5 Awesome Places to Bike Near Armstrong

If it’s rugged, open spaces you want—head to Northwestern Ontario.

The 700 residents of Armstrong in Northwestern Ontario may well be outnumbered by the local population of moose, bears, eagles, and caribou. If this sounds like a good starting point for a bike adventure, read on.

About 250 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, the town of Armstrong is a jumping off point for Lake Nipigon, the largest lake entirely within Ontario, as well as the legendary Wabakimi Provincial Park, justifiably well-known for its endless canoe routes.

But within all of that wilderness there are networks of old logging roads, which are prime terrain for riding long stretches of gravel without seeing a single vehicle. What’s more, the vast boreal forest and the presence of some dedicated trail builders translate into some epic technical mountain bike trails.

Gravel road running through a northern Ontario forest.
You’ll always wonder what’s around the next corner—featured here is Northern Drive. Photo: Aaron Arndt

Mountain biking

A local mountain biker has created six kilometres of groomed single track from former ATV trails as a labour of love. True, it’s not a large network, but what’s there tends to be quite technical. For beginners looking for a way in, there are some easier trails that are still wide, double-track roads.

Road Riding

There is only one main road cycling option, which is the quiet secondary Highway 527. The surface is chipseal—tar and gravel— which is suitable for smaller tires. A tire width of 23 mm is more than enough to handle the surface.

The ride treats the cyclist to undulating hills and beautiful scenery, with next to no cars. With lakes throughout the area, keep your eyes open for small access roads, or ATV trails, off the side of the highway. They often lead to great places for a swim and lunch. There are too many lakes to name, a map is your best guide to picking one within your preferred distance range from town.

Gravel Riding

Logging roads are literally everywhere throughout the Armstrong area. From downtown, you can ride 30 kilometres (one way) along Trail Lake Road to Wabakimi Provincial Park. The road is a mix of gravel and mud roads with some super fun steep hills. It delivers riders to Tamarac Lake, a great place to cool off (or, on another day, start a fantastic canoe trip).

Gravel road passing a body of water lined with birch and deciduous trees
Make what you fill of the formidable climbs along Bear Paw Road. Photo: Aaron Arndt

Another gravel favourite is the Bear Paw Pass/Caribou Lake/Trail Lake Road loop. The 35-km doubletrack route has some formidable climbs. Be sure to bring food and water as the route is quite remote.

Finally, Airport Road goes for hundreds of kilometers and skirts dozens of lakes. Connect to it from Memorial Avenue, right in town, where you can park at the CN Railway station. Or drive out of town, pick a section and target distance and ride out and back.

Bring a fishing rod and stop at kilometre 70 to fish in Little Jack River. Be aware that there are no amenities and that this is rugged country.

Bike Shop

Cyclists are recommended to stock up on supplies–any backup bike parts that might be needed—at Fresh Air Experience in Thunder Bay.

Post-Ride Eats

Gail’s Grill and Bakery is the place for a smorgasbord of food—burgers, subs, all day breakfast, wings and finger foods all the way up to strip loin steaks.

Off the Saddle

The region is best known for its superb paddling, hunting and fishing opportunities. For a unique experience, The Bear Paw Lodge offers off-grid fishing excursions. Caribou Lake has 16,000 hectares of water that produces hefty lake trout as well as walleye up to 80 cm long, and northern pike up to a metre in length.

Wabakimi Provincial Park is the second-largest park in Ontario, the rugged, more remote version of Algonquin Park. With more than 10,000 lakes in the park, the canoeing options are endless. The park is only accessible by floatplane, train or canoe. You must also register for backcountry camping.

And, to take maximum advantage of the best the area has to offer, some outfitters in the area can help organize a bike and canoe expedition. Starting in Thunder Bay, you can park, ride to Armstrong, and then paddle back to your car.

With so much wilderness right outside town limits, the options for a bicycling adventure at the end of the road north of Thunder Bay are nearly limitless.

About Melanie Chambers

Melanie Chambers is a writer and university instructor living in Toronto. Ever since cycling from Holland to Spain in 1996, Melanie has penned stories about her amateur athletic challenges such as cycling 105 uphill kilometres in Taiwan's KOM Challenge road race and hiking Northern Africa’s highest peak. As an editor and instructor, she has conducted writing workshops around the globe. Locally, she’s provided workshops at the Alice Munro’s Writers and Readers Festival and Western University’s Homecoming. When she’s not on the road, she teaches food and travel writing courses at Western University.

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