Your Guide to All-Season Biking at the Algoma Highlands Conservancy
You may have never heard of the Algoma Highlands Conservancy, but this binational group of volunteers has played a huge role in protecting wild spaces in the rugged Canadian Shield hills north of Sault Ste. Marie. The organization has a mandate to promote conservation, environmental research, outdoor education and silent sport recreation in the area. The Algoma Highlands Conservancy’s 1,180 hectares of protected land merges with the world-class cross-country ski trails of Stokely Creek Lodge, forming a massive network of opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts in all seasons of the year.
With such a huge expanse of terrain, cycling is a great way to explore the full extent of the Algoma Highlands Conservancy spring, summer, and fall. This is “adventure biking” at its finest: don’t expect impeccable machine-built single track (you’ll discover that at the Hiawatha Highlands in Sault Ste. Marie); rather, the Algoma Highlands Conservancy features a seemingly endless network of old roads and ski trails, perfect for riding mountain or gravel bikes. You can easily make a day of it: pack a lunch, bathing suit, and light hiking boots and plan on a picnic, a refreshing dip in a pristine freshwater lake, and a climb or two to impressive lookouts amid these ancient mountains.
For enduro cyclists, the Algoma Highlands Conservancy trails are a highlight of the epic three-day Crank The Shield wilderness stage race held each year in mid-summer. But you don’t have to be a long-distance racer to appreciate the area. The Algoma Highlands Conservancy offers a unique overnight wilderness base camp at Norm’s Cabin for families and friends and provides something for everyone who loves wilderness adventure.
SUMMER ADVENTURE RIDING
It’s hard to pin a set number on the distance of cycling routes at the Algoma Highlands Conservancy, but it would certainly exceed 100 km of predominantly double-track. Locals describe this massive expanse of trails as the region’s best “adventure cycling”—a great, low-key destination for visitors to explore on mountain or gravel bikes after they’ve tackled the outstanding singletrack at Hiawatha Highlands and exciting downhill course at Bellevue Tower. What it lacks in excitement compared to other Sault Ste. Marie cycling destinations the Algoma Highlands Conservancy makes up with a huge area to explore.
You can access the trails for long-distance enduro riding from Robertson Lake Road, located about 30 minutes north of Sault Ste. Marie, in Goulais River. One option is to park at the trailhead for the Robertson Cliffs hiking trail (another popular destination protected by the Algoma Highlands Conservancy) and ride the gravel road around Robertson Lake, climbing into the hills and joining Stokely Creek’s Hakon Lien cross-country ski trail near Bone Lake. Access is free.
Another option is to begin cycling from the Stokely Creek Lodge parking lot on Pickard Road and starting on the ski trails adjacent to the lodge facilities. Stokely Creek Lodge is closed in the summer months; non-motorized access to the trails has traditionally been allowed, but the business recently changed hands and permission may change in the future. You’re best to contact Stokely Creek Lodge in advance to confirm.
STAY AND RIDE AT NORM’S CABIN
Perhaps the best way to experience all that the Algoma Highlands Conservancy has to offer is to book a stay with your family or friends at Norm’s Cabin. This gorgeous off-grid, square-timber chalet is located on the shores of remote Bone Lake, immersed in the hardwood forests of the Algoma Highlands and offering prime access to the area’s double-track cycling trails as well as outstanding hiking, canoeing, swimming, birding, nature photography and fishing.
Blaq Bear Eco Adventure Routes administers summer bookings for Norm’s Cabin. The company will shuttle your gear and food to the cabin, but you’ll have to ride the 10 km of double-track trails under your own power to get there (it’s also possible to paddle in on Bone Lake). The cabin comes equipped with cooking and kitchen supplies and sleeps 4 to 6 with two bedrooms upstairs and an open concept lower level.
WINTER FAT BIKING EVENTS AT STOKELY CREEK LODGE
Winter cycling isn’t normally allowed at the Algoma Highlands Conservancy, with Stokely Creek trails reserved for classic- and skate-skiing. The exception is one weekend in mid- to late March, when the lodge invites fat-bikers to come and enjoy the trails.
Highlights include over 50 km of groomed trail riding as well as the option of fat-biking across the frozen surfaces of the area’s numerous lakes, in what certainly ranks amongst Ontario’s finest winter cycling events. Stay tuned to the Stokely Creek Lodge Facebook page and follow the Sault Cycling Club for more information and dates.
WHERE TO RENT
Velorution is a popular local bike shop offering mountain bike and fat-bike rentals, as well as tune ups, sales, and expert advice with a convenient new store minutes from the Hiawatha trailhead on Fish Hatchery Road. Algoma Bicycle Company offers rentals and repairs on Queen Street in downtown Sault Ste. Marie.
It’s currently free to ride at the Algoma Highlands Conservancy, but it’s a good idea to support conservation initiatives in the area by purchasing a membership.
Blaq Bear Eco Adventure Routes administers bookings for Norm’s Cabin and offers a variety of outdoor packages in the area. Red Pine Tours offers custom-guided cycling packages in Sault Ste. Marie and the Algoma area. Contact them to discuss potential Algoma Highlands Conservancy packages.
WHEN TO GO
Winters linger well into late April in the snowbelt hills of the Algoma Highlands Conservancy. Don’t expect to ride here until the trails start drying out in mid- to late May. Get your timing right and spring cycling at the Algoma Highlands Conservancy can be a bug-free paradise of wildflowers and budding trees.
Peak season is mid-July through September, after the pesky mosquitoes and blackflies of early summer subside. Autumn is a spectacular time to ride with amazing fall colours, but the trails may be wet at this time of year, especially later in October and November.
WHAT TO BRING
The Algoma Highlands Conservancy is a seriously rugged and remote area. Cyclists must be prepared to patch or change a flat tire, fix a broken chain or deal with any other mechanical breakdown. Be aware that cell phone service is limited in the area so you may want to pack a satellite communication device for emergencies.
Always pack enough water and high-energy snacks for the duration of your ride, as well as a first-aid kit, rain gear and a warm change of clothes. To ward off mosquitos, particularly in June, be ready with insect repellent.
Bellevue Valley Lodge offers a private chalet in the woods just south of the Goulais River, within a 15-minute drive from the Algoma Highlands Conservancy. Meanwhile, McCauley’s Motel offers rooms and dining adjacent to Lake Superior’s Havilland Bay, minutes north of the trailhead.
A bit farther north you’ll find great accommodations and homemade food (including world-famous apple fritters) at the Voyageur’s Lodge on Lake Superior’s Batchawana Bay. In Sault Ste. Marie, check out Glenview Cabins and Campground for camping and a range of private cabins, some with kitchens. The Water Tower Inn is a popular hotel in the Soo’s north end, about a 25-minute drive from the Algoma Highlands Conservancy, featuring a great indoor pool and hot tubs.
FOOD AND DRINK
Sault Ste. Marie is famous for its Italian food and you’ll find great pasta and homemade pizza, as well as a casual atmosphere, at Fratelli’s on Great Northern Road. Wacky Wings is another northern tradition, with a huge menu and a great patio. For something different check out Ernie’s on Queen Street—an old-time diner with an ever-evolving menu of locally-sourced foods—or Georgie’s Shawarma for authentic Syrian cuisine.
Great local coffee shops include Feeding Your Soul Cafe and Scott Coffee, both located in the city’s north end, and Shabby Mottley on Queen Street. The Frontier Village at the Trading Post offers fish and chips and ice cream.