Best Places to Ride According to These Well-Known Cyclists from Ontario
Ontario is well-known for its natural diversity, vast forests, beautiful provincial parks and countless amazing places to ride your bike. To discover the cream of the crop, we turned to some of Ontario’s best cyclists to learn their favourites.
Jenn Jackson is a professional World Cup cross-country mountain bike racer, Canada’s 2021 XCO National Champion, a 2-time silver medalist at the Canadian CX National Championships, and she has been part of the Canadian team at multiple World Championships.
Jenn learned to ride in Simcoe County Forest, in Midhurst, Ontario, where she grew up riding with family—especially her dad. When asked to recommend a favourite place to ride in Ontario, she enthusiastically responds, “Copeland for mountain biking! It’s a municipal forest located in Horseshoe Valley, Ontario. There is quite a bit of elevation change compared to other riding areas in the province and it is also intertwined with other nearby trail systems built by the Simcoe County Mountain Bike Club. Just across the road is Horseshoe Valley Resort and bike park.”
Friends of Copeland is a volunteer network that takes care of the natural environment in the forest, including trails for cyclists and other users. For accommodations, Jenn suggests looking into small bed and breakfast options within a 10 km radius, as well as Horseshoe Resort and Carriage Hills Resort. To refuel after a great ride, Jenn recommends Loobies Diner in Craighurst, which is just five minutes away from the trails. “It is my personal favourite,” Jenn says. “They offer a hearty homestyle breakfast and some baked treats. The owner is also an avid mountain biker, a former NHL goalie, and a prominent member of the community.”
Jenn has ridden her bike all over Ontario. She has sampled singletrack from her home trails in central Ontario all the way up to Thunder Bay in the northwest. When asked where she most enjoys riding most in the province these days, Jenn says, “There’s no place like home. Copeland will probably be my favourite riding spot in Ontario forever. In addition to the mountain bike trails, the roads around Mount Saint Louis have some great climbing and are very quiet.” Jenn also loves the Simcoe Loop, a very popular gravel biking that takes you all the way from Barrie through Midland and Orillia on well-maintained gravel.
Graydon Rayme is a professor and the Director of the School of Physical and Health Education at Nipissing University. He has also been the head Coach of Nipissing’s Varsity Cross-Country Running Team at since 2008.
Graydon was born and raised in Orillia, Ontario. Like most children, he rode a bike for fun in his youth but didn’t really take up cycling until he was in graduate school at Western University. He credits this time in London as the point where he learned a lot of the foundational road and mountain bike skills.
A veteran of countless Ontario Cup and Canada Cup mountain bike races, Graydon has also competed in many endurance events ranging from 6- to 12 hours. Asked if he could recommend a place to ride near Orillia, Graydon says, “I still love to ride in the Orillia area. Between Copeland Forest and 7th Line trails, I’ve done century rides on the hardtail there and hardly ridden the same trail twice.” He also recommends Silver Creek and Slessor’s loop north of Orillia, which he describes as “fast and flowy, with some fun little logs and rocks to test your balance.” These trails are maintained by volunteers with the Simcoe Country Mountain Bike Club.
Now that Graydon lives and works in North Bay, he spends much of his riding time on the amazing roads and trails in that area. “North Bay is really a hidden gem in Ontario for riding,” he says. The North Bay Mountain Bike Association is working to elevate the riding experience in the area and they have established a land-use agreement on the Three Towers trail network. This is a relatively new network, so trail building is ongoing but there is already more than 5 km of fast and flowy trails on mixed terrain. The club is now working to expand the network into a more challenging section of the forest. There is also a pump track at the trailhead and a weekly race series hosted by NBMBA with the help of Angry Johnny’s Racing.
The second place Graydon recommends in North Bay is the Northshore trail network on Northshore Road, east of the city. Graydon describes the Northshore trails as “raw,” with big climbs, lots of roots, chunky rocks and rough descents. He adds that “the best lookout view in all of North Bay can be reached by climbing up Fred Gunter’s to Rora’s Ridge. It’s a tough climb, but the descent down Todd’s or Billy the Skid is worth it.”
