Riding The Highlands: Then And Now

An exciting ride, a sense of comradery, exhilaration, and worthwhile exhaustion—here's why one rider has been seeking out the Ontario Highlands for over a dozen years.

My first introduction to the Ride The Highlands area was in 2004, where finding good riding roads in the massive province of Ontario was by word of mouth, looking at paper maps, and your own exploratory trial and error. It was my very first group ride, and it was organized on the GTAMotorcycle.com forum.

The route for the 2017 Ride the Highlands Instameet

I’ll never forget that August day: blue skies and hot but not too hot. It was my first time riding highway 35, Buckthorn Road (aka “The 507”), Elephant Lake Road, Peterson Road and many others I had never laid eyes on before that point. My eyes were opened wide to a whole different kind of riding: instead of a road with just a couple mediocre twists, there were long stretches of twisty roads; instead of waiting at stop lights and dodging cars, there was just scant traffic; instead of houses and industrial buildings, there were gorgeous lakes, forests, and the iconic Canadian Shield. I was in heaven! This kind of riding was exciting, I leaned my bike more than I ever had before, and we shared an amazing sense of comradery. Some more experienced riders left me behind like I was standing still, but they were still willing to give me tips on how to improve my riding technique. As I rode home that day, I was exhausted yet exhilarated.

How we got there - The Route

That huge grin lasted for days. You know, the same kind of feeling you get with your first kiss. I’m still good friends with many of the people I met on this ride. From that point on, these “Northern Rides” (aka “North of Toronto” Rides) proved to be my favourite and my friends and I revisited the area numerous times, often bringing along people who like me, hadn’t ridden on “real” roads. 

Fast forward 13 years: I was on a group ride with a few people I’d never ridden with before. The skies were blue and we hit Highway 35, the 507, Elephant Lake Road, Peterson Road, and more roads that were new to me and my wheels! This time I didn’t spill my chocolate milkshake from Kawartha Dairy on my shirt, although I did spill coffee on my pants—apparently you can’t take me anywhere!

Similar photo taken 13 years later, this time on Elephant Lake Road. We split off of our main group to explore some different roads. I’m glad we did!

These days, planning a ride in this area is much easier with resources like the Ride The Highlands website, where you can find pre-planned routes, attractions and accommodations, all motorcycle-friendly. They’ll even send you a free paper map with everything highlighted!

Jessica and Casey enjoying a gorgeous sunset over Lake Kashagawigamog from the Bonnie View Inn

This time though, we did more than explore just the riding roads: we took the time to (literally) soak in the area. We enjoyed a two-night stay at the Bonnie View Inn, right on Kashagawigamog Lake (somehow listening to loons call at night helps you sleep better). We rode around the lake on a giant water banana pulled by a power boat and relaxed watching the sun go down on their lakeside patio. 

Bombing around Lake Kashagawigamog on a giant banana is the best way to have more fun after a day of riding! Photo:
Martin Lortz.

We also learned a little about the history of the area by meeting some road builders and their beautiful pair of Percheron/Canadian hybrid horses, specially bred for this type of hard work. 

Roads were made using flat iron scoops pulled by a team of horses. Dynamite was used to blast through large areas of rock

We were blown away by Terry Craig, a glass blowing artist at Artech Glass Blowing Studio. We watched him make scotch glasses using the old traditional methods. He adds his own twist by making pointy protrusions at the bottom of the glasses to represent the thorns of Scottish nettle.

Terry demonstrates how to blow glass with his mouth. The molten blob was pulled from a 2150 Fahrenheit (1177 Celsius) furnace just moments before the photo was taken!

Our experience was also gastronomic as we had some really good smoked barbeque ribs and beef brisket at The Olde Ridge Authentic Barbeque, which is ideally located at the bottom of Elephant Lake Road!  The real unsung hero of that meal was the hot freshly baked corn bread! 

Mondo’s mouth is watering over the BBQ beef brisket, pork ribs, and more at
The Olde Ridge Authentic Barbeque

We even stopped by The Little Tart for a tasty butter tart treat, recommended to us by Terry from Artech. We had fun watching Casey, our American friend, try a butter tart for the first time! He didn’t quite have the technique right and the filling oozed right down his hands!

Yours truly was happy to find a new butter tart to sink my teeth into. And yes, I love butter tarts! Photo:
Martin Lortz

If you like taking photos, the area is rife with photo ops such as the locomotive and Lockheed T-33 jet in Haliburton, moose along the Highway 60 corridor in Algonquin (especially ubiquitous in the spring), panoramic views from the Dorset Fire Tower (best but most crowded during the fall colours), the Avro Arrow in Barry’s Bay, just to name a few! The natural landscapes by lakes and Canadian Shield are also photogenic and you won’t find them in the city!

View from the Dorset Fire Tower during the peak of fall colours

For me, though, the Highlands area will always be about the roads. I’ve ridden to the Arctic Ocean (James Bay), to Key West Florida, and the east and west coasts of Canada, but the Highlands area will always have a special place in my heart.

Look at the smiles on our faces after riding the Highlands area! Photo:
Martin Lortz
About Wobblycat

James Bai, aka Wobblycat, knows riding. Hailing from the Greater Toronto Area, he traded in his office desk for handlebars in 2016 and is now location-independent, travelling on his motorcycle across North America, from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean and the roads (and off-roads) in between.

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