easier for cyclists to get to cycling routes in Ontario,” she says. “We immediately saw an opportunity to create a larger piece of work around cycling tourism, working with destinations around Ontario and getting businesses involved. Now with over 1,500 certified bicycle-friendly businesses, we are effectively helping cyclists support small businesses when visiting or biking around Ontario communities.”

We sat down with an all-woman panel of seasoned cyclists to tease out Ontario’s best biking trails for riders of all levels and abilities. Whether you’re a local, plan to make a visit to Ontario, or are a cyclist or would-be cyclist looking for some biking inspiration, you’ll want to bookmark this article.

Our panel

 

Ontario by Bike executive director Louisa Mursell riding her bike
Louisa Mursell

Executive Director, Ontario by Bike

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Louisa has been working in the area of cycling tourism for more than 13 years. As Executive Director of Transportation Options, she oversees projects and programs that fulfill the non-profit organization’s mandate to create sustainable mobility and tourism solutions across Ontario, one of which is Ontario By Bike. The Ontario by Bike Network provides extensive resources for cyclists and assists industry partners and tourism businesses reach the growing number of cyclists through a number of program areas. A keen cyclist and outdoor enthusiast, she loves her job that has inspired many new cyclists plus friends and family to hop on a bike and explore Ontario.

Beth on a country road during an Ontario by Bike ride
Beth Bailey

Cyclist and Ontario By Bike rider

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Beth has biked on and off for most of her life. She got her first bike as a reward for passing Grade Two, rode a bike to school through grade school, took a break in high school, and picked it up again in college to save on bus fare. After she crashed riding home from class one day, she lost her nerve and put the bike away for most of her working career.

After I retired, I purchased a new bike after convincing the salesperson that I did not want an ‘old lady’ bike but rather a ‘speedy’ bike. (This is a problem for women my age in the industry). I was still taking care of my elderly father at this time but used my bike as a ‘break from service,” she says. “It was on the back roads of the Lion’s Head, Wiarton, Owen Sound area that I started to ride seriously. It was a moment to clear my head, get some exercise and enjoy the tough climbs up and the exhilaration of the downhill – a moment when I decided that biking was for me. Since then, I have done many of the Ontario by Bike rides and I have never looked back!”

Alice Strachan strong-arming her bike at the close of the Ride to Conquer Cancer in Niagara Falls
Alice Strachan

Cyclist and Ontario By Bike rider

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Alice lived on her bike when she was a country kid with only one way into town to see her friends. As an adult, she didn’t ride or own a bike for years. Then one day she stopped to let cyclists in the Ride to Conquer Cancer pass by, saw many riders who looked like her and thought: If they can do that, I can too.

“For the next 10 years I did the Ride to Conquer Cancer – my last ride was three years ago. My family joined me and my husband rode for five years too. Then we decided to go on a bike holiday – our first was in the US and then Waterfront Trail,” she says.  “We have now biked in Alaska, Hawaii and Utah and done three Great Waterfront Trail Adventure Rides (I am doing my fourth in August this year). My husband took a rest from biking for two years due to bad knees but has just purchased an e-bike and will be on the next two Ontario by Bike Rides with me. We love the cycling trips and seeing such different scenery than you see by car.”

Two women sitting on their bikes infront of a bridge
Robin Durrant

Cyclist and Ontario By Bike rider

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After serving as primary caregiver for both her husband and mother, Robin began riding in 2013 in a bid to improve her mental health and physical wellbeing. After a casual conversation about her first solo ride, her co-worker Donna-Marie invited her to explore the world of cycling with three other women.

“When I first started riding, it was on country roads within my community. Then the opportunities started to grow. I rode the New York City Five Boro Bike Tour, took a boat-and-bike tour in Holland and Belgium with friends, and cycled through numerous communities in Ontario and along the shores of the Great Lakes and many rivers,” she says. “With an increased level of fitness and confidence, I started paddleboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. A cycling trip affords opportunities to incorporate other activities if you allow yourself to think outside of the box.”

Donna Marie and Robin on fat bikes
Donna Marie Nyenhuis-Rickwood

Cyclist and Ontario By Bike rider

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Donna Marie started riding in 2013 as a way to increase her fitness and lose weight. Her first attempt was a 5 km ride around her neighbourhood on her daughter’s bike. In awe of her father, who rode from Brantford to Hamilton along the Rail Trail, her goal was to try a 35 km ride with him.

“A friend encouraged me to get a ‘good’ bike. Then I started riding with her and another lady. Now I have cycled in Ontario, Holland, France, Belgium, New York City, and Denmark. My fitness activities grew, I have participated in try & tri’s, duathlons, and the Grand Fondo PEI, placing third in my age/gender category in the sprint portion,” she says. “I have started paddleboarding, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and hiking. Cycling has definitely opened new opportunities and now my ride buddy Robin and I are game to try almost anything – we both participated in the 2017 Polar Rush in Horseshoe Valley. It’s built our confidence, and allowed us to meet new people and experience a life worth living.”

