Ride the Lower Highlands in 2023: My Ride with the West Island Moto Club
It was an unseasonably cool morning in early June when 13 bikes from the West Island Moto Club left Montreal, heading west. We had a tight schedule with a lunch reservation at noon in Kingston, so it was highway until Cornwall. Then the fun began. We rode the Long Sault Parkway, and then after cruising along Highway 2 through the picturesque towns of Prescott and Brockville, we rode the 1000 Islands Parkway.
These are iconic rides that I’ve written about before but merely served as warm up for what was to come after lunch. First, we literally had to warm up over lunch at Mesa Fresca, a Mexican and Latin inspired casual restaurant in the west end of Kingston. It’s just off the highway and has a large parking lot so was easy for our large group to access. Their quesadilla was excellent, and my wife and I tried something called flautas, which seemed a cross between spring rolls and mini burritos, deep-fried with cream and Baja sauces.
After lunch, we headed north on the 11. Our lead rider had promised twisties and didn’t disappoint. The 11 is a great road but the twisties get even better once you turn off onto some of the sideroads that have changes in elevation as they snake through the neighbouring lakes and waterways.
This is beautiful, historic countryside in South Frontenac, a motorcyclist’s hidden gem nestled between the major through roads of the 401 and Highway 7. Running parallel east of Highway 11 is Opinicon Road, another motorcyclist’s dream road and recently highlighted on the TV show Motorcycle Experience. Just be careful because there is often some sand or gravel on these roads and there are some surprising hairpin turns! A pleasant rest stop is the Jones Falls Lockstation on the Rideau Canal off Highway 11.
After playing in the twisties all afternoon, we were ready to relax at our inn and take in some “refreshments.” The Cove Inn in Westport has a wonderful terrace out back right on the water, with live music through the evening. The local guitarist was playing some old classics from The Tragically Hip, Tom Petty, and others from “our era,” so it was a lot of fun to sit and listen to the music over dinner as the sun slowly slipped behind the trees across the pond.
Food and service was excellent. There’s also an interior dining room and a tavern. The Cove has small rooms but it’s clean, well-maintained, and has a ton of character. It’s a charming inn in a charming town, and even though you are only a short ride from Kingston, you feel like you are in another era.
The next day started with breakfast at The Tangled Garden Cafe within walking distance of our inn. I’m a 2-eggs-easy-over kind of guy, but my wife had the Greek Omelette and loved it. Other breakfast omelettes and sandwiches are available, and a full menu including burgers, wraps, pasta, pizza, soups and salads for lunch and dinner. Prices are reasonable, service fast and friendly, and it was a great way to power up for another big day of twisties.
After fueling up at the Esso in Westport, it was back along South Frontenac Road 8 (Westport Road) that meanders through this lake district and, in one particularly picturesque section, hugs the south shore of Wolfe Lake.
We picked up Highway 38 again and continued north from the day before. At Parham, we jogged left onto Long Lake Road, then Mountain Grove Road that took us up to Highway 7. After a brief stretch on the 7, we turned left on Highway 509. I had stumbled upon the 509 last year while riding back to Montreal after visiting family in Denbigh. It’s marked as a Scenic Route on Highway 41 just north of Bishop’s Corners (south of Bon Echo Provincial Park if you are riding south). From the 41, just follow the 506 east through Myers Cave, Fernleigh, up to Plevna, where it intersects with the 509. This bypass will spit you out on Highway 7 north of Sharbot Lake and is well worth the detour from the major roads.
In this instance, we were heading north, and we stopped at the Snow Road Community Centre for a short break. Our kickstands were barely down before a woman appeared to greet us.
“It’s officially the 136th birthday of the church on the corner. Service is at 11:00 and you are all welcome,” she said.
We politely declined to stay for the service, but a few of us wandered up to Snow Road Presbyterian Church to have a look. It’s a beautiful clapboard church oozing with history and character. The altar is an intricate inlaid woodwork depiction of the last supper modelled on Da Vinci’s rendition. A few minutes of tranquillity inside the church was the perfect kind of rest from the adrenaline rush of riding twisties. We struck up a conversation with a few musicians who were there early to prepare for the service, and one said he’s been living in the area his entire life and how “their twisty roads” are a favourite for motorcyclists. I could see why.
The highlight of the day’s ride was on the narrow, winding County Road 16 (South Lavant Road) that cuts east through Beatty, Lavant, and Poland. I always say, the narrower the road the better, and a section of this road is so narrow there’s no centreline. It has, however, two-way traffic so remember to “ride right.”
By this point, we were all getting hungry so we picked up the 511 that takes you right into Perth, a favourite destination for bikers.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. The quiet, twisty, scenic roads of the lower highlands straightened out southeast of Perth after lunch as we approached the Quebec border and the end of our overnight highlands excursion.
This ride has quickly become a club favourite. The relaxed pace along Highway 2 and the parkways is perfect early in the season, and the twisty, undulating roads of the lower highlands are what every motorcyclist is looking for. Fortunately, whether you are coming from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, or even New York State, the highlands surprisingly are less than a day away, making this picturesque region in southeastern Ontario a perfect weekend destination.