The Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance

This spring, break the Covid doldrums and head to Eastern Ontario to soak up the great outdoors. This vast trail network offers ATV riders amazing opportunities for adventure.

If there’s a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that sales of powersports vehicles are up significantly, with off-road vehicles driving much of that growth. It seems that many people reacted to lockdown in 2020 by buying a vehicle that would enable them to escape into nature, far from the madding crowd and threat of Covid virus. If you own an ATV, snowmobile, off-road or dual-sport motorcycle, you need to know about The Eastern Ontario Trail Alliance. Consider getting out from behind your computer this spring for a weekend or longer of natural scenery and wildlife. 

a trail network for powersports lovers

The EOTA is a network of 2,700 kilometers of connected trails in Central-East Ontario, roughly north of Belleville up to Pembroke. I spoke with Cindy Cassidy, the general manager of the EOTA, and she describes the area as encompassing Bay of Quinte to Algonquin and Havelock to Glen Tay. There’s no need to Google those place names because the EOTA has an excellent website that includes a map of the trail network.

At the time that this screenshot was taken, there was a fair bit of maintenance in progress to clean up after a windstorm. Pylons indicate work areas. 

It takes a lot of money to maintain a network of trails this large, but more importantly, it requires a lot of cooperation from various interest groups. The EOTA brings together recreationists (ATV and dirt bike riders, horseback riders, hikers, skiers) and municipal councils, local clubs, business leaders, and conservationists, with everyone at the table to decide how to share and grow these recreational spaces. 

It seems to be working. Since its inception in 1998, the network of trails and their use have grown steadily. An annual pass for an ATV or dirt bike is $150, $75 for a week, and $20 daily. This money contributes to the maintenance of the trails. Crews continuously remove brush, clear deadfall and blowdown, and work on grading, gravelling, signage, ditching, and drainage. 

Discover epic landscapes on nearly 3,000 km of trails

Much of the network is on decommissioned railway line but also includes forest access roads and bush trails, so there’s a good variety of trails to choose from. Self-guided tours are available, and there’s an excellent print map with GPS coordinates on it so you will always know exactly where you are. The Tweed to Gunter loop, for example, starts in the picturesque village of Tweed and takes you past a few good fishing holes up to the beautiful Marmora Mine with its stunning turquoise body of water. Another route takes you from Tweed all the way into Bancroft, all off-road. 

Marmora Mine

There’s no wonder this is prime cottage and vacation area in Eastern Ontario. The geology changes from limestone in the southern region to Canadian Shield granite as you travel north. The forest changes too, from the primarily hardwood Deciduous forest in the south to the mixed Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest as you move into rolling hills and varied terrain. Keep your eye out for wildlife such as deer, moose, muskrats, beavers, otter, pileated woodpeckers and a variety of migratory birds. 

enjoy access to welcoming villages and towns

Another way to think of the EOTA is a system of corridors connecting the many small towns and villages that comprise the Ontario Highlands. These towns, originally built on the same railway lines, are the hidden gems of Eastern Ontario. Tweed, Kaladar, Sharbot Lake, Bancroft—they welcome tourists with charming bookshops, boutiques, some great restaurants, and microbreweries. You can jump off the trail whenever you want to fuel up or grab a snack, get to and from your accommodations, or just wander and enjoy these towns; municipal by-laws in Ontario allow you to take your ATV on the road as needed, so you aren’t restricted to the trail system.

Opt for a package deal or create your own tour

The EOTA also offers package tours that include meals and accommodation, ranging from a day trip to a 3-day tour. Cindy tells me that individual itineraries are also available upon request, so you can have a tour custom designed for your family or group. If you prefer to explore the area and keep your schedule flexible, create your own tour. Start by choosing a route, then decide how you’d like to spend your time off the vehicle, whether fishing, birdwatching, hiking, horseback riding, or relaxing on a beach. The EOTA website suggests different activities based on themes such as Action and Adventure or Arts and Heritage. This is where their connections with local communities is helpful. 

plan your eastern ontario trails alliance atv trip now

Whether you come for the charming towns, the natural scenery, or the great trail riding, the EOTA has a lot of offer. It’s a region of natural splendour and long history, described by the great local poet Al Purdy as “lakeland rockland and hill country / a little adjacent to where the world is / a little north of where the cities are.” I call it an outdoor recreationist’s paradise and the best antidote to the kind of winter it has been. 

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About Kevin Bushell

Kevin started riding in 2015 and quickly took to off-roading and adventure touring. He has travelled extensively across Canada and the northeastern states. In addition to writing about his travels, he writes poetry, and his book Invisible Sea—a collection of poems on the theme of flight—is published by DC Books. He is an English teacher at Vanier College and lives with his wife and border collie in Montreal.

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