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An adventure cycling dream come true

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An adventure cycling dream come true

Waterfront in Sault Ste. Marie. All photos by Martin Lortz except where indicated.

The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail is open for your exploration. Check out the new Lake Huron North Channel expansion for a cycling trip to fit your fancy.

The Great Lakes region is one of the most beautiful parts of Canada. And it's one that travellers driving across the country often don't have time to stop and soak in. But what if you could travel the area by bike, taking in the sights and making comfy stops along the way? Well, guess what—now you can.

The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail—part of the longest recreational trail in the world, Canada’s Great Trail—has been in the works for the past 20 years, thanks to the efforts of Ontario charitable organization the Waterfront Regeneration Trust. This summer, when it’s completed, it’ll be a bucket-list destination for any cyclist with a sense of adventure. 

With a starting point on the Quebec border at the east end of Ontario, the trail skirts the shoreline of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie before turning north. The multi-surface trail is already an adventure cycling dream, but it’s the latest segment addition that will take the adventure to a new level. Welcome to Northern Ontario and the Lake Huron North Channel expansion.

Stretching 380 km from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie, the trail travels along quiet back roads and paths as it traverses some of the most spectacular landscapes in Ontario, serving up rocky shorelines, picturesque Mennonite and Amish farmsteads, rushing waterfalls, gently flowing rivers, sandy beaches, and thick forests. Twenty-six communities and First Nations dot its length, offering opportunities to stop, rest, and explore. Stay the night in a lakeside cottage, partake in some locally caught smoked fish, or enjoy a refreshing end-of-the-day local brew.

While the full 380-km route makes for a very pleasant five-day excursion, there’s no need to consider this trip in all-or-nothing terms, as there are plenty of opportunities along the route to explore a day or two at a time, and skip highway sections altogether. In both Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail uses existing trail networks, making for excellent day trip opportunities, especially with kids in tow. Travelling families should be sure to check out Science North in Sudbury and the Bushplane Museum in Sault Ste. Marie.

Here are some routes along the trail that can be enjoyed back-to-back or as their own separate day trips, depending on your schedule.

Sudbury – Ramsey to Robinson

A 9-km, family-friendly trip between Lakes Ramsey and Robinson in Sudbury via the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and Junction Creek Path. Note: cyclists must dismount on the Bell Park boardwalk and when entering the tunnel beneath Elgin Street.

What to see

  • Ramsey Lake and Bell Park host many events throughout the summer and fall, such as the Northern Lights Festival Boreal (July 5-8), the Dragon Boat Festival (July 14), New Music Fest (September 14-15), and more. 
  • Science North - A must-visit stop for travelling families featuring displays, demonstrations, live animals, and more.
  • Art Gallery of Sudbury - Featuring an incredible collection of local works.
  • Laurentian Conservation Area - Travelling down the bike paths of Ramsey Lake Road, past the university, provides access to these trails. It's a great place for cycling and for checking out views of the surrounding lakes and Sudbury landscapes.

Where to stay
The Townplace Suites by Marriot - An Ontario by Bike-certified hotel.

Rider resources

There are no bike shops on this route; however, the following bike shops are located in Sudbury. They offer parts, service, and rentals (where noted).

Espanola to Massey

Chutes Provincial Park

Enjoy a 28-km, one-way tour between the towns of Espanola and Massey, through the scenic LaCloche Range.

What to see

Where to eat

Where to stay
Pinewood Motor Inn in Espanola or Mohawk Motel in Massey.

Crossing the Spanish River in Massey

Sylvan Circle Route

The beach at Ojibway Park in Garden River First Nation

A 96-km loop for experienced cyclists, this tour incorporates over 40 km of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail before travelling the scenic Sylvan Valley.

What to see 

  • Ekoba Museum (Echo Bay) - Celebrating the history of the town.
  • Loon Dollar Monument (Echo Bay) - The "world's biggest loonie" is a classic photo op on the tour.
  • Bruce Mines Museum (Bruce Mines) - Local museum with some intriguing historical artefacts.
  • If travelling in fall, don't miss the Sylvan Circle Tour featuring the work of local artists and artisans.

Where to eat

  • Lucy Loo's (Echo Bay) - Family-friendly bar and grill with homemade fries.
  • Bucci's Place (Echo Bay) - Burgers, fries and breakfasts in a down-home setting.
  • Bobbers (Bruce Mines) - Specializing in homemade pies and the local specialty, butter tarts.
  • Red House Ice Cream Shop (Bruce Mines) - Perfect stop to cool off on your journey.

Where to stay
Bruce Mines Cottages - Scenic cottages on a private island with a classic lighthouse.

Bruce Mines

St. Joseph Island

Photo courtesy of Maria's Cabins

A great weekend getaway, popular with local cyclists. Make the 70-km trip around the island on low-traffic roads, visiting beaches, heritage forts, and the villages of Hilton Beach and Richards Landing.

What to see

  • Fort St. Joseph - This National Historic Site is the ruins of a fort where the War of 1812 began.
  • St. Joseph Island Museum - Featuring exhibits on the island's history as well as special events throughout the summer.
  • Adcock's Woodland Gardens - Gorgeous large-scale garden with free admission.
  • The Island features many festivals and events in the summer months. Check here for more info.

Where to eat

Where to stay

Rider resources

There are no bike shops on St. Joseph Island. The following locations offer limited bicycle parts:

  • Gardiner's Corner (Limited parts. Air. No service): 1268 Richards St, Richards Landing, ON P0R 1J0, (705) 246-2614
  • Kentvale Home Hardware (Limited parts. Air. No service): 712 K Line Rd, Richards Landing, ON P0R 1J0, (705) 246-2002

Hitting the highway

Please keep in mind that while this route makes every effort to stay on country roads, there are a few instances where traveling along Highway 17 cannot be avoided. The Ministry of Transportation is paving the shoulders of these sections to assure a safe cycling experience. This work will not be completed until summer 2018. To learn the status of this work, people are encouraged to visit the interactive map below. A gray line indicates work is ongoing, red indicates the route is ready to ride.

“One of the challenges to establishing a route for the North was six sections (about 60 km) where we were required to use Highway 17 to achieve continuity,” explains Marlaine Koehler, the Trust’s executive director. “As part of its CycleON strategy, the Ministry invested $9M to construct paved shoulders on those sections of the highway.” It is this historic level of participation and investment that opened Ontario’s North for cycle tourism. The new shoulders will greatly improve conditions for the seasoned rider; however, cycling Highway 17 is not for novices. The route has high traffic volumes including consistent truck traffic.

While the new Lake Huron North Channel expansion puts Northern Ontario on the cycle touring map, the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail is not quite finished yet. With new Grand Bend to Tobermory and north to Manitoulin Island sections well underway (they should be ready by summer 2018), the vision of the longest recreational trail network in the world becomes that much closer to becoming a reality. If you consider yourself an adventure cyclist, a “bike packer,” or you just like a good old-fashioned bike ride, pack your bags—Northern Ontario and the the Lake Huron North Channel expansion are waiting for you.

Looking for more ideas? Visit Ontario By Bike, or read about more Great Lakes Waterfront Trail options here.

The Lake Huron North Channel expansion of the Trail was made possible with support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Trans Canada Trail, Tourism Northern Ontario, and Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation.

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