10 Reasons You Need to Bike the Voyageur Cycling Route
Ontario’s long-distance cycling routes are an amazing way to experience the province’s diverse landscapes and spectacular natural beauty. Extending from Sudbury to Ottawa, the Voyageur Cycling Route (VCR) is a two-wheeled tour of stunning lakes, rivers, parks, and farmland, celebrating the finest of rural and Northern Ontario.
Adventurous cyclists can start from either end and pedal the entire 645-kilometre route, spinning from the pristine forests, deep blue lakes, and rock outcrops of the Canadian Shield to the bucolic countryside and mighty rivers of the Ottawa Valley. If it’s a truly epic ride you’re after, the Voyageur Cycling Route also connects directly with the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail, the Georgian Bay Cycling Route, and the pathways of the National Capital Region.
Alternatively, recreational riders can enjoy shorter sections of the VCR on scenic day or weekend tours. The route travels on a mix of smooth pavement, gravel back roads and dedicated recreational trail, giving cyclists the flexibility to choose from a wide range of out-and-back or loop rides.
Best of all, a network of bicycle-friendly businesses—including accommodations, restaurants, cafes, attractions, and bike shops—makes it easy to plan a no-hassle cycling itinerary. After cranking out the kilometres, refuel on home-baked goodies and healthy local dishes. Finish your ride with a patio microbrew before sleeping under the stars or cozying up in a lakeside cabin or friendly B&B.
Whether you are a recreational rider looking for the perfect weekend tour, or an avid touring cyclist or bikepacker seeking out the next great adventure, here are 10 reasons the Voyageur Cycling Route belongs on your biking bucket list.
1. Quiet Back Roads
Lovers of low-traffic riding will appreciate the glorious gravel roads and forgotten stretches of smooth pavement undulating through some of Ontario’s prettiest landscapes.
In West Nipissing, the Vive le Nord! Loop spins along peaceful country roads, surrounded by cornfields, century-old barns and sunflowers, before swooping through wildlife-filled wetlands along the shores of Lake Nipissing.
Between North Bay and Mattawa, the Red Toque Tour travels along the shores of heritage waterways and crosses historic portages, following the trade routes of the First Nations and voyageurs.
For riders in the Ottawa Valley, the pastoral Whitewater Region is a sanctuary of quiet paved roads, welcoming villages and scenic farmland defined by the breathtaking rapids of the Ottawa River.
2. Brilliant Bike Trails
Get off the road on an outstanding network of multi-use pathways and cycling trails. In North Bay, the paved Kate Pace Way takes riders 12 kilometres through the heart of the city and along the shores of Lake Nipissing, connecting to the lakeside parks of Callander.
Linking the vibrant riverfront towns of Petawawa and Pembroke, this 25-km stretch of the Ottawa Valley Recreational Trail / Algonquin Trail is an easy ride on hard-packed gravel with sweeping views of the Ottawa River and Laurentian Mountains rising across the water.
Recently opened and resurfaced, the 34-km Friendship Trail section of the OVRT between Arnprior and Carlton Place follows the meandering Mississippi River through lush farm fields, connecting the pretty riverside villages of Pakenham and Almonte. Highlights include Pakenham’s picturesque, five-span stone bridge, the historic Mill of Kintail in Mississippi Mills, and a number of ice cream stops, bakeries and patios along the way.
3. Incredible Scenery
An end-to-end ride of the Voyageur Cycling Route is a front-row seat to the changing landscapes of Ontario’s Highlands. Step on the pedals and you’ll be transported from the majestic pines and rock-cradled lakes of the Near North to the lush hardwood forests and fertile farms of the Ottawa Valley.
4. Diverse Riding
Whether you are settling into the saddle for a day, weekend or the whole tour, you’ll be rewarded with a cycling experience that’s as diverse as the route itself. Get ready for punchy climbs and thrilling descents on the long, sweeping hills west of Lake Nipissing. The rolling roads between Bonfield and Mattawa are sure to put a smile on any rider’s face. In the Ottawa Valley, a prevailing tailwind helps make short work of cruisey riverside flats.