Finally, North Bay’s Laurentian Ski Hill has much less rock than Northshore, and although it can easily be ridden on a hardtail, it is most fun on a trail or enduro bike, Graydon says. He compares these trails to Copeland Forest, with a bit more rock and man-made features. Graydon notes that “new features seem to pop up every summer – jumps, drops, log rides. I prefer to park at the bottom on Ski Club Road, ride up the double-track access road, and then ride one of the many downhill trails.”
There is much more than just mountain biking in North Bay. On the road cycling side, the city hosted the Ontario Road Cycling Championships in 2022. “We have some interesting roads, some big climbs and hardly any traffic,” Graydon says. “If you like riding pavement, it is really good up here.” In the winter, most of the Laurentian Ski Hill trails are groomed and Graydon says it seems like there are more people riding on the snow than in the summer, perhaps because the trails are less intimidating in the winter for new riders.
Graydon notes that there are several good bike shops in North Bay including Cycleworks, Wheelhouse, and Cheapskates. The city features plenty of cyclist-friendly hotels in town and camping within a 30-minute drive at Marten River Provincial Park or Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. After a big ride, Graydon loves to refuel at Greco’s Pizza on Algonquin Avenue. Twiggs Coffee is perfect for a hot drink and a treat, or maybe some lunch. Gateway City Brewery is the place for apres-ride drinks, and there is a food truck here in the summer. Indra’s Curry House serves authentic Indian food and the Cedar Tree makes a great chicken shawarma.
Emile Hamm is a young professional cyclist now racing with the continental-level Team Skyline.
Emile grew up in Thunder Bay and learned to ride while camping at Quetico Provincial Park. He credits his father, Gerald, for igniting the passion. Emile’s rise through the cycling ranks came quickly, but it all started with his local club. “We started out with the local Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club and eventually progressed to races in Minnesota, Southern Ontario and Quebec,” Emile recalls.
Emile has now reached a level where he can travel across North America and Europe to race his bike. He says, “so far, the Leadville 100 MTB Race in Colorado has been the most rewarding and difficult event I’ve competed in.”
Considering he started his cycling journey in Thunder Bay, it makes sense Emile has plenty of favourite places to ride back in his Northern home. He recalls that, as he got a bit older, he started to seek out longer rides away from the city, and that opened up a bunch of route options south of Thunder Bay in and around the Nor’Wester mountains. “Out there is where you’ll find some of the bigger climbs in the area,” Emile says. “Many of these are chip-sealed or even gravel, and they are best ridden on slightly wider tires.”
Emile adds that his go-to scenic route for showing new riders the area is the Sandy Beach Road loop that takes you through the Fort William First Nation reserve and provides spectacular views of Pie Island and the nearby mountains. Before heading back into Thunder Bay, Emile says “you owe it to yourself to ascend to the Mount McKay Lookout, try and spot your house down below, then cruise down the twisty, perfectly-paved road.”
For a mid-ride refuel, Emile recommends stopping at Dolce Coffee House on the way back from Mount. Many local cyclists also plan their rides through the small nearby town of Kakabeka Falls where they like to stop in at The Early Refill or the Metropolitan Moose Beanery & Café.
To learn more about the best riding around Thunder Bay, Emile recommends checking out the Thunder Bay Cycling Club as well as following some of the local legends on Strava and tracing their routes.
Emile says Sault Ste. Marie is another favourite northern riding destination. “Whenever we would head to southern Ontario for races, my dad and I would break up the drive with a ride in Sault Ste. Marie at the Hiawatha trails. They were super fun, flowy trails and I have heard they are only getting better.” In the Sault, Emile recommends Velorution Bike & Ski for bike service and says, “post-ride, you can’t miss out on having Hiawatha Ice Cream, which is right at the trailhead.”
Kyle Fry is a professional Geologist at Nordmin Group in Thunder Bay. Among his many cycling accomplishments, Kyle represented Canada at the 2009 Cyclocross World Championships in the Netherlands as a U23 racer.
Kyle grew up in the Peterborough area, which he describes as a fantastic location for all cycling disciplines. He recalls doing a road race one day and then a mountain bike race the next, all within 20 minutes from home. He credits living there for shaping his ability to ride all kinds of bikes on a wide variety of terrain. Eventually, he moved to Northwestern Ontario to attend Lakehead University, where he has lived ever since.
