A Beginner's Guide to Cycle Touring in Ontario

Life on the open road has its challenges, but to those who know, the rewards are overwhelming.

People who cycle tour will vehemently agree: the best way to travel and explore a new place is on two wheels. You travel at a much slower pace than you do in a vehicle, meaning you get to see a lot more. It’s easier to stop to see the sights, meet the people, and really, really get to know the ups and downs of the geography.

Handle bar of bicycle travelling down a paved road in foggy forest.
Part of the appeal is not always knowing what’s around the bend. Photo: @richardlima1

Here are a few tips to get you addicted to the greatest way to travel. 

Guided Tours

If you’re nervous about getting into cycle touring, or simply want to learn from an expert, it might be worth booking a tour with a reputable tour company.

Cyclists standing with bicycles looking at MS Chi-Cheemaun.
Travel to and from Manitoulin Island with your bicycle on the MS Chi-Cheemaun.  

An amazing place to do so is on Manitoulin Island. The Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates offer an all-inclusive cycling adventure a couple times a year. Running for five days and four nights and covering a manageable 73 km a day, this is a great way to get into the sport. See list of Ontario guided and self-guided tours

Get Planning

There’s little doubt that knowing where you’re going is a great start to a bicycle tour. You don’t want to do many u-turns; especially if you just came down a long, exhilarating hill!

Two cyclists holding a map with two people standing by bicycles.
Plan your tour with Ontario By Bike

An incredible resource for touring in Ontario is Ontario By Bike. Featuring maps, routes, itineraries, and bike-friendly businesses, don’t leave home without checking out everything they have to offer. Ontario’s Algoma Country is a great place to tour by bicycle, as is Manitoulin Island. Learn more about cycling in Northern Ontario.   

Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Depending on how far you’re going, you’ll likely need to stop in at a bike shop or two along the way. They’re great places to talk to locals, show off how far you’ve covered, and of course, stock up on tubes and other gear.

Red bicycle pack on front handle bars.
You may need some extra gear.

Velorution in Sault Ste. Marie has helpful staff. As do places like Adventure 365 in Sudbury, CheapSkates in North Bay, Rolling Thunder in Thunder Bay, Lightfoot Bike Shop on Manitoulin, and Hard Wear Co in Kenora.

Small compass mounted on bicycle.

Of course, if you really, really want to be prepared, why not take a course at Winterborne before heading out? The Bicycle Institute is in Guelph, and bills itself as Canada’s premier training institute for bike mechanics.

Food is the Key

Some cyclists will tell you they only ride so they can eat. Replacing all those burned calories with good food can be a delicious experience. Bike-friendly restaurants, bakeries, and breweries abound in Ontario.

Bowl of oysters, bread, french fries and a beer on a table.
Get refueled after your ride. You've earned it.

Drop into OutSpoken Brewery for a pint, a delicious meal, and a game of pinball. Manitoulin Island’s Anchor Inn is the perfect place to get those calories back, as is Lake Huron Fish & Chips. If you’re really looking to pick up some energy, then Superior Home Bakery’s fritters will set you up for the entire day. Plan your tour to include one of these nine après bike hotspots.

GEARING UP

If you’re camping, there aren’t many resources better than MEC. They have cycle-touring-specific gear that’ll get you all set up for your adventure. It’s likely some of their staff will even have done a trip similar to the one you’re planning.

Three cyclists riding bikes with cycling packs.
Pack for multi-day cycling adventures. 

Of course, you may need to restock your tent peg supply, or camping gas along the way. Knowing where some outfitters are is a great way to prepare for your trip. Stopping into places like Wilderness Supply, Algonquin Outfitters, and Ramakko’s will help you stay prepared and pick up some secrets from the locals. 

Where to Sleep

Camping is a great way to travel through Ontario and there are tons of amazing places to camp. Popular cycling routes often travel along the shores of Lake Superior, so Lake Superior Provincial Park or Pukaskwa National Park are both great options for extended stays and rest days. Family campgrounds like South Shore Camping, Providence Bay Tent and Trailer Park, Pass Lake Campground, and Centennial Park can be found throughout the province, and feature clean amenities and sites for groups of all sizes.

Bicycle leaning against a picnic table with a lantern on it.
Ontario abounds with campgrounds like Pass Lake. Photo: @geziniyo

Of course, if you’re not up for roughing it, there are all kinds of amazing B&Bs throughout Ontario. How about staying in a lodge in Bellevue Valley, a yurt in Minaki, or an elegant tent near Meaford?

Two bicycle helmets on a deck between two wooden chairs.
Every good tour involves some relaxation.

If you want to go the traditional hotel route, there are also plenty of those along the way. There’s a Hampton Inn in downtown Timmins, Nature’s Inn in Kenora is lovely, and Thunder Bay’s TownePlace Suites by Marriot provide all the latest luxuries. 

The Road Awaits

Beginning a cycle touring lifestyle might take a bit of a leap of faith, but once you start rolling along the open road, don’t be surprised if you find yourself not wanting to turn back.

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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