Editor’s note: Situated where Ontario's Niagara Escarpment meets the Canadian Shield, a little over 500 km from Toronto, Manitoulin Island has been called a magical place—blessed with incredible natural beauty and serene landscapes. It’s a place where things move a little slower, in the best possible sense, especially when you’re coming from a place where everything seems to move too fast sometimes. The challenge: To flee the crowded confines of the Big Smoke and take a breather on a limited time budget, in the process maybe finding a place where time seems to stop—Toronto-based motorcycle enthusiasts Viktor and Samantha Radics share their journey with us.
Getting Away From It All
Motorcycle trips for me are about camaraderie and exploration. They’re about meeting people we’ve not met before, about riding road’s we’ve not yet ridden, and about clearing our minds of the clutter that we’ve shoved in there over time. This is why I ride, and why I love planning trips that allow others the same freedom and gratification as well.
On Saturday, July 6, 2013, six of us left the concrete jungle behind and headed North to explore Northern Ontario’s beautiful Manitoulin Island. But would two days be enough? Not only did we want to arrive at our destination, we'd also need to settle in, set up our tents, deal with ferry schedules and of course, find some time to pencil in a few detours along the way, taking in some of the better roads for motorcycling northbound from the city.
Our plan was to approach Manitoulin Island from the north end on Saturday and jump on the Chi-Cheemaun ferry Sunday morning to ride down the Bruce Peninsula through Tobermory. The first leg of the ride was from Toronto to Parry Sound and we set our first meeting point conveniently at an “ONroute” rest stop just north of the city on Hwy 400, continuing north from there. As the majority of our trip would be on major highways, we also detoured through Muskoka’s twisty northern roads.
The highlight was the epic Southwood Road—one of of my favourite roads within a few hours of Toronto—37 kilometres of unbelievably entertaining, twisty road between Hwy 11 and Hwy 169. The cutoff point is just north of the Severn River Bridge off of Hwy 11. You have to watch out for the occasional blown-in sand, but the landscape is unreal and the twisties keep you engaged the entire way. After Southwood Road, with about 5 hours of riding time left, we continued north and made a brief stop in Parry Sound for lunch. This historic town is just off of Hwy 400 North, and in this area there’s no shortage of great roads to cruise on. For the sake of time though, we finished our lunch and were quickly northbound again, heading towards Sudbury on Hwy 69.
The stretch of Hwy 69 between Parry Sound and Sudbury is where the trip becomes a bit tiring. Besides the occasionally impressive landscape, the majority of Hwy 69 is quite straight and monotonous. We stopped briefly in Sudbury for supplies and headed onward. From there our final destination was another two-hour ride away. Hwy 17 from Sudbury towards the island is just as mind-numbing as Hwy 69 from Parry Sound. However, just as you begin to wonder “Are we there yet?” you come to a little industrial town called Espanola, and from there it’s just a short canter before you reach Manitoulin.
The Grand Ride
Riding into Manitoulin Island is simply epic! We were greeted with long mounds of paved sweeping roads and epic, rocky terrain. This breathtaking 30-km stretch undoubtedly made up for the previous couple hundred kilometres up from Parry Sound. We had huge grins on our faces and were elated with the marvelous landscapes, as we pulled in to Garden’s Gate Restaurant on the island for dinner. This little farmhouse-turned-restaurant was right along our route and provided an extremely cozy atmosphere to unwind in. Amiable, easy-going staff and delicious, locally sourced fine-homemade cuisine made for an exceptionally pleasant evening. We were all very content with our experience and will definitely return on our next Manitoulin Island visit.
After dinner, we were all ready to lounge. Conveniently, South Bay Resort was just a short 10-minute ride south of Garden’s Gate Restaurant. South Bay is a relaxing campground located at the southern end of the island. It’s peacefully tucked away on the shoreline of Lake Huron, just a two-minute ride north of the South Baymouth Ferry Terminal. This made catching the early morning ferry really easy. They offer homey cabins as well as spacious campsites for tenting and RV travelers. The convenient location and friendly, accommodating staff made it an obvious choice.
Once we arrived at South Bay Resort, we set up our tents and gathered around a fire with our “supplies” to chat and soak it all in. We swapped stories from the trip as we sat around the campfire. But, six hours of riding does tire one out, and with an early morning ahead we called it a night fairly quickly.
Crossing the Bay
Early Sunday morning we headed down to South Baymouth Terminal to check in for our 9:10 am sailing time to Tobermory Terminal. We were required to check in at 8:00 AM, as motorcycles are loaded first and need to be in front of the line. Reservations in advance are recommended especially if you require tie-downs. The ferry ride is very smooth and stable, but the ferry only provides 36 tie-downs onboard. They’re made of hemp rope and do the job of adding a bit of stability when things get bumpy. The ferry ride is quite fun. It’s a nice way to start the day. The Chi-Cheemaun is a multi-level ferry with 2 large outdoor decks and a big indoor seating area with a cafe. The trip from South Baymouth to Tobermory Terminal takes about an hour and 45 minutes—long enough to soak up some rays, have a coffee and meet some other travelers.
We decided to have breakfast in Tobermory once the ferry arrived. There’s a cute patio restaurant just outside of the ferry terminal overlooking the bay. With rain in the forecast, we couldn’t dillydally, putting food in our bellies and throwing on our rain gear. When the rain didn’t materialize, we did make one stop along the way in Sauble Beach for ice cream. Why not?!
Singing in the Rain
At the next fuel stop, maybe a little overconfident, I made a questionable decision and stripped off my rain gear. Maybe I thought that the weather forecast had been false. Apparently I was alone in this, because no one else stripped down. This is why I am not a meteorologist. Almost immediately after heading out from the fuel stop, it began to rain. Not just a light spritz, but golf ball-sized raindrops. Thundershowers.
We pulled over after about an hour of sunshine. I dumped the water out of my boots and put my rain gear back on. By this point, my Town Moto shirt looked like it was tie-dyed from my denim riding jacket, and underneath my rainsuit now sat dry orange “fake tan” hands from new deerskin gloves. A lesson learned. Again, we were onward toward the city.
On the whole, the trip was a blast. Manitoulin Island is a beautiful place. Our troop all really enjoyed ourselves, our hunger for a little adventure satisfied. We explored roads we’d never ridden before and became closer comrades. Next time maybe I'll explore the area a bit more, meet some locals, check out a First Nation pow-wow and go for a swim. All in all though, it was two days of enjoyable escapades away from the hustle and bustle of city living—exactly what we’d hoped for. So, can a group of riders, of friends from Toronto, escape to Manitoulin with only two days to spare?
The answer: Absolutely.
For more on the excellent motorcycle touring available in Northeastern Ontario, check out the Georgian Bay Coastal Route.