Best Bike Rides for Bird-Watching in Ontario

Find great itineraries for all levels of cyclists across an amazing range of habitats and bird species.

Believe it or not, a bicycle is a surprisingly good vehicle for birding. Travelling on two wheels is faster than walking or hiking, but unlike driving in a car, it preserves your senses to detect movement on the landscape and spot birds and allows you to quickly pull over for a closer look.

Ontario is a birding hotspot. Bike routes across the province expose cyclists to an extensive range of habitats—from farm fields to wetlands and Great Lakes shores—making it possible to see a huge number of Ontario’s 292 species of breeding birds. Here are some of the best rides for all types of cycling and every experience level.

Hersey Lake Conservation Area, Timmins

The bustling northern Ontario city of Timmins is surrounded by boreal forest wilderness, offering unique cycling and birding experiences with a distinctive northern flair. Located minutes from downtown, the Hersey Lake Conservation Area features 12 km of smooth-rolling, beginner to intermediate single-track mountain bike trails set in Jack pine forest with firm sandy soil.

Hersey Lake is a great place to observe some of the iconic bird species of the boreal forest, including Canada Jays, Boreal Chickadees, American Three-Toed Woodpeckers and Spruce Grouse. Timmins is located in the heart of Canada’s bird nursery, and during breeding season, it’s an excellent place to hear the melodic songs of many warbler species. Listen for Northern Waterthrush in waterfront areas and Magnolia Warblers in upland ridges.

Great places to stay in Timmins include Cedar Meadows Resort and Spa and Balsam Suites Boutique Inn. The city has a vibrant dining scene, too, including favourites like Get Ribbed Smokehouse. Full Beard Brewing has the perfect vibe for post-ride refreshments.

two swans fly over a wetland in fall
From farm fields to wetlands to the Great Lakes shores, Ontario is a birding hotspot. Photo: David Jackson

Attikamek Trail, Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site

The easy trails around the historic lock in Sault Ste. Marie’s Canal District immerse you in an Ontario ebird hotspot, with around 250 species observed. You can rent a fatbike from Parks Canada (May through October) and pedal the paved paths along the canal, as well as the 2.2-km network on South St. Marys Island. Spring and fall are best for birding, when migrants from near and far stop and rest in the mixed forests, wetlands and shorelines of the St. Marys River. Watch for a huge range of warblers and songbirds (many of which stick around to breed); shorebirds (including the Black-Crowned Night Heron); raptors (there’s a breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons nearby); ducks (including stately Harlequins); and a variety of gulls.

When you’re done, The Machine Shop in the Canal District offers dining options for all times of day, from coffee to steak. Stay at the nearby Delta Hotel on the Waterfront, which offers fantastic views of the St. Marys River and even more potential for birding along the city’s boardwalk and Hub Trail.

Where the Great Plains Begin, Kenora

Ask anyone who has ever driven the Trans-Canada Highway: Ontario is a vast province with a geography that includes many landscapes. The northwestern Ontario town of Kenora is perched in between the lake-dotted boreal forest and the open horizons of the Prairies; this unique position affords many attractions for cyclists and birders.

Kenora’s quiet secondary roads make for excellent road riding, with a 50-km tour starting downtown and following Redditt Road (Highway 658) to Black Sturgeon Lake, where it’s possible to loop back to your starting point on Cooker and East Melick roads. Rolling hills and fields are interspersed with poplar, birch and spruce woods, making for pleasant cycling and good opportunities to see birds. Kenora is noted for its abundance of lakes, and you can see American White Pelicans and a variety of ducks in waterfront areas. Take a side trip to Rabbit Lake for some of the area’s best bird diversity. Minaki Yurts offers unique accommodations and an impressive trail network just north of Kenora.

Sylvan Valley Tour, Central Algoma

Some of the finest cycling in Ontario is found on the quiet, paved roads along farm fields and river valleys amid rolling terrain sandwiched between the Canadian Shield and Lake Huron’s North Channel, east of Sault Ste. Marie. There are a multitude of options for road and gravel biking in and around Highway 638, a scenic 51-km secondary highway between Echo Bay and Bruce Mines.

Park your car at the Echo Bay Loonie Monument and start with a short walk to the bird observation deck, where you can see shorebirds on Lake George’s wetland shores and raptors soaring overhead. The basic Sylvan Valley ride is ideal for intermediate road cyclists; take a closer look at the map for add-ons and detours weaving to and from the main paved thoroughfare. This area is noted for excellent early spring riding, about the same time grassland species like Bobolinks, Bluebirds and Eastern Meadowlarks start returning to the region. In the fall, watch for Kestrels hunting along the treelines and large flocks of Sandhill Cranes.

Stay at the scenic Bruce Bay Cottages and Lighthouse on the North Channel in Bruce Mines. Dining options include Bobbers Restaurant in Bruce Mines and Ije’s Place in Desbarats, a new restaurant serving fresh baking and Caribbean-inspired food.

a woman stops on her bicycle to use binoculars for birdwatching
According to the National Audubon Society, “most birdwatchers prefer 7- or 8-power binoculars because they're bright and have a wide field of view, making it easier to find birds and to follow them in flight.” Photo: Conor Mihell

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Thunder Bay

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park offers a range of attractions for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, including the family-friendly Kabeyun Trail, which starts at the village of Silver Islet. This 14 km out-and-back gravel path follows the Lake Superior shoreline at the tip of the Sibley Peninsula. This impressive landform is a key waymarker for migrating songbirds and raptors during the spring and fall.

