Ultimate Guide to Biking the Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System

Mountain bike on a sprawling network of trails near Mattawa.

To riders in the know, the Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System is simply VMUTS: a remarkable network of volunteer-developed and maintained trails spanning the rugged Canadian Shield hills of Northeastern Ontario, just minutes from downtown Mattawa. Nestled between the ancient Algonquin Highlands and the spectacular Laurentian Mountains, the trail system extends over 300 km through a wild landscape of stalwart rock, mature forest, glimmering lakes and breathtaking vistas. The mighty Ottawa and historic Mattawa rivers trace its eastern and southern borders, respectively.

With such a vast expanse of terrain, there’s plenty of space for VMUTS’ diverse community of off-road users to share the trails. ATVs, 4x4s and dirtbikes mingle with mountain bikers and horseback riders, confirming VMUTS’ all-inclusive attitude to adventure riding. Don’t expect purpose-built singletrack (you’ll find that at the newly developed Three Towers Trail Network in nearby North Bay); rather, the Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System features a sprawling network of old logging roads arrayed from the trailheads in clearly marked loops of varying length and difficulty. There’s something for every skill level with wide open fire roads for beginners to steep rock faces, soft sand hills and technical river crossings for more advanced riders in search of a challenge.

Base yourself in Mattawa and plan day rides, making use of various access points to ride different sections of trail. Pack a picnic and stop for lunch at one of the trailside shelters, or take a break and a refreshing dip at one of the picture-perfect lakes along the trails.

For bikepackers, the VMUTS trails offer a fantastic opportunity for overnight or multi-day exploration. This is Crown Land and there are a number of excellent developed campsites found along the trails, some with lake access, covered shelters and outhouses. Scenic lookouts and intriguing attractions like the abandoned Purdy Mica Mine add to the area’s appeal for backwoods bikepacking.

Woman stands at lookout over sprawling forest.
Bike to gorgeous lookouts like this one. Photo: John & Julia // @explore.terra


The seemingly endless trail network at the Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System offers a remote, semi-wilderness riding experience. VMUTS pairs perfectly with a visit to North Bay (60 km west via Trans-Canada Highway 17) to tackle the thrilling singletrack at Three Towers and fast, flowy cross-country trails at Laurentian Escarpment Conservation Area. What it lacks in dedicated mountain bike trails compared to other North Bay cycling destinations, VMUTS makes up for with a huge area to explore.

The most popular access point is the Trail 11 trailhead just north of Mattawa off Highway 533 (follow the signs). You’ll know you’ve arrived when you encounter a large wooden archway announcing Welcome to VMUTS. Park here and ride the twisting Trail 11 corridor as it climbs to a junction with Trail 15. En route, you’ll pass a superb lookout with a great viewing deck perched several hundred feet above the surrounding forest and rockbound Mattawa River. Hang a left on Trail 15 for a mellow pedal to the lakeside campsites and picnic shelter at Kearney Lake. The remains of the Purdy Mica Mine—abandoned since 1953—lie just off Trail 15 a short distance past the lake. Bring a flashlight and warm layer to explore cave-like mine tunnels harbouring glinting shards of their namesake mineral in their chilly depths.

Another option is to begin your ride from the Redbridge trailhead on Highway 63. This gives you direct access to the less-travelled west side of the trail system. The Trail 21 loop is a great day ride on forest-covered trails with easy- to intermediate terrain. Don’t miss the side trip up Trail 27; this challenging climb to the Redbridge Lookout rewards with sweeping vistas of forest-cloaked hills that are especially breathtaking during fall colours in mid- to late September.


Perhaps the best way to experience all that the Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System has to offer is to plan an overnight bikepacking adventure making use of the numerous Crown Land campsites (free for Canadian residents; non-Canadian residents must purchase Crown Land camping permits). Many of these remote camping areas are located right on the shores of beautiful backcountry lakes. Nothing washes away a day of trail grime and soothes sore muscles like a refreshing dip followed by a crackling campfire beneath brilliantly starry skies.

For the most part this is true wild camping, with little more than a fantastic view and a flat spot to pitch your tent. However, there are also a number of more developed sites with outhouses, firepits, and even covered shelters for when the weather turns wet.

A cave
You never know what cool and interesting things you'll happen upon. Photo: John & Julia // @explore.terra


The nearest full-service bike shops are located in North Bay, which is a convenient pitstop for visitors travelling from southern Ontario. Cheapskates is a popular local bike shop offering mountain bike rentals, as well as tune-ups, sales and expert advice from their location on Main Street in downtown North Bay. Two more top-rated options for bike servicing and sales in North Bay are Cycle Works and Wheelhouse.


All Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System users are required to purchase a trail pass, which you can buy online. The trail pass fees support the development and maintenance of this volunteer-run resource, ensuring trails remain up to standard and reducing impacts on local fish and wildlife. Mountain bikers can choose from three different trail passes. Get the daily permit if you’re just here for one day; the 7-day permit is a better deal if you’ll be riding 2 or more days. The annual permit offers the best value for rides of more than 3 days.