Best Ontario Bike Trails for Women Cyclists

1. Kawarthas Trans Canada Trail (Uxbridge to Lindsay to Peterborough)

Recommended By: Alice Strachan
Location/Nearest Major City: Peterborough
Trail Type: Mixed, mostly unpaved and off-road
Trail Maps & Ontario By Bike Itinerary: 
Kawartha TCT Map
G2G Trail Map
Self-guided Itinerary

A woman biking along Kawarthas Trans Canada Trail

A 44 km, well-maintained rail trail that runs east of Toronto is part of the Trans Canada Trail. It winds through wetlands and forests, offering cyclists both the picturesque and quiet – marsh wildlife, old bridges, and long-quiet stretches with not another soul in sight. “I love this trail – 44 km to Lindsay, lunch in Lindsay, 40 km to Peterborough, stay overnight and repeat the next day,” says Strachan. “Other rail trails to explore are the Guelph to Goderich trail (overnight in Blyth) and also the Guelph to Elmira, with lunch at Kitchen Cuttings and back.”

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2. 1,000 Island St. Lawrence River Ride

Recommended By: Louisa Mursell and Alice Strachan
Location/Nearest Major City: Brockville/Morrisburg
Trail Type: Mixed, road and off-road, mostly paved
Trail Maps & Ontario By Bike Itinerary: 
Self-Guided Itinerary

1,000 Island St. Lawrence River Ride

On this suggested three-day, long-weekend Ontario By Bike tour, riders cycle one of the most spectacular routes in Ontario, exploring the 1,000 Islands and St. Lawrence River. Starting from Brockville and Morrisburg, the tour follows the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail east, and features a mix of trails and roads. This is a choose-your-own-adventure excursion that lets you slow down the pace to take in the scenery and make the most of waterfront rest stops, villages and attractions. Enjoy a night in Brockville, a night in Morrisburg, and take in an array of natural and heritage attractions on the third day in a historic region once known as Upper Canada. “Each section can be done as a circle route in a day. You can do one, two or three sections. It is not really hilly and the views are spectacular!” says Strachan. “If you are riding totally solo, one needs circular routes since ending up a long distance from your car just does not work.”

3. Toronto Trails and Ravine Tour

Recommended By: Louisa Mursell
Location/Nearest Major City:Toronto
Trail Type: Mixed, mostly off-road and paved
Trail Maps & Ontario By Bike Itinerary: 
Self-Guided Itinerary

One of Mursell’s favorite rides is one developed by Ontario By Bike that various entities are helping to build out more. It’s a 85 km looped ride around Toronto that takes riders through a mix of parks, ravines, hydro corridors and waterfront trails. You can make it a single day tour, or stay overnight to have more time to stop and enjoy the city’s many attractions, neighbourhoods and parks. Suitable to all levels of riders. “I don’t think a lot of people know that side of Toronto well enough. They think big city, big smoke, but it has an incredible trail system,” says Mursell.

Two cyclists on Toronto Trails & Ravine Tour

4. HamBur Loop (part of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail)

Recommended By: Donna-Marie Nyenhuis-Rickwood and Robin Durrant
Location/Nearest Major City: Hamilton and Burlington
Trail Type: Mixed, road and off-road, paved and unpaved
Trail Maps & Ontario By Bike Itinerary:
Self-Guided Itinerary

Cyclists biking along the Hambur Loop, Hamilton

This 50 km scenic ride spans the Hamilton and Burlington waterfronts and links historic railway routes, an iconic brickyard, and a popular waterfall. Suitable for a moderately experienced level of rider. The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail website offers a map to help you plan where to park and start/end your ride. “There are lots of challenges. From climbing down a huge staircase to Cootes Paradise using a bike rail to climbing the Hamilton Escarpment to the descent through the Red Hill Valley,” says Donna-Marie. “Lots of different terrain. Road, paved trail, stairs, gravel trail, dirt, and bricked trail. Areas of industry, (Hamilton Harbourfront), natural preserved areas (Royal Botanical Gardens), the city streets of Hamilton, and natural beauty through the Escarpment and Red Hill Valley.”

woman riding across a bridge

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A biker riding along the Essex Centurion 100 mile loop

5. Essex Centurion 100 Mile Loop

Recommended By: Beth Bailey
Location/Nearest Major City: Windsor
Trail Type: Mixed, road and off-road, paved and unpaved
Trail Maps & Ontario By Bike Itinerary:
Trail Map
Self-Guided Itinerary

This continuous 100-mile bike route loop knits together quiet country roads, quaint neighbourhood streets, and some of the region’s stellar bike facilities on a route that is colour-code mapped, making it accessible and comfortable for cyclists of most levels and abilities. “This route can be accomplished in one day but I would recommend two days. I have done it three times, the first time with two other very inexperienced riders. The other two times I did it over two days but never did get around to registering the ride. This route is great since Essex County has no hills – it is manageable for most riders,” says Bailey. 

Thinking about getting into biking or getting more serious about it? Stay tuned for the next article in our Travel on Two Wheels series, where we delve into safety tips, life lessons learned from biking, and why being a member of a community like Ontario By Bike offers big benefits.

Read More From Active Travelers

Amanda Burgess, a Toronto-based writer and creative strategist whose bags are always packed for her next adventure, is our Editor at JourneyWoman. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), and a Certified Cancer Journey Coach who creates a safe space for cancer patients and caregivers to design their dream lives – while living with cancer, and on the other side of it.

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