While much of the VCR travels on paved country roads, cyclists will also encounter stone dust rail trails, gravel back roads, paved recreational pathways and sections of busy highway where the route is still in development.
5. Beautiful Lakes and Rivers
The Voyageur Cycling Route traces the waterways of a historic paddling route used by First Nations—and later voyageurs, trappers and loggers—centuries before roads and highways simplified cross-country travel. So it’s no surprise that lakes and rivers are seldom out of sight. On a hot summer’s day, these refreshing waters make it easy for cyclists to swim, spin and repeat.
Immerse yourself in the cool, clear waters of Lake Nipissing in the village of Lavigne (stock up on picnic supplies at Chez Courchesne) or stop for a dip at the rest area just south of Mashkinonje Provincial Park. Extend your stay in a gorgeous lakeside cabin at Lakair Lodge, and start your day with a sunrise swim.
North Bay riders are beckoned by the shallow waters and golden sands of Shabogesic Beach, or they can simply enjoy the Lake Nipissing vistas from the paved bike lanes of the 12-km Kate Pace Way. East of the city, the 86-km pedal to Mattawa rewards with inviting views of Lake Nosbonsing, a favourite cottage destination for North Bay locals, complete with two public beaches. Continuing on, take a short hike to see the spectacular Eau Claire Gorge, where the Amable du Fond River thunders through a narrow canyon over a 12-metre waterfall.
The powerful waters of the Ottawa River are a highlight for riders on the eastern half of the VCR. At Explorer’s Point Park in Mattawa, see the historic “meeting of the waters” where the Mattawa River flows into the Ottawa, an important gathering spot for First Nations peoples for thousands of years. With peaceful waterfront campsites right on the river, Driftwood Provincial Park is the perfect stopover for Ottawa-bound bikepackers.
6. Fresh, Local Food
Scattered along this route are countless delightful bakeries, bistros, cafés, patios, taverns, ice cream shops and, yes, chip stands. More than just fueling your ride, these gustatory pit stops are a delicious sampler of Ontario’s diverse cultures and cuisine.
In West Nipissing, the iconic Lavigne Tavern offers rest, refreshment and a memorable glimpse into local Northern life. Get caffeinated with a cup of freshly roasted, fair-trade, organic coffee at Twiggs Coffee Roasters in Sturgeon Falls, or wrap your ride with a stop at one of the town’s famous chip stands.
Hungry cyclists are spoiled for choice in North Bay. Pop into the North Star Diner for vegan eats and quirky, local artwork. For a nutritious lunch, try Opera Bakery, Gd2Go, Blendz Smoothie Shop or Oak East Eatery serving indigenous tacos—a true Northern treat. End your ride at a casual lakeside bistro: overlooking Callander Bay, 1886 Lake House Bistro was recently awarded best bike-friendly business in northeastern Ontario.
Petawawa’s Centennial Park is the perfect spot for a picnic beside the cascading rapids of the Petawawa River. Get mouthwatering Lebanese takeout from Madameek; hand-tossed pizza and delicious wraps, gyros and more are on order at Petawawa Pizzeria; or head over to The Nook Crêperie On the Go—the sweet and savory crepes at this food truck are all killer, no filler. Down the trail in Pembroke, Hugli’s Blueberry Ranch is a scenic, bike-friendly stop for ice cream or homemade blueberry soft serve.
7. Best Après Brews
Cycle touring in Ontario is the perfect way to combine a love of bikes and brews, and the Voyageur Cycling Route is no exception.
In North Bay, get hoppin’ at musician-run Gateway City Brewery or quench your thirst on the patio at New Ontario Brewing Co. Occupying a rambling old house downtown, cyclist-friendly The Raven and Republic serves craft beer, cocktails and delicious fare—often to the beat of live entertainment.
Hops and hospitality go hand-in-hand in small towns all along the VCR. In the heart of the Ottawa Valley, the roaring rapids of the mighty Ottawa River inspire the golden goodness on tap at Whitewater Brewing Company’s Riverside Brew Pub in Forester’s Falls. In the historic hamlet of Pakenham, Cartwright Springs Brewery goes the extra mile to create something special for cyclists. Don’t forget to fill your water bottles with the same pure, cold spring water they use to brew their light-bodied ales.
