In Search of Trail

From the highlands to the valley, these 3 scenic mountain biking trails are popular with locals and visitors for a reason.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I find you can judge an area’s mountain biking potential by its bike shops. So, as we pull into Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, our approach to research is the same as always: type “bike shop” into the GPS and press go. As it turns out, the nearest option, Vélorution Bike & Ski, is just around the corner. We barely get into the driveway before we realized we are in for a treat.

“Is that a pump track?” We came to Algoma Country in search of mountain bike trails but little did we know that we are about to spend all our free time hanging out at the coolest bike shop I've had the pleasure of hanging out at in Sault Ste. Marie.

Yes, that is a professionally built pump track in the front yard. Inside, world-travelled touring cyclists mingle, discussing where they've been, and where they are going. All this while taking advantage of the accessible washrooms, a hot shower and, of course, bike repairs. Behind the counter, a big shiny coffee machine is always set to brew, and a coffee mug awaits everybody that passes through the door. We're not talking about your off-the-shelf coffee here. Oh no, we're talking high-quality, locally-roasted beans sporting the Vélorution name.

coffee at velorution

“We're interested in local mountain bike trails.”

Jan is the shop owner. His eyes light up bright enough to match his smile. I'm not sure if his excitement is because of my trail inquiry or because of the high-octane coffee.

“Hiawatha Highlands,” he offers without hesitation.

“As a matter of fact, we are planning a ride later today. You're welcome to join.”

Not one to ever pass up an opportunity for some local guidance, of course, my answer is yes—but how will we pass the time? Where there is a will, there is a way. Coffee, anybody?

cyclists at hiawatha highlands

1. Biking Hiawatha Highlands

Located on the outskirts of town, the Hiawatha Highlands trail network is an absolute gem. At 25 km, it’s not epic but what it lacks in overall distance, it more than makes up for with a perfect mix of tech and flow. As trails go, it checks all the boxes of what makes a mountain biker grin. Heavy on the twists and turns with a steady supply of rocks and roots, plus the occasional waterfall or lookout to add some wow factor.

hiawatha highlands mountain biking
hiawatha highlands waterfall
hiawatha highlands trail
hiawatha highlands bike trail

It’s always nice to play follow-the-leader with some locals (thank you, Jan and Joel, for the tour), but with maps at trailheads and signage along the trails, finding your way around is also a breeze.

2. Biking Bellevue Valley

The trail around Bellevue Valley is a bit of a local secret. You won't find trail maps here but you will find spectacular views and the biggest elevation drop north of Lake Superior. The trail drops a very challenging 200 meters in elevation over its 5 km length—this is no place for beginners. That said, if you have the skill and the correct choice of bike, you are in for a good time. But be warned: what goes down must come up, and the ride back to the top is a long one!

bellevue valley mountain biking scenic lookout
bellevue valley mountain biking
bellevue valley mountain biking

3. Biking The Lookout Trail

If you like to mix your mountain bike ride with some sand between your toes, then this is the ride for you. Located about an hour's drive north of Sault Ste. Marie, Pancake Bay Provincial Park is one of the few provincial parks in Ontario to allow mountain biking. The 14-km Lookout Trail definitely had a wilderness adventure kind of feel to it during our visit, with wet sections and encroaching tree limbs, all part of its backcountry charm. You are rewarded for your efforts with spectacular views and the finest sand beach you will find along the north shore of Lake Superior.

pancake bay beach
pancake bay lookout trail
pancake bay bike trail

As awesome as the Sault Ste. Marie mountain biking experience was for us, it’s the region’s overall cycling scene that was a nice surprise. Numerous road riding opportunities abound in the surrounding countryside. In town, there is The Hub Trail, a multi-use trail system that allows you to explore the city by bike. The newest addition to Sault Ste. Marie’s two-wheel fun factor is a paved pump track, an instant hit with local kids of all ages.

The Sault Cycling Club offers a place to connect and Vélorution, Algoma Bicycle, and Duke of Windsor Sport Shop will keep you rolling. The mountain bike trails in Algoma Country are definitely worthy of a visit, but it’s the local mountain biking/cycling community that makes them a must-visit. Better get our names on some coffee mugs, Vélorution, we’ll be back before you know it.

sault ste marie pump track

Where to stay and what to do while biking in Sault Ste. Marie

Whatever your accommodations needs are—be it camping, hotel or a backcountry lodge—Algoma has you covered. For our visit, we set up home at the Days Inn & Suites in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. The location made it easy access to The Hub Trail, and the new pump track is only a few minute's bike ride away. There is indoor parking and we did see bikes on the car racks overnight but, when the bikes are worth more than the car they were attached to, we brought ours up to our room.

A few doors down, OutSpoken Brewing provided the nightcap. They support local cycling and pour a fine pint. In the morning, Superior Home Bakery was the source of some fine baked goods to go with the coffee at Vélorution; they also make some amazing lunch-worthy sandwiches. After the long climb at Bellevue Valley, Jack’s Chicken and Fish replenished our energy with some delicious fish & chips.

If you only have time to do one tourist-like outing, make it to the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. This place is awesome! And maybe Northern Superior Brewing Co.were next door—they're pretty cool too. Yes, you can get there by bike—just hit up The Hub Trail.

About Martin Lortz

Martin Lortz is a freelance photographer/writer specializing in the outdoor lifestyle. Whether he is covering adventure motorcycling, kayak fishing or family oriented outdoor pursuits, his passion for capturing the beauty of nature and the people that partake in it, is evident in his work. His photos and articles have appeared in magazines such as Ski Canada, Explore, Bike, Mountain Life, Couloir, Kayak Angler and Family Camping, as well as in calendars, catalogs and brochures.

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