While the entire Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System is well-marked, its enormous size and widely scattered highlights mean you can learn a lot by going with a local guide. Unfortunately, there are no guided cycling tours available at this time. However, Richard Pentiluk, owner of Mattawa ATV Guide Service, has been riding these trails since the ‘90s and offers a wealth of information on the region’s best rides and current trail conditions.


Trail riding at VMUTS is open year-round, however May to October offers the best conditions for cycling. After a long, snowy winter, the trails start drying out in early- to mid May. Get your timing right and early season cycling can be bug-free bliss with budding trees and spring blooms carpeting the forest floor. Peak season is mid-July through September, after the biting insects of June subside. Autumn is undoubtedly the most spectacular time to ride, with amazing fall colours starting in mid- to late September.


The Voyageur Multi-Use Trail System is a seriously vast and rugged area. Cyclists heading into the backcountry should be prepared to patch or change a flat tire, fix a broken chain or deal with any other mechanical breakdown. Despite the trails’ popularity with motorized off-roaders, don’t rely on outside help for assistance, especially outside of peak season. Always pack enough water and high-energy snacks for the duration of your ride, as well as a first-aid kit and rain gear. To ward off mosquitos, particularly in June, be ready with insect repellent.


Surrounded by scenic hills, deep forest and historic waterways, Mattawa makes an enticing destination for a longer stay. Mattawa Adventure Camp is a trail lover’s paradise with comfortable cottages and motel rooms nestled alongside the Ottawa River just south of town. Enjoy delicious home-cooked meals in the bright dining room, as well as easy access to VMUTS via connector trail. Meanwhile, Mattawa River Resort offers onsite biking and exploration of their 147 forested acres right from the doorstep of your cozy, riverfront cottage. This pet-friendly resort is located 10 minutes west of town, off Highway 17, and boasts a fantastic on-site restaurant and sandy beach with kayaks, canoes and SUPs to enjoy the river after your ride.

Within strolling distance of downtown Mattawa, Sid Turcotte Park Campground is a great budget-friendly option with riverfront camping and three comfy housekeeping cabin rentals for those who don’t want to rough it. Finally, Nature’s Harmony Ecolodge offers an array of unique, eco-conscious accommodations (including log cabins, yurts, domes, and glamping tents) and a wealth of outdoor activities in a peaceful wilderness setting just off Highway 533 minutes from the VMUTS network.


Fuel up for a day of riding at Mattawa favourite, Myrt’s Family Restaurant on Highway 17. For a delicious packed lunch or jolt of java, stop in at The Moon Café on Main Street—their homemade quiche has been praised by the likes of iconic Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood. After your ride, satisfy cravings with a heaping helping of Ontario’s (arguably) best poutine at Turcotte’s Chip Stand; look for the cozy outdoor patio down a pedestrian alley on Main Street. If you are in the mood for pizza, the handmade ‘za at Wright’s Bakery (right across from Myrt’s on Hwy 17) is hard to beat—and their dessert pies are top-notch, too. Sid Turcotte Park serves hand-scooped ice cream and other sweet treats.

About Virginia Marshall

Virginia Marshall is a freelance outdoor adventure writer, photographer and editor with roots in Muskoka and Lake Superior. Read her work in Adventure Kayak, Canoeroots, Rapid, Paddling Magazine and Backroad Mapbooks.

Recommended Articles

Ontario Bike Law

Know your rights and responsibilities.

Ride the Best Bike Parks in Ontario

Choose from pump tracks, jump parks, and downhill mountain biking.

13 Spectacular Bike Rides

Where to see the best of the province.

E-Biking Bliss

Everything you need to know about riding your electric bike in Ontario

Bike Rental and Shops

Where to rent or buy bikes in Ontario.

Mountain Bike Races & Events in Ontario

Find out when these experiences are running in 2024.

Ultimate Guide to Road Cycling Events

Discover Ontario's best races and events in 2024.

Gravel Grinders

Ontario’s best gravel riding events in 2024.

Cycling Events

Road, mountain, BMX, cyclecross and more.

Cochrane Bike Adventures

4 outstanding places to pedal.

A Complete Guide to Cycling in North Bay

What to check out at this up-and-coming cycling hot spot.

Ontario's Best Cycling Tours

Join one of these incredible guided bike experiences.

Cycle with the Giants

Discover the trails and routes that inspire Ontario’s most famous cyclists.

Best Fall Bike Rides

Make the most of this incredible season.

Bike Trails for the Whole Family

5 places to ride in Ontario.

Elliot Lake Bike Adventures

3 excellent places to pedal.

Guide to Biking in Northern Ontario

Discover the best bike routes, trails, events and more.

Bike in the Shadow of a Sleeping Giant

Best year-round bike trails at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.

Get The Scoop

Finest bike rides for ice cream lovers.

10 Reasons you need to do this route

Cycle the North - Great Lakes Waterfront Trail