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I’ve spent my share fair of kilometres traversing the beautiful roads of Ontario. While not always riding I’ve certainly seen some of the best routes this province has to offer. With the 2018 touring season rapidly approaching, I thought this would be a perfect time to put together a plan for my ultimate motorcycle touring vacation. Whether you're a seasoned rider or someone looking to get into the sport, I’ve laid out an epic route, the ultimate bike for the journey, reputable food and lodgings along the way, and some interesting sights to see. I hope my ideal motorcycle touring vacation might also be yours, or near to it.
Location, location, location
Any memorable vacation begins with a great location, and for motorcycle touring that’s no different. Thankfully, Northern Ontario has an abundance of world-class motorcycle routes to choose from and the real dilemma is narrowing it down to the best one. I realize that ultimately the “best route” for anyone comes down to personal taste. I speak from experience after thousands of kilometres spent on Ontario’s roads over the years, when I say the Ride Lake Superior route is, in my mind, the ultimate touring route.
Ride Lake Superior is unique in that it intersects two countries: Canada and the United States. On the Canadian side, Highway 17 meanders through the natural beauty of the Algoma Region and North Shore, including Thunder Bay. On the US side, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan all offer their own postcard-worthy vistas. The total loop stretches over 2000 kilometres, with the Canadian portion making up about half that. So, depending on how ambitious you want to be on your vacation, you’ve got options on how to conquer this fantastic route.
Another big plus to this route is the amount there is to see and do along the way. On the Canadian side, you’ve got: some of the most scenic panoramic lookouts in the entire country, the sand beaches of Agawa Bay, The Sleeping Giant landmark outside Thunder Bay, The Terry Fox Memorial site, and pictographs in Lake Superior Provincial Park. And that’s only naming a few.
The U.S. side is impressive in its own right and has the sand dunes in Michigan, the 180-degree panoramic lookout in Copper Harbor, the bustling city of Duluth, and in Michigan, some of the best twisty, tree-covered roads I’ve ever seen. It’s safe to say if you’re doing the entire loop you’d want to give yourself two to three weeks to take it all in.
What to ride
Now that we’ve established where to go and what to see, the next important question is what to ride. Common sense would dictate something plenty comfortable, with a roomie 2-up seat, and lots of external storage for a rain suit and other touring essentials. Other key factors to consider when figuring out your ride are that you’ll want a powerful motor that can gobble up kilometers with ease, and—most importantly—a bike that handles well, so you can enjoy some of the “twisties” you’ll surely encounter along the way.
With all these factors taken into consideration, it would be hard to bet against the bike that gave birth to the touring category: The Honda Goldwing. First introduced in 1975, the Goldwing is the Cadillac of motorcycles—with the Goldwing, it’s all about riding in comfort and style. Starting with a powerful flat-six engine, modern-day Goldwings also have heated grips and seat, a satellite navigation system, passenger armrests, and low floorboards. It also has the first factory production-line airbag in motorcycle history. The only real negative to this beauty is the steep price tag, starting at close to $27,000, it's not a cheap bike, but it's worth every penny.
What to eat and where to stay
With the route planned, abundant landmarks available, and a bike up for the challenge, the last pieces of the puzzle for the ultimate touring vacation is no less important than the rest: food and lodgings! Thankfully Ride Lake Superior is packed with cool and unique establishments for most of the way, to ensure you’ll stay well rested and fed for the duration of your journey. There isn’t enough room in three of these articles to list them all but I’ve kept notes on the most memorable ones I’ve visited while doing the tour.
Starting on the Canadian side, I’ve yet to travel to the Algoma Region without staying at the Wawa Motor Inn. This Northern Ontario staple is located conveniently on Highway 17, just outside of downtown Wawa. They’ve got affordable rates, cozy rooms, and separate multi-room lodges. While in Wawa, be sure to visit the famous Wawa Goose—a giant goose statue located on the way into town—it’s one of the most photographed landmarks in Ontario.
As you travel west into downtown Thunder Bay, another great stop is the quaint little bed and breakfast spot known as McVicar Manor. This highly reviewed home converted to B&B was originally built in 1906 and offers three spacious rooms with a view of Lake Superior and the famous Sleeping Giant. It’s the perfect alternative to a traditional hotel, especially if you’re touring with your significant other.
If you happen to be on a buddies’ ride and want something a bit more lively while in Thunder Bay, check out Bight Restaurant and Bar. The chic upscale eatery is located right on the waterfront and offers carefully plated meals and delicious cocktails that are on par with what you’d expect from a swanky establishment in a major metropolitan city.
Once in the United States, there are a number of solid options along the Lake Superior route where you’ll get a good rest and a great meal. When passing through downtown Marquette, Michigan, a must-stop for food and lodgings is the historical Landmark Inn. With an elegant dining hall and classically styled rooms, this 84-year-old gem is a one of a kind visit on the tour.
Once you cross into Wisconsin, The Bayfield Inn welcomes motorcycles with VIP parking and cozy rooms. Reasonable rates and a view overlooking the harbour make this a logical stop to plan around. Once you’re checked in and situated at The Bayfield Inn, take a short trip down to Maggie’s Restaurant for some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had on a road trip, with funky décor to match.
Duluth, Minneapolis is the next major city you’ll hit before crossing back onto Canadian soil—be sure not to breeze through this one! You’ll be surprised at what a bustling city Duluth is, with a busy main strip dotted with interesting bars and good restaurants.
I recommend Grandma’s Saloon & Grill, just off the main strip for traditional American fare with generous portions and great prices. What makes Grandma’s unique is its proximity to a well-known aerial lift bridge that routinely raises up for boats making their way from the harbour into Lake Superior.
While in Duluth, I’ve always stayed at The Canal Park Lodge, where they welcome two-wheel riders with open arms. It’s a stone’s throw from the main strip and would be my first recommendation when stopping in for the night in this Midwest city.
I’ve given you a guide to start planning an epic motorcycle touring vacation, but any great vacation starts with the right travelling companions—after all, you’ll be spending a lot of time with these people on and off the road. Be sure to take everyone’s riding ability into account, as this beast of a loop is not recommended for rookies. Rest assured the Ride Lake Superior route is unlike any other in the world—this could very well be the most memorable ride of your life.