8. Amazing Accommodations
Whether you are planning a multi-day tour, or just looking for a cozy place to base yourself while you pedal and explore, it’s easy to find the perfect fit.
Love the idea of sleeping under the stars, but craving the comfort of a real bed after a long day in the saddle? Try glamping at a luxury tented camp in the forest or nestle beneath the trees in a gorgeous, off-grid tiny cabin.
For a more traditional stay, try one of the bike-friendly inns you’ll find scattered throughout the charming communities of the Ottawa Valley. More than just a room, the Whitewater Inn in Beachburg is your gateway to discovering local gems—this lovely heritage house offers bike rentals, storage, and shuttles, in addition to farm-to-table dining, a sauna, and a tranquil backyard garden. On the banks of the Madawaska River in Arnprior, the 1860s white gingerbread MacNamara House B&B looks like something out of a cycle touring storybook—with every amenity a bike-bound traveller could need. Further along the Friendship Trail, wind down with a spacious riverview suite at the Almonte Riverside Inn & Kitchen.
Two beautiful provincial parks—Samuel de Champlain on the Mattawa River and Driftwood on the Ottawa River—offer peaceful camping experiences for self-contained cyclists seeking a classic bikepacking adventure.
9. Fantastic Weekend Tours
You don’t need to pack your panniers for an epic tour to enjoy the Voyageur Cycling Route. Plan a scenic two-day ride or leisurely long weekend tour that connects to some of the other sensational cycling routes between Sudbury and Mattawa or loop rides in the Ottawa Valley.
Combine grand lake vistas with a tour of the organic boreal and arctic berry orchards at cyclist-friendly Boreal Berry Farm and Winery on the Vive le Nord! Route. This 178-km loop is also a great introduction to the region’s Francophone history and culture. Spend the night at a lovely lakefront cottage or campsite.
Explore the south shore of Lake Nipissing on the 100-km Callander–Powassan Circle Route. This loop can be connected with the 45-km ride east to the spectacular Eau Claire Gorge, or beyond to Mattawa.
Lovers of lakes can leg it west from Pembroke around the 188-km Loop the Lakes Route (#4 on the indispensable Ottawa Valley Cycling Map). Roadside parks and picnic areas make it easy to enjoy the sparkling waters of Round Lake, Golden Lake and Lake Dore. Spend the night at Bonnechere Provincial Park (the beautiful beach is a highlight) or settle into a sun-filled colourful cottage on the shores of Golden Lake.
Tracing the meanders and rapids of the Mississippi River between Arnprior and Carleton Place, the easy 34-km Friendship Trail makes a fine counterpoint to a quad-burning 53-km loop around the rolling Pakenham Hills along Bellamy Road (#18 on the linked Lanark Cycling Map).
10. So Many Outdoor Adventures en Route
For a thrilling whitewater adventure, raft the largest commercially run rapids in Eastern Canada on the mighty Ottawa River. OWL Rafting and Wilderness Tours run whitewater rafting day trips that are suitable for all ages and skill levels, and both resorts also boast amazing riverfront camping and cabins.
If tranquil flatwater paddling is more your speed, don’t miss canoeing or kayaking the Mattawa River. History, scenery, waterfalls, beautiful campsites and incredible paddling—this Canadian Heritage River has it all. Algonquin North Wilderness Outfitters offers canoe rentals, shuttles and guide services for an unforgettable day trip to the base of beautiful Paresseux Falls, a six-metre-high waterfall. Or join Shockwave Paddle Adventures for an easy, three-hour kayak tour exploring the river’s Talon Gorge. You can even try paddling a replica Voyageur canoe at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.
Trade in your touring steed for a fat-tire ride at Gearheads in Petawawa and put your mountain biking skills to the test on 32 kilometres of tight, technical turns and rocky, rooty singletrack along the Forest Lea Trails.
Plan Your Trip Now
The Voyageur Cycling Route is a two-wheeled tour of Ontario’s diverse landscapes and spectacular natural beauty. Choose from a wonderful range of day or weekend rides, or pack your panniers for the ultimate end-to-end adventure! To learn more and join the community, check out the Voyageur Cycling Route facebook page.