Welcome to Ontario, Upstate New Yorkers. Here’s Where to Ride

Rack up your bikes and hit the road for Ontario’s best biking near Western New York.

Sometimes you have to go out of state for cycling that is out of this world. The area around the north end of Georgian Bay is only a half-day’s drive from western New York, but it offers cycling destinations that will keep New Yorkers coming back for more. Whether it’s road cycling near North Bay or on Manitoulin Island, or mountain biking in Sudbury or Muskoka, Ontario’s near north country promises exotic destinations that are comparatively uncrowded but still serviced by the best of Ontario hospitality. Like what you see? Check out these destiantions and more over at Ontario by Bike. Then saddle up and get rolling.

Woman on mountain bike going down rocky feature
Despite being in Muskoka, there's nothing genteel about Buckwallow. Photo: @h.p.sauce

Buckwallow, Muskoka

Halfway between Gravenhurst and Bracebridge, within earshot of Highway 11, is an old family homestead that is home to a lovingly developed network of shield-country singletrack mountain bike trails called Buckwallow. Trailmaster Mike (he’s on a first-name basis with riders) grew up on the property. His parents built the adjacent KOA campground in the 1960s and 30 years later Mike added to the family empire by carving 16 kilometres (10 miles) of singletrack out of the Muskoka wilderness.

There’s a doubletrack access route that loops through the network. Pick up a map at the parking lot and watch for the yellow signs indicating side trails of varying difficulty. The tougher trails were designed to make use of the frequent rock outcroppings, and if it’s your bag you’ll find lots of exposed rock ridges you can attempt to muscle your way up and over. The spot is on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, but the terrain is full-on, with lots of rocks and roots, though not many long climbs.

The parking lot has water for filling your bottles, outhouses, a bike wash station, and an honour-system cash box in case there’s no one there to collect the $12 gate fee. Algonquin Outfitters also has a map of the location and more information.

If in need of wheels, parts, service or any accessories, visit nearby Ecclestone Cycle, Nielsens Bicycles, Liv Outside, and The Bike Shop in Gravenhurst.

People cycling on a bend in the road
Rolling along the Voyageur Cycling Route near Callander. Photo: Discovery Routes Trails Organization

Callander-Powassan Cycling Route, North Bay

Just south of North Bay, the tidy town of Callander serves as a perfect staging ground for a day-long bicycle tour that traverses the rolling countryside southeast of the mighty Lake Nipissing. Start at the waterfront park in Callander and head south on Terrace Road to Highway 654. From here you can go clockwise or counterclockwise, though clockwise will let you avoid any left-hand turns. Glide under the Highway 11 bridge and keep your eyes open for the Wasi River as it comes in and out of view to the south in dramatic oxbow loops.

Before you get to Astorville, head south on Groulx Road to enjoy an even quieter country road. Memorial Park Drive will take you west into Powassan for some momentary excitement before you’ll arc north again through sugar maple stands and old logging settlements on Highway 534.

By now you’ll be ready for a meal and, with Callander back in sight, aim your handlebars for 1886 Lake House Bistro. It’s on Main Street, south of the park. The bike racks outside are indication your spandex cycling attire will be welcome in this casual eatery. All told, the route is 70 kilometres (44 miles). There’s a big climb of more than 100 metres halfway through, but the route is on mostly quiet roads and won’t throw too many challenges at experienced riders.

For any service or supplies you’ll have to glide north into North Bay and visit Cycleworks or Cheapskates Sports.

Man on a mountain bike at top of hill
Climbs are always well rewarded at Walden. Photo: Walden Mountain Bike Club

Walden Trails Park, Sudbury

In the west end of Sudbury, the Walden Trails Park is home to a network of trails built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers. These aren’t repurposed hiking or cross country trails. They twist and turn and use the rocky contours of the land, in abundant supply around Sudbury, to keep the active and attentive members of the Walden Mountain Bike Club busy. The club maintains the trails, produces a map and makes sure there are some tools and an outhouse at the ready in the free parking area.

There are about 13 kilometres (eight miles) of singletrack trail. Check out Trailforks for an overview or difficulty-rated recommended routes. Generally speaking, the lower network has easier trails and the more difficult routes are in the upper network. Climbs are rewarded with good views and well-sculpted downhills like Honey Badger and Willbreaker, a long downhill that rolls over granite whaleback rocks.

Local bike shops include Session Ride Company, Adventure 365, and The Outside Store. Lodging options are plenty, but consider taking advantage of the bike storage, laundry and barbecues available at Towneplace Suites.

Road cyclists
During the last decade, Manitoulin Island has become a haven for cyclists. Photo: Maja Mielonen

Manitoulin Island

It may be the largest freshwater island in the world, but it doesn’t see a lot of road traffic, and the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA) have so far succeeded in having the shoulders paved along 150 kilometres (93 miles) of the island’s provincial highways. To get to the island from the south, drive up the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory and board the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry for the two-hour trip to the island. It runs from May until October with four round-trips a day during summer. Fares depend on the size of your vehicle. You can buy a $2 cycling map on the ferry or email MICA to order one. While on the website, look closer at their suggested routes and go ahead and book some accommodation—summertime gets busy. The website details the group’s own package tours, and also lists 36 cycling friendly restaurants and lodges to help you out. Note, the island has little in the way of bicycle shops, so bring a few spare tubes and a pump.

Maja Mielonen of MICA suggests you base yourself near Mindemoya from where you can do numerous day trip loops out your front door and not have to do any car shuttling. There are 108 inland lakes on the island, not to mention the island’s own encompassing shoreline, so a beach or scenic rest stop is never far away. Grind up the escarpment and overlook the North Channel or roll into Kagawong and see if it really is the prettiest town in Ontario. Mielonen explains that island life is a throwback to the 1950s, with no stoplights and no chain franchises, just abundant orchids, sandhill cranes, eagles, and otters.

And, instead of taking the ferry back south, drive north off Manitoulin Island and head toward Sudbury and North Bay. You can hit Muskoka on your way south. Your loop will include the best of Ontario’s cycling scene, all within easy range of the Peace Bridge.

No matter where your road trip takes you, rest assured: adventurous cycling is never far away in Ontario.

About Ian Merringer

After studying journalism at King’s College in Halifax, Ian Merringer started a freelance journalism career that has included a stint as the editor of Rapid, Canoeroots and Adventure Kayak magazines (now combined to become Paddling magazine). Over the last 20 years, he has written for the Globe and Mail newspaper and Canadian Geographic, Paddling, Ski Canada, Explore, Outdoor Canada and Ontario Nature magazines. He’s won multiple National Magazine Awards and lives in Toronto and has two canoes in his garage and another under his porch.

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