Kyle began his cycling journey at the age of 12 as a way to stay in shape for hockey during the off-season. He soon realized he was more excited for cycling, so at the age of 17 he decided to focus on riding as his full-time sport. Kyle says competing at the cyclocross worlds as a career highlight. “Being a part of the pinnacle of cycling was something I will never forget,” he says. After a prolonged break, he has recently rekindled his passion for serious riding.
Kyle says the Peterborough area is probably the best kept secret in cycling as far as diversity of riding in Ontario. There is almost an infinite amount of gravel roads with beautiful climbs and little traffic on the city’s outskirts. There is also the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority, which has a large multi-use trail system where it is possible to ride for hours without hitting the same trail twice. Before riding, Kyle recommends stopping in at Wild Rock Outfitters in downtown Peterborough, a locally owned store that focuses on giving back to the community. Peterborough also has a great host of pubs and patios to grab a post-ride drink and snack.
These days, Kyle’s favorite place to ride is in the Shuniah and Dorion townships, which are northeast of Thunder Bay. “I have ridden Highway 587 from the Flying J truck stop to Silver Islet over 100 times and I still love it,” he says. “The road is almost never straight, has wonderful rolling hills, and once you enter Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, there are some amazing views and wildlife.”
Kyle recommends rewarding yourself with a sticky bun or a fresh-baked cookie from the historic Silver Islet General Store once you reach the end of the Sibley Peninsula. The icing on the cake is the option to explore a multitude of gravel roads on the ride back from the store if you’re feeling adventurous.
Finally, Kyle recommends the quiet gravel roads that surround the Greenwich Lake Wind Farm project in Dorion, Ontario, as another bucket-list place to ride in the area. The gravel roads are well maintained yet host almost no traffic. “You can ride right to the base of any number of the massive wind turbines and get a view of the entire project,” he says. Once finished, he recommends a trip to the top of Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park where you’ll get a beautiful view of the canyon and its 100-m-tall cliffs from one of the two viewing platforms. When you are done, the Canyon Country Co-op has a variety of post-ride snacks and drinks to enjoy after a fun day on the bike.
“The Soo” is a small city in Northern Ontario with a big cycling community and Reg is a fixture in the local scene. Reg is recognized for his work with the Sault Cycling Club, where he was responsible for fat bike trail development and grooming at the Hiawatha Highlands for the 2020-21 season. He continues to assist with trail development and grooming while also operating his own bike touring company.
Reg grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, where he learned to ride through a mountain biking program at the local YMCA. In his youth, he primarily used his bike to get to school and visit friends. T, towards the end of high school, he got back into cycling because of a friend who lived right next to the local trail system. In college, he competed in cross-country running, but soon after graduating he realized that he wasn’t enjoying it as much and his body just didn’t like the stress. Intrigued by cycling and the adventure it promised, he traded his running shoes for bike cleats and has been rolling along ever since.
Reg is proud of Sault Ste. Marie’s excellent mountain bike trail system. It’s poised to improve with upcoming trail development plans, he says. Over the past few years, the City and Sault Cycling Club has invested heavily in the development of new trail systems. As an example, he points to the Farmer Lake trail system, which was officially opened in July of 2022 and is accessed via the Hiawatha Highlands. The Sault Cycling Club is also in the process of raising funds to build a new trail system in Finn Hill, a wooded area in the middle of a neighborhood in town.
Besides the other trails at Hiawatha, Reg recommends riding the Hub Trail, a paved biking and walking route that covers a 25 km loop around the city. Finally, Reg adds that just east of Sault Ste. Marie there’s endless gravel riding on quiet backroads, including St. Joseph Island.
Reg says that there are a number of resources one can turn to when planning a bike trip to Sault Ste. Marie. The first stop could be one of the three shops in town: Algoma Bicycle Company, Velorution and the Duke of Windsor. “The folks at the local shops are a great resource when planning a bike trip and have a wealth of knowledge on recommended routes, places to stay and eat,” he says. Algoma Bicycle Company is close to local breweries and is also located beside a café called Home Bakery. The local bike shops are also a good place to find trail maps. Many of the employees at the local shops also play an active role on the Sault Cycling Club. Tourism Sault Ste. Marie also offers plenty of bike-planning advice.
