9 Incredible, Challenging and Life-Changing Bike Rides In Ontario

From euphoric country rambles to gnarly trail rides, these routes are guaranteed to build calf muscle and character.

When you really get into it, cycling has all the ingredients for life-changing revelations: the challenges, the landscapes, the triumphs. These are all metaphors for our daily lives and how we should live them. Plus, there’s the fact that cycling is fun and good for you.

Here are nine bike rides in Ontario that will not only challenge you—they just might change your life. Be sure to visit Ontario By Bike to find bicycle-friendly places to eat, visit, and sleep along the way. 

Lake Superior Provincial Park

Soul-satisfying cycling awaits on Lake Superior. Photo: Agnieszka - Wheels on a Bike @wheelsonabike

People that have cycled across Canada will tell you Lake Superior Provincial Park has some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country—not to mention hill climbs that rival the Rockies. The section of Trans-Canada Highway between Wawa and Montreal River is 109 km and is full of the most wow-worthy views around. With two fully-serviced campgrounds in the park, beautiful roadside beaches and picnic areas, and some incredible elevation gains and losses, this is a road—and experience—that you will never forget.

Bike the Giant

Woman in action mountain biking in forest
Sleeping Giant’s rugged trails serve up mountain biking manna.

Anyone who has spent any time in Thunder Bay has seen the Sleeping Giant: an immense, steeply cliffed mesa-cuesta formation that looks like a giant lying on his back in Lake Superior. But relatively few cyclists make the sidetrip onto the Sibley Peninsula to explore it—and boy, are they missing out. Sleeping Giant Provincial Park has more than 100 km of trails, over half of which are bike-friendly. You’ll definitely want to bring your mountain bike, as this is rugged single- and double-track with plenty of rocks and roots. Head up to the Nanabosho Lookout for mind-altering views of Lake Superior and beyond.

Manitoulin Island

Stunning views of the La Cloche Mountains from Manitoulin Island. Photo: Maja Mielonen MICA President.

Manitoulin Island is absolutely tailor-made for cycling. This lovely 2,700-km2 island forms the northern borders of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay and is smack dab in the middle of some of the most beautiful terrain in the province. Rolling farmland, incredible shoreline, and quaint little villages all make for a perfect location for cycle touring. Add a pleasant summer climate and quiet roads, and there’s no better place to relax in the saddle, and maybe even have some life-changing revelations as your legs spin through the kilometres. Start with a weekend tour around Lake Manitou, and find maps and more route recommendations here.

Great Lakes Waterfront Trail

The Lake Huron-North Channel section of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail runs from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie. This 380-km signed route uses quiet back roads and mixed-surface paths to traverse landscapes that inspired the Group of Seven. The North Channel is a stunning bit of geography, and this five-day tour offers plenty of opportunities to rest and recharge in a lakeside cottage, savour smoked fish, and meditate on the meaning of life. Find out more.

Voyageur Cycling Route

Information kiosk with map of Voyageur Cycle Route and bicycle air pump
Information kiosks with bicycle fix work stands and air pumps are located along the route. 

The Voyageur Cycling Route is an exciting new 630-km touring route that, when completed, will connect 25 diverse communities from Sudbury to North Bay to Ottawa. Currently there are three sections of the route, ranging in length from 90 to 173 km, that are signed, mapped, and ready to ride. Meet the locals, savour tasty foods, and explore stunning landscapes along the way. Read more

St. Joseph’s Island

Three cyclists riding on paved road with sunset in background
The roads are paved in gold on St. Joseph’s Island.

Just south of Sault Ste. Marie is the idyllic cycling paradise of St. Joseph Island. At 365 km2, this is the second largest island in Lake Huron (after Manitoulin) and is wonderfully suited to cycling. Highway 548 circles the entire island and is only 70 km long, so it makes for a very relaxing and scenic weekend tour.

Only have a day to spare? Try a loop around the north end of the island, connecting tiny villages and rolling farmland with views of the lake, bays, and immense freighters in the shipping channel.

Crank the Shield

If you want a life-changing experience, the three-day Crank the Shield backcountry stage race—held during summer each year, near Sault Ste. Marie—will offer just that. You’ll be challenged, tested, worked, used, abused, and bruised. This truly epic race covers tons of double- and single-track and will challenge the heartiest of mountain bikers. But those who finish this gruelling event are no doubt different people when they cross the finish line.

Algonquin Provincial Park

Mountain biker riding on trail surrounded by lots of white trilliums
Trilliums adorn trails and roadsides in spring at Algonquin Park.

Known throughout the world as one of the most beautiful places in Canada, Algonquin Park is synonymous with canoe routes. But there’s a great cycling route here too: Highway 60 bisects the southern portion of the park and is a challenging and rewarding cycling experience. This 60-km stretch of pavement winds it's way along scores of lovely lakes and wetlands, with plenty of opportunities to get off the bike and enjoy a short hike, swim, or picnic. Go in spring or early summer for the best wildlife-watching; a fall tour rewards with spectacular fall colours (and crowds—avoid weekends). Don’t rush this gem; several lakeside campgrounds invite cyclists to linger a little longer.

Provincial End-To-End

Want a seriously life-affecting adventure? How about riding a bike right across Ontario? You could start in Ottawa and head to Kenora, or vice versa. You’ll need plenty of grit to tackle the varying landscapes of this massive province, but from the concrete jungle of the GTA to the northern expanses of Batchewana Bay, you’ll surely learn a lot about yourself and this spectacular corner of the country. Google Maps shows the quickest route is 1,965 km and will take roughly 100 hours by bicycle. Imagine the adventures!

About Colin Field

Colin is an award-winning photographer and writer, specializing in outdoor travel and adventure. He is the editor-at-large with Mountain Life Magazine. He is based in Collingwood, Ontario. 

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