The Kabeyun is smooth gravel all the way to Tee Harbour, where you can pause for a break at a campsite on the rugged shore. The coastal area bustles with birds, especially during the fall migration. In September, watch for American Pipits and other shorebirds on the beaches and many species of colourful warblers on their way south. Come October, you can anticipate seeing Horned Larks and Snow Buntings in open areas and Arctic-breeding ducks like grebes and scoters resting in offshore waters.

The drive-in campground at Lake Marie Louise is a perfect base for cycling. Not only is it the gateway for more cycling, the area is an ebird hotspot with 128 species observed. For luxe accommodations, you can book a cabin at Beyond the Giant Nature Retreat, which offers spectacular views of Black Bay–an excellent place to watch for shorebirds, raptors and ducks.

Voyageur Cycling Route, North Bay

Gravel and road cycling options abound in North Bay, with Kate Pace Way, a multi-use trail along the city’s Lake Nipissing waterfront, serving as a gateway to endless backroads riding. Besides offering a wealth of cycling opportunities, North Bay also straddles multiple habitat types, including lakeshores and riparian areas, farm fields and the Canadian Shield hills of nearby Algonquin Provincial Park, making it a perfect destination for both cycling and birding.

The Farmstand 40 takes in much of it. The basic 37-km itinerary is part of the epic Voyageur Cycling Route. The tour starts in the community of Powassan on Highway 11, just south of North Bay. Taking a swing past the town’s sewage lagoons offers the region’s most remarkable bird diversity, with 183 species listed on eBird. The rest of the tour takes in a more bucolic landscape favoured by grassland birds like meadowlarks and bluebirds, as well as edge habitat where it’s possible to glimpse flashy Yellow Warblers and hear the iconic Sweet-Canada-Canada-Canada song of White-throated Sparrows. There are several ways to extend the ride if you’re looking to cover more distance.

Other popular one-day North Bay bike tours include the Red Toque Tour and the Corbeil Circle, both of which take in more of the Lake Nipissing shore. Check in at one of the local bike shops, including Wheelhouse and Cheapskates, for rentals, repairs and insider knowledge. The nearby community of Callendar is notoriously bike-friendly, with 1886 Lake House Bistro serving the best burgers around. There are plenty of places to stay in North Bay, including the Sunset Inn on the waterfront.

a bald eagle flies over water
Cycling is slower, quieter and less confined than travelling to birding hotspots by car, making it a favourite form of transportation amongst the bird-biking community. Photo: Destination Ontario

City of Lakes, Sudbury

Known for some of Ontario’s best mountain biking, Sudbury’s water-rich Canadian Shield landscape is an excellent destination for birding, too. Lake Laurentian Conservation Area is a vast, 2,400-acre protected greenspace of lakes, wetlands and boreal forest adjacent to downtown Sudbury. The multi-use trails here have one thing in common: access to Sudbury’s famous urban lakes and great views. Intermediate mountain bikers can take it all in on the 10-km Lake Laurentian Loop, with the opportunity to see 135 bird species.

Meanwhile, the Kelly Lake Trail is suitable for all types of cyclists. This 4.5-km linear path includes a mix of boardwalks and packed trails, arriving at the Fielding Park Bird Sanctuary. This wetland area is a haven for migrating birds, especially in the fall when it’s possible to see species of scaup, Green-wing Teal, Northern Pintail and other ducks, as well as a range of shorebirds like Pectoral Sandpipers.

Other Sudbury attractions include Science North, an interactive science centre focusing on northern Ontario nature. The city boasts a huge array of options for accommodations and dining.

The Little Clay Belt, Temiskaming Shores

Located about five hours north of the GTA, the farm fields of Temiskaming Shores are an anomaly amid the boreal forest of northeastern Ontario. However, this habitat diversity makes Temiskaming Shores an excellent destination for birding–with a vast network of backroads and trails to support cycling, too.

Plan a road ride north of town to Hilliardton Marsh, an ebird hotspot with over 190 species documented. You’ll see plenty of marsh specialists, including waterfowl like Wood Duck and songbirds, including Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. This outdoor education centre bustles during the spring and fall migrations, and also hosts a Hummingbird Garden Party in August.

The New Liskeard waterfront is another easy option, with great species diversity and plenty of family-friendly trails. Enjoy farm-to-table dining at Dida’s in Earlton, and the local Whiskeyjack Beer Company is aptly named for birders. The Glamping Island on Lake Temiskaming offers a unique place to get away from it all.

About Conor Mihell

Conor Mihell is an award-winning environmental and adventure travel writer based in Sault Ste. Marie. Read his work in the Globe and Mail, Explore, Cottage Life, Canoe & Kayak, ON Nature, and other magazines and newspapers. He's been a sea kayak guide on Lake Superior for close to 20 years, and has paddled from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay. 

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