Spring Shake-out

Spring is the ideal time to explore the Sault's gravel and mixed-surface cycling!

When the snow has left the fat bike trails, and you're waiting for the mountain bike routes to dry out, gravel roads are calling. Spring is the ideal time to jump on these backroads and explore some of Sault Ste. Marie's gravel and mixed-surface cycling opportunities. As the seasons transition, budding greenery lines these backroads with the warmth of the spring sun returning to the north. Shake off the winter dust while exploring some of these routes within a short drive of the Sault.

Although their design makes covering kilometres more comfortable, you don't need a gravel-specific bike to ride all these trails. Gravel routes follow roads and can be ridden with regular mountain bikes too. Following the road rules and being aware of other vehicles is important when you're out on any cycling route. Some of the routes are pretty remote – but that's what makes for a good adventure.

Before setting out on some of the more advanced routes, you'll have to be self-sufficient and able to tackle field repairs if they're needed. If that's not your comfort level, or you just want some good company, jump onto one of Red Pine Tours' guided rides. Along with the Sault Cycling Club and local shops, they've played a huge part in developing gravel routes and getting the local cycling community together. You'll fall in love with cycling in the Sault.

Here are six rides for some gravel inspiration on your next trip to the Sault. Drop into Velorution or Algoma Cycle to get kitted up and learn about route conditions before heading out. Reg Peer of Red Pine Tours compiled the routes through RideWithGPS, which you can download directly to your device before you ride.

1. The Hub Trail (33 km)

 Although it isn't a pure gravel route, you can't talk about Sault cycling without mentioning this urban multi-purpose gem. Beginner friendly, the Hub is a combination of separate lanes and extended shoulders, giving riders a tour of Sault's downtown and green spaces. Every local cyclist should be familiar with the Hub, as it opens access to so many other trails in the city. This trail can be ridden on any type of bike.

The best gravel along here is the three-kilometre stretch on Whitefish Island. Bring a blanket along for a picnic overlooking St. Mary's Rapids. Over 200 species of birds have been seen on Whitefish Island. Keep an eye out for bald eagles, great blue herons and others in this birdwatching hotspot. 

2. Maki Road to Red Rock (45 km)

This out-and-back takes you climbing out of the city before descending quickly on mixed surfaces to Lake Superior. Jump in the water for a quick cool-off in the coldest Great Lake – with an average temperature of five degrees Celsius! If you aren't ready for a polar plunge, take in the expansive view before ascending back on the same route. The route map begins and ends at Thomson Farms Cider and Winery, where you can sample local cider in the taproom or pick some strawberries if they're in season. Shorten the ride by starting further up Maki Road.

3. Sault or Echo Bay to Bruce Mines (154 or 80 kilometres)

You can start this full-day adventure straight from Downtown Sault Ste Marie or shorten the ride by beginning in Echo Bay. Shortening the ride will skip riding on Highway 17 and focus purely on the gravel sections. You'll stay mostly on quiet side roads, passing farm fields before turning inland towards some areas still being logged.

45 minutes east of Sault Ste. Marie, the town of Echo Bay has loads of gravel route options for all skill levels. The forestry roads here are finer gravel, and the terrain more gentle than what you'd find north of the Sault. Try starting and finishing a trip from the Big Loonie and heading east along highway 638 through the rolling hills Sylvan Valley, turning south at the Rydal Bank village and looping back. There are many exciting offshoots to explore along the way, and you can experiment by making your own routes here. Echo Bay is a favourite starting point for Red Pine Tours' guided gravel rides. With 2-8 hour options, you have one of their local experts carve out a tour tailored to your ability and goals.

4. Rydal Bank (74 km)

The village of Rydal Bank began as a logging camp in the late 1800s and grew with copper mines booming in the area, notably near Bruce Mines. Today it's a favourite spot for local gravel riders. The network of forestry roads intersects the landscape, creating lots of different route options to explore. While Rydal Bank is much quieter than in its heyday, you may still encounter logging trucks travelling along the access roads. Plan to be out for most of the day on this 74-kilometre loop. Grab some food in Bruce Mines at the chip wagon or a date square from Bobber's Restaurant for fuel.

5. Old Goulais Bay Road – Shorter Route (53 km)

Head north of the city on this rugged route. Before the Trans-Canada Highway, this was the main road into Sault Ste. Marie. It's a great test of fitness and skill. Some steep sections may have loose rocks, and spring may bring small washouts on the trail, but a little mud never hurt anyone! It's strongly recommended that your tires are at least 42 millimetres wide for this ride and the longer route below. This route lets you peek at Lake Superior as you cruise along.

6. Old Goulais Bay Road to Connor Road (90 km)

If you're really up for a challenge, this full-day grinder loops northwest through some extremely rugged terrain. You'll get a mix of everything on this route – from fine gravel to larger cobble paths. Don't be afraid to walk the bike at times! While it will be a challenge, the views are worth it, and it's a neat experience riding alongside the Prince Township Wind Farm, which produces enough energy to power 40,000 homes. Finish the ride with a local pint at Outspoken Brewery, a hotspot among Sault cyclists. Keep an eye out on their page – there might be group rides planned along this route in late May. 

About Jake O'Flaherty

Jake O’Flaherty is a freelance outdoor guide who loves to explore the remote corners of the world, but Lake Superior is where he feels most at home.

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