The Soo is home to a lot of great restaurants and Reg recommends Ernie’s or Peace restaurant. He adds that Crimson Ridge Golf Course (featuring 20 km of groomed fat bike trails in the winter) is also home to Embers Restaurant, which is a great place to stop after a winter ride. For cyclists planning a gravel or road ride, Reg suggests the Copper Bean Café, a favourite coffee and lunch stop amongst cyclists in Bruce Mines.
Sault Ste. Marie is also home to a large number of cycling events including the Sault Cycling Club Trails Fest in summer, the Rock the Ridge Fat Bike Challenge in January, and the Beaver Freezer Marathon (fat bike, ski or running race) in March. Another famous event, Crank the Shield, is a 3-day mountain bike stage race that has drawn many racers from across Ontario over the years. While the future of Crank is still up in the air, Reg says a new event may take its place this year.
There is a little bit of everything for cyclists in Sault Ste Marie, Reg says. “Whether you’re into road biking, gravel riding, mountain biking or fat biking, we have it all.”
Marilyn Ailey is a Thunder Bay, Ontario-based high-school cycling coach who draws on her experience in cycling events like the XTERRA world championships in Hawaii and multiple L’Etape du Tour stages in France to inspire the next generation of cyclists.
Marilyn was born in Barrie, Ontario and learned to ride her banana-seat bike on the roads around Owen Sound. She came to Thunder Bay for university, and like so many other outdoor enthusiasts, she fell in love with the natural beauty of the area and made it her home. While she has ridden her bike all over Ontario, Thunder Bay’s rapidly growing Shuniah Mines trail system is her favourite. Marilyn has been riding long enough to remember the original, crudely-built singletrack that stretched across the old silver mines in Shuniah. Perhaps that’s the reason she is so appreciative of all the new professionally-built trails that link the old mine site to Centennial Park, Kinsmen Park and the whole Trowbridge Forest area.
The expanded trail system in Thunder Bay is the vision of volunteers at the Black Sheep Mountain Bike Club, and is being built by the professionals at Precambrian Natural Surface Trails. The trails flow especially well and appeal to novice riders because they are wide and smooth—while simultaneously satisfying more advanced riders who can now carry more speed while enjoying features like berms and optional jumps.
Marilyn suggests a route that mixes the fast new trails with some of the older, more technical and challenging favourites. Starting at the main trailhead at Kinsmen Park, head over to the Current River bridge and up the Conveyor Belt singletrack into Shuniah Mines where classic trails like Dagobah, Grand Chasm and Doctor’s await, before heading back into Centennial Park to sample Drift, Magma Day and the Mesa trails.
Visitors to Thunder Bay can camp right at the trailhead in the Trowbridge Falls Municipal Campground or book a room with a view of Lake Superior at the Delta Marriott or the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel. If your bike is in need of a tune up before hitting the trails, head over to one of the four bike shops in town: Fresh Air Experience, Rollin Thunder, Petrie’s or 3 Ride.
Before heading out for some adventure by bike, fuel up at a local coffee shop like Calico, Bay Village, The Habit or St. Paul Roastery. Apres cycling, Marilyn suggests stopping at one of the many amazing restaurants in the city, including Norteños Taqueria, a hidden gem on the south side. The Caribou Restaurant & Wine Bar is a favourite when you have something to celebrate. Thunder Bay also has several breweries like Sleeping Giant Brewing, Dawson Trail and Lakehead Beer Company, where you can sample a good selection of local craft beers.
Beyond the Thunder Bay cycling mecca but sticking to Northern Ontario, Marilyn loves visiting Sudbury for the Walden Trails. Walden features fast and smooth singletrack, as well as the massive granite outcrops typical of the Sudbury area. Riding these smooth rock features is a really cool and unique experience, Marilyn says. She bookends her ride with a fresh brew at Salute Coffee, which is conveniently accessible from the Trans-Canada Highway. Di Gusto serves some of the best pizza in Sudbury. Three great local bike shops include Sessions, Adventure365 and The Outside Store.