About 4 months ago, I came across some traces of the Central Ontario Loop Trail (COLT) online, a mountain bike route that covers a whopping 450km using primarily rail trails. It didn’t take long to realize this was an Ontario tourism initiative that wasn’t fully developed, so I figured I’d start things up again where they stopped. For the past month, I have used a variety of digital and print maps, GPS software, and satellite imagery to piece together the 457km mountain bike friendly route. All I needed to do now was ride it…
Unable to find any friends or family that could find the time to join I decided to tackle the route solo. In order to carry the necessary camping gear as well as handle the rugged and loose terrain I was expecting, I merged mountain biking with lightweight camping, which is known to the cycling world as “bikepacking”. This synergy is the absolute perfect way for cyclists or backpackers looking to reach places they wouldn’t be able to on foot or without proper camping gear.
As part of the trip, I made it a goal to stop off at local eateries and tourist attractions along the way, partly to keep things interesting but mostly because I like great food. Luckily for me, the Kawartha Northumberland region is packed full of small towns and villages that offer some truly delicious stops. For the purpose of this story, I will divide my trip up into three sections, going counter-clockwise along the COLT, even though I started my trip in Fenelon Falls. For information on the entire route, check out www.bikepacking.com.
The section from Kinmount to Lindsay takes cyclists on the Victoria Rail Trail, an enjoyable ride for all levels of cyclists. The trail is mostly hard packed gravel with a few softer sections to keep things interesting. Just north of Kinmount, there are two trestle bridges along the trail, which would have been originally used for the railroad that once existed there.
The trail continues through the forests leading to Fenelon Falls, and as the trees start to disperse, the views open up to Cameron Lake where I wasn’t surprised to see boaters out and about and families playing in the water. The Fenelon Falls beach is the perfect place to begin or finish any adventure on the rail trails, not only because it’s a great place to cool off, but also because free parking is available (and overnight parking if you so desire). Make sure you check out Sweet Bottoms Coffee, just down the street from the lock.
As I rode south towards Lindsay, more and more farmland appeared on either side of the trail, and before I knew it, I was downtown exploring the Trent Severn Waterway Lock and the historic site right beside it! A stop at Kawartha Dairy, just South West of McDonnell Park, is always worth your time.
There are rail trail options that lead right into Peterborough if you’d prefer, but my trip took me south towards Port Hope, past Devils Elbow Ski and Snowboard Area, and through the Ganaraska Forest. This was accomplished through a mix of side roads and a large portion followed the Ganaraska hiking trail as well.
This section ends at yet another fantastic beach just a few minutes from downtown Port Hope, could this get any better?
The pace changes a bit from Port Hope to Brighton as I took the popular Waterfront Trail, a paved scenic route that is fantastic for road cyclists as well. If you’re looking to see Lake Ontario, get ready, because you will be seeing a lot of it for this stretch heading East.
Plan to spend a bit of time in Cobourg. It’s a beautiful little town that is full of fantastic cafes and restaurants, all within a minutes ride from the beach. Play your cards right and you’ll end up cruising through town just as Rib Fest was starting up… not a bad way to spend the afternoon!
I ended my day, and this story, in Brighton, at the Presqu’ile Craft Brewery and Dougalls on the Bay (now known as The Whistling Duck Restaurant) restaurant. This newly opened small-batch brewery has a fantastic local vibe and offers some delicious session beers that are definitely cyclist friendly.
Dougalls on the Bay has the perfect patio to enjoy a meal and wind down after a long day of riding. The friendly staff also offered to lock up my bike in their storage unit, which was a pleasant surprise.
Although this was only part of a much larger journey on the COLT, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to enjoy the smaller sections of trails and communities that are available to us. Even if you just have an afternoon, you will be amazed at what you will see and what you can do. You can read the full version of the entire COLT journey on www.ridingfeelsgood.com.
Check out the related links below for more great information.
Central Ontario Loop Trail: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/14074803
Ontario By Bike: http://ontariobybike.ca
Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance: https://www.thetrail.ca
Kawartha Northumberland Trip Planner Tool: http://trip.kawarthasnorthumberland.ca
Miles Arbour grew up in a small town in rural Ontario, and as a young lad he quite literally feared riding bikes. Throughout his studies at Trent University for Business and Algonquin College for Outdoor Adventure Guide Training, he slowly developed a strong desire for all things bike related. Today, Miles is usually riding, writing about, and documenting bikepacking opportunities in Canada.